By coincidence, I read Rushdie immediately after this and the knowledge I absorbed from Gandhi Churchill really helped.
written for another purpose I am no historian, or even a scholar who is well versed in the material that this book concerns itself with Therefore, this review is strictly a layman s review.
Popular historian Arthur Herman in this book scripts parallel biographies of MK Gandhi and Winston Churchill, two titans of the last century, whose influence is indicated by their places as the runner up to Person of the Century 1900 2000 and the Person of the Half Century 1900 1950 respectively by Time.
The book has several remarkable merits It is well paced, gripping and at most points a page turner Its penchant for digging up unusual details and startling facts calls to mind that masterpiece of historical storytelling, Freedom at Midnight The narrative and structure, from the point of view of timeline and two parallel storylines, is extremely commendable one never loses track of time or of events, or sight of the big picture.
While the book looks to be solid on facts, its interpretations seem questionable, even simplistic, especially regarding Gandhi To summarize the impressions one would glean from the book both the characters, conventionally and in the public imagination considered unequivocal heroes, come off badly Churchill admittedly about whom this is my first and perhaps last book comes off as a person gifted with uncommon courage, great oratorical skill, and a generous dose of luck, but not possessed of an inclination toward out of the box or even objective thought Because his set of core beliefs colonialism, democracy, capitalism with certain welfare systems, anti communism and totalitarianism does not appear to be founded on rational thought, and his intellectual capacities seem ordinary, one is inclined to ascribe his unyielding adherence to these beliefs even in the face of extraordinary challenge to an innate stubbornness and fundamentalism rather than an enlightened steadfastness His megalomania and racism become apparent through understated facts and comments throughout the narrative the shocking extent of his racism is brought out best by his comments about and reaction to the Bengal famine Gandhi comes off as a shrewd strategist than a well intentioned saint politician Herman s approach strikes one as uncharitable toward Gandhi, and sometimes needlessly sensational too much is made of middle aged Gandhi s racism against blacks and lower class Indians which is not all that startling given his historical and cultural context as the author would have us believe , his emphasis on manliness, and particularly his faddish experiments with diet These experiments as well as his sexual experiments upon which Herman should have elaborated are, again, not incongruous with the spirit of the puritanical ascetic tradition of India It is standard fare in Hindu thought that a complete subjugation of the passions is a prerequisite of, or coincident with, salvation While Herman justifiably dismisses Gandhi s ideas on industry, nonviolent protest being an effective weapon in all cases even extreme ones like Hitler , and society as impracticable or even downright silly, he misses or deemphasizes Gandhi s essential nobleness his peacebringing trip to remote Noakhali whilst in the thick of political turmoil, his ceaseless battle against untouchability, religious intolerance and indignity of labor, and his singular contribution toward making the struggle for independence a countrywide event and therefore promoting national identity, perhaps his greatest accomplishment Herman s account of the impact of Gandhi s campaigns, though closer to the truth than several others that simplistically conclude that Gandhi brought independence to India, seems to err in the other direction he judges the campaigns performances harshly since he compares their actual consequences against their promised consequences independence in one year, and so on A measured account would conclude that the campaigns were, in fact, effective in the sense that successive campaigns swelled the numbers of protesters, intensified the drive for independence, mobilized world opinion, and tired the British And through all this, they contributed hugely to India achieving its independence.
The overdone dramatic subtitle of the book The Epic Rivalry that Destroyed an Empire and Forged Our Age presages the style of narration Throughout the book, one gets the niggling feeling that marketing wisdom was a partial reason for juxtaposing these very different lives with each other Though some of the parallels he draws in Gandhi s and Churchill s lives, as well as the impact they had on each others situations, are enlightening, the constant exercise of establishing interconnections between the two giants quickly gets trying for the reader The ta da closings of several chapters don t help.
For the reader who expected to be inspired by great lives, one common quality between the protagonists hits home Gandhi and Churchill both faced crushing failures during their lives, the kind that would induce most men to exhaust and give up But they didn t, and their continuous resilience accounted largely for their places in history The ultimate conclusion of the book is inexorable Gandhi s and Churchill s ideas captivated their people for a time, but pragmatism, as always, won out, and history evaded them.
It s a a decent book is what I can say It gets a few things right but the problem is it leaves a lot of topics hanging in mid air For example in one of the chapters, there was this sentence Gandhi almost killed his son Harilal, with his experiments or something along the same lines It is a very offhand remark to make Gandhi, in his autobiography, explains in detail this specific incident He perceived the incident as a test of his morals principles The doctors diagnose his son to be affected with flu small pox not sure as to which and advice Gandhi to provide non vegetarian food Gandhi refuses to do so and the turmoil he goes through is described in his autobiography To make such a remark, without narrating the events preceding and following it does not make sense to me Such comments are scattered across the book It paints an incorrect picture about the characters involved Apart from this major drawback, the book was otherwise a good read This was my first experience of reading about Winston Churchill, so I was intrigued about that and felt that the book did a decent job in that area One of the predominant themes of the book was that the author portrays, both Churchill and Gandhi to be politically driven, as if that was their sole ambition throughout their life I can t comment about Churchill, as this was my first book about him but I m quite sure that Gandhi wasn t He did not even think about the idea of an Independent India till probably 1906 1910.
For those readers who want to know about Gandhi, DO NOT start with this book read My Experiments with Truth before you start with any other book about him.
This is an epic book about two icons of history, esp that of the 20th century It links them in a way that I had not previously known as well as recounts their individual journeys compellingly and completely Both emerge from the respectful treatment as fully human Gandhi revealed to be a leader whose followers often didn t and who had most of his protests turn out to be unsuccessful Churchill revealed to have been bigoted, bullheaded and lucky because he ascended to the Prime Ministership barely and at the right moment in history to deliver his country from its time of trial and then was cast aside virtually immediately thereafter both revealed to be diffident husbands and Gandhi a barely involved father This being said, or perhaps because of it, I couldn t put it down it is a great read In addition, as adroitly as the author paints the journeys of the two protagonists, he also deftly places them in a compelling recounting of the historical era of which they were such influential members This results in a fabulous book that is important, too These were two lions of the age whose influence is still felt to this day and we know them better and appreciate them fully because of this book.
Arthur Herman, in his magisterial new dual biography, shows how the same could be said of his twin protagonists over India and Indians.
Churchill s illusion was that Britain could continue to hold on to the old British Raj, even after World War II and a bankrupt British treasury His disillusion was rather a cynicism about Indian capacity for self government, lumping Gandhi in with millions of other religious fakirs.
Gandhi s illusion was multiple, but basically of two parts The second was that a medieval age India, with 300 million people all picking up Gandhi s spinning wheel, was possible, was the best way for India to go, and was desired by most Indians His second, tragic illusion was that India without Muslim Hindu partition was the only way to go, and that it could only be done on his terms.
Herman documents how Gandhi, not Churchill, not Viceroy Archibald Wavell, not Muhammad Ali Jinnah or anybody else, wrecked the last reasonable shot at an unpartioned India because it wasn t done his way.
Gandhi s illusion That Indians wanted to follow his way of satyagraha, or soul force, in its nonviolence, as well as to become peasant based, rather than Nehru s vision of technology driven socialism Herman shows that British actions in Gandhi s years of the Raj were NOT driven by nonviolence but rather, the fear of violence that accompanied most of Gandhi s arrests, fasts from prison, etc.
In short, Gandhi comes off badly in this book, and deservedly so.
The mythical Gandhi of Ben Kingsley s acting and of previous bios of the Mahatma is just that a myth Herman rightfully shows that Gandhi impeded India s independence at the times he wasn t irrelevant.
Churchill, meanwhile, was Gandhi s tar baby His 1930s years in the wilderness were all due to India, ultimately His irrationality on the subject had some influence on some of his wilder military tactics proposals during World War II, as well.
But Herman doesn t stop there He gets deeper into the personages of both, what drove them, and how neither could understand the other s drives Churchill, who was a secularist his adult life, could never understand, let alone accept, Gandhi s religious revitalization Gandhi, meanwhile, could understand Churchill but would never lower himself from his hyper idealist pinnacle enough to translate that into action.
If not for these two, India would have been independent earlier, and likely would have remained in the British Commonwealth.
An excellent book And one of which this long review only scratches the surface.
And Herman, who helped his dad with galley proofs of a new translation of the Bhagavad Gita when he was a child, has the academic and personal background to make this book excellent.
Gandhi and Churchill were among the most influential men of the 20th century, born within five years of each other 4000 miles apart Though they met only once, their lives, values and goals would clash head on several times Arthur Herman writes a very readable book which includes not only the lives of these two Titans but incorporates also the history of the world during their lives the two World Wars, the Depression and of course the fight for India s independence.
The book clearly reveals what a challenge the struggle for independence in India was with India s varying groups unable to compromise the Hindu majority, the Muslim minority, the Untouchables Then again there are differences in how groups think this Independence is to be achieved Gandhi espouses his non violent satyagraha movement, others like SC Bose think only a military solution will work and still others want to drive the British out using terrorist activities How are these varying groups to come together and make one nation out of India s teeming population of 350 million people The author lays the blame for the violence and chaos of the movement at the door of the following first of all the British Government which by delaying independence by than 10 years allows hostilities between Hindus and Muslims to fester till they reach explosive levels then leaders like Nehru and Jinnah whose personal ambitions are ahead of national unity then Churchill who as Prime Minister refuses to accept that India s independence is a foregone conclusion and cannot let go his dream of British Imperialism and finally Gandhi who for the sake of an unrealizable ideal may have stood in the way of decisions which though not perfect would have prevented the violence This is the author s view I can see many readers, Indians especially disagreeing with some or all of the arguments.
The last chapter of the book detailing how similar Churchill and Gandhi s lives were is excellent Both were men who at a very early age knew what they wanted Churchill wanted to re establish Britain s old grandeur of Imperialism, Gandhi wanted India not only to be free but wanted India to be the shining example of a society based on Love, Cooperation and Unity Their ways to achieve these goals were different one was a man of war another an apostle of peace But they were both equally passionate about their goals and single minded in its achievement Both were men who wanted to lead their people towards these goals Both faced great success and crushing failure Both enjoyed ardent adulation as well as extreme dislike Both had their share of family problems with their children but both had very loving relationships with their wives Churchill won the war for Britain but did not convince his people that British Imperialism was still possible and that it was good for Britain and those over whom they ruled Gandhi got Indian Independence but could not convince his Hindu and Muslim countrymen to live with each other in peace The world sees both of them as great achievers but I am not sure they thought of themselves that way at the end of their lives.
The book is large at 600 pages but at several points it is a page turner It has a number of interesting details and never drags I recommend reading it.
In This Fascinating And Meticulously Researched Book, Bestselling Historian Arthur Herman Sheds New Light On Two Of The Most Universally Recognizable Icons Of The Twentieth Century, And Reveals How Their Forty Year Rivalry Sealed The Fate Of India And The British Empire They Were Born Worlds Apart Winston Churchill To Britain S Most Glamorous Aristocratic Family, Mohandas Gandhi To A Pious Middle Class Household In A Provincial Town In India Yet Arthur Herman Reveals How Their Lives And Careers Became Intertwined As The Twentieth Century Unfolded Both Men Would Go On To Lead Their Nations Through Harrowing Trials And Two World Wars And Become Locked In A Fierce Contest Of Wills That Would Decide The Fate Of Countries, Continents, And Ultimately An Empire Gandhi Churchill Reveals How Both Men Were Alike Than Different, And Yet Became Bitter Enemies Over The Future Of India, A Land Of Million People With Languages And Dialects And Distinct Religions The Jewel In The Crown Of Britain S Overseas Empire For Years Over The Course Of A Long Career, Churchill Would Do Whatever Was Necessary To Ensure That India Remain British Including A Fateful Redrawing Of The Entire Map Of The Middle East And Even Risking His Alliance With The United States During World War Two Mohandas Gandhi, By Contrast, Would Dedicate His Life To India S Liberation, Defy Death And Imprisonment, And Create An Entirely New Kind Of Political Movement Satyagraha, Or Civil Disobedience His Campaigns Of Nonviolence In Defiance Of Churchill And The British, Including His Famous Salt March, Would Become The Blueprint Not Only For The Independence Of India But For The Civilrights Movement In The US And Struggles For Freedom Across The World Now Master Storyteller Arthur Herman Cuts Through The Legends And Myths About These Two Powerful, Charismatic Figures And Reveals Their Flaws As Well As Their Strengths The Result Is A Sweeping Epic Of Empire And Insurrection, War And Political Intrigue, With A Fascinating Supporting Cast, Including General Kitchener, Rabindranath Tagore, Franklin Roosevelt, Lord Mountbatten, And Mohammed Ali Jinnah, The Founder Of Pakistan It Is Also A Brilliant Narrative Parable Of Two Men Whose Great Successes Were Always Haunted By Personal Failure, And Whose Final Moments Of Triumph Were Overshadowed By The Loss Of What They Held Most Dear Gandhi and Churchill by Arthur Herman is a fine dual biography of Mohandas Gandhi and Winston Churchill This book is also an historical overview of the decline of the British Empire and the rise of Indian independence While these two historical processes were inevitable and transcended any particular individual, it s fair to say that Gandhi and Churchill were the human faces of these two developments And it s also fair to say that each man tried to impose, at times successfully and at other times unsuccessfully, his own vision on these processes The dual biography template works for the most part in this case By emphasizing their relationship and comparing contrasting their similarities and differences, Herman brings to light some interesting aspects of each man s life For Herman these men were dueling partners in the midst of great historical events Their paths and goals wove in and out of each other s lives and, at times, they bumped and collided While this dual biography template approach reveals interesting aspects of each man s life, it also conceals other aspects and occasionally feels a little forced It s fair to say that fighting Churchill was not the sole focus of Gandhi s life nor was battling Gandhi the sole focus of Churchill s life Gandhi s main goal included, but, importantly, transcended India s political independence It was the promotion of the soul force, truth, religious pluralism, and nonviolence Churchill s main goal in life, whether it was dealing with Roosevelt, Stalin, or Gandhi, was preserving the British Empire Certainly maintaining control of India the Empire s Crown Jewel was part of that goal but not the entire goal Still Herman has produced two good biographies here of two of the most important and interesting figures of the 20th Century And he pulls no punches in showing each man s flaws and failures All in all, this is a fine book which I enjoyed reading and recommend to anyone interested in 20th Century history If someone wants to read a fuller biography of Churchill, I recommend William Manchester s three volume The Last Lion Note I listened to the Recorded books Unabridged Audiobook Release Date 10 25 08.
I loved this book, and I learned a lot about both men and the times in both countries and beyond The narrator was quite good, and this was an excellent commute listen and also kept me company during a part of my shoulder recovery.
This is yet another one of those books about to historic figures who might be part of the same story but spent hardly any time looking each other in the eye In the case of Gandhi and Churchill they met in person wants in about 1905 when Gandhi was a young attorney dressed up like an English man coming to London from South Africa to write the wrongs of those times.
The young guy and he was a racist His problems in South Africa arose because he was annoyed to be treated like black people He believed in the color line between white and black and he simply wanted to be treated as a person on the white side of the line Eventually he came to a place where he was trying to improve the lives of the untouchables in India But he was definitely a pretty complicated guy.
I definitely learned some things about both Gandhi and Churchill that I hadn t known before Churchill was definitely an imperialist He definitely thought Britain was making life better for many of the people in their colonies who were not competent to manage their own countries Gandhi definitely thought the British were bad guys The book examines both of them as people coming from the Victorian era Both had problems living their lives in the post Victorian age.
As often happens with this kind of book, there is a lot of individual history for our two main characters that is independent of each other And there are plenty of occasions where the author seems to be stretching it a bit to suggest some human similarities between the two.