Five years on

It's been five years since the publication in 2006 of what has become one of the standard books on the history of the Spanish Civil War – The Battle for Spain by historian Antony Beevor. The question must be whether this work will go on to be as used and cited as similar works of a generation before; whether the scope of the book will continue to engage not only an expert on the subject but the general reader.


The reviews from 2006 could have hardly been more positive: The Guardian (UK); described it as "rich in detail and with a strong narrative drive". It did, however, suggest that the 1982 version had been less that satisfactory as part of a body of work that now includes a vast array of material by Beevor. Books like Hugh Thomas' extensive volumes, and more modern works by authors like Paul Preston appeared to relegate the original. However, Beevor seems to have pulled it together for this one. It tells a strong story, not necessarily in the strict chronology order one might expect of a book that runs to over 500 pages. Instead, it tells a story by parts: of the background (where it might be considered to compete not entirely satisfactorily with The Spanish Labyrinth by Gerard Brenan); of the White and Red Terrors, of the changing emphasis of the war and of foreign involvement. Beevor manages to produce a strong performance in a very readable book, and has clearly drawn on the work of other authors to create this effect. There is a definitiveness to his book that is perhaps lacking in others (even works by the much acclaimed Paul Preston tend to lack sufficient depth, depending on the exact edition).

There are other reviews by more experienced reviewers than me: among them, The Spectator (in a rather commercial fashion, I might add) and extracts from others at Beevor's own page. Of course, mainstream book reviewers tend to live in a kind of bubble brought about by some many books at no cost. Amazon can tell a different story. As it happens, reviewers tend to have picked up on the same things I did – the lack of a strict chronology can in times be annoying, but as one review put it, it makes for "excellent background reading". Some of the reviews date from before the 2006 edition, so one is a little wary. 85% of the reviews fell into the 4 or 5 star categories. Another marker: the book was widely appreciated in its Spanish form, something  few books in a country still reeling from the effects of 35 years from dictatorial rule manage.

The main hardback edition, published by Weidenfield and Nicolson, retails for £25, but it certainly has a new face compared to the Orbis paperback version. Considering the book could replace many on the Spanish Civil War, that isn't too bad although it is a little on the high side. I don't expect it to go out of fashion soon: there have been three eras so far in literature. The first, marked by first-hand accounts such as the first Hugh Thomas book (1961) and the aforementionedFront coverSpanish Labyrinth (1950); the second, marked by the first efforts of Beevor (1982), and the second edition of Thomas; now, approaching the 75 anniversary of the coup that started the war, books by Preston and this version of Beevor in 2006. We can safely assume it will be some time before anything more definite comes along, since the post-USSR breakup files have already been worked into these books.

I would welcome reader's own thoughts; for I, as with the majority of the books readers, am no expert on the field; that perhaps leaves me more free to judge it.