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WVU Law Professor Explores Gandhi the Lawyer in New Book

Morgantown, W.Va. – Before he was the iconic leader of nonviolent political resistance, Mahatma Gandhi was a lawyer. 

A new book by West Virginia University College of Law professor Charles DiSalvo is the first biography that explores Gandhi’s transformative early years as a practicing attorney. 

In M.K.Gandhi, Attorney at Law: The Man Before the Mahatma(University of California Press, 2013), DiSalvo traces Gandhi’s journey of self-discovery from his education in Britain, to the failure of his first law practice, and his migration to South Africa. 

Based on exhaustive research, including rare archival material, DiSalvo focuses on the relationship between Gandhi’s practice of law and his embrace of civil disobedience. He illustrates how Gandhi’s background and experiences as a lawyer, particularly in racially segregated South Africa from 1893 to 1914, helped develop what would ultimately become the philosophy and practice of nonviolent civil disobedience.

“Gandhi became a civil disobedient, conscientiously breaking of the law, while he was a member of the legal profession,” said DiSalvo. “That’s a significant transformation for a lawyer and it put Gandhi on a path that would change the world.”

The Indian edition of the book was released last year to critical acclaim. The Asian Review of Books called it “a very powerful and original contribution to Gandhian studies.”

DiSalvo was invited to India to speak about the book at the Jaipur International Literature Festival – the largest book festival of Asia-Pacific. In addition, he has delivered lectures on the book around the world. 

DiSalvo is the Woodrow A. Potesta Professor of Law at WVU and teaches one of the few law school courses in the country on civil disobedience—inspired by Gandhi and others. He is also an expert on bioethics and the law, civil procedure, and trial advocacy. DiSalvo joined the College of Law in 1979 and he is co-founder of the West Virginia Fund for Law in Public Interest.

M.K.Gandhi, Attorney at Law: The Man Before the Mahatma is available now in bookstores and online.

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