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Mahatma Gandhi: top 8 books that influenced the leader

photo: Wikimedia
Prominent Indian political leader talks about the books that made a deep impression on him
Buy on amazon “Isis Unveiled: Secrets of the Ancient Wisdom Tradition” by Helena Petrovna Blavatsky
Gandhi has read a lot of books by Madame Blavatsky and was very much interested in her teaching of Theosophy

Along with The Infinite Way and Kahlil Gabran's The Prophet, this book made its way into Elvis Presley's reading list. As a Theosophist, Blavatsky promoted pantheism and greatly influenced both Mahatma Gandhi and Annie Besant. In this work, spiritualism and occult practices are the base for examining ancient Eastern and Western wisdom, rather than the traditionally reversed path of finding knowledge. Like David Hume, Blavatsky examines existing philosophical systems and ideas and finds them to be inadquate, especially in the light of the Kabbala, the Vedas, and Nostradamus prophecies.
Buy on amazon “A Tale of Two Cities” by Charles Dickens
- from an article on gandhi-manibhavan.org
One of Dickens’ more famous works, the comparisons and contrasts are woven together in his signature and masterful style. The story of the capital cities of two national houses, England and France, are set side-by-side with a depiction of two men who vastly differ in character and outlook: service versus self. Their unifying factor, besides their striking physical resemblance, is that they both love a French woman (Lucie Manette) who influences others to be better than they think they can be – and who is vastly superior to the bloodthirsty Defarges.
Buy on amazon “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” by Edward Gibbon
- from an article on gandhi-manibhavan.org
Fans of Charles Dickens’ masterpiece Our Mutual Friend will remember this classic series as the inspiration for the peerless Mr. Boffin. Real-life history students may prize this six-volume set for its sophisticated and ironical tone, which was praised publicly by David Hume, Horace Walpole, and Adam Smith. The author spoke and wrote his way into the House of Commons, Dr. Johnson’s Literary Club, and replaced Goldsmith in the Royal Academy. Over twelve centuries, Rome ran the world and fell into decline; the sequence is instructive and illuminating.
Buy on amazon “The Trial and Death of Socrates” by Plato
- from an article on gandhi-manibhavan.org
These four dialogues set in the fifth century B.C. (Euthyphro, Apology, Crito, Phaedo) have provided a reliable understanding of the great philosopher for many centuries. The famous court battle between Athenian jurists and thinkers against Socrates as a youth-corrupting revolutionary is good fuel for lively discussion on the nature of piety and justice, the extent of wisdom and the soul’s immortality, and the necessary wakening of the state from slumber. Besides the themes, the story of state versus individual makes for a captivating true-life tale.
Buy on amazon “Unto This Last” by John Ruskin
- from an article on gandhi-manibhavan.org
A controversial figure in his own Victorian times, Ruskin believed in the ideals of the Middle Ages and reviled the Machine Age as a destroyer of life and humanity. Both an artist and a critic, it is clear that the author’s upbringing from a wine merchant and an evangelical mother were deeply affecting in his attacks on the exploitation of the working poor. It was commonly believed that governments were meant to bolster the natural laws of supply, demand, and self-interest, while the plight of the poor was shrugged off. By contrast, Ruskin believed that wealth ought to be regulated and restrained by honor, honesty, and justice.
Buy on amazon “The Gospel in Brief” by Leo Tolstoy
- from an article on gandhi-manibhavan.org
Tolstoy believed in a historical Jesus who showed the solution to the ‘problem of life’. This book emphasizes the accounts of Jesus in the gospels minus the distractions of the controversial virgin birth and miraculous walking on water. Tolstoy was no fan of the organized and dogmatic Church, so he hones in on man’s struggle against the world and the giving of love as a divine purpose, and also as a protest against his own century’s preoccupation with evolutionary meaninglessness.
Buy on amazon “The Kingdom of God is Within You” by Leo Tolstoy
- from an article on gandhi-manibhavan.org
Deemed a threat against the state, the book’s status as previously banned in Russia shows the impact of Jesus’ emphasis on living beyond revenge. To Tolstoy, violence of any sanctioned sort went against all moral living and thinking, as well as the requirements of Christianity to care for the poor and less fortunate souls trapped in difficult circumstances. This pacifist classic of the importance of non-resistance to evil greatly inspired a young Mahatma Gandhi, as well as encouraging American Quakers and the son of abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison.
Buy on amazon “Gulliver's Travels” by Jonathan Swift
- from an article on gandhi-manibhavan.org
The first story, by the morose Lemuel Gulliver, is the most well-known. The fierce but tiny Lilliputians are determined not to be over-awed by their captive's size, but his use in battle against the nefarious Blefuscu people (who crack eggs the wrong way) is overshadowed by Gulliver's social crimes against the Lilliputians' castle. His next sailing trip to the Brobdingnag giants also ends badly, after he's made a national curiosity. The Laputa researchers seem to have genius for experimentation but no common sense, like Gulliver, who becomes captain of a crew who mutinies against him. Gulliver then studies the wise horses (Houyhnhnms) who rule over human slaves (Yahoos), and draws conclusions about England's colonies. Reading this novel is fun, on the cynical side.
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