A concise, critical look at the Indian leader, emphasizing his striving for spiritual perfection.
Unlike Joseph Lelyveld’s recent exhaustive study of Gandhi and the evolution of his ideas, Great Soul (2011), this work by British historian Adams (Hideous Absinthe, 2003, etc.) goes right to the essential thought of the Mahatma, despite his confounding, albeit engaging inconsistencies. The author sticks to primary sources, such as accounts by Gandhi's secretaries, while remaining somewhat leery of Gandhi’s own autobiography, because of his elusive relationship to truth (“I have grown from truth to truth”). In discrete, tidy chapters, Adams embarks on the main tenets of Gandhi’s life: his pampered upbringing by a very devout Hindu mother; his marriage at age 13 to Kasturbai, also his age, which would arouse his later disgust for Hindu marriage rituals; his lifelong striving for chastity and the shaping of his brahmacharya vow; his obsession with his diet, a system of trial-and-error that would often leave him weak and ill; his early law education in England, a great sacrifice for his family, though later he would essentially sever ties to his relatives, refuse to educate his sons and support his family financially; his use of fasting as a political tool; and his gradual political engagement, from his time as a young barrister in South Africa to his return to India as a national leader for the rights of the indentured servants, miners, poor and untouchables. He sought emancipation by doing—living in self-sufficient simplicity within his ashrams, where he imposed the strictest discipline on himself and others, immersing himself in sacred texts of all religions. The concluding chapter on Gandhi’s “Legacy” considers his assassin’s criticism of Gandhi’s sense of his own infallibility, as well as the terrible repercussions from the partition of Pakistan and Gandhi’s invaluable catalyst to global movements of human rights.
A tight synthesis and good introduction to Gandhi’s life and work.