Synopses & Reviews
A highly original, stirring book on Mahatma Gandhi that deepens our sense of his achievements and disappointments—his success in seizing Indias imagination and shaping its independence struggle as a mass movement, his recognition late in life that few of his followers paid more than lip service to his ambitious goals of social justice for the countrys minorities, outcasts, and rural poor.
Pulitzer Prize-winner Joseph Lelyveld shows in vivid, unmatched detail how Gandhis sense of mission, social values, and philosophy of nonviolent resistance were shaped on another subcontinent—during two decades in South Africa—and then tested by an India that quickly learned to revere him as a Mahatma, or “Great Soul,” while following him only a small part of the way to the social transformation he envisioned. The man himself emerges as one of historys most remarkable self-creations, a prosperous lawyer who became an ascetic in a loincloth wholly dedicated to political and social action. Lelyveld leads us step-by-step through the heroic—and tragic—last months of this selfless leaders long campaign when his nonviolent efforts culminated in the partition of India, the creation of Pakistan, and a bloodbath of ethnic cleansing that ended only with his own assassination.
India and its politicians were ready to place Gandhi on a pedestal as “Father of the Nation” but were less inclined to embrace his teachings. Muslim support, crucial in his rise to leadership, soon waned, and the oppressed untouchables—for whom Gandhi spoke to Hindus as a whole—produced their own leaders.
Here is a vital, brilliant reconsideration of Gandhis extraordinary struggles on two continents, of his fierce but, finally, unfulfilled hopes, and of his ever-evolving legacy, which more than six decades after his death still ensures his place as Indias social conscience—and not just Indias.
A brilliantly illuminating book on Mahatma Gandhi that enriches our understanding of his means, his accomplishments, and his failures.
Gandhi has long been considered a visionary and a martyr. And certainly, he was that rare leader wholly devoted to his people. But in this ambitious, stirring, original study, Pulitzer Prize–winner Joseph Lelyveld sets out to measure Gandhi’s accomplishments as a politician and an advocate for the downtrodden—against Gandhi’s own expectations and in light of his complex, conflicted feelings about his place in Indian history.
Lelyveld traces the roots of Gandhi’s philosophy of reform to South Africa, exploring in unmatched depth the campaigns for social justice he undertook there, and chronicling his continued efforts when he returned to India. We see why he became known as Mahatma—Great Soul—but we also see clearly that he was unable to achieve all the goals he set for himself and his country, suffering bitter disappointment at this shortfall, most profoundly in 1947 when India was partitioned.
Here is a profoundly intelligent, vital reconsideration of Gandhi’s extraordinary accomplishments, of his fierce but finally unfulfilled hopes, and of his ever-evolving legacy.
About the Author
Joseph Lelyveld’s career at The New York Times spanned nearly four decades and included stints as a foreign correspondent in India and South Africa, foreign editor, managing editor, and executive editor. He is the author of Move Your Shadow: South Africa, Black and White, which won the Pulitzer Prize, and he is the recipient of two George Polk Awards and a Guggenheim Fellowship. Since retiring from the Times, he has written for The New York Review of Books, The New Yorker, and The New York Times Magazine, and published a memoir, Omaha Blues. He lives in New York City.