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Antony Beevor. The Battle for Spain the Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939.

Antony Beevor. The Battle for Spain The Spanish Civil War 1936-1939, 2006, Weidenfeld and [ Nicolson, 526 pages, 50 b&w photographs, 12 maps, bibliography, notes, sources, index.

Picking up a new book on the Spanish Civil War these days is usually an exercise in 'here we go again' and I must admit that I approached Antony Beevor's latest book very much in this frame of mind, especially considering that the book is actually an update of the work Beevor previously published in 1982. I was, however, pleasantly surprised with the latest edition of the book. In the intervening years Beevor has taken advantage of the opening up of previously closed Soviet archives on the war and the relaxation of restrictions on some information in Spain itself to add so much new detail to the original 1982 book as to almost make the 2006 effort a totally different work. Using previously unavailable material, Beevor has managed to produce a highly detailed but still highly readable account of one of the most confusing conflicts of the 20th century. Most significantly Beevor has revealed for the first time the full extent of Soviet involvement in the war and the extent of Soviet infiltration and eventually control of the Republican government apparatus. A detailed review of this aspect of the war has been long overdue.

One of the traps of writing a history of the Spanish Civil War is the convoluted and labyrinthine nature of Spanish politics, both leading up to the war and during the war itself. Many an author has been tripped up by the perils of trying to find a way through this maze. Beevor succeeds in making this tremendously complex subject understandable and relevant. Beevor's painting of the conditions in Spain--social and economic--in the years leading up to the war is in fact one of the strong points of the book. His examination of the conduct of the war is just as masterful. However, any reader seeking a purely military history of the war needs to look elsewhere, as Beevor never strays far from the critical political aspect of the war and this can be distracting for some seeking pure military history. Having said that, Beevor's descriptions of the various battles and campaigns, and the personalities who dominated them, more than qualify as competent military history.

A strength of Beevor's book is its even handedness. One of the major problems with the history of the Spanish Civil War is the fact that most of that history has long been dominated by political propaganda of one side or the other. Beevor manages to strip most of this away and in the end shows neither side to have been particularly virtuous in their conduct of the war. The book will in fact make quite uncomfortable reading for anyone who has preconceived, politically motivated views about the war. Beevor shows both the Nationalists and the Republicans to have been savage, ruthless, unforgiving and bloody handed in their pursuit of victory and domination. This will be a particularly sensitive point for supporters of the dominant Republican view of the war.

One complaint I had with the layout of the book is the location of the maps, all of which are placed at the front of the book, requiring the reader to keep turning back to another part of the book to look at maps. I would have preferred the maps to be placed within the sections they related to.

The Battle for Spain is not for everyone. A large book, it has a tendency to stress the political aspect of the war over the military to an extent that can be off putting for some. Nevertheless, it is still solid military history and is one of a very, very few books to examine the Spanish Civil War in a dispassionate, neutral and even handed manner, stripped of propaganda and thus allowing the reader to make up his or her own mind about the rights or wrongs of the war. Highly recommended. Graham Wilson
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Author:Wilson, Graham
Article Type:Book review
Date:Dec 1, 2006
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