SPAIN BOOK REVIEW: July – The Spanish Civil War 80th Anniversary – Part 1: Non-fiction

After five years of the shaky Second Spanish Republic, on July 18 1936, a military coup started the Spanish Civil War. Lasting three years, and the bad guys eventually winning, not to mention being a WWII rehearsal, there is no shortage of books on the subject. Often called democracy vs. fascism, though in fact more right-wing and religious vs. left-wing freedoms, the Spanish Civil War is one of, if not the, most complex social battle ever fought. Overshadowed by WWII, which broke out in its immediate aftermath, the Spanish Civil War has lived on in Spain, first through a bloody dictatorship,  the lifestyle, laws, art and the brave hearts of those who lived through the Franco reign of terror. It is no easy subject to get started on for those looking to understand all the sides involved and what atrocities were committed, how Hitler and Mussolini gained so much power and how the western world sat idly on its hands. Volunteers from around the world flooded in, often defying their own government to do so (go intrepid New Zealanders!) and brother turned against brother in a fierce battle that still has victims being found today.

Here are some of my favourite non-fiction books on the subject, in no particular order. This is by far not a comprehensive list, otherwise it would have to include every single book Paul Preston ever wrote. I will do Spanish Civil War fiction in Part 2.

All cover art and blurb are via their amazon links


To mark the 70th anniversary of the Spanish Civil War’s outbreak, Antony Beevor has written a completely updated and revised account of one of the most bitter and hard-fought wars of the twentieth century. With new material gleaned from the Russian archives and numerous other sources, this brisk and accessible book (Spain’s #1 bestseller for twelve weeks), provides a balanced and penetrating perspective, explaining the tensions that led to this terrible overture to World War II and affording new insights into the war-its causes, course, and consequences.

This book is outstanding in terms of its depth and detail. A priceless timeline of information and with everything any reader could need when looking for the whole, complex picture.



Amid the many catastrophes of the twentieth century, the Spanish Civil War continues to exert a particular fascination among history buffs and the lay-reader alike. This Very Short Introduction integrates the political, social and cultural history of the Spanish Civil War. It sets out the domestic and international context of the war for a general readership. In addition to tracing the course of war, the book locates the war’s origins in the cumulative social and cultural anxieties provoked by a process of rapid, uneven and accelerating modernism taking place all over Europe. This shared context is key to the continued sense of the war’s importance. The book also examines the myriad of political polemics to which the war has given rise, as well as all of the latest historical debates. It assesses the impact of the war on Spain’s transition to democracy and on the country’s contemporary political culture.

While this book is short, it covers all the major players without getting too complicated. Read my review here



In 1940, The Daily Telegraph correspondent Henry Buckley published his eyewitness account of his experiences reporting from the Spanish Civil War. The copies of the book, stored in a warehouse in London, were destroyed during the Blitz and only a handful of copies of his unique chronicle were saved. Now, 70 years after its first publication, this exceptional eyewitness account of the war is republished with a new introduction by Paul Preston. The Life and Death of the Spanish Republic is a unique account of Spanish politics throughout the entire life of the Second Republic, combining personal recollections of meetings with the great politicians of the day with eyewitness accounts of dramatic events. This important book is one of the most enduring records of the Spanish Republic and the civil war and a monumental testimony to Buckley’s work as a correspondent.

This manuscript was a truly precious find and a raw personal insight. So many great names are included in a truly rare observation into the battle. 



George Orwell went to Spain in late 1936, in his role as a journalist, but then, pretty inevitably, put down his pen and spent the next year fighting with the P.O.U.M (Partido Obrero de Unificacion Marxista) Militia against the Fascist forces under Francisco Franco. Homage to Catalonia, written immediately after his return and published in 1938, tells the story of his military service with the POUM, both against the Right and the Left, and, in quick succession, of his initial hopes for the classless society that he thought he had found on first arrival, then of his disappointment with the level of disorganization of the Leftist forces and finally of his disillusionment when pro~Stalinist “allies” began attacking Socialists and Anarchists who refused to toe the Soviet line. Orwell, who by then had nearly been killed when shot through the neck in battle, and his wife were ultimately forced to flee from Spain, to avoid Stalinist security forces, which had labeled him pro~fascist.

No one can question George Orwell’s commitment to the war and his understanding of the state of Spain. His first-hand account of Barcelona’s collapse before the enemy even arrived is such a big part of the war.



At dawn on the 19th of August 1936 Spaniards murdered the man who most profoundly embodied the poetic spirit of their country. Federico Garcia Lorca was the victim of the passions that arose in Spain as the Church, the military and the bourgeoisie embarked on their reckless and brutal repression of “undesirables”. For Lorca was not a political man; he embraced Spain – from its struggling leftist movement to its most conservative traditions – with a love that transcended politics. His “crime” was his antipathy to pomposity, conformity and intolerance. For years the Spanish government suppressed the truth about Lorca’s death. In this recreation of the assassination, Ian Gibson re-dresses the wrong. Based on information only recently made available, this is an illumination not only of the death of a great poet, but of the atmosphere of Civil War Spain that allowed it to happen.

The killing of Lorca drowned out one of Spain’s greatest lights. A true tragedy for many reasons. An insight to how non-conformists were treated. 



Since its first publication, Hugh Thomas’s The Spanish Civil War has become established as the definitive one-volume history of a conflict that continues to provoke intense controversy today. What was it that roused left-wing sympathizers from all over the world to fight against Franco between 1936 and 1939? Why did the British and US governments refuse to intervene? And why did the Republican cause collapse so violently? Now revised and updated, Hugh Thomas’s classic account presents the most objective and unbiased analysis of a passionate struggle where fascism and democracy, communism and Catholicism were at stake – and which was as much an international war as a Spanish one.

To understand the war, the international soldiers and forces are as important as Spanish desires. Understanding the collapse of the Republicans is just as frenzied as them battling the enemy. It is hard to ind unbiased opinions on the war. 

SPAIN IN OUR HEARTS by Adam Hochschild

From the acclaimed, best-selling author Adam Hochschild, a sweeping history of the Spanish Civil War, told through a dozen characters, including Ernest Hemingway and George Orwell: a tale of idealism, heartbreaking suffering, and a noble cause that failed

For three crucial years in the 1930s, the Spanish Civil War dominated headlines in America and around the world, as volunteers flooded to Spain to help its democratic government fight off a fascist uprising led by Francisco Franco and aided by Hitler and Mussolini. Today we’re accustomed to remembering the war through Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls and Robert Capa’s photographs. But Adam Hochschild has discovered some less familiar yet far more compelling characters who reveal the full tragedy and importance of the war: a fiery nineteen-year-old Kentucky woman who went to wartime Spain on her honeymoon, a Swarthmore College senior who was the first American casualty in the battle for Madrid, a pair of fiercely partisan, rivalrous New York Times reporters who covered the war from opposites sides, and a swashbuckling Texas oilman with Nazi sympathies who sold Franco almost all his oil — at reduced prices, and on credit.

It was in many ways the opening battle of World War II, and we still have much to learn from it. Spain in Our Hearts is Adam Hochschild at his very best.
This book is currently a #1 bestseller. A new release and a terrific American perspective, just some of many American stories to be told. Read my review here



An account of the Spanish civil war which portrays the struggles of the war, as well as discussing the wider implications of the revolution in the Republican zone, the emergence of brutal dictatorship on the nationalist side and the extent to which the Spanish war prefigured World War II.

No war in modern times has inflamed the passions of both ordinary people and intellectuals in the way that the conflict in Spain in 1936 did. The Spanish Civil War is burned into European consciousness, not simply because it prefigured the much larger world war that followed it, but because the intense manner of its prosecution was a harbinger of a new and horrific form of warfare that was universally dreaded. At the same time, the hopes awakened by the attempted social revolution in republican Spain chimed with the aspirations of many in Europe and the United States during the grim years of the great Depression.

‘The Concise History of the Spanish Civil War’ is a full-blooded account of this pivotal period in the twentieth-century European history. Paul Preston vividly recounts the struggles of the war, analyses the wider implications of the revolution in the Republican zone, tracks the emergence of Francisco Franco’s brutal (and, ultimately, extraordinarily durable) fascist dictatorship and assesses the way in which the Spanish Civil War was a portent of the Second World War that ensued so rapidly after it.

No one understands the war like Paul Preston. He has many volumes on the subject, each with a different perspective, to fully grasp all aspects of the battle. His Franco biography covers much of the war from the angle of the man who caused so much pain. Other books cover journalists in the war, others about volunteers, others about fascism and communism. Paul Preston covers it all. Here are just a couple I recommend.



The definitive work on the Spanish Civil War, a classic of modern historical scholarship and a masterful narrative.

Paul Preston is the world’s foremost historian of Spain. This surging history recounts the struggles of the 1936 war in which more than 3,000 Americans took up arms. Tracking the emergence of Francisco Franco’s brutal (and, ultimately, extraordinarily durable) fascist dictatorship, Preston assesses the ways in which the Spanish Civil War presaged the Second World War that ensued so rapidly after it.

The attempted social revolution in Spain awakened progressive hopes during the Depression, but the conflict quickly escalated into a new and horrific form of warfare. As Preston shows, the unprecedented levels of brutality were burned into the American consciousness as never before by the revolutionary war reporting of Ernest Hemingway, John Dos Passos, Herbert Matthews, Vincent Sheean, Louis Fischer, and many others. Completely revised, including previously unseen material on Franco’s treatment of women in wartime prisons, The Spanish Civil War is a classic work on this pivotal epoch in the twentieth century.



Goodies and baddies take some sorting out in this tale of the siege of Madrid by Franco’s right-wing forces supported by the Nazis and the fascist regime of Mussolini (the ‘rebels’), against the civilian population and its government representatives, just elected, who happened to be left-wing. Once sorted, Cox’s account of the city under attack, in one of the twentieth century’s first urban wars, has all too many echoes today. This new edition, with an introduction and selection of historical photographs, as well as samples of Cox’s journalism from the front, will confirm its position as one of the classics of twentieth-century reportage. It is being published for the 70th anniversary of the event.

Geoffrey Cox was a New Zealander who published his early experience of the war in Madrid. It’s tough to beat a first-hand account.  Read my review here

Succinct and elegant, this is the classic depiction of the bloody, catastrophic, “brother against brother” war that brought the fascist Franco regime to power. It brilliantly illuminates the conflict’s causes and drama: the class and regional disparities in Spanish society; the pitiful weaknesses of the political parties battling Franco; and the way Spain became a battleground of international forces. “…a superlative command of a wide range of sources, economy of style…a sharp eye for obscure but significant detail, an awareness of cultural nuance, a firsthand acquaintance with the country and its people.”
Raymond Carr was an incredible writer who was able to explain the war on a personal level. I recommend all his books on the topic.
This book presents an original new history of the most important conflict in European affairs during the 1930s, prior to the events that produced World War II – the Spanish Civil War. It describes the complex origins of the conflict, the collapse of the Spanish Republic, and the outbreak of the only mass worker revolution in the history of Western Europe. Stanley Payne explains the character of the Spanish revolution and the complex web of republican politics, while also examining in detail the development of Franco’s counterrevolutionary dictatorship. Payne gives attention to the multiple meanings and interpretations of war and examines why the conflict provoked such strong reactions in its own time, and long after. The book also explains the military history of the war and its place in the history of military development, the non-intervention policy of the democracies, and the role of German, Italian, and Soviet intervention, concluding with an analysis of the place of the war in European affairs and in comparative perspective of revolutionary civil wars of the twentieth century.
With so many sides fighting the battle, one opinion is never enough. Stanley Payne gives readers a chance to read the battle from multiple angles.



When a Nationalist military uprising was launched in Spain in July 1936, the Spanish Republic’s desperate pleas for assistance from the leaders of Britain and France fell on deaf ears. Appalled at the prospect of another European democracy succumbing to fascism, volunteers from across the Continent and beyond flocked to Spain’s aid, many to join the International Brigades. More than 2,500 of these men and women came from Britain, Ireland and the Commonwealth, and contrary to popular myth theirs was not an army of adventurers, poets and public school idealists. Overwhelmingly they hailed from modest working class backgrounds, leaving behind their livelihoods and their families to fight in a brutal civil war on foreign soil. Some 500 of them never returned home. In this inspiring and moving oral history, Richard Baxell weaves together a diverse array of testimony to tell the remarkable story of the Britons who took up arms against General Franco. Drawing on the author’s own extensive interviews with survivors, research in archives across Britain, Spain and Russia, as well as first-hand accounts by writers both famous and unknown, Unlikely Warriors presents a startling new interpretation of the Spanish Civil War and follows a band of ordinary men and women who made an extraordinary choice.

This book gives an insight to British and Commonwealth volunteers who made a massive contribution to the Republican side of the war, in a way never seen before or since. Read my review here


A guide to Barcelona in the Spanish Civil War, beginning in the 19th century with the conditions and movements which led to the revolution of 1936, and ending with the fall of the city on 26th January 1939 when Franco’s tanks drove down the Diagonal and set about destroying everything the Republic had built. Stories from the aftermath of the war, the exile and the Franco regime are also included.
In addition with dealing with the more obvious themes such as anarchism, the Spanish Republic, Catalonia, George Orwell, the aerial bombing, and the May Days, etc, the book also looks at themes such as the Zoo during the Civil War, the American Sixth Fleet in the city, Barça, urbanism, Nazis in Barcelona, Robert Capa, the Spanish in the Holocaust, poster art…

Intertwined in the text are contemporary quotes and a few personal stories of people I have met who experienced the war or its aftermath. There are also biographies of characters such as Andreu Nin and Lluís Companys.

This new release is written by Barcelona’s most knowledge and committed Spanish Civil War tour guide, who is also looking to open a SCW museum. Read my review here

Tomorrow in part 2, I will recommend my favourite SCW fiction.

SPAIN BOOK REVIEW: ‘Defence of Madrid’ by Geoffrey Cox


Goodies and baddies take some sorting out in this tale of the siege of Madrid by Franco’s right-wing forces supported by the Nazis and the fascist regime of Mussolini (the ‘rebels’), against the civilian population and its government representatives, just elected, who happened to be left-wing. Once sorted, Cox’s account of the city under attack, in one of the twentieth century’s first urban wars, has all too many echoes today. This new edition, with an introduction and selection of historical photographs, as well as samples of Cox’s journalism from the front, will confirm its position as one of the classics of twentieth-century reportage. Foreword  by Paul Preston, introduction by Michael O’Shaugnessy.

Cover and blurb for 70th anniversary edition from Amazon


Geoffrey Cox’s Defence of Madrid (1937, republished in 2006) is the New Zealander’s eyewitness account of his time in Madrid from October to December 1936, during the siege of the city. In this brief six-week stint, Cox managed to see the fighting in Casa del Campo, the battles at the university and the bombing of everyday civilians.

Born in New Zealand’s South Island in 1910, Cox moved to study at Oxford in 1932 after a tour through Europe. With Europe under dramatic change in this time, he studied the political state of the continent, including spending time in a Nazi youth camp. Soon, journalism took over his desire for an academic life. In 1936, the News Chronicle had their Madrid-based correspondent taken hostage by Franco’s rebels, and a replacement was needed – Geoffrey Cox had the opportunity no one else wanted.

Defence of Madrid is a stark and honest account of Madrid during those early months of the war as Franco’s forces marched unabated through Spain. Cox landed in Madrid prepared for the rebel’s onslaught, only to land in a city in wait, a city far more complex than imagined, given the social and political state. Cox started writing down his account as soon as he arrived, every sight and sound recorded. Almost immediately, his account was being broadcast, as one of just two British correspondents holed up in the city. Cox soon became immersed in the air of Madrid and was the first writer of explain to the world what it felt like to be part of the war, and what everyday people were feeling and experiencing. The combination of the turmoil and collective desires to defend Madrid were published by Cox, who quickly became recognised as a good judge of character. While in Spain for just six weeks, Cox managed to cover major events before any other – covering the assault on the university and Casa del Campo as the Republicans fought back Franco’s army, honest accounts of the aerial bombings and covered the arrival of foreign volunteers in Spain to help the cause.

Defence of Madrid is the first in a long line of books by Cox, who went on to cover World War II and much more. The book is written with total honesty, a lack of bias, seen through eyes destined to tell the truth. Any author would be proud to be able to produce such work. New Zealanders participated in all aspects of the Spanish Civil War, most totally unrecognised. Geoffrey Cox should not ever be one of these.