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WVU professor marks the 10th anniversary of his groundbreaking Gandhi biography

WVU law professor Charles DiSalvo

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — A decade ago, West Virginia University law professor Charles DiSalvo published the first in-depth biography of Mohandas Gandhi’s life as an attorney.

“The Man Before the Mahatma: M.K. Gandhi, Attorney at Law” was released in 2012 by Random House in India and a year later by the University of California Press in the rest of the world. 

“I continue to be humbled by the acceptance that the book has received,” said DiSalvo, the Woodrow A. Potesta Professor of Law and a member of the WVU faculty since 1979. 

DiSalvo Gandhi book cover India edition

DiSalvo’s work on “The Man Before the Mahatma” required that he gain access to, among many other sources, over 10,000 issues of newspapers in archives in India and South Africa.  He was assisted by a number of research assistants, including WVU law and history students, as well as other Gandhi scholars in India, Australia, Britain and Africa.

In his book, DiSalvo delves into Gandhi’s journey from his education in Britain, the failure of his first law practice and his ultimate success in racially segregated South Africa.

“Gandhi’s experiences at the bar, especially his futile attempts to secure justice for the Indian community in South Africa, were instrumental in the development of Gandhi’s philosophy and practice of nonviolent civil disobedience that led to India’s independence from Great Britain,” DiSalvo said. 

The Asian Review of Books described DiSalvo’s book as “a very powerful and original contribution to Gandhian studies.” Rajmohan Gandhi, the grandson of the Mahatma, called it a “landmark book.” 

The director of the National Gandhi Museum, A. Annamalai, hailed DiSalvo for providing remarkable insights into Gandhi’s legal mind and life as a young lawyer. When asked by an Indian newspaper to name an important recent book on Gandhi, Annamalai set aside all recent publications but for one — DiSalvo’s.

When the National Gandhi Museum and the Delhi High Court Bar Association in India wanted to stage an exhibit in 2019 in New Delhi about Gandhi’s years as a lawyer, they turned to DiSalvo’s book.

To mark the 10th anniversary of “The Man Before the Mahatma,” DiSalvo has been speaking and writing about what it would mean for American lawyers to adopt Gandhi’s radical approach to truthfulness in the practice of law. 


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