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GANDHI by William L. Shirer

GANDHI

A Memoir

By William L. Shirer

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1980
ISBN: 0671461478
Publisher: Simon & Schuster

As a young foreign correspondent, Shirer reported briefly on Gandhi--but the year was 1931, when India's struggle for independence peaked and Gandhi scored perhaps his greatest political success. So, though Shirer's memoir is inflated with Talks on India and Thoughts on Gandhi, and freighted with vituperations against the British, it also recaptures the novelty of his approach and the magnitude of his appeal. The year before, he had led a 200-mile march to the sea to pick up a lump of salt--a violation of the British salt tax; and this symbolic act (like--he reminds Shirer--the Boston Tea Party) had propelled the Indian masses into nonviolent civil disobedience on a large scale. To check its spread, Gandhi had been arbitrarily imprisoned. Now he was out of prison and negotiating with the British viceroy: if Gandhi would call off the civil-disobeience campaign and attend an upcoming London conference, the British would make concessions too. These, however, were so limited and vague that many Indian nationalists regarded Gandhi's agreement as a sell-out; but Shirer underlines history's judgment of its wisdom with Gandhi's own words. More importantly, he notes, the British had finally been forced "to deal with an Indian leader as an equal." Along these lines, Shirer also witnessed British discomfiture at Gandhi's arrival--complete with loin cloth, spinning wheel, and goat's milk--at echt-colonial Simla; he saw the sensation Gandhi caused in London--and heard him address Lancashire millhands thrown out of work by the Indian boycott of British cotton. And he saw him at home, subsisting on four-hours' sleep and "frenzied acclaim." None of this is new; some of it is blinkered, some is extraneous; but enough of it is vivid to impress upon latecomers the worldwide force of Gandhi's example.