DISCLAIMER: The History of Spain Podcast is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com
Top 10 books on the Spanish Civil War
A lot has been discussed about the controversial Spanish Civil War, but one thing comes clear: it was a very complex conflict (as other civil wars). The two sides grouped, in fact, widely different factions. The rebel Nationalist side grouped conservatives, right-wing authoritarians, monarchists, Carlists, Catholics, fascists, with the international support of Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and foreign volunteers of different backgrounds, like Muslim Moroccans who saw the conflict as a crusade against the Atheists Republicans. On the other hand, the Republicans grouped equally different factions, but with more disunity within their ranks. There were communists, socialists, anarchists, Catalan and Basque separatists, and liberals pro-democracy, supported mainly by the Soviet Union. Because of that, it’s a wrong oversimplification to see the Spanish Civil War as a struggle between democracy and fascism, but rather it was multi-faced: right-wing vs left-wing, class struggle, holy war, revolution vs counterrevolution, fascism vs communism, and more. In the end though, it was a fraticidal war where Spaniards fought other Spaniards, and thousands of civilans were killed. Learn more about it by reading some of the books that I’ve picked for this top 10 books on the Spanish Civil War.
1- Spain’s First Democracy: The Second Republic, 1931-1936
To understand the Spanish Civil War, you need to understand the background and causes. The Second Spanish Republic (1931-1936) has been overshadowed by the Spanish Civil War that broke out. To change this, American Hispanist Stanley G. Payne tells the story of the Second Spanish Republic in vivid detail. Spain’s First Democracy is an indispensable book to understand why the civil war started, by studying the successes and failures of reforms and the political polarization and violence of the turbulent 1930s.
2. The Spanish Civil War: Revised Edition
- The Spanish Civil War: Revised EditionProduct on sale
Hugh Thomas authors what’s probably the most balanced and rigorous account on the controversial Spanish Civil War. It’s a very dense and pretty dry one-volume book, but it’s worth reading if you don’t want a simplified version of a very complex conflict, that was not fascism vs democracy as some try to make it look like. Revised with new material, it includes the atrocities committed by both sides. For a shorter and more accessible account, read Payne’s work on the matter.
3. Comintern Army: The International Brigades and the Spanish Civil War
- Comintern Army: The International Brigades and the Spanish Civil WarProduct on sale
Comintern Army presents the International Brigades primarily as instruments of the Soviet-controlled Second Spanish Republic, and shows how the International Brigades were a significant tool of propaganda of the Soviets. R. Dan Richardson doesn’t deny the convictions that led many foreign men to enlist in the cause of the Republic, though.
4. Revolution and the State: Anarchism in the Spanish Civil War
- Revolution and the State: Anarchism in the Spanish Civil WarProduct on sale
Danny Evans analyzes the anarchist revolution that took place mainly in Republican Catalonia during the Spanish Civil War. In Revolution and the State you will discover how they attempted to advance in their revolutionary agenda, the conflicts they had with the central Republican authorities and discussions on the execution of the revolution.
5. Franco’s International Brigades
Franco’s International Brigades offers an original and engaging work about the lesser-known foreign volunteers of the Spanish Civil War, the foreign adventurers that served in the Nationalist side of Franco. Christopher Othen does a superb job bringing to life the background of the foreign fascists, Irish Catholics, Muslim Moroccans, or Russian exiles. This book is not so much about personal stories and battlefield experiences as it as a book to understand the broader international context and why peoples of different national backgrounds joined the Nationalist side.
6. Lessons of the Spanish Revolution 1936-1939
- Lessons of the Spanish Revolution 1936-1939Product on sale
Lessons of the Spanish Revolution is an excellent contribution to examine the problems the anarchists had to face while carrying out the anarchist revolution in Republican Spain. The author shows how the anarchist revolution contributed to its own defeat, and brings up questions such as “was it too weak to carry through the Revolution?”, “What chances had an improvised army of guerrillas against a trained fighting force?”, or “Should the revolutionary impetus of the first days of resistance be halted in the interests of the struggle against Franco or be allowed to develop as far as the workers were able to take it?”
7. Spain Betrayed: The Soviet Union in the Spanish Civil War
- Spain Betrayed: The Soviet Union in the Spanish Civil WarProduct on sale
Through the careful examination of Soviet documentation, Spain Betrayed proves that the Soviet Union under Stalin made Republican Spain its puppet and did everything to serve the interests of the Soviet Union, not those of the Republic. For Stalin the priority was to dominate the Communist movements of Spain and crush the Trotskyist and Anarchist movements, not win over Franco. Highly recommended to study the influence, role and motives of the Soviet Union in Spain.
8. Homage to Catalonia
- Homage to Catalonia$12.95
Homage to Catalonia is a classic account of journalist and volunteer George Orwell, narrating his personal, eye-opening and deeply realistic experience that he lived while fighting for the Republican side. His participation in the Spanish Civil War was a cure of idealism, and those memories shaped his criticism towards the Communists totalitarian regimes, as seen in 1984 and Animal Farm.
9. The Last Days of the Spanish Republic
Paul Preston tells the story of the defeat of the Second Spanish Republic and focuses on the humanitarian disaster (political executions, refugees and economic ruin) that followed the aftermath of the war. I would recommend The Last Days of the Spanish Republic to understand the humanitarian disaster that the war caused, and the immediate Francoist repression. However, I don’t know why he judges in such a negative light Segismundo Casado, who launch a coup d’état when it was clear that all was lost, to at least attempt to secure a peace compromise.
10. Franco A Personal and Political Biography
- Franco A Personal and Political BiographyProduct on sale
A biography of general and dictator Francisco Franco co-authored by two eminent historians. The biography is balanced and treats all the facets of Franco: the personal, military and political facets. This biography covers the early and family life of Franco, how he rose to prominence within the Spanish Army, how he (eventually) became the leader of the Nationalist uprising and how he consolidated a dictatorship that lasted until his death in 1975. A book that will appeal to anyone interested in Franco’s personality and regime, the Spanish Civil War or even to a broader audience.
Some extra best books on the Spanish Civil War
You can visit the Store of the website and find hundreds of history books on all the periods of Spanish history, including more books on the Spanish Civil War. Apart from these 10 books recommended above, you may also find interesting to read Spain in Our Hearts if you are American, to hear about the experiences of the Abraham Lincoln Batallion; Fascism in Spain, 1923-1977 to learn about the defining features and key personalities of Spanish Fascism and how Falange evolved; and Forgotten Places: Barcelona and the Spanish Civil War that is both a history book and a travel guide, to visit the key places of Barcelona related to the Spanish Civil War, personalities, events, and stories.
- Fascism in Spain 1923-1977$25.56
- Forgotten Places: Barcelona and the Spanish Civil WarProduct on sale
- Spain in Our Hearts: Americans in the Spanish Civil WarProduct on sale
Moreover, in the Store there are travel guides, books to learn Spanish, Spanish literature, cookbooks, and exclusive merchandising. You can also listen to The History of Spain Podcast in all major podcast directories, including Apple Podcast, Spotify, Acast, or YouTube.