In This Review

An Autobiography: The Story of My Experiments With Truth
An Autobiography: The Story of My Experiments With Truth
By Mahatma Gandhi
Navajihan Publishing House, 1927, 21209 pp
Conquest of Violence: The Gandhian Philosophy of Conflict
Conquest of Violence: The Gandhian Philosophy of Conflict
By Joan V. Bondurant
Princeton University Press, 1958, 269 pp
Gandhi: Prisoner of Hope
Gandhi: Prisoner of Hope
By Judith M. Brown
Yale University Press, 1989, 440 pp

These three books are the best introductions to India's nationalist saint, an elusive and complex historical figure. His autobiography, which started as a series of newspaper articles, is an account of his spiritual journey. Bondurant explores his philosophy of nonviolence. Brown's volume is one of the best major biographies of Gandhi, and her epilogue is a brilliant summing-up of the man in all his complexity. Gandhi was a rare bird: a conservative revolutionary. He spoke up for the untouchables, for women, and for the desperately poor, and he was an egalitarian. But he rejected violence, and he believed in democracy -- an unusual combination for a twentieth-century revolutionary. Above all, Gandhi understood that the use of violent means would corrupt even the most noble ends. In short, Gandhi's legacy stands in sharp contrast to that of the Leninists who dominated the nationalist movements in most former colonial countries and whose revolutions almost always began in protracted violence and led to bloody dictatorships. Today it appears that the Gandhians -- Martin Luther King, Desmond Tutu -- chose the better path.