Gandhi: The Man, His People, and the Empire Info

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This monumental biography of one of the most intriguing
figures of the twentieth century, written by his grandson, is the first
to give a complete and balanced account of Mahatma Gandhi's remarkable
life, the development of his beliefs and his political campaigns, and
his complex relations with his family. Written with unprecedented
insight and access to family archives, it reveals a life of contrasts
and contradictions: the westernized Inner Temple lawyer who wore the
clothes of India's poorest and who spun cotton by hand, the apostle of
nonviolence who urged Indians to enlist in the First World War, the
champion of Indian independence who never hated the British. It tells of
Gandhi's campaigns against racial discrimination in South Africa and
untouchability in India, tracks the momentous battle for India's
freedom, explores the evolution of Gandhi's strategies of non-violent
resistance, and examines relations between Muslims and non-Muslims, a
question that attracted Gandhi's passionate attention and one that
persists around the world today. Published to rave reviews in India in
2007, this riveting book gives North American readers the true Gandhi,
the man as well as the legend, for the first time.

Average Ratings and Reviews
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4.15

163 Ratings

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Reviews for Gandhi: The Man, His People, and the Empire:

5

Nov 24, 2012

A well-rounded description of one of the greatest figures of the 20th century. It follows him from his beginnings in India, to London as a young man, then South Africa and back to India. His evolution from a barrister to a full-fledged fighter for Indian independence is traced.

While it is true that India would have achieved independence without Gandhi – it was Gandhi who stamped the “way” and “how” of this incredible movement. No nation has achieved autonomy in the Indian fashion – one has only A well-rounded description of one of the greatest figures of the 20th century. It follows him from his beginnings in India, to London as a young man, then South Africa and back to India. His evolution from a barrister to a full-fledged fighter for Indian independence is traced.

While it is true that India would have achieved independence without Gandhi – it was Gandhi who stamped the “way” and “how” of this incredible movement. No nation has achieved autonomy in the Indian fashion – one has only to look at the notorious revolutions of Russia and China to see how these two countries have been mutilated by their violent uprisings for the “freedom” of their peoples’.

Gandhi struggled against his own country’s inequities. As the author recounts, Gandhi traversed India several times to understand and deal with its endless problems. He organized campaigns to end the exploitation of the poor from landlords. He formed unions of poor workers so they could demand better wages and working conditions. Gandhi agitated and fasted to attempt to end the stigma of “Untouchability”.

Britain did much to exacerbate and harm Gandhi – incarcerating him and his followers several times. Britain exploited the existing religious schisms in India to try to prolong their rule.

One also gets the feeling that Gandhi never quite understood Europe – for example he encouraged European Jews in 1939-40 to non-violently resist Hitler. His suggestion to Britain in 1940 to allow Germany to invade was not exactly commendable.

Gandhi as the writer (his grandson) points out had a rather strange puritanical streak; almost equating sexual enjoyment with sinfulness. He was also against any form of birth control.

Gandhi stressed the peacefulness and love expressed in Islam and Hinduism, but never seemed to come to grips with the divisiveness of religion. Even though he wanted a secular India, there was a strong religious (Hindu) pull in him. How this would be compatible with a secular state is a big question mark?

The author paints a very complex man – who believed strongly in individualism and interacted with an extraordinarily wide range of human beings – from the high and powerful to the “lowly” untouchables – who he called “People of God”. It is much to Gandhi’s credit that even with his “enemies” he was always able to communicate.

Gandhi believed in “Truth” and “Love”. Towards the end of his life he came to equate “God with Truth” and “Truth with God”.

This book has many quotations from Gandhi’s speeches and writings that provide us many insights into this unique man. When Gandhi was assassinated he had little worldly possessions – but his name and the meaning of his life will live on forever.


Gandhi was active his entire life. It his seventies he was still carrying on fasts to aid his country.
All and all, a tremendous book giving us a deeper understanding of this 20th century giant.
...more
5

Aug 02, 2012

With so many biographies of Gandhi to choose from, including his own autobiography (which, however, only takes us up to 1921) why should we read this one?

The author, Rajmohan Gandhi, starts by confessing that he is no distant impartial observer but, rather, one of Gandhi's grandchildren. He was a 12 year old schoolboy in Delhi at the time of the Mahatma's assassination. His father, Devadas, was probably the closest of Gandhi's children to their father to the point where Gandhi would seek out With so many biographies of Gandhi to choose from, including his own autobiography (which, however, only takes us up to 1921) why should we read this one?

The author, Rajmohan Gandhi, starts by confessing that he is no distant impartial observer but, rather, one of Gandhi's grandchildren. He was a 12 year old schoolboy in Delhi at the time of the Mahatma's assassination. His father, Devadas, was probably the closest of Gandhi's children to their father to the point where Gandhi would seek out Devadas's counsel. So although Rajmohan's direct experience of his subject was limited he would have absorbed much from his father, a man with an intimate understanding of what made him tick, both personally and politically.

Then there is the fact that Rajmohan Gandhi comes to this work only after writing many other distinguished biographies and books on the history of the subcontinent. These include his biographies of Rajaji, Vallabhbhai Patel, Gaffar Khan, Jinnah and other Muslim leaders (told in Understanding the Muslim Mind - also published as "Eight Muslim Lives") as well as his study on the Indian Mutiny of 1857, A Tale of Two Revolts told in parallel with the story of Lincoln and the American Civil War which happened around the same time. Context is everything, and just as it would be impossible to write about Rajaji without understanding Gandhi, so this volume on Gandhi is the richer for the deep understanding of the other characters in the story of India's struggle for independence.

The result is not a short book. As well as the vast body of literature already available, Rajmohan draws on private correspondence and documents from the family archives to give a remarkably detailed picture of the man and what made him tick. In telling the story of Gandhi, he is also telling the story of India in the first half of the 20th Century. We see Gandhi's thinking develop over time from the shy young law student in London, the crucible experiences in South Africa to the statesman thinking for the long-term unity of the subcontinent when lesser politicians around him were prepared to sacrifice that for a short-term grab for power.

Gandhi himself was a keen student of history, and it was his own analysis of the failure of the 1857 revolt which contributed to the development of the strategy of Satyagraha, or "Truth Force" (Gandhi resisted the label "non-violence"). One of the book's many strengths is the way it reveals Gandhi as a master political strategist - a useful corrective in an age when most people's understanding of the man comes from one-liners shared on social media. This is no other-worldly cotton-candy saint, but a man with a totally realistic grasp of the murky politics of empire and the evils of greed, racism and arrogance institutionalized into a colonial system, as well as the institutionalized evils of his own culture - the caste system, subjugation of women and untouchability.

Some people today seem to equate Gandhi with non-violent protests, and then claim that it doesn't work because nothing changes. To them I would say, read this book. Gandhi would never have expected that a few middle class people waving placards could shift institutionalized evil. His strategy was to first unite a divided and downtrodden people by identifying himself fully with the poor masses and trying to solve some of their most basic subsistence level problems. And then it was to provoke and keep provoking until he got a response - but always on carefully chosen issues where he held and could maintain the moral high ground. He understood that once the protests became violent, that this violence would be used to justify a much greater violence by the British to crush the protest. At a deeper level, Gandhi understood that real change comes from within - a stirring in the conscience which, when acted upon, becomes contagious.

The book does not shy away, either, from the more controversial areas of Gandhi's life - in particular his experiments with brahmacharya (purity) which led him to sleep unclothed next to much younger women both before and after his wife died. To most people now and even to his closest associates back then, these actions seem incomprehensible. The author takes us as far as it is possible to go in understanding, by giving us Gandhi's own explanations - often made to those around him who begged him to stop. My own feeling is that some further light can be shed on these radical experiments by the growing understanding of the brain chemical oxytocin and its role in both morality and creating trust. There is a fascinating TED talk by Paul Zak on this (The Moral Molecule) and an excellent discussion on the role of oxytocin in sex and relationships by Marnia Robinson in Cupid's Poisoned Arrow: From Habit to Harmony in Sexual Relationships.

Towards the end of his life, the author relates, Gandhi was asked by an American journalist what message he would like to share. His reply was "My life is my message". Reading this book is probably as close as we are likely to get to understanding that message. ...more
4

Oct 24, 2019

I have just finished reading a 660 page biography of Mahatma Gandhi. Its author, Rajmohan Gandhi, is one of his grandsons, a noted historian.

Gandhi was an idealist with a highly original mind. After a childhood in Gujarat (part of western India), he studied in London and became a barrister. After a brief return to India, Gandhi set off for South Africa to dwork as a barrister. He remained in South Africa for many years, managing his legal practice and fighting for the rights of Indians living in I have just finished reading a 660 page biography of Mahatma Gandhi. Its author, Rajmohan Gandhi, is one of his grandsons, a noted historian. 

Gandhi was an idealist with a highly original mind. After a childhood in Gujarat (part of western India), he studied in London and became a barrister. After a brief return to India, Gandhi set off for South Africa to dwork as a barrister. He remained in South Africa for many years, managing his legal practice and fighting for the rights of Indians living in the country - actually, countries as South Africa was only unified in 1910. His struggles for the rights of the Indians was the proving ground for methods of non-violent revolution which he brought to India when he returned there for good in 1915.

It is no exaggeration to claim that Gandhi's activities and his saintly persona, more than anything else, prepared the Indian masses for a desire to become liberated from the yoke of British imperial rule. Rajmohan Gandhi describes and explains this lucidly. So great was the respect for Gandhi all over India, that he was able to resolve numerous problems with the government or between different communities simply by fasting. He was willing to starve himself to death, but neither the British authorities nor most Indians were prepared to lose him. So, they gave in to his not unreasonable demands. His mass non-violent protests that were joined by thousands of ordinary people, who were prepared to be imprisoned or to be beaten by the police without offering resistance, often achieved their aims.

By the mid-1940s, the situation in India was such that the British began planning to leave it. During the lead up to Independence in August 1947 and after the Partition of India and the formation of the new state of Pakistan, India was plagued by excessively violent inter-communal conflicts: Hindus vs Muslims and Sikhs vs Muslims. Despite numerous fasts, Gandhi was unable to keep the peoples of India unified. 

Gandhi's ideals included seeing India achieve its independence. He was also keen to maintain harmony between members of India's different religions. He did witness India's freedom from the British, but had to suffer in the knowledge that despite his efforts, Independence was achieved whilst inter-communal violence kept increasing. 

There were many in India who did not share Gandhi's desire for inter-religious harmony. Amongst these were the so-called 'Hindu nationalists'. It was a group of them who assasinated the Mahatma in 1948 at one of his prayer meetings in New Delhi.

Rajmohan Gandhi's account of his famous grandfather is thorough. It gives a good idea of the Mahatma's personality and his brilliance with dealing with everyone from the humblest harijan ('untouchable' or 'dalit') to the most pompous of politicians both Indian and British.

In brief, this book is first class and I can strongly reccommend it. ...more
4

Aug 21, 2011

Until reading this biography of Mahatma Gandhi, my knowledge of his life primarily came from the 1982 movie Sir Richard Attenborough's Gandhi starring Ben Kingsley. While the movie was enjoyable, it paled in comparison to the man's true story. Written by Gandi's grandson, this tombe of a book digs deep into the daily life and private thoughts and correspondance of Gandhi. While a lenghty book, I understand there are 6 volume libraries of his life. But, I believe the key messages got across. His Until reading this biography of Mahatma Gandhi, my knowledge of his life primarily came from the 1982 movie Sir Richard Attenborough's Gandhi starring Ben Kingsley. While the movie was enjoyable, it paled in comparison to the man's true story. Written by Gandi's grandson, this tombe of a book digs deep into the daily life and private thoughts and correspondance of Gandhi. While a lenghty book, I understand there are 6 volume libraries of his life. But, I believe the key messages got across. His tolerance of other faiths while remaining a devout Hindu was admirable. In a time when intolerance was rampant, his bravery was nothing short of amazing.

From a writing standpoint, the book is a fairly difficullt read for someone not familiar with this history of India, Hinduism, or some of the languages of India. The author uses Hindi phrases, along with other languages, making understanding of some parts difficult. In addition, being an American and not used to Indian/Hindu names, associating names with people was not easy to do.

All-in-all, however, the narrative is outstanding and worthy of praise. If you are interesting in understanding the history, as well as learning about the man himself and those he surrounded himself with, you could not go wrong reading this. ...more
2

Aug 14, 2008

I was very excited to get this book. It is written by one of his grandsons and I thought that Rajmohan might offer better insights because of this. So far I read much summary from the Gandhi's own autobiography, though he does offer other resources to build on the events I have already read about. I will continue to read this because it should give more history beyond the autobiography, but I don't expect the author to give context or examine gandhis life in any way beyond a longer summary. (He I was very excited to get this book. It is written by one of his grandsons and I thought that Rajmohan might offer better insights because of this. So far I read much summary from the Gandhi's own autobiography, though he does offer other resources to build on the events I have already read about. I will continue to read this because it should give more history beyond the autobiography, but I don't expect the author to give context or examine gandhis life in any way beyond a longer summary. (He hasn't so far and I am on page 109.)I will let you know if that changes. ...more
2

Mar 02, 2013

Finally finished. I was looking for a biography that would give me a solid understanding of Gandhi as a man and a factual compilation of the public events of his life. This book fell short for me in explaining him as a man. The book was so overly detailed it was often difficult to remain interested. I think the book is much better suited to an academic, that would want or need so much depth, the index and footnotes account for nearly 75 pages themselves.
2

Oct 16, 2008

Life of Mohandas Ghandi is unfoldede with a vivid picture of the character. Still reading can not comment any more
5

Jul 25, 2019

To be frank, I have had a less than positive impression about Gandhi and his life based on what I had read from others’ views on him. However, this biography by Gandhi’s own grandson opened up a few doors and windows into the complex life of this curious character, and allowed to me change some of my views and opinions. [Not that Rajmohan is presenting a biased view of events or any such thing, it is a very balanced biography.] It may be because this is the first detailed biography I read of To be frank, I have had a less than positive impression about Gandhi and his life based on what I had read from others’ views on him. However, this biography by Gandhi’s own grandson opened up a few doors and windows into the complex life of this curious character, and allowed to me change some of my views and opinions. [Not that Rajmohan is presenting a biased view of events or any such thing, it is a very balanced biography.] It may be because this is the first detailed biography I read of Gandhi, covering his entire life and how he lived it. [Even Saththiya SOdhanai, Gandhi’s autobiography which I have read in Tamil didn’t give this kind of extensive insights into his life.] ...more
3

Oct 23, 2012

I learned a lot reading this, but the book is basically just a catalog of all the things that happened and all of the people who were present for different events of Gandhi's life. It wasn't until the end that there was much commentary about Gandhi and the things he did. And I didn't feel like the author provided any insight or background to the things that were happening in India during Gandhi's time. Also, I didn't learn anything about the different groups in India or about Hinduism. I would I learned a lot reading this, but the book is basically just a catalog of all the things that happened and all of the people who were present for different events of Gandhi's life. It wasn't until the end that there was much commentary about Gandhi and the things he did. And I didn't feel like the author provided any insight or background to the things that were happening in India during Gandhi's time. Also, I didn't learn anything about the different groups in India or about Hinduism. I would say that reading this has peaked my curiosity, and I would like to learn a lot more. ...more
4

Dec 12, 2015

Extraordinary book by Rajmohan Gandhi who has struck a fine balance between the different perceptions of Mahatma Gandhi. The book is extremely well-researched and while the book focuses on Mahatma Gandhi, other important people in Mahatma Gandhi's life like Kasturba, Hiralal, Nehru etc are covered very well. For me Gandhi's early life in England and South Africa was quite unknown and this book covers those sections very well. Well-deserving of all praise that the it has received.
4

Aug 03, 2011

Lengthy, but I enjoyed it. I have a very general knowledge of the region's history & Gandhi, so the amount of detail in this book was amazingly helpful. Keeping the different people straight was tricky, but the fact that it was written by his grandson and used a lot of Gandhi's unpublished work made it much better than I expected.
4

Apr 10, 2009

Very long but very addictive to read. Attempts to detail all his significant journeys, letters and actions, but doesn't go into great detail. Excellent biography for someone wanting to know the raw history of the man and his episodic struggles for non-violence and Indian Unity. Written by his grandson.
4

Nov 28, 2012



Very well written, story about Gandhi constructed from published materials. Brings Gandhi to life. Despite. Being voluminous, the book forces you to read it a few long sittings. Reading this motivated me to read Gandhi's autobiography - My experiments with truth'.
4

Mar 04, 2016

To get a ring-side view of Bapuji, you must read this book. It dissects the "Father of our nation". It lays him threadbare. There doesn't seem any bias in revealing the truth. It is more complete than the autobiography. I am blessed to have read this book.
4

Dec 19, 2009

Although I never did quite finish this beast of a biography, I thought it was tremendously captivating and brilliantly told of Gandhi's life. I hope to spend a few days in the summer re-reading this book. I think we all can learn from Gandhi and his efforts to make Earth a better place.
5

Feb 26, 2014

Probably one of the unbiased account on M K Gandhi. A must read for all history buffs and all Indians whose idea of Gandhi is very primitive and ideological. Well researched and insightful. A must read if you want to know about the Indian independence movement.
4

Nov 13, 2012

Definitely worth a read if you want to know more about the man who rebuilt the Indian empire.
3

Jun 12, 2008

A great review on non-violence. People still have a lot to learn. Gandhi changed as a human and I believe we can all change in the positive. There is hope-- sound like someone?

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