Book Review: A short history of the Spanish Civil War

September 15, 2013


This article  appeared in the 35th issue of the newsletter of the International Brigade Memorial Trust and is reprinted here with the IBMT’s permission.

Any book about the Spanish Civil War that is accompanied by glowing testimonies from Paul Preston and Helen Graham is unlikely to disappoint, and that is certainly the case with this latest addition to the IB Tauris Short History Series. As someone who, sadly, speaks no Spanish, it is also refreshing to read a lucid history of the civil war written by a Spaniard, and one with such a great pedigree. Described by Helen Graham as “one of Spain’s leading historians”, Julián Casanova is Professor of History at the University of Zaragoza.

Casanova begins by looking at the roots of the conflict, and Spain’s progression from a monarchy to a republic. He points out that Spain was the only country in Europe where this process led to a civil war – notwithstanding that all the other countries, with the exception of the Irish Republic, ended up with some form of authoritarian dictatorship.

The author also avoids simply trailing through a chronology of the war and associated events, but rather tackles the main themes that emerged, beginning with what he describes in one chapter heading as “An International War on Spanish Soil”.

Casanova outlines the ideologies and motives of the main characters and how the war was fought by both sides, one side claiming to be waging a religious crusade and the other expressing their anti-clerical hatred. Whilst clearly sympathetic to the Republican cause, he does not attempt to dress up the failures of the Republic, but rather examines the reasons for them.

There are also chapters on the “The New Order”, and “An Uncivil Peace”, which discuss the horrors of the Franco victory and the reasons why he was allowed to prevail.

As well as being very readable and thought provoking, the book is very well referenced and includes a comprehensive index. The author’s approach in writing what can best be described as a series of linked mini essays works extremely well. This is highly recommended even if you think there cannot be anything new to read in another short history of the Spanish Civil War.