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Posted on Sep 1, 2007 in Books and Movies, Front Page Features

The Spanish Civil War – Book Review

By Dan Nemeth

cover.jpgBook Review:  The Spanish Civil War: Reaction, Revolution, and Revenge

One would think the game of politics is probably far less dangerous than engaging in combat.  It’s probably true in America, but not in Spain.  The Spanish Civil War by Paul Preston demonstrates the fact that playing the game of politics can be quite deadly and possibly cost your life if you’re on the wrong or losing side.

It should be noted that Preston’s book is not a military history of the Spanish Civil War; rather it is a political history of the conflict.  So, if you’re looking for a good military book on the conflict, then this book isn’t for you.  This book gives a political overview of the conflict from Nationalist and Republican perspectives.  It is about the conflict between the right-wing groups (Nationalists) and left-wing groups (Republicans).  It takes place between 1936 and 1939.  Both feared each other, and could not find a middle path between two extremes in an attempt to avoid engaging in a civil war.  Quite briefly Preston explains the main underlying causes leading to the conflict by highlighting Spanish historical and political events.  In so many ways, the conflict was inevitable, and it was made worse by the fact there were no good guys on either side.  In fact the Spanish civil war offered a terrifying glimpse of what would come in World War Two.


Preston does a marvelous job of describing the clash of personalities on both sides; the sufferings of International Brigade where Americans and other nationalities participated voluntarily; and the political troubles in both zones – how they eventually led to either triumph or defeat.  Preston presents dramatically a picture of the conflict as if it were the end of world on the both ends of political spectrum, in the other words, how paranoia reigned within Spain.

The Nationalists presented by Preston are utterly ruthless, calculating, cold, evil, and at times seemed like wanting to stop the march of progress by turning back the clock to medieval times where the Catholic Church and wealthy nobles were in the control.  The brutal repressions of leftists are described by Preston as the evidence of inherent evilness of Nationalist cause.  On the other hand, Preston doesn’t shy away from describing the “uncontrolled” repressions of rightists in the Republican territory; however, one gets the feeling by reading the book that they were justified on the basis of general lawlessness and the lack of order by law enforcement agencies rather than as part of Republican’s systemic leftist repression of rightists.  Repeatedly, Preston justifies the Republican brutal acts, and attempts to show the Republican Front was really trying to stay true to the democratic principles despite the open rebellion of rightists led by military officers.  Pretty soon, it got to the point where you start thinking Preston is saying without so much of a hint that he admires the Republicans fighting to ensure Spain to stay a leftist Republic.

Despite Preston’s flaws, it’s a good book and I do recommend it.

1 Comment

  1. For equal time to Preston’s book, try “The Last Crusade” by Warren Carroll.