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THE LAST GREAT FRENCHMAN by Charles Williams

THE LAST GREAT FRENCHMAN

A Life of General de Gaulle

By Charles Williams

Pub Date: April 3rd, 1995
ISBN: 0-471-11711-0
Publisher: Wiley

 Perhaps the best one-volume biography of de Gaulle, by the deputy leader of the opposition in the British House of Lords. Although this furrow has, as the author modestly acknowledges, been ``well and truly ploughed by many...much better qualified than myself'' and relies heavily on secondary sources, Williams has had the benefit of discussions with many who knew de Gaulle and brings a sympathetic understanding to a man whose relationship with Britain itself was at best ambivalent, at worst vindictive. De Gaulle took extraordinary risks in the course of his career, beginning with his arrogant advocacy of a war of maneuver before the Second World War, when almost every French general was in favor of the static, Maginot Line approach. As a two-star general, he wrote a blistering letter to Prime Minister Paul Reynaud after the latter had appointed ``men of yesteryear'' to lead the French Army: Two days later, Reynaud appointed de Gaulle undersecretary of war. He had volcanic rows with the British and the Americans--justified, perhaps, by their mistreatment of him. After the war, de Gaulle quickly assumed power in France, outwitting both the Communists and the Resistance, but he left office quickly, when he felt that the Constitution provided for too weak a presidency. Then, after ten years in the wilderness, he returned to power, being the only man in France who enjoyed enough public confidence so that he could take the ruthless steps to extricate France from Algeria by what Williams calls ``a mixture of strength and calculated deception.'' Even in old age, de Gaulle's vanity shone, as expressed in his efforts to recast the nature of Europe by pulling France out of NATO. In telling this well-known story, Williams gives a good sense of a man who in public was ``very cold, ruthless and proud'' but at home could be ``very affectionate, emotional and private.'' Lord Williams's understanding of France, his sensitivity, and his experience of politics combine to make this a memorable achievement.