The silence between the two men was not an empty one."" De Gaulle, retired, at Colombey racing with time to complete his memoirs of the Fifth Republic, his historical chef d'oeuvre, but nonetheless promising confidants ""I'll add a little gossip here and there."" About his successor perhaps? Pompidou, six years the General's Premier, his faithful Dauphin, now at last at the Elysee, his own man, telling a former Gaullist minister ""I have my own style, my own manner, my own methods."" Hear me, Charles? France's two most prominent political leaders engaged in some bloodletting, not with hatchets (like the Americans) but fencing swords. Subtle as a truffle. Alexandre, a French journalist, tells the heretofore puzzling story of the de Gaulle-Pompidou split almost as if it were a Maigret thriller, juxtaposing psycho-political facts and tensions in order to comprehend the mounting feud which began as early as 1963 when Pompidou argued against executing the Algerian Secret Army officer Jouhaud (""Your job is not to defend criminals,"" de Gaulle told him. ""I will be obeyed"") and climaxed with Pompidou's humiliating ouster as Premier in 1968 (""a premier could be replaced; but one did not part with a Dauphin""). No value judgments are made; no blame is assessed; the book ends with de Gaulle's death -- and one is left with the rather helpless feeling that two proud men, once close colleagues and possibly friends, simply had a collision preordained by events and personality differences. This was a bestseller in France last year and, although interest will not be as great in this country, The Duel merits popular attention.