Lacouture follows up his De Gaulle: The Rebel, 1890-1944 (1990) with another admiring volume, tracing how the triumphant leader of the Free French consolidated his position as the colossus bestriding his country's political institutions. The author sees in de Gaulle a ""grand nomad"" who sometimes had to forsake power and ""take to the wilderness for his true stature and the sheer gap left by his absence to be perceived."" Correctly predicting the fatal legislative wrangling and executive impotence of the new French constitution, the general resigned as head of the provisional government in 1946, then waited 12 years before the Algerian crisis forced the nation to turn to him, at age 67, as president of the Fifth Republic. Gaullist diplomacy gets the lion's share of coverage here, including the confrontation with the military over Algeria, the attempt to assert European independence from the superpowers while opposing Marxism, the shift toward Israel's Arab foes, and the May 1968 student rebellion that hastened the end of the general's career. Unlike many Anglo-Saxon biographers, Lacouture ascribes de Gaulle's prickly postwar relations with former American and British allies less to his arrogance than to his refusal to diminish French sovereignty. De Gaulle's policies are explained, but not his mastery of men, and criticism is limited (notably, of the general's manipulating the threat of an army coup d'etat to return to power, and of his deciding to make France an atomic power, even though the move increased the danger of nuclear proliferation). A leisurely biography that stints on explaining how de Gaulle worked his imperious will, but scores in detailing his evolution as a symbol of national unity and as a geopolitical realist.