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Gandhi: An Autobiography - The Story of My Experiments With Truth Paperback – November 1, 1993
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"Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress"
Is the world really falling apart? Is the ideal of progress obsolete? Cognitive scientist and public intellectual Steven Pinker urges us to step back from the gory headlines and prophecies of doom, and instead, follow the data: In seventy-five jaw-dropping graphs, Pinker shows that life, health, prosperity, safety, peace, knowledge, and happiness are on the rise. Learn more
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Gandhi's nonviolent struggles in South Africa and India had already brought him to such a level of notoriety, adulation, and controversy that when asked to write an autobiography midway through his career, he took it as an opportunity to explain himself. Although accepting of his status as a great innovator in the struggle against racism, violence, and, just then, colonialism, Gandhi feared that enthusiasm for his ideas tended to exceed a deeper understanding. He says that he was after truth rooted in devotion to God and attributed the turning points, successes, and challenges in his life to the will of God. His attempts to get closer to this divine power led him to seek purity through simple living, dietary practices (he called himself a fruitarian), celibacy, and ahimsa, a life without violence. It is in this sense that he calls his book The Story of My Experiments with Truth, offering it also as a reference for those who would follow in his footsteps. A reader expecting a complete accounting of his actions, however, will be sorely disappointed.
Although Gandhi presents his episodes chronologically, he happily leaves wide gaps, such as the entire satyagraha struggle in South Africa, for which he refers the reader to another of his books. And writing for his contemporaries, he takes it for granted that the reader is familiar with the major events of his life and of the political milieu of early 20th-century India. For the objective story, try Yogesh Chadha's Gandhi: A Life. For the inner world of a man held as a criminal by the British, a hero by Muslims, and a holy man by Hindus, look no further than these experiments. --Brian Bruya
“Here is an autobiography more captivating than fiction and more stimulating than romantic adventure. It is the most revealing study of the human soul that I have ever read.”
—The Christian Century
“An absorbing book that stands alone in frankness and plain honesty...Its place among the classics of autobiography cannot be in doubt.”
—The New Statesman
“An amazingly frank self-revelation of the greatest and humblest modern man.”
“It is...only by reading the whole long and detailed day-by-day record that readers can sense the magic of Gandhi’s being and discover him fully.”
“(Gandhi’s) autobiography remains invaluable for its account of the shaping of a new path to collective resistance to injustice.”
—From the foreword by Sissela Bok
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But, this book was just plain hard to read. The style was more like reading legislation than reading a life story. That probably makes sense, given Gandhi's educational training. This style might work for a short, thoughtful treatise on a specific topic. But, 500+ pages in this style was just too much.
I finally did get through the book. I would like to say that it was worth it, to get to know Gandhi better. And, that might be true if this book was the only way to get to know Gandhi, but it's not. There are many other sources to learn about him. I think it would be better to chose one of the others.
Still, his determination and fight for Indians to be treated equally was inspirational. His peaceful protests are what eventually inspired Martin Luther King and, to a point, Nelson Mandela, fight for the rights of blacks in America (King) and South Africa (Mandela). So for that, and for refusing to accept the racist status quo for his people, Gandhi was an inspiration.
While it would be very difficult to summarize his life, there are a few key themes that characterized it:
a) His deep-rooted belief in truth. A belief that he lived through his actions.
b) His passion for public service, particularly fighting for the rights of the oppressed
c) Servant Leadership
d) Self Discipline - a leader must lead himself before leading others
Through this autobiography, numerous leadership lessons can be learned in each of these areas.
Below are key excerpts from the book that I found particularly insightful:
1- "But one thing took deep root in me the conviction that morality is the basis of things, and that truth is the substance of all morality. Truth became my sole objective. It began to grow in magnitude every day, and my definition of it also has been ever widening."
2- "He (Mr. Leonard) exclaimed, 'Gandhi, I have learnt one thing,and it is this, that if we take care of the facts of a case, the law will take care of itself. Let us dive deeper into the facts of this case."
3- "But all my life though, the very insistence on truth has taught me to appreciate the beauty of compromise. I saw in later life that this spirit was an essential part of Satyagraha. It has often meant endangering my life and incurring the displeasure of friends. But truth is hard as adamant and tender as blossom."
4- "The heart's earnest and pure desire is always fulfilled. In my own experience I have often seen this rule verified. Service of the poor has been my heart's desire, and it has always thrown me amongst the poor and enabled me to identify myself with them."
5- "And now after considerable experience with the many public institutions which I have managed, it has become my firm conviction that it is not good to run public institutions on permanent funds. A permanent fund carries in itself the seed of the moral fall of the institution. A public institution means an institution conducted with the approval, and from the funds, of the public. When such an institution ceases to have public support, it forfeits its right to exist."
6- "During my professional work it was also my habit never to conceal my ignorance from my clients or my colleagues. Whenever I felt myself at sea, I would advise my client to consult some other counsel, or if he preferred to stick to me, I would ask him to let me seeks the assistance of senior counsel. This frankness earned me the unbounded affection and trust of my clients. They were always willing to pay the fee whenever consultation with senior counsel was necessary. This affection and trust served me in good stead in my public work."
7- "But the path of self-purification is hard and steep. To attain to perfect purity one has to become absolutely passion-free in thought, speech and action; to rise above the opposing currents of love and hatred, attachments and repulsion. I know that I have not in me as yet that triple purity, in spite of constant ceaseless striving for it. That is why the world's praise fails to move me, indeed it very often stings me. To conquer subtle passions to me to be harder far than the physical conquest of the word by force of arms...So long as a man does not of his own free will put himself last among his fellow creatures, there is no salvation for him. Ahimsa is the farthest limit of humility."