On winning the prize, Julian Jackson said:
I am very honoured to join the previous illustrious winners of this prize. I am glad also that this will make the extraordinary career of Charles de Gaulle better known in the United Kingdom – not just as the leader of the Free French in London after 1940 (where his clashes with Churchill have become legendary) and for twice vetoing British entry to the European Community (1963, 1967) but also as the most extraordinary French political leader since Napoleon.
Established in 2003 in affectionate memory of Elizabeth Longford, the acclaimed biographer, and sponsored by Flora Fraser and Peter Soros, the prize is awarded annually for a historical biography published in the preceding year.
The judges this year are Richard Davenport-Hines, Roy Foster (Chair), Antonia Fraser, Flora Fraser, and Rana Mitter.
Commenting on this year’s winner, the Chair of Judges, Roy Foster said:
Out of a powerful shortlist of books about people who changed the world around them through force of character and sense of the zeitgeist, the judges unanimously selected Julian Jackson’s A Certain Idea of France: The Life of Charles de Gaulle. At this moment in history, any work that enriches our understanding of the culture of Britain’s nearest neighbour in Europe must have profound claims on our attention. But A Certain Idea of France does far more. It draws an unforgettable portrait of a divisive, awkward, self-contradictory but immensely impressive figure, and does so with empathy, deep scholarship and shafts of enlivening Gallic wit. Jackson’s de Gaulle epitomises the untranslatable French concepts of gloire and grandeur; but his biography is also a riveting profile of a figure whose private life, personal sadnesses, unpredictable intellectual passions and achievements, and astounding qualities of perseverance made him truly a ‘great man’, albeit a uniquely exasperating one.
Though a long book, based on enormous archival research, it is compulsively readable throughout. Above all, Julian Jackson profoundly and quizzically examines the concepts of patriotism, nationalism and colonialism, through world war and uneasy peace, while unswervingly focussing on a single extraordinary life. A Certain Idea of France conclusively demonstrates the value of historical biography at its best, achieving exactly what the Elizabeth Longford Prize exists to recognise.
The three titles also shortlisted this year are:
- Thomas Cromwell: A Life by Diarmaid MacCulloch (Allen Lane)
- Churchill: Walking with Destiny by Andrew Roberts (Allen Lane)
- The New Negro: The Life of Alain Locke by Jeffrey C. Stewart (Oxford University Press)
Julian Jackson will be presented with the £5,000 award at the Society of Authors’ Awards and Summer Party on Monday 17 June.
Julian Jackson holds a First degree (1976) and PhD (1983) from the University of Cambridge and since 2003 has been Professor of Modern French History at the Queen Mary University of London. His first book, The Political of Depression in France 1932-1936 was published by CUP in 1986. His other publications include France, the Dark Years 1940-1944 (OUP, 2001) shortlisted for the Los Angeles Times History Prize, The Fall of France (OUP, 2003) winner of the Wolfson History Prize, Living in Arcadia: Politics, Homosexuality and Morality in France from the Liberation to AIDS 1945-1982 (Chicago University Press, 2009). His books have been translated into many languages including French, Portugese, Japanese, Chinese, Czech. He was elected a Fellow of the British Academy in 2003 and has been a Commandeur dans les Palmes Academiques since 2005.
The Elizabeth Longford Prize for Historical Biography was established in 2003 in affectionate memory of Elizabeth Longford, the acclaimed biographer, and is sponsored by Flora Fraser and Peter Soros. This £5,000 prize is awarded annually for a historical biography published in the preceding year.