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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars to attempt a more objective review ...
Interested in history and Spain I picked up this book and hardly put it down again - it is a highly interesting biography, written in clear and and illustrative language, which manages to convey both the historical chronology as well as a feeling for Franco's time and society even to readers who have no in-depth knowledge of Spanish history (albeit some curiosity and...
Published on 13 Dec 2003

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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good as History, Dull as Biography
This is an impressive piece of work although the general reader, as opposed to the historian, might find it hard going at times as the author outlines complicated, long-forgotten plots among the monarchists, Falangists and armed forces in the 30s and 40s or government reshuffles in the 50s, 60s and 70s. Preston describes the book as a "close study of the man" rather than...
Published on 6 Jan 2009 by John Fitzpatrick


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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars to attempt a more objective review ..., 13 Dec 2003
By A Customer
This review is from: Franco: A Biography (Paperback)
Interested in history and Spain I picked up this book and hardly put it down again - it is a highly interesting biography, written in clear and and illustrative language, which manages to convey both the historical chronology as well as a feeling for Franco's time and society even to readers who have no in-depth knowledge of Spanish history (albeit some curiosity and interested in it). Of the many, many biographies I have read in the past, this is certainly one of the most well-written ones - I have enjoyed it very, very much.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good as History, Dull as Biography, 6 Jan 2009
By 
John Fitzpatrick (São Paulo, Brazil) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Franco: A Biography (Paperback)
This is an impressive piece of work although the general reader, as opposed to the historian, might find it hard going at times as the author outlines complicated, long-forgotten plots among the monarchists, Falangists and armed forces in the 30s and 40s or government reshuffles in the 50s, 60s and 70s. Preston describes the book as a "close study of the man" rather than a "history of modern Spain" but, apart from the chapter describing Franco's childhood in Galicia, I did not feel this. In fact, by the end of this 800-page tome I felt I had learned little about Franco the man who is presented confusingly as a mass murderer on one hand and a mediocre little bourgeois on the other. It is difficult to believe that someone as ambitious and forceful as Franco could have been as one dimensional as he is presented here. Don't forget, this was a man who was a general in his early 30s, the victor in a lengthy, civil war and dictator for almost 40 years of one of Europe's biggest countries.
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29 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating And Riveting, 13 Dec 2003
By 
Mr. S. J. Wade "thebardofb6" (United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Franco: A Biography (Paperback)
I was a little daunted by the size of this book but quickly found it enthralling and totally enlightening. Whether as a history of modern Spain or an insightful analysis of the mind and personality of Europe's most resiliant dictator, this is a fascinating and riveting read. It seems that Paul Preston didn't like Franco much at all but this adds flavour to the text and avoids the moral cowardice of cool neutrality. Franco emerges as the possessor of inhuman levels of sang froid and no moral scruple whatsoever, coupled with toughness, preening vanity and a relentless drive for vegeance. The political pragmatist par excellence who could adapt his ideals at any moment to suit the prevailing political climate; Franco was a man like no other and could have given lessons to Machiavelli in the art of survival and political manipulation. Although viewing himself as the king of all Spain and even as Spain itself he was under the skin a 'gallego' through and through; and was an enthusiastic football fan, who liked to do the pools (which he won twice). There is a comical paradox between his desire for pomp and ceremony, and his more ordinary preoccupations. As his instincts for survival faded with age, he himself was out-manoeuvred by the forces of liberalism and his death marked the beginning of democracy in Spain. It is on this positive note that the book ends and it seems almost miraculous, that a country so riven by regionalism and such a heritage of political oppression, could make the transition so smoothly and quickly. I consider it a very important and book indeed.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Franco warts, myth and reality., 10 July 2003
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P. G. Lee "peterlee" (uk) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Franco: A Biography (Paperback)
This is a book that we would all want to write.
Lucid, reflective, objective and disective.
Here we have Franco in a publication that I think would have taken pride of place on his own bookshelf.
Described in minute detail is the man for better or for worse. Seen as a dictator or saviour, depending on your inclination, Paul teases apart the threads, reconstructs the events and observes the man. You can ask no more of a historian. This publication should be on the bookshelf of every one who has an interest in those vital years in Spain 1936 -1939 and the brutal years which followed. It should also be seen as an definative example of historical research and literary excellence.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Triumph of an Authoritative Opus, 10 Jan 2010
By 
MH Lambert "flux1984" (Disunited Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Franco: A Biography (Paperback)
For the uninitiated Paul Preston is one of the foremost historians of contemporary Spain. He has an unshakable and resolute grasp of the country, the politics and the divisive impact that Franco has played in shaping its current and historic trajectory. He has written extensively in English and Spanish on the topic and is able to convey complex and interconnected ideas in an approachable and accessible way. Although a left-leaning liberal, he is by no stretch of the imagination a sectarian historian and his ability to incorporate a vast mountain of partisan evidence effectively is one of the reasons he is so respect in his field. He obviously does not like his subject matter but is still able to write fluently and positively, not being bogged down in praise or propaganda.

Preston has written widely on the topic and all his books are superb. This is his perhaps his finest book and is a reflection of just how much he comprehends the complex and powerful dynamics of life and history in Spain.

Obviously this work was never going to please everyone. It does have a more academic feel to it than many "popular" biographies and its length means that it is not one to pick up and put down easily. That said it is written extremely well. At no stage does Preston engage in pseudo-psychological explanations for why Franco became the man he was. Instead he outlines the development of his military and political life and career as a series of mutually informing events that involve a certain degree of piety, nationalism, bravery and hostility but above all a commitment to his notion of Spain. Although I feel at times this means Preston overlooks some of the day-to-day experiences and attitudes of Franco, his ability to contextualise his decisions and opinions through a plethora of well-researched and reasoned evidence is sublime. Particularly, his use of eyewitness accounts from meetings at different times in his life from various sources is one of the real strengths of the book. All in all it is not a standard biography but in my opinion this is what makes the book exceptional.

The inclusion of pictures from many stages of his life adds depth to the book and the focus on the years 1931-53 when he was at his political peak provides a good structure to the book. That is not to say Preston leaves information out of the earlier and later years but instead concentrates on the time when he had the largest impact on life in Spain. He appreciates the huge influence his formative years had on him as well as how his declining health and withdrawal from the direct control of Spain had in the later years. I found this more informed direction very useful, providing a good balance in terms of providing a new insight into the man. In this way I found the book more engaging than Ellwood's work. Particularly, Preston's main thesis of the division of Spain into victors and vanquished and the destruction of "anti-Spain" has been a massive influence on my own thoughts about attitudes in Spain during the period.

Frequent comparisons are made between this and Kershaw's monumental biography of Hitler. Many commentators say that the lack of international contextualisation and socio-economic developments within the country make the books less useful. I fundamentally disagree. It is not a reflection of Preston's book being poor but that Kershaw's book is an absolutely monumental and landmark work. Preston is able to engage to a sufficient degree the relevant information whilst leaving the reader to be aware of the context. It does require a little knowledge of Spain beforehand but its nothing you can't glean from reading his other - equally well written and informed - works.

Inevitably this book will not be for everyone. It is woefully (but necessarily) long and at times quite academic although never stiff. He writes about a subject which interests and repulses him but this does not colour his ability to write coherently and informatively. Those looking for a shorter gateway into his life would be better off reading Ellwood's also brilliant work. Those wanting an examination of the man and the myth as well as his polarising influence on contemporary Spain need look no further. Even as a new generation of SCW (Spanish Civil War) historians emerge, they will be hard pressed to supersede this book for decades - if at all. Not one to be missed by any account.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent book, 27 April 2002
By A Customer
This review is from: Franco: A Biography (Paperback)
Paul Preston has written a superb book. Anyone with a serious interest in 20th century Spanish history and politics should read it. It is easy just to dismiss Franco as a "monster" or "fascist", but Preston takes a studious look at this dictator and his atavistic, cruel regime that oulived Hitler and Mussolini by an astonising three decades.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Truly special, 26 April 2011
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This review is from: Franco: A Biography (Paperback)
I was fortunate to get this book second-hand, despite usually only buying new, and I have to say that was a powerful work of history/biography. Whilst I was expecting merely the ins and outs of Franco's life, Preston also gets a vast amount of Spanish history (civil war, post-Franco succession issues, etc.) in, which really made it a formidable study.

I really do not buy into to the claims of it being 'bias'. Obviously the author's opinions shine through strongly at times, but he has earned the right to express them, and this was by no means some shoddy whitewash (for a start, Preston clearly points out that both sides in the civil war committed terrible atrocities). An author explaining his views to the reader is not bias (If he had written these views as though they were fact, THEN it would be). In no way did this ruin the book for me.

The book was structured fairly well and pretty much all you would want to know about this period was included. As a general reader, it was tough going at times, and the scholarly reader would appreciate the book even more than I did. I don't feel that I can complain too much about this; you don't buy a 1000 page book for a bit of light reading.

I would recommend this to students mainly, but I believe that anyone with an interest in the subject could benefit from reading it.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Indispensible to people interested in Spanish history., 22 Feb 2000
By A Customer
This review is from: Franco: A Biography (Paperback)
Paul Preston has written quite a superlative book, detailing and examining the dictators life from his early formative years spent in the army upon his , his role in the Civil War and his powerful influence on post-war Spanish life. The actual tone is never remote and over-theoritcal and the maintains a fine balance of events reported and the authors own personal views. A fascinating but scary insight into a dictator's mindset and its repressive influence on society in general.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A must read for anybody interested in 20th c. Spain, 11 Jun 2005
This review is from: Franco: A Biography (Paperback)
Despite it's initial size, this is a book that concisly explains the evolution of Franco from the early, eager military cadet to the cool, absent caudillo he became.
It sheds new light on the persona of Europes youngest general since Napoleon, and on the only Western European Dictator to survive the usual fate of such tyrants.
A wonderful book that reads more like a novel than a historical text.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fair and very readable portrait, 1 Feb 2009
By 
A. Dalton (London UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Franco: A Biography (Paperback)
This is a very comprehensive biography of Franco than is extremely readable despite its considerable length. The book serves as a history of Spain through the middle 50 years of the last century via the life of the dictator. The great depth of research and knowledge shown allows the reader to feel a real understanding of Franco's character. It also does an excellent job of covering all the major political events of the period. The book drags a little in the later stages whilst describing the internal struggles of the dictatorship, but the author has to strike a balance between academic completeness and readability and generally he does that very well.

Preston may not like Franco, but he does not make the mistake that many did of underestimating him. The book is essential reading for anyone interested in modern Spanish history.
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Franco: A Biography
Franco: A Biography by Paul Preston (Paperback - 11 July 2011)
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