Politician, freedom fighter, pacifist, ascetic-cum-guru, putative saint, it could be argued that for a true understanding of the man heralded by millions as a mahatma (great soul) the percipience of theology is required above that of orthodox history. Still, Ramachandra Guha is as dogged a researcher as Gandhi was an agitator ... the most exhaustive account yet of Gandhi’s temporal and spiritual crusades. A vivid, absorbing read ... Guha weaves together the narrative as deftly as Gandhi’s homespun cloth. His telling of this David and Goliath tale is greatly enhanced by excerpts from the private papers of Gandhi’s adversaries; his keen eye for the idiosyncratic often lends a life-affirming touch ... Guha seems overly anxious to defend his subject’s failings. But only Gandhi’s most ardent detractors (of which there are plenty in India) could put down this book and not recognize him as a remarkable, pioneering leader who changed the world and still has much to teach us.
Perhaps inevitably, with one who has been regarded almost as a saint, it is the flaws that will capture many readers’ attention. A key theme that emerges is Gandhi’s effort to control himself and those around him ... Some of the most interesting parts of this book concern another group Gandhi sought to instruct: women. Two sections in particular are likely to raise eyebrows ... Guha does as much as any reasonable biographer could to explain the 'experiments' with reference to Gandhi’s 40-year obsession with celibacy. Ultimately, though, the reader is left feeling that Gandhi’s own defenses of his behavior are riddled with self-justification ... Guha’s admiration for his subject is clear throughout this book. He tries to explain controversial aspects of Gandhi’s life by contextualizing them within Gandhi’s own thinking. Some of Gandhi’s fiercer critics may feel this is soft-pedaling, but it does help build a fair, thorough and nuanced portrait of the man ... Guha lets Gandhi appear on his own terms, and allows him to reveal himself in all his contradictions.
Apart from a number of minor, previously unknown details...Guha’s book repeats the narrative of Richard Attenborough’s 1982 biopic Gandhi. Guha presents no big argument, only small disagreements with Gandhi’s enemies and his own ... the only serious question it raises is whether a genuinely new biography of the man is even possible ... the answer might be to displace anything radical or at least illiberal about the Mahatma, the very thing with which genuinely new scholarship on him is concerned. But Guha doesn’t engage with this scholarship, seeking instead to defang Gandhi by downplaying the self-described 'philosophical anarchist,' who stood for the remaking of social relations by the power of sacrifice. Confusing non-violence with pacifism, Guha passes over his hero’s difficult ideas in silence ... Guha is at the same time touchy and craven in his attitude towards the west’s relationship with his subject and with India ... His book does little more than veil India’s present with a fantasy of non-violence safely ensconced in the past.
The book, written in engaging prose, takes the reader on a step-by-step journey, episode by engrossing episode. Guha decides which stations to halt and spend some time at, and he does it with great care ... An honest narrator of the various complexities of the Mahatma’s life, Guha has taken care to treat his material evenly, with balance and proportion. One descends into his book as one would into a mine, deciding for oneself what to extract from the wealth of Gandhi’s life ... The book has at least three remarkable aspects. First, there are the Mahatma’s encounters with non-political figures, which generate rare amusements for the reader ... A second significant feature of the book is its chronicling of Gandhi’s daily routine, with all its peculiarities ... Finally, the book details the complexity of Gandhi’s relationships with dominant political figures ... As for motivations and deeper causes, one is left to speculate, because Guha does not pass judgment. He is careful not to promise or offer any grand narrative: there is no central argument or even much critical analysis. And perhaps this is the book’s biggest disappointment: the author doesn’t dwell on the whys of Gandhi’s life. On the other hand, Guha’s biography excels at delineating the voluminous whats of that life, capturing the many layers of Gandhi’s vivid and historically consequential experiences. For Gandhi scholars, the book has much to offer ... A biography of this scope often raises a number of questions...[for which] Guha doesn’t provide an adequate answer ... Guha’s massive efforts to recreate [Gandhi's] life and message are laudable.
... magnificent ... Many details in the book are fresh. More closely than any other biographer, Mr Guha tracks the forgotten influence of Gandhi’s long-serving secretary, Mahadev Desai. He offers lively trivia ... But Mr Guha’s analysis is most valuable on the big issues ... More than ever, perhaps, Indians and outsiders would benefit from reacquaintance with Gandhi’s belief in compromise. Mr Guha’s magisterial account of a compassionate man provides a timely opportunity.
... exhaustive, deeply affecting ... As I put down the book, I was struck that Guha had let us know enough to achieve what the best biographers aim for: a rendering of the subject in such fullness that the reader feels himself wrestling directly with the protagonist, his time, and his ideas ... the narrative itself brings into vivid focus the vast array of characters underwriting that heroic, solitary posed ... Guha’s astute contextualizing draws on a wider range of materials than any of Gandhi’s many previous biographers, thanks to his scouring of dozens of archives across several continents. And while it seems odd to say of a more than 1,000-page book that it has a terseness about it, Guha achieves a taut, unornamented prose that rings true to his subject ... Guha’s biography flatters no school of thought, staying truer than any previous biography to the stature and weaknesses of a man whose voice should still arrest us today.
Gandhi: The Years That Changed the World, 1914-1948... the second and concluding volume of Ramachandra Guha’s biography, offers a more conventional account [than previous works] ... The new volume likewise shows Guha to be admirably industrious in examining multiple archives, and diligent in his mastery of the arcana of Indian politics, but a bit languid in his analyses. Gandhi appears in his account as a symbol of India’s imperilled secular nationalism, whose 'ideas on religious pluralism and interfaith harmony speak directly to the world we live and labour in.' This bland do-gooder has little of the 'sublime madness' that Niebuhr identified in the man who wrestled with the snake of politics.
The book’s great strength is its rigorous documentation of Gandhi’s life: in its pages, the reader encounters the countless letters, conversations, disputes, arrests, and insights that made the man, and the reader also begins to understand how he reshaped thinking around the world (including, perhaps most notably, Gandhi’s influence on the soon-to-rise American civil rights movement.) The book’s central weakness is directly related to its rigor – in his effort to include every struggle, family relationship, tour, and dispute in the great man’s life, Guha consistently errs on the side of creating a complete record over writing an easily digestible story. This makes the book an invaluable resource for academics and deep thinkers; readers looking for a casual tour of a great life are better off going elsewhere. This isn’t to begrudge Guha the pages he fills - his job is a big one.
The reach and ease with which Guha works Gandhi's own words and thoughts into every aspect, virtually every moment, of this long and complicated story is at first startling and then just reassuringly marvelous, surely the most bristlingly readable narrative life of Gandhi readers are ever likely to see ... Impressively, even over the course of 1,000 pages, the energy of Guha's biography never flags.
Gandhi: The Years That Changed the World, 1914-1948 will not be bettered, and it is essential reading even for those who do not think of themselves as India buffs ... Mr. Guha is the first biographer to have had access to Gandhi’s voluminous personal papers, which had been jealously guarded by two of his closest companions, Dr. Sushila Nayar and her brother. Now Mr. Guha can show us in brimming measure how Gandhi became a one-man advice bureau to the world ... Gandhi: The Years That Changed the World does overflow—but this is, I think, necessary to show how Gandhi’s influence spread far beyond India and beyond his prime mission of securing his country’s independence from Britain.
The author portrays Gandhi as a masterful politician intent on a number of reforms apart from independence, including the dismantling of caste and religious barriers and advancement of gender equality ... Superb. On nearly every page, Guha offers evidence why Gandhi remains relevant in the world 70 years after his death.
In the second half of his two-part biography of Gandhi, Guha (Gandhi Before India) mines newly discovered archival material to produce a portrait of the Indian leader that is both panoramic in scope and surprisingly intimate, both admiring of Gandhi and cognizant of his flaws ... Guha contextualizes Gandhi’s anticolonialism as merely one strand in a rich skein of political and moral beliefs ... Incisively written, this is a landmark account of Gandhi’s engagement with the world he would transform forever.