Joseph Lelyveld has written a generally admiring book about Mohandas Gandhi, the man credited with leading India to independence from Britain in 1947. Yet "Great Soul" also obligingly gives readers more than enough information to discern that he was a sexual weirdo, a political incompetent and a fanatical faddist—one who was often downright cruel to those around him. Gandhi was therefore the archetypal 20th-century progressive intellectual, professing his love for mankind as a concept while actually despising people as individuals.
...Gandhi's uncanny ability to irritate and frustrate the leader of India's 90 million Muslims, Muhammad Ali Jinnah (whom he called "a maniac"), wrecked any hope of early independence. He equally alienated B.R. Ambedkar, who spoke for the country's 55 million Untouchables (the lowest caste of Hindus, whose very touch was thought to defile the four higher classes). Ambedkar pronounced Gandhi "devious and untrustworthy." Between 1900 and 1922, Gandhi suspended his efforts no fewer than three times, leaving in the lurch more than 15,000 supporters who had gone to jail for the cause.
A ceaseless self-promoter, Gandhi bought up the entire first edition of his first, hagiographical biography to send to people and ensure a reprint. Yet we cannot be certain that he really made all the pronouncements attributed to him, since, according to Mr. Lelyveld, Gandhi insisted that journalists file "not the words that had actually come from his mouth but a version he authorized after his sometimes heavy editing of the transcripts."
We do know for certain that he advised the Czechs and Jews to adopt nonviolence toward the Nazis, saying that "a single Jew standing up and refusing to bow to Hitler's decrees" might be enough "to melt Hitler's heart." (Nonviolence, in Gandhi's view, would apparently have also worked for the Chinese against the Japanese invaders.) Starting a letter to Adolf Hitler with the words "My friend," Gandhi egotistically asked: "Will you listen to the appeal of one who has deliberately shunned the method of war not without considerable success?" He advised the Jews of Palestine to "rely on the goodwill of the Arabs" and wait for a Jewish state "till Arab opinion is ripe for it."
... the love of his life was a German-Jewish architect and bodybuilder, Hermann Kallenbach, for whom Gandhi left his wife in 1908. "Your portrait (the only one) stands on my mantelpiece in my bedroom," he wrote to Kallenbach.