This is the new style Gandhi biography which knows the importance of its subject but does not ask, as Vincent Sheean's did, for example, that the owner read it on his knees. A substantial middle section gives an account of Gandhi's life from ancestors to assassination. Much of this parallels the ""Autobiography or My Experiments with Truth"" in treating of Gandhi's 25 years in South Africa and the crucial earlier years at home and in England. But the author's real zest is kept for the first and last sections. These deal with the experiences and tawdry present fate of many of Gandhi's personal associates, closely observed in a series of interviews. (There is some crack-of-the-whip comment from the margins--""You all bask in his reflected glory. Well go bask in his reflected hell,"" said the young man to his fiancee who wanted to spend a few more years waiting on Bapu.) They also deal with his final deep-felt failure to end Hindu/Muslim violence at the time of Independence, and with his testing of his bramacharga (celibacy). Although this latter sharing of bed with young women was hidden for many years, it has been referred to in recent books by N. K. Bose, Erik Erikson, and Geoffrey Ashe. Perhaps the pendulum has swung too far; we are confronted with the current shabbiness of Gandhi's Sevagram, but the flourishing medical school alongside is barely mentioned; with the rambling memories of decayed Gandhi retainers, but the weight of his effective dialogue with politicians and viceroys is hardly evident. But if not the final word, this highly readable New Yorker-premiered story of a great oddball is the biography for the Seventies and a useful filling in of the picture.