Here is the first volume of a magisterial biography of Mohandas Gandhi that gives us the most illuminating portrait we have had of the life, the work and the historical context of one of the most abidingly influential-and controversial-men in modern history.
Ramachandra Guha-hailed by Time as "Indian democracy's preeminent chronicler"-takes us from Gandhi's birth in 1869 through his upbringing in Gujarat, his two years as a student in London and his two decades as a lawyer and community organizer in South Africa. Guha has uncovered myriad previously untapped documents, including private papers of Gandhi's contemporaries and co-workers; contemporary newspapers and court documents; the writings of Gandhi's children; and secret files kept by British Empire functionaries. Using this wealth of material in an exuberant, brilliantly nuanced and detailed narrative, Guha describes the social, political and personal worlds inside of which Gandhi began the journey that would earn him the honorific Mahatma: "Great Soul." And, more clearly than ever before, he elucidates how Gandhi's work in South Africa-far from being a mere prelude to his accomplishments in India-was profoundly influential in his evolution as a family man, political thinker, social reformer and, ultimately, beloved leader.
In 1893, when Gandhi set sail for South Africa, he was a twenty-three-year-old lawyer who had failed to establish himself in India. In this remarkable biography, the author makes clear the fundamental ways in which Gandhi's ideas were shaped before his return to India in 1915. It was during his years in England and South Africa, Guha shows us, that Gandhi came to understand the nature of imperialism and racism; and in South Africa that he forged the philosophy and techniques that would undermine and eventually overthrow the British Raj.
Gandhi Before India gives us equally vivid portraits of the man and the world he lived in: a world of sharp contrasts among the coastal culture of his birthplace, High Victorian London, and colonial South Africa. It explores in abundant detail Gandhi's experiments with dissident cults such as the Tolstoyans; his friendships with radical Jews, heterodox Christians and devout Muslims; his enmities and rivalries; and his often overlooked failures as a husband and father. It tells the dramatic, profoundly moving story of how Gandhi inspired the devotion of thousands of followers in South Africa as he mobilized a cross-class and inter-religious coalition, pledged to non-violence in their battle against a brutally racist regime.
Researched with unequaled depth and breadth, and written with extraordinary grace and clarity, Gandhi Before India is, on every level, fully commensurate with its subject. It will radically alter our understanding and appreciation of twentieth-century India's greatest man.
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Ramachandra Guha is a historian and biographer based in Bangalore. He has taught at the universities of Yale and Stanford, held the Arné Naess Chair at the University of Oslo, and been the Indo-American Community Visiting Professor at the University of California at Berkeley. In the academic year 2011-2 he served as the Philippe Roman Professor of History and International Affairs at the London School of Economics.
Guha’s books include a pioneering environmental history, The Unquiet Woods (University of California Press, 1989), and an award-winning social history of cricket, A Corner of a Foreign Field (Picador, 2002). India after Gandhi (Macmillan/Ecco Press, 2007) was chosen as a book of the year by the Economist, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the San Francisco Chronicle, Time Out, and Outlook, and as a book of the decade in the Times of India, the Times of London, and The Hindu. His most recent book is Gandhi Before India (Knopf, 2014), which was chosen as a notable book of the year by the New York Times. Apart from his books, Guha also writes a syndicated column, that appears in six languages in newspapers with a combined readership of some twenty mllion. Guha’s books and essays have been translated into more than twenty languages. The New York Times has referred to him as ‘perhaps the best among India’s non fiction writers’, Time Magazine has called him ‘Indian democracy’s pre-eminent chronicler’.
Ramachandra Guha’s awards include the Leopold-Hidy Prize of the American Society of Environmental History, the Daily Telegraph/Cricket Society prize, the Malcolm Adideshiah Award for excellence in social science research, the Ramnath Goenka Prize for excellence in journalism, the Sahitya Akademi Award, and the R. K. Narayan Prize. In 2009, he was awarded the Padma Bhushan, the Republic of India’s third highest civilian honour. In 2008, and again in 2013, Prospect magazine nominated Guha as one of the world’s most influential intellectuals. In 2014, he was awarded a honorary doctorate in the humanities by Yale University.
In 2015 he was awarded the Fukuoka Prize.