A sweeping overview of a brutal conflict
Shortly after midnight on 17 July 1936, General Francisco Franco boarded a fishing boat and left Tenerife where he had been stationed (or exiled, in his view) for the Spanish mainland. His ostensible reason was to attend a funeral; his real aim was to participate in a right-wing military coup to overthrow the socialist government. The coup failed, with the wealthier northern and eastern regions – particularly Catalonia and the Basque country – holding their own against the rebels. But the government was not strong enough to repress the uprising, and civil war ensued.
'Remarkable … a definitive account'
Thomas narrates the history of this conflict with impressive insight and even-handedness. He acknowledges the atrocities on both sides, from the murders of clergy and nuns by the Republicans (as the left-wing became known) to the slaughter and imprisonment of entire villages by the Nationalists. Within this sweeping overview Thomas introduces us to key figures such as Dolores Ibarruri, ‘La Pasionaria’, rumoured by the Right to have cut a priest’s throat with her teeth; and General Mola, who instructed the mayors of Navarra to ‘spread an atmosphere of terror’. The battles of Madrid and Barcelona and the pitiless bombardments of Guernica and Durango are discussed in all their tragic detail.
'A full, vivid and deeply serious treatment of a great subject'
The Republicans enjoyed the support of international public opinion, with individuals such as George Orwell and Ernest Hemingway joining the International Brigades in order to fight and report on events for the benefit of the wider world. Nevertheless, Thomas shows how the various left-wing groups were hampered by infighting and the reluctance of France and Britain to officially intervene on their side. The Nationalists, on the other hand, steadily gained ground and won important battles due to their military discipline and the support given to them by Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. With the fall of Catalonia in January 1939, the Republican cause was lost, and European leaders finally acknowledged Franco’s government in the following months. Spain would remain neutral during the Second World War, having already had more than its share of what Thomas calls ‘the tragic European breakdown of the twentieth century’.
'A prodigy of a book'
Thomas is one of the most highly respected historians of his generation, and he has been the recipient of numerous international awards. Among other distinctions, he is a commander of the Order of Arts and Letters in France and has received the Grand Cross of the Order of Isabella the Catholic in Spain and the Order of the Aztec Eagle in Mexico. For this edition he has worked closely with the team at The Folio Society in choosing the images, while the editorial team has made careful revisions and amendments to the text and notes where necessary. The 35 maps have been redrawn by cartographer Kevin Freeborn, with added details and improved consistency throughout.
In addition to the existing introduction and preface by the author, this edition features a specially commissioned foreword by Professor Michael Alpert, Emeritus Professor of the History of Spain at the University of Westminster. He praises a great work that ‘has not been equalled for the clarity, coherence and cogency of its narrative, its detachment and engagement, and its perception and vividness’.