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Best book on the Spanish Civil War
on 14 August 2001
The Spanish Civil War is often poorly understood, indeed misunderstood, firstly because of its complexity (as Antony Beevor makes clear there were multiple conflicts going on at different levels, not least the strife between different Republican groups which weakened the Republican government fatally), secondly because most of us outside Spain know about the war from those who fought on the Republican side and subsequently wrote about it (best known of whom is of course George Orwell in Homage to Catalonia).
Antony Beevor cuts through the confusion with a marvellously clear and concise account of the war, not sparing the reader a taste of how horrific conditions were in Spain for combatant and non-combatant alike. The introductory chapters on the state of Spain and the origins of the Civil War are particularly enlightening.
The book also makes clear and obvious why the Nationalists won - they were better organised, more professional soldiers, better tacticians - and had the support of Hitler and Mussolini, to say nothing of the fatal internecine conflict among the Republican parties.
Perhaps Beevor is a little sniffy about the non-intervention of the western democracies but how realistic this would have been (and whether it would have done anything to help the fatally fissile Republican cause) is to me questionable. But as Beevor points out, as the Spanish proverb has it, history is a common meadow in which everyone can make hay, and there is plenty of raw material for discussion in this excellent book. It should be read by anyone who is interested in European history, 20th century history, politics or simply those interested in how a country can disintigrate into such horror in such a short time.