In a definitive biography of the mythic general who refused to accept Nazi domination of France, Julian Jackson captures this titanic figure as never before. Drawing on unpublished letters, memoirs, and resources of the recently opened de Gaulle archive, he shows how this visionary put a broken France back at the center of world affairs.
...Jackson follows, in occasionally tortuous detail, every significant quarrel in the career of this exceedingly quarrelsome man. But it has for the most part served Jackson well, allowing him to give us a judicious, authoritative, lucid, and engaging portrait ... His De Gaulle will likely remain the standard biography for many years to come. Jackson has composed De Gaulle in a venerable, and very British, empirical style, and makes no attempt to psychoanalyze his subject. While he quotes many people who questioned de Gaulle’s sanity, he never does so himself ... Jackson recounts de Gaulle’s career in a scrupulously fair manner, and his overall conclusions are entirely persuasive.
De Gaulle's beliefs were always slowly, tectonically evolving, and he fought a lifelong rear-guard action against that process, constantly characterizing those same beliefs as fixed 'for the last thousand years.' It's a sobering challenge for a biographer, and it makes Jackson's achievement here all the more impressive. He's always thorough but never pedantic, always clarifying but never simplifying, and he deploys an enormous amount of research with a consistently light touch and a dry wit his illustrious subject might have appreciated. Or not: Jackson never buys into the intense self-mythologizing that de Gaulle engaged in for the whole of his life ... And Jackson is particularly brilliant precisely where such brilliance is most badly needed: the Algerian War of Independence ... Jackson's nuanced version feels like the final word on the subject ... de Gaulle the man is painted perfectly in these pages.
In 1940 de Gaulle redeemed French honor by carrying on the war against Hitler, not from occupied France but from makeshift battle stations in London and equatorial Africa. Before and after Liberation he battled apologists for the quisling Vichy regime of Marshal Philippe Pétain as well as French Communists loyal to Moscow ... In May 1958 he came out of a restless retirement to avert civil war over colonial Algeria. Later that year he established the Fifth Republic, tailored to his contempt for party politicians like former French president Albert Lebrun (1932-40), of whom he observed ... finest one-volume life of de Gaulle in English, Julian Jackson has come closer than anyone before him to demystifying this conservative at war with the status quo, for whom national interests were inseparable from personal honor and 'a certain idea of France.'