Should we still read the 'proud imperialist' Kipling?

Kipling with illustrations from his home.

Kipling with illustrations from his home. Photo illustration by Mark Riechers. Original images public domain and by Steve Paulson (TTBOOK).

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Some writers become the conscience of their countries, giving voice to the voiceless, bearing witness to suffering and atrocity. Then there are other writers who join the ruling class — writers like Rudyard Kipling. His notorious poem “The White Man’s Burden,” written in 1899, called for the U.S. to seize control of the Philippines — and he was a proud imperialist.

If you want to cancel a famous writer because of his retrograde politics, Kipling is an obvious choice, even though he was once the beloved writer of such classics as “The Jungle Book” and “Kim." So, should we still read Kipling? As Steve Paulson discovered, the real story is complicated. Steve interviews literary scholar Chris Benfey as they walk through Kipling's old house in southern Vermont, and he also talks with Salman Rushdie about Kipling's legacy for readers from India.