The Best Books on the Spanish Civil War

republican banner during the Spanish Civil War
"They shall not pass!" Republican banner in Madrid reading "Fascism wants to conquer Madrid. Madrid shall be fascism's grave" during its siege, 1936–39. (Mikhail Koltsov/Wikimedia Commons)

Fought between 1936 and 1939, the Spanish Civil War continues to fascinate, horrify and intrigue people from across the world; consequently, the - already large - range of historiography is growing every year. The following texts, which are all devoted to some aspect of the civil war, comprise this selection of the best.

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A Concise History of the Spanish Civil War by Paul Preston

Not only is this the best introductory text on the civil war, but it's also an enlightening read for anyone already versed in the subject. Preston's clear and precise text is a perfect backdrop for his marvelous selection of quotes and pithy style, a combination that has - quite rightly - received widespread praise. Aim for the revised edition, first published in 1996.

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The Spanish Civil War by Antony Beevor

Beevor's concise and detailed account of the Spanish Civil War presents the complex mix of events in a clear manner, using a smooth and readable narrative with an excellent appraisal of both the broader situations and the difficulties faced by individual soldiers. Add to that a fairly cheap price and you have a praiseworthy text! Get the expanded version, first published in 2001.

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The Spanish Civil War by Stanley Payne

This is one of the best textbooks on the Spanish Civil War. You can buy other histories for less, but this well-rounded examination is readable and authoritative and covers much more than just troop movements.

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The Coming of the Spanish Civil War: Reform, Reaction and Revolution in the Seco

While many accounts of the civil war concentrate on bloodshed, this text outlines the preceding events. Newly republished in an updated form, Preston discusses the changes, decline and possible collapse of political and social institutions, including that of democracy. This book is certainly essential reading for anyone studying the civil war, but it is also fascinating in its own right.

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The Spanish Civil War by Hugh Thomas

If you want real depth - and you like reading - ignore the other books in this list and get Thomas' mammoth history of the Spanish Civil War. Numbering over a thousand pages, this weighty tome contains a reliable, accurate and impartial account that examines the full range of nuances with deft and style. Unfortunately, it will be simply too large for many readers.

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A New International History of the Spanish Civil War by Michael Alpert

Instead of focusing on the conflict in Spain, this text examines the surrounding events, including the reactions - and (in)actions - of other countries. Alpert's book is a well-written and convincing piece of historiography which would augment most studies of the Civil War; it's also essential for anyone studying international politics in the twentieth century.

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Comrades by Paul Preston

This is the fourth of Preston's books to appear in this list, and it's the most intriguing. In nine biographical 'portraits' (essays) the author examines nine key figures from the Spanish civil war, starting with those on the political right and moving over to the left. The approach is fascinating, the material excellent, the conclusions enlightening, and the book wholly recommended.

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Spain's Civil War by Harry Browne

Part of Longman's 'Seminar Studies' series, this book offers a compact introduction to the Spanish Civil War, covering such topics as international aid, 'terror' tactics and the conflict's legacy. Browne has also included a subject bibliography and sixteen annotated documents for study and discussion.

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The Spanish Tragedy by Raymond Carr

This text is probably the classic work on the Spanish Civil War, and unlike other historical 'classics', the work is still very valid. Carr's style is good, his conclusions thought-provoking and his academic rigor excellent. Although the title may suggest otherwise, this isn't an attack on the civil war in the same manner as some works on World War I, but an incisive and important account.

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The Splintering of Spain by C. Ealham

This collection of essays looks at the culture and politics of the Spanish Civil War, in particular how the society divided along enough levels to support a conflict. It’s been criticized for lacking military content, as if that was all that matters in the history of a war.

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Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell

George Orwell is one of the most important twentieth century British writers, and his work was deeply affected by his experiences during the Spanish Civil War. As you might then expect, this is a fascinating, powerful and troubling book about the war, and about people.

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The Spanish Holocaust by Paul Preston

How many people died during the Spanish Civil War and the repression that followed? Paul Preston argues for hundreds of thousands through torture, imprisonment, execution and more. This is a heavy-going book, but an important one.

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Wilde, Robert. "The Best Books on the Spanish Civil War." ThoughtCo, Sep. 16, 2020, Wilde, Robert. (2020, September 16). The Best Books on the Spanish Civil War. Retrieved from Wilde, Robert. "The Best Books on the Spanish Civil War." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 4, 2023).