It is a notable curiosity that much of the important writing about modern French history is done by American and British scholars, rather than French ones. Oxford University’s Robert Gildea, and Julian Jackson, a professor at Queen Mary, University of London, make especially distinguished contributions, particularly about the Second World War. Jackson’s new biography makes awesome reading, and is a tribute to the fascination of its subject, and to Jackson’s mastery of it... Jackson cherishes no illusions about his subject’s inconsistencies and limitations, but he leaves not a scintilla of doubt about his greatness. This biography is a triumph, and hugely readable for all its bulk.
...Jackson, a professor at Queen Mary, University of London, has written one fine book after another on French history. His new biography of de Gaulle is exhaustive, scholarly, extremely readable and by some distance the best English-language treatment of the 20th-century statesman.
A Certain Idea of France is full of fascinating detail and anecdote, not only about politics, but also about de Gaulle’s private life — his arranged marriage to Yvonne Vendroux, for example, and their habit when travelling of picnicking by the side of the road to avoid recognition in restaurants. It is a suitably monumental achievement.
A Certain Idea of France is more than just another, bigger, biography in English. Although, as Jackson notes, there is little new to be discovered about the man, he has written a comprehensive, scholarly biography that ought to remain for years the standard work. Foreign historians can more easily write about controversial figures in a way that avoids both hagiography and polemic, and this he has done. Furthermore, he has the skill and style to maintain a dramatic narrative over nearly 800 pages of text.