Another book based on Kipling’s If

By now you all realize that the idea for my entire (forthcoming) book came out of two powerful lines in a powerful poem, If, by Rudyard Kipling. “My” lines are

… If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same…

Well, it turns out that I’m not the only one getting book ideas from lines in that moving poem. Craig Mullaney, a pretty impressive young man, is just out with The Unforgiving Minute. (He’s with Penguin Press, the corporate sister of my publisher, Riverhead.) Here he is on the Daily Show, talking to Jon Stewart.

“His” lines from the poem, which made it into the title, are the final four:

If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And-which is more-you’ll be a Man, my son!

As Mullaney says, it’s a book

about growing up to be a man; starts at West Point when I was seventeen, ends when I sent my brother off to war.

I have not read it yet, so I can’t review it. (I’m swamped with books at the moment for a particular reason, which I’ll tell you about in the coming week or so.) But could we just, you know, have a moment for Kipling? He fell pretty far out of fashion in the past century. And yet: a sudden outbreak of young authors feeling so touched by his words that they conceive entire books. Not bad, Rudyard, not bad. Dare I say that whatever slump your reputation suffered in the previous century, it is fast turning out to have been an … impostor?

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14 thoughts on “Another book based on Kipling’s If

  1. You’re pushing all my buttons this week. Heck, let’s have more than a moment. Let’s have a whole minute for The Minute.

  2. I feel the same. So much food for thought. Kipling’s minute is often a long period of time. Triumphs and disasters often are in the making for long periods of time. And sometimes one won’t see them as they evolve. It is a retrospectascope by which we measure the ups and downs. By my view, if you know that there will be ups and downs not now apparent but when they come you keep them in perspective then you get closer to being the man of which Kipling speaks. The person who is patient and understands that there are imposters but the strength and faith to know he can and will finish the journey is probably well on his or her way to being the man or woman envisioned by Kipling.

    When I wrestled in high school and college Iwas always prepared for the eight minute match. Won a lot list a few but the real test whether win or lose was invoking the strength to make weight two days later and being fully locked and loadedfor the next match. During the fifteen round heavyweight boxing match of life, you may get knocked down but if you answer the bell each round and finish the match then it is a laudable triumph.

    Steve

  3. “……..Dare I say that whatever slump your reputation suffered in the previous century, it is fast turning out to have been an … impostor……….?”

    Or it could mean that every dog will have its day.

  4. “If you can make one heap of all your winnings
    And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
    And lose, and start again at your beginning
    And never breathe a word about your loss;

    Many of us in small business today would be wise to remember Kipling’s words about risk.

    The problem is that the rules of pitch-and-toss have changed since Kipling’s time.

    Tax and Over-Tax? American game
    Copy and Destroy? Chinese Game

    Americans do not know what it means to be quiet, right?

  5. Adrian, would you say that muscular sentimentalism is indeed making such a comeback? If so, I have to be careful that I don’t jump on any perceived bandwagons.

    Christopher, do you know why Kipling’s reputation tanked? Is it because he was seen to be a “colonialist”, or more than that?

    Steve: …”if you know that there will be ups and downs not now apparent but when they come you keep them in perspective then you get closer to being the man of which Kipling speaks.”…
    So would you say that the impostor line is a call to stoicism?

  6. Andreas,

    First, I expect to be challenged and provoked to thought. That is the reason I come to this blog. Thanks for your question.

    my answer is “no”, I don’t think Kipling is recommending a passive response to the ups and downs. I think he is reminding us all that the reality of one’s journey will, almost always, include both, and if we consider either one, triumph or disaster, as a permanent reality, then we are in for a big surprise; they are ephemeral.

    The successful life is one were we have temporary successes AND disasters; the lesson is to recognize and appreciate both as necessary components of the journey. We must strive to triumph but not lose the momentum when disaster strikes. Sorry for the use of space, but consider the following excerpts from Alvin Fine’s poem (even read in a secular sense):

    Birth is a beginning, And death a destination…From weakness to strength
    Or strength to weakness…And, often, back again; From Health to sickness
    And back, we hope, to health again…
    From defeat to defeat to defeat–
    Until, looking backward or ahead,
    We see that victory lies
    Not at some high place along the way,
    But in having made the journey, state by stage…
    Birth is a beginning
    And death a destination/
    And life is a journey,
    A sacred pilgrimage…

    I look forward to your book and learning how and to what extent, the experience of Hannibal, Scipio and the others fits in with this entire discussion.

    SB

  7. “………do you know why Kipling’s reputation tanked? Is it because he was seen to be a “colonialist”, or more than that……..?”

    It goes almost without saying that in the anti-colonialist fervour of the post World War Two years, to refer favourably to Kipling (who, after all, coined the lines “White Man’s Burden”) was to invite social ostracism – not unlike praising Hemingway in the presence of feminists.

    But, with the European empires now safely consigned to dustbin of history (forgive this egregious cliche) Kipling can now be retrieved, and seen as but a product of his times and society (some of his utterances were typical as I, too, a product of a British colonial society, can attest), and can now be appreciated for the literary genius he was.

    Again, this goes almost without saying.

  8. I finally read this book. I downloaded the Kindle App and read the whole thing on my ipod in four gulps. I won’t bore you with a review but offer my reaction.

    With respect to themes of the HB, I would say Craig Mullaney knows more about success than failure. I felt inspired and at the same time like a total loser for my own failures (also known as decisions).

    Indeed let’s have a minute for The Minute and those having one – with a weapon in hand.

    • Yes. I hedge because there is some overlap that makes it ‘personal.’ I wouldn’t recommend it to the Missus, but to you, yes. I want to read the midlife sequel.

      Paraphrasing my favorite line from the Afghan tour (ca. 2003). The Americans have the wristwatches but the Afghans have all the time. Very prescient as we prepare to send 30,000 more wristwatches to Afghanistan – six years later.

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