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Sun Dec 2, 2012, 08:48 PM

Two books on Gandhi

The Gandhi Reader: A Sourcebook of His Life and Writings
ed Homer Jack
532 pp
Indiana Univ Press: 1956
$15

Gandhi: The True Man Behimnd Modern India
Jad Adams
323 pp
Pegasus Books: 2011
$27

Mr Adams' book starts off very promisingly, providing an extremely detailed history that yields real insight into Gandhi's political approach and the cultural contexts in which he labored. Had Mr Adams continued in the same mode, he might have produced a very information 1000 or 1500 page must-read text on Gandhi. Unfortunately, about halfway through, Mr Adams decides that the detailed political history is not nearly as interesting to him as Gandhi's crankish side: the obsessive attention to diet and stool and sexual self-control. It is perhaps well for the student of Gandhi to be aware that Gandhi had some substantial eccentricities, if contemplated from the perspective of a modern Westerner, but it is also true that Gandhi's eccentricities do not seem to be the reason he was so influential in his time, nor do they have much to do with the reasons he has been remembered in the decades after his death. I did not (for example) find Mr Adams speculations that perhaps Gandhi became so obsessed with sexual self-control, because he was often constipated and his hardened stoolds may have pressed upon his prostate, producing sexual arousal, to be very informative or interesting. Sadly, Mr Adams increasing attention to such matters rather affects the second half of the book. It is quite possible that a competent person will someday write an illuminating psycho-history of Gandhi, explaining something about the interrelations of the various pieces of Gandhi's extremely complex personality, but Mr Adams has not written that book. Read the first half or so, and then ignore the rest, would be my advice

The Reader is a completely different matter. It almost begs for a companion volume, to lay out in more detail the history that parallels the selections. You will get quite a good idea about Gandhi, his times, his friends, his views, from this book: but your impressions will remain somewhat disjointed. Nevertheless, it is well worth reading: one hears not only from Gandhi in its pages; one also hears from many of his contemporaries

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