The book's selection and discussion of these newly discovered materials is rich and rewarding. The reader sees Gandhi experimenting and learning and growing in his understanding of how to work for justice -- inside and outside the legal system.
In one case, the South African government passed laws that prohibited Indians from having their "habitation" in certain neighborhoods. English businessmen pressured local authorities to close competing shops in those areas that were owned by Indians, even though the Indians' homes were elsewhere. (Their prices were cheaper, too.)
Gandhi fought the "habitation" case through many appeals, but even though his legal arguments were rock-solid, the system was stacked against the Indians.
When the legal efforts of the South African Indian community to enjoy basic civil rights were continually frustrated, Gandhi moved to nonviolent direct action and civil disobedience.
Gandhi saw that he could not continue as both a lawyer for others, with all of the constraints that role imposed, and also as a nonviolent activist ready to court imprisonment. So he stepped away from the life in the law that had shaped his adult life, and into a world-historical role as a champion of nonviolence.
In the acknowledgments to "The Man Before the Mahatma," DiSalvo thanks his children for "allowing me to bring Gandhi home to dinner every night as you were growing up." And indeed DiSalvo has come to know Gandhi not just as a scholar, but as a fellow lawyer, seeker, counselor, and adopted family dinner companion. This human relationship shines though the book.
DiSalvo's contribution to the scholarship of Gandhi and nonviolence is a lasting achievement, and West Virginians can be proud and appreciative that such a work has emanated from our state.
Rodd is a lawyer and co-director of the J.R. Clifford Project.