The Battle for Spain: The Spanish Civil War 1936-1939 by Antony Beevor
Published: 2006 by Penguin Books
Back in university (many many years ago) I wrote a paper in my 1st year international relations class about the Spanish Civil War. Since the focus was only on the diplomacy (or lack thereof) surrounding the conflict, though, I did not do much research outside of that topic, but I retained a curiosity of that war and tried to learn more about it over the years. Some wonderful novels, Guernica by Dave Boling, and The Return by Victoria Hislop provide emotional images of the war and its effects on the civilian population, but I hadn't read a good non-fiction account of it; so when I was browsing a bookstore in a college town and saw Antony Beevor's book The Battle for Spain I picked it up. It took me about two years to finally read it (thank you 2011 TBR Pile Challenge) and I still don't know if I understand the Spanish Civil War any better.
It's not that the book isn't good -- it is thorough, but perhaps too thorough for a "general" reader like me. Beevor provides a lot of detail about the two sides of the conflict - the Republicans and the Nationalists, and though there is an index of abbreviations at the beginning I still found it difficult to keep track of all of the organizations that fell under the two sides, and in fact to keep track of which side was which (The Republicans were the government of Spain at the time and received support from the Soviet Union and Communist/anti-fascist volunteers from around the world; the Nationalists were led by General Francisco Franco and were supported by Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy). The book also goes into a lot of detail about specific battles and I have to admit that my attention waned during these descriptions. Beevor is an objective writer, though, and his account of the war is balanced; he shows the good and bad of both, which I believe exists in any war.
If and when I read another novel set during the Spanish Civil War, I think I will have this book at my side as a reference for any actual events depicted. For me, it was not a book that I enjoyed reading as I normally do, but I appreciate its value as a resource for detailed information.