A New Yorker Reviewers’ Favorite of 2011
Perceptive . . . Lelyveld persuasively demonstrates Gandhi’s inherent greatness—and continuing relevance.
Judith Chettle, Richmond Times-Dispatch 10 Favorite Books of 2011
Joseph Lelyveld thoroughly explores Gandhi’s complex and ambiguous history in a rich and textured biography. He helps you understand why Gandhi was adored as few saints (and fewer politicians) ever have been; and why he was thoroughly despised . . . Despite Gandhi’s failings, Lelyveld is convincing in entitling his book Great Soul. Gandhi was some kind of great man, passionate, original, creative, spiritual, committed unto death. Who else compares? Who else carried on a just cause before the whole world and managed to preserve the deepest yearnings of the spirit?
Tim Stafford, Books & Culture
Joseph Lelyveld reads the political career of Gandhi as though it were a piece of music . . . Lelyveld sets himself the task, not of mere narration, not even of reconstruction, but of composition, in the musical sense: creating the complete notation of the opera that was the life of Mahatma Gandhi . . . By the time we put down this deeply resonant, even sonorous book, we can only begin to appreciate how difficult it must have been for Gandhi to live out his character, his persona and his destiny . . . The most effective Gandhi biography thus far.
Ananya Vajpeyi, The Caravan
Closely researched . . . A sometimes wry but always clear-eyed weighing of Gandhi’s achievements against his goals . . . Sobering but moving.
Madhusree Mukerjee, The Philadelphia Inquirer
“A revealing, original portrait . . . Taking up a story already portrayed in countless books and films, Lelyveld constructs a fresh narrative . . . A seamless, impartial account . . . Lelyveld succeeds in painting Gandhi the spiritual leader as remarkably human.
Great Soul is that rare achievement: a book that says something new about one of the most familiar figures of modern times. George Orwell famously said that Gandhi might well be a saint, but all saints should be judged guilty until proven innocent. Joseph Lelyveld, on the other hand, insists upon Gandhi's humanity, with all the complexities and contradictions of human nature, which makes his greatness more understandable and more remarkable. Elegantly written, clear-eyed, and bracingly original, this is a magnificent biography of Gandhi's conscience.
T.J. Stiles, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The First Tycoon
Gandhi’s story is one of the most inspiring in history, and Joseph Lelyveld proves himself equally inspiring in telling the story. This book is a brilliant and glittering match, brimming with—well, soul.
Nicholas D. Kristof, coauthor, Half the Sky.
A deeply insightful analysis of perhaps the most intriguing political leader of our time. A marvelous book.
Amartya Sen, Nobel Prize winner in economics and author, The Idea of Justice
Written with graceful elegance, Lelyveld's intricate portrait of Gandhi's conflicted character invites us past the common illusions about one of the twentieth century's most momentous figures.
David K. Shipler, author of The Working Poor
Fascinating . . . Brilliant . . . Readers will not put down this book having gleaned a full knowledge of all that Gandhi accomplished. But they will definitely possess a deeper understanding of the complex human being behind those accomplishments.
Alden Mudge, BookPage
Lelyveld is a determined researcher . . . He succeeds in leaving us with a fuller picture of Gandhi as a leader and a man.
Bill Williams, The Boston Globe
Thorough . . . The author painstakingly examines the primary sources in Gandhi’s life to provide a rich, multilayered portrait of the evolution of his thought and action—no easy feat, since the Mahatma’s philosophy changed constantly . . . An impassioned, carefully executed work of reseach.
Starred review, Kirkus
“Rigorous . . . Unexpected . . . Lelyveld pairs a sympathetic but critical analysis of Gandhi’s politics with a vivid portrait of the Mahatma’s charismatic strangeness . . . A stirring, evenhanded account that relates the failure of Gandhi’s politics of saintliness while attesting to its enduring power.
“Judicious and thoughtful . . . Mr. Lelyveld has restored human depth to the Mahatma, the plaster saint, allowing his flawed human readers to feel a little closer to his lofty ideals of nonviolence and universal brotherhood . . . Great Soul will come as a revelation.
Hari Kunzru, The New York Times
“Lelyveld brings to [his argument] an intimate knowledge based on his years as a foreign correspondent for The New York Times in both South Africa and India and the exhaustive research he conducted with a rare and finely balanced sympathy . . . Lelyveld has exploded so many myths and heaped up so many defeats that his life of Gandhi could easily be read as an ultimately critical one, however judiciously and carefully constructed . . . yet there is no denying Lelyveld’s deep sympathy with the man. The picture that emerges is of someone intensely human, with all the defects and weaknesses that suggests, but also a visionary with a profound social conscience and courage who gave the world a model for nonviolent revolution that is still inspiring.
Rather than focus on Gandhi’s chronology, Lelyveld slices through his life to understand his compulsions, read into his thought processes, and assess his actions and outcomes, maintaining a tone of admiring observation without tipping into hagiography or criticizing him with the wisdom that only hindsight can provide . . . Lelyveld is a worthy interpreter of Gandhi’s varied life.
Salil Tripathi, The Washington Post
“Great Soul is a noteworthy book, vivid, nuanced and clear-eyed . . . Lelyveld brings to his subject a reporter’s healthy skepticism and an old India hand’s stubborn fascination with the subcontinent and its people.
Scrupulous . . . Subtle . . . Distinctive and original.
Christopher Hitchens, The Atlantic
Lelyveld shatters the attractive myth . . . of the brave little man in a loincloth bringing down a mighty empire.
Pankaj Mishra, The New Yorker
“An esteemed, skeptical journalist lets us know that Gandhi, a great and greatly eccentric man, never solved the snarled enigmas at the heart of India. A life of triumph, failure, and greatness shines forth.