"It's almost Shakespearean in its nobility the example it set and its ultimate failure," Lelyveld, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, told an audience at the Asia Society in New York.
"He was close to despair at the end of his life yet he trudged on," he said, after reading out passages on how Gandhi appealed to scores of Hindus and Muslims to stop fighting but became increasingly sidelined during the violence.
The book ''Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle With India'' has sparked controversy for hinting that Gandhi may have been "homosexual".
Following a ban on the book in Gujarat, the author said he did not reach any conclusion about Gandhi's sexuality in his book. The author has also slammed his critics for banning the book without reading it.
Speaking before his New York audience, Lelyveld spoke on several aspects of the book from Gandhi's years in South Africa to his battle against untouchability and struggle for communal harmony.
Lelyveld said that Gandhi became lodged in his mind when he came to India as a foreign correspondent in 1966.
Responding to a question from the audience, the author said, "It's impossible to answer".
"If Martin Luther King were alive how would he be perceived here," he asked.