Customer Review

4.0 out of 5 stars Searching for the truth..., 27 July 2012
This review is from: Gandhi, An Autobiography: The Story of My Experiments with Truth (Paperback)
Gandhi was one of the most influential individuals of the 20th century. He is best known for developing, and promoting the principles of "satyagraha," that is, peaceful and non-violent resistance to authority. He used this tactic to achieve independence for the second most populace country on earth, India, from the strongest military power at the time, Britain. In terms of non-violent resistance, he was influenced by Leo Tolstoy, and he in turn influenced many others, including Martin Luther King. The subtitle is: "My Experiments with the Truth." And indeed, there are many. Before the reader undertakes this book, the principal drawback should be realized: it stops in 1921! The most important two and a half decades of his life are omitted. He brushes this off in the farewell, by saying: "My life from this point onward has been so public that there is hardly anything about it that people do not know." Somewhat true, but what we all do NOT know are Gandhi's thoughts about the actions he undertook.

His autobiography was first published in 1927, 6,000 copies. I bought my copy in India, in 1971, published by Navajivan, in Ahmedabad. It appears to have cost 12 rupees, a pittance, but seems to make it more "authentic." Gandhi was a "child groom," marrying his wife, Kasturba, at the age of 13 (she was an "older woman," age 14). Though he was a strong advocate of women's rights, and, in particular, the end to the custom of "sati," where a wife burns herself to death on her husband's funeral pyre, he made the not very "PC" observation of her: "But she is blessed with one great quality to a very considerable degree, a quality which most Hindu wives possess in some measure. And it is this: willingly or unwillingly, consciously or unconsciously, she has considered herself blessed in following in my footsteps, and has never stood in the way of my endeavor to lead a life of restraint. Though, therefore, there is a wide difference between us intellectually, I have always had the feeling that ours is a life of contentment, happiness and progress."

Though not a brilliant student, Gandhi went to London in the 1890's, and studied law, become a barrister. Then he went to South Africa, for 21 years, which spanned the Boer War, where he was in charge of an Indian ambulance service for two months. He developed his non-violent resistance techniques during this period. He only went to live in India, on a permanent basis, in 1915, and, as indicated above, the book ends six years later. Gandhi was a vegetarian, and part of the book covers the "fads" involved in his dietary "experiments with truth." For example, he says: "I very nearly ruined my constitution during the recruiting campaign. In those days my food principally consisted of groundnut butter and lemons. I knew it was possible to eat too much butter and injure one's health..." Health home remedies are fine with me, and do often work, but I believe his statement is a wild exaggeration: "Though I have had two serious illnesses in my life, I believe that man has little need to drug himself. 999 cases out of a thousand can be brought round be means of a well-regulated diet, water and earth treatment and similar household remedies." He is also famous for various experiments with "chastity," which involved a young girl sleeping naked with him at night. This is not covered in the autobiography.

A quirky individual, who took a major part in shaping the 20th Century, and whose autobiography can be revealing, stilted, a bit pompous, all at the same time. An essential read, however. 4-stars.
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