by Julian Jackson
Cambridge, Ma.: Belknap Press at Harvard University Press, 2018. Pp. xl, 888+.
Illus., maps, notes, biblio., index. $39.95. ISBN:0 674987217
The Man Who Became France
One of the most notably figures of the twentieth century, Charles de Gaulle (1890-1970), has been the subject of a number of biographies in English, but this work by Prof. Jackson (Queen Mary University, London), a specialist in twentieth century France, is certainly the most comprehensive biography one and likely to stand as the definitive life of the man.
This is a comprehensive biography, so Jackson takes de Gaulle from his birth into a prosperous middle class Catholic family through to this death, by which time he had gained international renown. Woven into this account is a great deal of material that will be of particular interest to military historians, as Jackson covers de Gaulle’s military career in considerable detail.
We get a look at de Gaulle’s entry into the army and his early military career. Jackson then covers his experiences at the Front during WW I, and his capture by the Germans during the fighting around Ft. Douaumont in the opening days of the Battle of Verdun, which was followed by 32 months as a prisoner-of-war.
Jackson then gives us a look at de Gaulle’s military experiences between the world wars. There’s a good deal on the evolution of his rather radical strategic and military thought, covering his extensive writings on policy, strategy, organization, and tactics, with many of his ideas running contrary to prevailing doctrine. Jackson also counters many long held myths – some often fostered by de Gaulle himself.
Jackson is particularly good for his treatment of the events leading up to the disaster of 1940, and de Gaulle’s impressive performance, matters about which he has written before, and then gives us a look at complex political and military machinations that led to the rise of the “Free French” movement and the Liberation of France.
The latter portions of the book deals de Gaulle’s post-war career, and are particularly interesting for the period immediately after the war, which led to his retreat from public life. Naturally Jackson takes up de Gaulle’s return to politics, the formation of the Fifth Republic, the decision to abandon Algeria, and much more.
Jackson writes well, and weaves through the work a great deal of material on French social and political life across the years, as well as little profiles of many notables of the times, particularly Petain and Churchill, with both of whom de Gaulle had rather complex relations. An excellent read.
Note: De Gaulle is also available in several e-editions.