The 14 best books about the Spanish Civil War

The Local Spain
The Local Spain - [email protected]
The 14 best books about the Spanish Civil War
Picture taken in 1936 of Spanish soldiers loyal to the young Republic arriving in Madrid to fight Franco's nationalist troops. Photo:Archive / AFP

As July 17th marks the 85th anniversary of the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, The Local takes a look at the best books on the conflict.


The three year  long bloody conflict that divided Spain pitting brother against brother in a pre-cursor to the Second World War inspired great writing and has continued to fascinate historians to this day.

Whether it is contemporary accounts, historical thesis or fiction set during the 1936-39 conflict, there is a huge choice of very good reads on the subject.

Here are fourteen of our favourites: 

Contemporary accounts 

Homage to Catalonia - George Orwell

The observations of the author’s experience fighting against Fascism during the Spanish Civil War was published in 1938 and gives a first-hand account of fighting for the Republicans. A modern classic. 


Men in Battle - Alvah Bessie 

Novelist Alvah Bessie fought with the volunteer Lincoln Battalion in Spain and, upon his return to the United States, wrote this gritty memoir of the war. Hemingway said of the book: “A true, honest, fine book. Bessie writes truly and finely of all that he could see... and he saw enough.”

The Face of War - Martha Gellhorn 

One of the most famous war reporters of the 20th Century, Gellhorn travelled around Spain reporting on the Spanish Civil War. “I wrote very fast, as I had to,” she said, “afraid that I would forget the exact sound, smell, words, gestures, which were special to this moment and this place.” 


A look back

The Spanish Civil War. A Very Short Introduction - Helen Graham


Graham manages, within a very short space, to narrate the entirety of the war, as well as its political motivations and the impact of the war on Spain’s transition to democracy and its contemporary political culture. 

The Battle for Spain - Antony Beevor

Beevor daws on newly discovered material from Spanish, German and Russian archives to expertly narrate the origins of the civil war and its dramatic course from 1936 - 39, analyzing the political and regional forces that played an important role in the war. 

The Spanish Civil War - Hugh Thomas

Thomas’ classic account brings the Spanish Civil War to life and asks the important questions about the conflict: What was it that drove left-wing sympathizers from all over the world to fight against Franco between 1936 and 1939? Why did the British and US governments refuse to intervene? And why did the Republican cause collapse so violently? Now revised and updated, The Spanish Civil War is an excellent introduction to the conflict.

The Spanish Civil War Reaction, Revolution and Revenge - Paul Preston

Updated to coincide with the 80th anniversary of the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, Preston’s detailed account tells the story of the rise of Francisco Franco and the new and horrific form of warfare that would come to define the 20th century. 

The Assassination of Federico García Lorca - Ian Gibson

Published in 1971, while Franco still ruled Spain, this beautifully-written book charts the mystery surrounding the death of Spanish poet Lorca during the Civil War. Gibson has also written the biography of Lorca, who was murdered during the Spanish Civil War aged 38 for, among other accusations, being a “spy for the Russians” and “homosexual”. 

Ghosts of Spain - Giles Tremlett

Tremlett, a correspondent for the Guardian and The Economist, explores the effects the Spanish Civil War has had on Spain and Spaniards down the generations. A fascinating insight into how its brutal history has shaped the modern country we know today. 

In fiction 

For Whom the Bell Tolls - Ernest Hemingway

The most famous novel to emerge from the conflict depicts some of Hemingway's experiences during the Spanish Civil War, which he covered as a journalist for the North American Newspaper Alliance. It follows the story of American Robert Jordan, fighting for the International Brigades, and attached to an antifascist guerrilla unit. "If the function of a writer is to reveal reality," wrote Hemingway's editor Maxwell Perkins after reading the manuscript, "no one ever so completely performed it." 

Winter in Madrid - C.J. Sansom 

Samsom depicts Madrid in 1940, destroyed by the civil war that ended the year before. The city forms the backdrop to a tense political thriller that follows reluctant spy Harry Brett , sent to Madrid by the British Secret Service to befriend his old school pal, Sandy Forsyth

The Muse - Jessie Burton

In her latest novel, the most recent on the list, the author of the worldwide bestseller The Miniaturist tells the story of two young women; a Caribbean immigrant in 1960s London and a bohemian artist in 1930s Spain... and the powerful mystery that ties them together. Olive Schloss is the daughter of a renowned art critic and is living in rural Spain in 1936 when her world is turned upside down by artist and revolutionary Isaac Robles and his half-sister, Teresa. 

Guernica by Dave Boling

This epic of love and war is set in the Basque town before, during and after it was destroyed by the German Luftwaffe during the Spanish Civil War. In 1935, Miguel Navarro finds himself in conflict with the Spanish Civil Guard and flees the Basque fishing village of Lekeitio to make a new start in Guernica, the centre of Basque culture and tradition. Once there, he finds more than just a new life -he finds someone to live for. Miren Ansotegui is the charismatic and graceful dancer he meets and the two discover a love they believe nothing can destroy...

Field of Honour - Max Aub

Spanish-Mexican author Aub’s masterpiece is a cycle of six novels entitled The Magic Labyrinth, written between 1943 and 1968, and based on his experience in Spain during the Spanish Civil War. The first novel in the series, Field of Honour, has been translated into English and follows protagonist Rafael López Serrador, whose coming of age in Barcelona introduces a cast from all walks of city life - Catalan nationalists, anarchists, Falangists, government ministers and showgirls. Just as central a character is Barcelona itself, lovingly depicted within the pages of the novel. 



Join the conversation in our comments section below. Share your own views and experience and if you have a question or suggestion for our journalists then email us at [email protected].
Please keep comments civil, constructive and on topic – and make sure to read our terms of use before getting involved.

Please log in to leave a comment.

See Also