Amazon Best Books of the Month, April 2011
: With Great Soul
, Pulitzer Prize-winner Joseph Lelyveld accomplishes the difficult task of humanizing the fabled "Mahatma." Utterly unafraid of depicting Gandhi's less palatable tendencies--shameless self-promotion, inscrutable sexual mores, and an often narrow and ethnically specific application of his evolving political tenets--Lelyveld instead stands the man up against the myth. Comprehensively researched and confidently written, Lelyveld's exploration of Gandhi's politically formative years in South Africa, and the international profile he later secured in India, demonstrates laudable (if not unflinching) critical distance from his subject. It takes a brave biographer to pull this off respectfully. (See Christopher Hitchens’s book on Mother Theresa for a contrary and maudlin example.) Lelyveld is up to the job, delivering an ultimately indispensable take on the flesh-and-blood man who may have been his own best hagiographer. Everyone with an interest in Gandhi--from incurable skeptics to unabashed devotees--should find much to learn from one of the year’s best biographies to date. --Jason Kirk
From Publishers Weekly
In this rigorous biography of India's beloved political and spiritual leader, Lelyveld (Move Your Shadow) offers an unexpected perspective on Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (1869–1948), one that focuses more on his failures and vexations than triumphs. Gandhi dreamed of Hindu-Muslim solidarity in a united, autonomous India (a hope dashed with the 1947 partition that split off Pakistan); acceptance of lower castes by upper-caste Hindus (still only partially accomplished); an economy built around cottage industries in self-sufficient villages (a quixotic fantasy). This program proved far more difficult than evicting the British, Lelyveld notes, and earned the Mahatma hatred—and, finally, assassination—in an India riven by sectarian animosity and caste prejudice. Lelyveld pairs a sympathetic but critical analysis of Gandhi's politics with a vivid portrait of the Mahatma's charismatic strangeness: his makeover from business-suited, English-educated upper-caste lawyer to loincloth-clad sage; his odd diet and abhorrence of sex; his strained family life. A stirring, evenhanded account that relates the failure of Gandhi's politics of saintliness while attesting to its enduring power. Photos. (Mar.)
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