Charles de Gaulle died in 1970 at the age of eighty. He was thus fifty years old when, as an unknown officer recently promoted to the (temporary) rank of brigadier general, he made his famous broadcast from London rejecting the capitulation of France to the Nazis after the debacle of May-June 1940. From that time, and until he resigned as President of the French Republic in April 1969, he was a more or less constant presence on the world scene, spoken of in the same breath as Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin. During the 30 years which spanned the call to his countrymen over the BBC and his death at his house in Colombey-les-Deux-Eglises, he was able again and again, by dint of his determination and his powerful personality, to impose his vision and his will on events which were momentous for his country and for the world.
To give a proper account of such a long and crowded life, to exhibit the hero’s character in all its complexity and contradictions, keeping in view both the wood and the trees, is a daunting task from which many writers would flinch. One’s admiration for the French political journalist Jean Lacouture, who has undertaken this task and triumphantly brought it to a conclusion,1 is thus very great—all the greater in that the kind of biography he has written, with its spacious narrative and meticulous concern for detail, though very familiar in the English-speaking world, is a genre hardly practiced by French authors. Lacouture’s style, moreover, elegant, ironical, lively, witty, and allusive, carries the narrative forward at a smart pace, engaging the reader’s interest all the way.
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