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Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle with India
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Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle with India

3.67  ·  Rating Details ·  595 Ratings  ·  78 Reviews
A highly original, stirring book on Mahatma Gandhi that deepens our sense of his achievements and disappointments—his success in seizing India’s imagination and shaping its independence struggle as a mass movement, his recognition late in life that few of his followers paid more than lip service to his ambitious goals of social justice for the country’s minorities, outcast ...more
Paperback, 448 pages
Published April 3rd 2012 by Vintage (first published January 1st 2011)
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Hadrian
(Written somewhere over Siberia on the plane to Incheon at 3:30 AM EST, god-knows-when actual Korean time)

Gandhi is one of those few figures whose name inspires near-universal reverence. In India, within a barely a century after his death, he is already somewhere between Jesus Christ and the Buddha. Perhaps there are a few diehard colonialists and preservers of Empire who still despise him, and aside from them, those few fervent religious devotees.

Yet he is still controversial. His role in Indi
...more
Becky
Jan 29, 2012 Becky rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book deserves a 5-star rating because of its content. I'm giving it 4 stars simply because it was not a compelling read. It's the kind of book I'm very glad to have read, though.

A friend who read the same book was irritated that Gandhi's faults were portrayed. Perhaps she thought the author set out to discredit Gandhi. Now that I have read the entire book and know more about Gandhi, I remain impressed with him. Yes, he managed his own public relations very well. Yes, he was more than quirk
...more
Grady
Apr 14, 2011 Grady rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
'To err is human, to forgive is divine'

Reading Joseph Lelyveld's sensitive and informative biography of the life of Mahatma Gandhi is enriching in many ways: the quality of writing is first class, the manner in which he shares the entire spectrum of the life of one of the greatest contemporary philosophers of man is both learned and involving, and the ability to discuss the human aspects of a man who has been all but officially canonized takes great courage. GREAT SOUL: MAHATMA GANDHI AND HIS ST
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Perry Krasow
Mar 15, 2013 Perry Krasow rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, biography
I heard about the controversy surrounding Great Soul before I ever got a copy in my hands. So the main question I had was “Is this going to read like a Jackie Collins novel, or is this a factual biography?” The main objections from the State Assembly in Gujarat, which resulted in their vote to ban the book, involved suggestions that Gandhi had a gay relationship, and that Gandhi made racist comments. For brevity, and since many readers would prefer to draw their own conclusions from the evidence ...more
Mary
Aug 06, 2011 Mary rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An interesting biography of Gandhi and his thought over his long life. The general outline wasn't new--his activism for Indians in South Africa, his return to India determined to develop his iodeas of simple ascetic living and achieving the end of untouchability. However, his inner conflicts between his political and his spiritual roles are explored at length. The author doesn't flinch from portraying Gandhi's tendency to egoistic insistence on his particular ideas of truth-- at the same time hi ...more
Chris
Nov 07, 2013 Chris rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
By sheer coincidence, I read this about a month after finishing Malcolm X A Life of Reinvention. Both are recent, heralded biographies of 20th-c. liberation/anti-colonial leaders. Both are critical, sometimes sharply so, of their subjects as both men and politicians, but ultimately sympathetic. The books are not otherwise comparable: Marable was both a scholar and an activist, hence the political scope and immense detail of his Malcolm book, whereas Lelyveld's reporting background equips him mor ...more
Sheila
Apr 14, 2015 Sheila rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: not sure
Recommended to Sheila by: myself
Fact is humans are not perfect in this realistic world and that goes for Gandhi. I found the writing very dry and monotonous. I have not read any other books of Joseph Lelyeld and this is going to be my last book by this author.

In South Africa Gandhi defended wealthy Indians and till much later he hardly supported the working Indian labourers but never supported the local African natives and thus portrays Gandhi as racially prejudiced. I find Gandhi an interesting person though I do not agree wi

...more
Shawn
Jan 20, 2012 Shawn rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Some readers have been upset by the fact that Lelyveld treats Gandhi not as a saint but as a complex human being, both flawed, and wonderfully courageous and persevering. The book covers Gandhi's adult life, from his arrival in South Africa to his assassination, concentrating on the great themes of that life: opposition to injustice and inequality, non-violence, and Indian independence. Like all of us, he was a man of his time and places and sometimes failed to live up to his own ideals, never, ...more
Gautam Kamath
I found the book to be boring at times and insightful at others. There are many things I learnt here about Gandhi that helps provide perspective of why his detractors hated him as much as they did. What I completely failed to understand here is how with all his failings, his open hypocrisy, his obnoxious personal habits, his religious superstitions, his political wilyness, his constant changes of stance, his insensitivity to the needs of those close to him and his massive ego he still came to be ...more
Edward Sullivan
A fascinating, insightful biography. Rather than telling the story of Gandhi's entire life, Lelyveld focuses on pivotal episodes that shaped the great man's philosophical, political, and spiritual views. This is not the Gandhi superbly portrayed by Ben Kingsely in the hagiographic but wonderful motion picture. Lelyveld has been criticized for his "all too human" portrait of Gandhi but I find it refreshing. Gandhi's eccentricities, flaws, weaknesses, and considerable naivtee in some important mat ...more
Bakul
Apr 27, 2011 Bakul is currently reading it  ·  review of another edition
I just started reading this big volume, but even the first forty pages produced a fascinating view of the complicated man. I am at a spot where the author refers to Naipaul's observation about Gandhi that he was really an European at heart. I had such a suspicion, but never could pinpoint the fact.
Mark
Nov 26, 2011 Mark rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
For me, this was a terribly unsatisfying book. The author spends all of his effort nit-picking at Gandhi, trying to humanize him. Underneath this devotion to setting the record straight, there is a distinct whiff of hostility. Gandhi deserves better.
Kushal Srivastava
Jun 30, 2013 Kushal Srivastava rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: india
A day before he was assassinated, Mahatma Gandhi told Manu Gandhi, his grandniece – “If someone shot at me and I received his bullet on my bare chest, without a sigh, with a smile and Rama's name on my lips, only then you should say that I was a true mahatma”.

Next day he was shot by a Hindu extremist in chest and died with Rama’s name (allegedly) thus fulfilling the final act of his mahatma-ship. Mahatma Gandhi as he was called respectfully throughout the country and beyond fought all his life a
...more
Carol
May 14, 2013 Carol rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The book is more than the story of Gandhi. It is a story of Great Britain, South Africa, Pakistan,Turkey, religion (including Christianity, Hinduism, and Islam), racism, prejudice, bigotry, fanaticism, Nelson Mandela, social inequality and probably much, much more. While I thought I was going to be reading about Gandhi in India, and indeed I did, much more time was spent on Gandhi's formative years in South Africa, and that was important to understand how the man evolved to embrace his life's mi ...more
Walter
Aug 28, 2011 Walter rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a masterfully comprehensive and somewhat flawed work that is a worthy read, especially for those seeking to learn about the life of the Mahatma in great detail. Clearly the author both respects and has deep appreciation for his subject and this is one of the book's greatest stengths as well as one of its greatest weaknesses.

On the strengths side of the figurative ledger, Mr. Lelyveld covers Gandhi's life in rich detail and, in the relaying of the facts of his life, does so faithfully. It
...more
Sara
Jan 11, 2014 Sara rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: political-action
The man who reinvented everything

[Through my ratings, reviews and edits I'm providing intellectual property and labor to Amazon.com Inc., listed on Nasdaq, which fully owns Goodreads.com and in 2013 posted revenues for $74 billion and $274 million profits. Intellectual property and labor require compensation. Amazon.com Inc. is also requested to provide assurance that its employees and contractors' work conditions meet the highest health and safety standards at all the company's sites.]

This b
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Bob
Nov 23, 2011 Bob rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2011, 4-star


This is a very good read. Overall, Lelyveld does a fine job and presents a fresh historical view, not shying away from Gandhi's own admitted short comings and periods of self doubt. It's great that a glossary is provided for all of the Hindi words and phrases. I only needed to consult a dictionary a few times.
Gandhi always put his beliefs into action, especially near the end of his life. It's impossible to say how many lives he saved by nearly fasting to death himself. Nobody, which ever side
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Susan
The Hilo Public Library has a bin up front with a monthly feature, and I always check it out for unexpected treasures. The theme was "biographies" and this is the one that most interested me.

Everyone knows who Mahatma Ghandi is.......the world-founder and father of the non-violent struggle for justice. I don't recall ever learning about Ghandi in school; I do recall Dr. Martin Luther King citing Ghandi as the basis for his leadership in non-violent struggle for human rights in America. It turns
...more
Melissa
Nov 26, 2011 Melissa rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir-biography
This book was a chore to complete. The physical book was dry and irritating to read. The audiobook was read by such a cynical voice (a Vincent Price sound-alike) that it was almost unbearable. The author seemed to spend an amazing amount of effort digging through every possible piece of Gandhi correspondence/historic record and grabbing anything that was remotely negative, conflicting, or exploitable. I kept alternately reading and listening to the book, hoping there would be some kind of messag ...more
Jason Kirk
Amazon.com Best Books of the Month Review: 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 explorat ...more
Oscar
Sep 14, 2016 Oscar rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I was looking to read about ghandi's last 20 or so years after reading his autobiography. This book gave me a completely new perspective on ghandi. Very telling and well done. I guess a much better perspective than the autobiography, but the autobiography was essential as well.
Viswanathan Venkataraman
Most non fiction books and some fiction I never read till the end. half a way through I drop it once I feel I get what author wants to convey. Last one year have been actually finishing the books which leaves me stuck with one book for a period.
The most revealing part of this book was his time in South Africa. Though it made a very dry reading I had never realised how essential that 20 years was in making Gandhi. It is interesting to read how this middle class orthodox Hindu who didn't have symp
...more
Catherine
I'm out of renewals and I have to return this to the library. And this was the second time I checked it out.

The author's goal so far appears to be to put Gandhi's first-person memories in their proper context and time. Apparently Gandhi remembered certain things differently 10 years or more after the fact. Go figure. And many of his biographers apparently took the easy route and took his word for it. So Lelyveld is putting the record straight. Or straighter?

So what I get from this is that Gandhi
...more
Ric
Finally able to finish this. I started this before moving to a new house and was only able to finish the last two chapters after moving in. The fact that the writing style is both quite confusing and unexciting contributed to me not subconsciously pulling myself to pick up the book.

Purchasing this book was quite serendipitous. I found this lying on a pile of discounted books only days after buying a Gandhi (1984 film) DVD. I immediately started reading this book after watching the DVD as my inte
...more
Aliendheasja
This book changes (almost) everything I thought about Gandhi. I think it's a good thing because it makes me question the real quality of a person that I adore. It makes me learn that to really truly admire one single soul is worthless because that person is a mere human, whom came with all the baggage that other humans have in life.

In terms of Gandhi, I am glad that this book shows that he sometime slipped too, sometime he could be a hypocrite too, just like the rest of us. I think the most int
...more
Zweegas
Jan 11, 2012 Zweegas marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Last year I chose 15 books from the New York Times 100 notable books of 2010 list. So far I've read 5 of them with reactions ranging from absolute hatred to tepid amusement. I can resist trying it again though, so this is my list of 15 books from the NYT notable books of 2011 list that I picked to add to my reading list:

Angel Esmeralda -- Don Delillo
Leftovers -- Tom Perrotta
Buddha In The Attic -- Julie Otsuka
The Last Werewolf -- Glen Duncan
Mr. Fox -- Helen Oyeyemi
Come On All You Ghosts -- Matthe
...more
Rishi Garg
The book is marred by gratuitous criticism - criticism at every turn, in every way, at each opportunity. Despite himself, the author did not succeed in lowering Ghandi's esteem one bit. I think a critical look at Ghandi was in order and had looked forward to a balanced and critical examination of his life. But this book strove to include even the most unconvincing critiques (at two separate points linking Gandhi to Mao and even Bin Laden) and resulted in a wayward study without a consistent them ...more
Ellen
This book is a dense, academic read but is worth the struggle to get through it if you want a history of Gandhi the man, not the saint. It's a unique view of Gandhi in that it captures his view of himself as a politician not a spiritual leader, and how he valued the "moral action" of politics more than religious ritual. Favorite Gandhi quote: "No Indian who aspires to follow the ideals of true religion can afford to remain aloof from politics." He is not idealized in this book but portrayed as a ...more
Iva
Jun 06, 2011 Iva rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Lelyveld comes well-prepared to write about Gandhi having won a Pulitzer for his reporting on apartheid (Move Your Shadow,1986) as well as reporting from from India in the late 60's. As for the Gandhi revealed through Lelyveld's measured scrutiny, the reader comes away with both respect and skepticism. Gandhi's work towards creating equality across caste and religious lines was his primary goal. Lelyveld lets the reader decide about the relationship with Kallenbach--the media picked up on that w ...more
Pierre Lauzon
Nov 20, 2015 Pierre Lauzon rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An outstanding and detailed biography. I learned much about Mahatma Gandhi and the history of India in the first half of the 20th century, including India’s independence in 1947. For instance, I had no idea he had spent many of his younger years as a lawyer in South Africa it was there that many of his ideas gestated. One of the few things I did know was Gandhi’s leadership of the Salt March to the sea in 1930 to protest British taxation. The Salt March was barely a few paragraphs in the book as ...more
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Joseph Lelyveld was executive editor of The New York Times from 1994 to 2001, and interim executive editor in 2003 after the resignation of Howell Raines. He is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author, and a frequent contributor to the New York Review of Books.
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“I should like to slip out of the public gaze...to bury myself in the farm and devote my attention to farming and educating." Mahatma Gandhi” 1 likes
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