In this first installment of an epic two-volume biography, appearing in the centennial of its subject's birth, de Gaulle the insufferable is submerged under de Gaulle the indomitable. Drawing on interviews and the general's voluminous writings, Lacouture (Andre Malraux, 1975, and Leon Blum, 1982) focuses almost exclusively on the public life of the leader, painstakingly tracing how Charles de Gaulle realized his long-envisioned destiny as France's savior. Despite formidable intelligence, authoritative presence, and moral rectitude, de Gaulle had an ""itch to challenge . . .(and) temptation to clash"" that slowed his progress up the French Army career ladder. A quarrel over a writing assignment cooled his relationship with mentor Marshal Philippe PÃ‰tain, the hero of Verdun, while his farsighted advocacy of mechanized warfare was ignored by the French high command until Nazi tanks smashed through the Maginot Line. In June 1940, his independent streak led him to defy PÃ‰tain's order to follow the lead of the Vichy government and capitulate to Hitler. Thereafter, this obscure general and ex-minister of a deposed government, surmounting FDR's early attempts to deal with Vichy, led the Free French forces from defeat and exile to triumphant re-entry into Paris. While acknowledging de Gaulle's prickliness, Lacouture views his legendary clashes with FDR and Churchill not as a volatile mix of egos and war aims, but as a patriotic attempt to preserve French sovereignty. Though achieving the Gallic irony and sense of destiny that characterized the general's own magisterial war memoirs, Lacouture has encumbered his often lead-footed tome with tedious details on de Gaulle's political maneuvers against Vichy enemies and Resistance dissidents. This generous, sometimes eloquent assessment could have been improved by more nimble pacing and a fuller exploration of its leonine subject's inflexibility, conceit, and arrogance.