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Gandhi & Churchill: The Epic Rivalry that Destroyed an Empire and Forged Our Age

65 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0553804638
ISBN-10: 9780553804638
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Historian Herman (How the Scots Invented the Modern World) paints a forceful portrait of the emergence of the postcolonial era in the fateful contrast—and surprising affinities—between two historic figures on opposite sides of the struggle for Indian independence. Churchill and Gandhi, both elites in their respective milieus, began their careers with remarkably similar perspectives and trod intersecting paths across India, South Africa and England. They shared an obsession with physical courage (albeit channeled in different ways) that tied conceptions of masculinity to larger ideas of racial identity and moral superiority—and India loomed large in their triumphal careers, ultimately frustrating both men's idealism. While Herman's dual biography artfully depicts the personalities of the two men, he gives short shrift to the more complex forces of British imperial decline, Indian nationalism and the emergence of the postwar order (for example, Herman helpfully but also too neatly explains the dogged centrality of India and the British raj in Churchill's worldview as an act of filial loyalty to his beloved father) But the author also takes careful account of the constellation of modern and antimodern currents of late Victorian thought in situating these vastly influential figures in a fascinating narrative of their times. (May)
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From Booklist

Popular historian Herman (How the Scots Invented the World, 2001) dramatizes the end of Britain’s rule of India through the lives of Mohandas Gandhi and Winston Churchill. The barrister met the politician once, in 1906, and each man’s subsequent relation to the issue of independence, up to its realization in 1947, guides Herman’s narrative. The tenor of the author’s presentation is that both Gandhi and Churchill’s visions of India’s future were illusory, and bear some blame for the convulsions of 1947 (partition, communal violence, and a Pakistani-Indian war). Rooted in his youthful experiences in India, Churchill’s stout imperialism became an ever more impractical stance as Gandhi’s advocacy of independence gained momentum over the decades. Descriptive about the latter’s revered methods of nonviolence, Herman discerns an implied forcefulness behind them should, for example, a Gandhi fast touch off riots. If uncomplimentary toward Gandhi’s political acumen, Herman presents his criticisms subtly, without impeding the brisk narrative flow. Showing history eluding Gandhi and Churchill, Herman provocatively presents their efforts to shape it. --Gilbert Taylor

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 736 pages
  • Publisher: Bantam (April 29, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780553804638
  • ISBN-13: 978-0553804638
  • ASIN: 0553804634
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.6 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (65 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #731,654 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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32 of 33 people found the following review helpful By E. Goldstein on August 3, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Most people will read "Gandhi and Churchill" for the author's detailed study of how the two men compared and contrasted with each other. Remember the exam papers that asked you to compare and contrast two historical periods or two--whatever? Arthur Herman uses the compare and contrast framework to anchor his view that under the skin, Gandhi and Churchill were more alike than you would expect if you put the skinny, bare-chested man and his rotund, English-dressed adversary side by side. Both men were products of the Victorian Age. Both highly esteemed the "manly" virtues. Both were ruthless on occasion. And both, more often than we like to think, could be wrong, even disastrously wrong. To add to the mix, both men's lives had a series of successes and failures.

For many decades Gandhi and Churchill (but they were not the only players, as the author makes clear in great detail) struggled over what India was and what India would become. In the end, according to Herman, neither man's vision prevailed.

This is a very critical dual portrait, not easy on either man, and if both emerge, from time to time, as large sized, it is not because the author intends to spare them. On occasionI found myself wrestling with the author's judgments, not completely satisfied with the interpretations, not sure that there isn't more to be said on one side or the other. Interpretive histories can be more or less persuasive, and I found this one very useful, with lots of new information, but--well, we are allowed to reserve judgment. The author seems to suggest that each man, in his own way, scuttled the possibility of a united India containing Hindus and Moslems together, an India emerging without the birth pangs of massacre and attrocity.
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61 of 67 people found the following review helpful By Paul Gelman on May 31, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Writing a dual biography of two political giants is not an easy task.One is reminded about the outstanding joint biography written many years ago by Lord Bullock on Hitler and Stalin.
In this book,two themes run concurrently:the British Empire's fin-de-siecle and the rise of India as an independent nation.Although of different backgrounds,both political giants-Churchill and Gandhi- seem to have been much alike.On the one hand, this book gives plenty of evidence about Churchill's effort to keep the Jewel of the British Empire no matter what the cost, while on the other hand, Gandhi- as shown here-has done almost anything to undermine Churchill's aspirations.In a very long but fascinating book, Arthur Herman has depicted the two rivals by showing their strong and weak points.Many other personalities make their appearance on this political stage,such as :General Kitchener,Rabindranath Tagore,Franklin Roosevelt,Jawarhalal Nehru,Clement Attlee and others.As Mr Herman points out,both men enjoyed moments of glory but were also flawed.He tells a wonderful tale about one of the most fascinating yet violent periods of contemporary history.This book shows that there were many dark sides in the course of the British history and the Amritsar act of butchering helpless Indians is just one example.The final result of this showdown between Churchill and Gandhi was the rise of India and the demise of the British Empire with grave consequences for both sides.While at some point Churchill was out of touch with the historical reality,Gandhi has not hesitated to sacrifice millions of his fellowmen in pursuit of his dream and in some ways he was extremely naive when interpreting some political events.
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47 of 54 people found the following review helpful By David W. Nicholas on May 1, 2008
Format: Hardcover
This is one of those books that takes two familiar lives--those of Mahatma Gandhi and Winston Churchill--and tells them in parallel. The idea is that the two men influenced each other's goals and lives much more than has been acknowledged in the past. The two only met once: in 1906 when Churchill was Colonial Undersecretary, and Gandhi was lobbying on behalf of Indian independence. Author Herman makes this the center of the book in some ways, which is strange given that it happens very quickly in the book (on about page 130 of what's a 600-page tome) but it works, because the two men seem to have built impressions of one another resting in part on this meeting.

Herman has a number of things to say about both men. He spends about equal time with each, discussing the central issues of their lives and how the other person fit into each stage of the history of the 20th Century. For instance, when he's talking about Churchill, Herman recounts his attitude towards Indian independence and towards Gandhi personally. The book also works as a history of the latter part of the British Raj in India, from approximately the turn of the century to independence. There's a lot of interesting stuff in here, including the fact that Churchill's time "in the wilderness" during the run-up to World War II may have been due to his attitude towards India (he opposed independence resolutely) as much as his opposition to Hitler and appeasement. Gandhi comes across as a naïve idealist who thought he could create a country where everyone worked a spinning wheel and there were no factories, who made speeches that set off riots, but always seemed to think he was only encouraging non-violence.

I enjoyed this book a great deal. It's long, and there's a lot of material here, but it's very informative and has a different take on things. I would recommend it highly.
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