Gandhi Before India
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Gandhi Before India

4.14 of 5 stars 4.14  ·  rating details  ·  155 ratings  ·  38 reviews
The first volume of a magisterial biography: the definitive portrait of the life and work of one of the most abidingly influential--and controversial--men in modern history.
Here is a revelatory work of biography that takes us from Gandhi's birth in 1869 through his upbringing in Gujarat, his 2 years as a student in London, and his 2 decades as a lawyer and community organ...more
Hardcover, 688 pages
Published October 2nd 2013 by Random House Canada (first published January 1st 2013)
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Vivek Tejuja
Gandhi. Mahatma Gandhi. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. Who was Gandhi? Was he just a movement? Or was there more to him? Was there ever more to him as a person? What was he like before he started the revolution of such a kind that inspired millions to follow him? How did he get there? Who was Gandhi the man? Such questions always cropped in my mind in school.

There was always this chapter on the Mahatma in school and yet we never tried to know more about the man. He was always an enigma. Maybe becau...more
Terri Jacobson
This book is a detailed chronicle of Mahatma Gandhi's life in the early years. Gandhi spent 20 years working in South Africa trying to negotiate basic rights for his people. Around the year 1900, there was a large population of Indians in South Africa. Many of them came as indentured servants, but there was also a middle class that provided goods and services to the Indian community. Gandhi was trained in London to be a lawyer, and his original goal was to work in this profession in India itself...more
A great start to the year with two wonderful works of non-fiction by two authors who I am privileged to have met. Indeed they both lunched in our house in Chennai on the same day. William Dalrymple's masterly Return of a King I have already reviewed. Ram Guha's Gandhi before India is also a beautifully written book, and the result of deep research into archives ignored by others.

It is fascinating to learn of Gandhi's progress from indifferent student to Mahatma, his time in the UK and in South...more
A young London-returned Gujarati lawyer finds little luck establishing a practice in the Bombay High Court. He is called to South Africa by Muslim merchants there, to help with one case. He finds his services so much in demand there that he decides to stay a little longer.

His work brings him in contact with people from all strata of society --- plantation workers, Jewish intellectuals, missionaries, politicians, feminists. He displays an extraordinary talent for deep life-changing friendships w...more
Sam Marlowe
The making of the Mahatma and his time tested methods of passive resistance are usually the missing chapters in any popular biography or biofilm of the Father of the Nation. This book takes us through the many stages in the life of M K Gandhi, who evolves through chapters from a shy student to a cosmopolitan vegetarian to a failed lawyer to a Hindu Pluralist and eventually becoming the champion of the Indian cause in colonial South Africa. Many thanks to Guha, who whether by magic or mastership...more
Rob Smith
I don't know a lot about Gandhi. All I know about him comes from pop-cultural osmosis (like Richard Attenborough's Gandhi), or the smattering I picked up in high school. This delightful biography by Ramachandra Guha eschews the typical 'skip to India' philosophies taken towards Gandhi's life. It encompasses Gandhi's birth and early life and ends in 1915, before Gandhi returned to India. Those desirous of a complete narrative will have to wait for the promised sequel volume.

Guha sets out to provi...more

I was hesitant to buy this book because I was skeptical as to what more that is new can be written about Mahatma Gandhi. After all, the Govt of India had published 100 volumes of his collected works after nearly 40 years of sustained effort in assembling them. Still, the title kindled my interest because I realized that I know little about Gandhi's first 45 years of life, which were spent substantially outside India. In fact, for most of us in India, the window into Gandhi's life before he came...more
A tremendous achievement. 'Gandhi Before India' is an extremely well-written examination of Gandhi's years in South Africa. This period of the Mahatma's career is often treated by Gandhi scholars and biographers as a prelude to his more productive and path-breaking years in India. Guha exposes the folly of this approach- he argues persuasively that Gandhi's experiences in South Africa are of tremendous salience since they moulded his life and character in ways that ultimately enabled the Mahatma...more
Sudheendra Chaitanya
Excellent book. Good way to write and read history. Especially to show how the character evolves over 25 years.

Gandhi's social identity, how it evolves, how he learns, and the impact it has on the community is laid out threadbare. Event to event, instance to instance. But, his religious core doesn't receive such a focus, one feels. So, while one appreciates the swiftness and the moral strength with which Gandhi responds to a situation, and how that helps the community take to the cause with gre...more
This is a wildly detailed biography from Gandhi's birth to his studies in London to his failures in Bombay to his satyagraha movement in South Africa to his departure back to India. More so, it's a portrait of how racially torn and divided lands Transvaal and Natal were. God, they sounded terrible. They make turn of the century London and India look like Eden.

Guha emphasizes that Gandhi was able to live among anyone in the UK and India, but when it came to South Africa there were violence and ra...more
Mayank Kumar
Excellent work again by the author. Very exhaustive and gives a clear insight into formation of a Mahatama with flaws as well as merits covered. Too detailed though.

A must read for anyone who want to understand GandhiJi.
South Africa was the staging ground for Gahndhi's eventual leadership to liberate India from Great Britain. Over many years, Gandhi morphed from a lawyer to a civil rights leader. He developed and evolved his approach to passive resistance and non-violent protest that became a hugely powerful force. It was also in South Africa that Gandhi focused on the the dietary and simple lifestyle that defined his personal life.

In other words, South Africa was where Mohandas became the Mahatma.

This book ta...more
truly a masterpiece... started loving Gandhi after reading this book
Vivek Subramanian
One of the best book ever I read.. when I started I was bit hesitate whether I could complete this book..but I strongly believe gandhis's soul exist in this book which driven me to read completely.. Thanks to ram guha for this wonderful book.. This book introduces unknown characters who we're admire by mahatmas goodness like Thambi Naidoo, Herman Hallanbach, Henry Pollack, Millie Polack, Calicha, Albert West, Joseph Doke, Henry Salt, raychandabhai, pranjeevan Mehta, sheik mehtab, maganlal, kastu...more
A great view into the events that formed who Gandhi became. It was interesting to see his view being limited to Indians and then Asians, while overlooking the native Africans in South Africa. He seems later to come to the understanding that all peoples should be equal under the law, but limited his efforts in promoting this, even for Indians in South Africa.

His strong views on vegetarianism and natural remedies struck me as a bit odd, but given the state of medicine at the time (and perhaps eve...more
Sandeepan Mondal
A brilliant portrayal of one of the world’s greatest thinker, non-violent practitioner and leader

Many of us have criticized Gandhi (and his protégé Nehru) for his inept handling of Hindu-Muslim unity, sidelining other prominent leaders of his time and constantly seeking a compromise with the British thus delaying the much anticipated “swaraj” by many years. What most of the people don’t get right is that only because of the methods of non-violence adopted by the Mahatma, India could function as...more
Samrat Ashok
This magnum opus by Ramachandra Guha , the first of the two books on the Life of Gandhi is a truly amazing book on Gandhi.I have read a fair share of books on Gandhi notably Louis Fischer book on Gandhi, controversial book Great Soul which mischievously suggested that Gandhi could have been Gay. This book stands out for its truly remarkable and objective treatment on the early life of Gandhi in South Africa.

It gloriously captures the travel of how Gandhi from a orthodox Hindu background overcome...more
One of the best books i have read so far.I provides insight to every detail of gandhiji's life till 1914.It is a detail work done by profound analysis and show how gandhiji's character was build.His struggle in south africa is written in depth.Sublime writing by one of the most talented historian.Just waiting for it's second volume.
Daniel Farabaugh
This book had high aspirations and it hit most of them. It wanted to be the definitive biography of Gandhi and it comes close and makes me want to read the next installment. It is meticulously researched and annotated, drawing from many sources. It is a bit dry at times but overall very good.
Satish Bagal
Very detailed and greatly researched biography of Mahatma Gandhi. To a large extent the book succeeds in explaining and relating all formative influences in Mahatma Gandhi's life.

As regards Ramchandra Guha, I believe he is one of the best biographers in the world.
All I can say is that, after this book, what very naturally comes to my mind is to read more about is life after South Africa. What I have already known about him from our history books are paeans about a national hero...mythical figure, whose leadership resulted in the end of the English era in India. But an intimate estimation of the man, a person in flesh and blood is mostly missing. Need suggestions from the community here on books that specifically would give me that. Dont know if Mr. Guha...more
Samyak ahuja
Another well researched book from Ramchandra Guha. Although its a biography from a historian, it is not like one fact after the other. It reads in flow. No jargon. A worth reading for all those wanting to understand making of Gandhiji.
Extremely lucid and well written. Chronicles Mahatma Gandhi's life and provides a number of choicest literature on his life till 1915. Well researched, the narrative is always engrossing and never strays off the plot.
Vikas Mk
Gives one a view of Gandhi that is more human than the god-like perfection that we're used to . Astonishing story of his life in South-Africa before he jumped into the Indian Independence struggle.
Sajit Bhaskaran
A must read for anyone who is interested to know how Gandhi ji's freedom movement thoughts were shaped by the events around him and the people whom he acquainted during his long stay in South Africa.
Marie Smith
I almost got to page 200 of this 550 page book, before I had to return it to the library. It is well written, so I may return to it some day, but I just don't have the time right now.
Ramchandra guha has written this book after through research.This is one of the best book on Gandhiji. Must read book.
Vikram K
Interesting to know how the Mahatma evolved before joining the Indian freedom struggle. Obviously a lot of research has gone into this book and the various sub stories bring out the socio economic state of the Indians in India and SA very well.
Oct 01, 2013 Puja marked it as to-read
Am currently reading Gandhi's "The Story of my Experiments with Truth" and came across an excerpt from Guha's new book on Gandhi in the Sunday papers (link below). Can't wait to get a hold of this copy; it would be interesting to learn more about history and the people who influenced Gandhi (and his actions) when he was in England and South Africa.

Printed excerpt :
Arunachalam Bharathi
Excellent book. Well written and hence highly readable although, very long. Thanks to the author, we could experience an ordinary lawyer transform to the Mahatma. A must read for all those who believe that the path of truth and passive resistance is the way to go.
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Ramachandra Guha was born in Dehradun in 1958, and educated in Delhi and Calcutta. He has taught at the University of Oslo, Stanford, and Yale, and at the Indian Institute of Science. He has been a Fellow of the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin, and also served as the Indo-American Community Chair Visiting Professor at the University of California at Berkeley.

After a peripatetic academic career, with...more
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