Friday, 24 August 2012

Book Review: Gandhi

Genre:  Biographies & Memoirs
Author: William L. Shirer
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

I love Shirer's writing and I mourn the loss of the quality of writing and reporting that continues to die with his generation.

Charles Ashbacher's review at Amazon is as good as any:

It is one of the most amazing historical ironies that the one of the most non-violent independence movements in history became one of the greatest bloodbaths when the colonial power left. Once Britain relinquished power over the Indian subcontinent, hundreds of thousands of people were killed by their fellow citizens of the former colony. Ultimately, three different countries emerged from the British colony of India, and two of them, India and Pakistan, remain enemies and may go to war at any time. Mohandas Gandhi was the leader of the independence movement, and he lived non-violent civil disobedience with his every breath. In many ways, it seems inevitable that he too would also be a victim of the violent birth of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

William L. Shirer was a correspondent who spent a great deal of time in India in the early 1930's, and this is an account of that time. He spoke extensively with Gandhi and had a great deal of interaction with the other principals of the Indian independence movement. Clearly, Gandhi was a great man, and the circumstances happened to be right for a non-violent movement to be successful. Even though the British could be brutal, they were ultimately civilized enough to allow it to work. If Gandhi-like tactics would have been used against people like Hitler and Stalin the results would have been different.

Shirer clearly was impressed by Gandhi, his political astuteness and his understanding of the people of India. Fortunately, this does not blind Shirer to Gandhi's weaknesses. While Shirer does give an accurate, interesting and journalistic account of Gandhi's actions, he also explains some of the problems and how people in the independence movement like Jawaharlal Nehru at times grew very frustrated at Gandhi's ideas. With the advantage of historical perspective, some now argue that Gandhi was also bad for India, in that he never seemed to grasp the underlying religious and ethnic hatreds among the people. That is very clear in this book. He also did not grasp the need for a modern infrastructure, as his daily spinning of cloth really did not do anyone any good.

After reading the book, I did come away with some new perspectives on Gandhi and what kind of man he was. Humble, yet well aware of his significance in world history, he can be admired for the principles that he held so strongly. Some say that he died for them. I respectfully disagree, as I believe that he would have been assassinated no matter what philosophy he had expounded. Such was the violent nature of the birth of the nations that arose from the British colony of India.

William Shirer was one of the best journalists of the twentieth century. He was present at many of the greatest historical events and his descriptions of them are some of the best journalism the world has ever seen. This is another in his list of literary accomplishments."
(Originally posted to Multiply September 29, 2008)

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