Anthony Beevor is a fine narrative historian. His books on Stalingrad and Berlin have been widely read and praised. However it would be hard for any competent writer not to produce interesting books on these apocalyptic battles. Spain in the thirties is a very different challenge.
Having read a little of the Peninsular War, I had no enthusiasm to re-visit Spain. A sideshow of the Napoleonic War (despite tireless English efforts to make it more important) it was replete with duplicitous arrogant people, fighting in a mean country, vain incompetent generals, vile politicians, and the pervasive interference of the church. Extreme cruelty is something the Spanish do well. I was not motivated to read further into the twentieth century. Then I watched Ken Loach's film "Land and Freedom" finding the commentary an excellent history lesson. It was on my list to read something solid, so to Beevor's Battle for Spain.
If you want to read one book on the events between 1936-39 then this will do the job. It was originally published in 1982 then revised using fresh research to mark the 70th anniversary. Beevor is a master of detail. An ex soldier his battle descriptions are complex and required supplemental maps to follow the narrative. The politics are also complicated, fragmenented, bizarre especially taken out of context decades on. How could you expect anarchists and communists to form a government, herding cats would be easier? The military aspects, incompetence on both sides, militias, international brigades are uninspiring and savage. The Spanish civil war was a fetid affair, both sides excelled at torturing and shooting prisoners/civilians while in conventional fighting running away and indiscipline was widespread. It was the Germans and Russians who added backbone. As for the Italian military contribution or the role of external intellectuals, no glory is reflected on either.
Big geo political issues were being tested within an essentially pointless civil war - another sideshow with the Spain of 1939 much the same as 1814, a spiteful land. Nationalist and Republican, it was hard to tell who were the most repugnant and the entire dreadful war best relegated to a dusty shelf in history. Proof of this was that after the real war (1939-45) Franco was allowed to drift on until his natural demise in 1975. No one really cared about Spain. From the embers of the war, a plethora of interpretation (much of dubious logic) has emerged seeking to show the relevance of the conflict, that it emboldend fascists, inducing the Second World and then the Cold War.
Left alone I would have skim read this book. But I went to the library and borrowed the CD audio version and loaded it onto my IPod. Sean Barrett read it well, and his Spanish pronunciation was helpful. I listened to his narration as I simultaneously read the book. It made it more enjoyable, actually bearable. If you are feint hearted and peripherally interested in the war - consider doing the same. Beevor has produced a good book but it is a slog to read. I have now filled a gap in my knowledge but do not feel the better for it.