Friday, January 15, 2010

Gandhi and Churchill:The Epic Rivalry That Destroyed an Empire and Forged Our Age

Back in the summer a friend recommended that I read Arthur Herman's book, Gandhi and Churchill: The Epic Rivalry That Destroyed an Empire and Forged Our Age. It's a big book (722 pages crammed with history) and I took several months to read it. I think it was an ambitious endeavor for Mr. Herman to chronicle and explain the history of the end of Britain's rule over India through the lives of Gandhi and Churchill, but I must admit that he achieved his goal and wrote a fascinating biography of the two men in the process.

My copy is now dog-eared (I know, I should be ashamed) and scribbled in, and slips of paper mark many passages. Since finishing it, I've picked it up several times and scanned again certain paragraphs or chapters - it's that good.

I felt as though I already knew a good bit about Churchill from reading William Manchester's excellent biography of him, and as seen through the eyes of his wife, Clementine, when I read the biography of her that their youngest daughter wrote. Gandhi was new territory for me, and pairing him with Churchill was a brilliant tactic. Churchill was scientific, logical, and believed in the free market. Gandhi was religious, pacifistic, and believed socialism was what India needed. Churchill recognized the evil in other men, while Gandhi saw good in everyone (including Hitler).

Before reading this book, I did not know that much of Gandhi's religious beliefs and pacifistic ideas were influenced and even shaped by a New Age group in London with which he associated while studying law in London as a young man. According to Herman, it was Helena Blavatsky, leader of the Theosophical Society, "who, more than any other single person, changed his view of India and its place in the world's future." I did not know that Gandhi's prison stays were almost like a vacation for him, and that he rather enjoyed being incarcerated and read many books while locked up.

"During his two years at Yeravda he read an estimated 150 books. They included Kipling's Barrack Room Ballads and Second Jungle Book; Macaulay's Lays of Ancient Rome and Goethe's Faust; Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Ivanhoe; Buckle's History of Civilization and that Churchillian favorite, Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, which Gandhi hugely enjoyed."

After finishing this book, I wanted to know more about India, so I bought India after Gandhi: The History of the World's Largest Democracy.



Blogger hopeinbrazil said...

Sounds like a fascinating book! I love Churchill history and would never have thought to combine his story with Ghandi's.

2:02 PM  

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