Harvard University Press 2018
New Books in BiographyNew Books in European StudiesNew Books in French StudiesNew Books in HistoryNew Books in Military HistoryNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Politics & Society January 16, 2019 Charles Coutinho
Charles de Gaulle is one of the greatest figures of twentieth-century history. If Sir Winston Churchill was (in the words of Harold Macmillan) the “greatest Englishman In history,” then Charles de Gaulle was without a doubt, the greatest Frenchman since Napoleon Bonaparte. Why so? In the early summer of 1940, when France was overrun by German troops, one junior general who had fought in the trenches in Verdun refused to accept defeat. He fled to London, where he took to the radio to address his compatriots back home. “Whatever happens,” he said, “the flame of French resistance must not be extinguished and will not be extinguished.” At that moment, Charles de Gaulle entered history.
For the rest of the war, de Gaulle insisted he and his Free French movement were the true embodiment of France. Through sheer force of his personality and the grandeur of his vision of France, he inspired French men and women to risk their lives to resist the Nazi occupation. Usually proud and aloof, but almost always confident in his own leadership, he quarreled violently with Churchill, Roosevelt and many of his own countrymen. Yet they knew they would need his help to rebuild a shattered France. Thanks to de Gaulle, France was recognized as one of the victorious Allies when Germany was finally defeated. Then, as President of the Fifth Republic, he brought France back from the brink of a civil war over the war in Algeria. And, made the difficult decision to end the self-same war. Thereafter he challenged American hegemony, took France out of NATO, and twice vetoed British entry into the European Community in his pursuit of what he called “a certain idea of France.”
Julian Jackson, Professor of History at Queen Mary College, University of London, past winner of the Wolfson History Prize and the winner in 2018 of the Paris Book Award for his book on De Gaulle–De Gaulle (Harvard University Press, 2018)–has written a magnificent biography, the first major reconsideration in over twenty years. Drawing on the extensive resources of the recently opened de Gaulle archives, Jackson reveals the conservative roots of de Gaulle’s intellectual formation and upbringing, sheds new light on his relationship with Churchill, and shows how de Gaulle confronted riots at home and violent independence movements abroad from the Middle East to Vietnam. No previous biography has so vividly depicted this towering figure whose legacy remains evident in present-day France. In short Professor Jackson has written a superb book, which in every way possible is a glittering ornament in the biographical art.
Charles Coutinho holds a doctorate in history from New York University. Where he studied with Tony Judt, Stewart Stehlin and McGeorge Bundy. His Ph. D. dissertation was on Anglo-American relations in the run-up to the Suez Crisis of 1956. His area of specialization is 19th and 20th-century European, American diplomatic and political history. It you have a recent title to suggest for a podcast, please send an e-mail to Charlescoutinho@aol.com.