by Paul Preston
New York: Basic Books/Harper Collins, 1994. xxi, 1002 pp.
Illus, maps, notes, bibliog, index. $37.50. ISBN:0-465-02515-3
Had this book been written in 1940, rather than half a century later, its blatant political slant, lack of objectivity, and frequent errors of fact would be understandable. Unfortunately, it was not written in 1940. Paul Preston, who has done a number of books related to the Spanish Civil War approaches his subject with great hostility and disdain. Never passing up a chance to repeat derogatory anecdotes about Franco, whether true or not (though he does omit the one about Franco being a closet homosexual, obviously not a politically correct tale for so leftist a work), he thereby completely fails to satisfactorially explain how Franco, who had been one of the least politically active Spanish generals, emerged as the undisputed master of Spain.
Preston has a well established reputation for ignorance about things military, and herein displays it to its fullest. He has no understanding of the history of the Spanish Army, repeats old leftist propaganda about the Battle of Guadalajara (the Republicans regained only half of the territory lost in the initial Italian attack, and took only about 350 prisoners, all of whom were murdered), and fails to see that Franco used the Battle of the Ebro to annihilate the best of the Republican Army.
Preston does, occasionally, have a useful insight, but usually lets it slip past without sufficient attention. Thus, for example, he observes that the replacement of Alcala Zamora as president of the Republic by Manual Azaña was a mistake, but overlooks the why of it : Not only was the procedure was almost certainly unconstitutional, thus driving many moderate and even liberal officers to joing the rebellion, but putting Manuel Azaña in the largelyceremonial post of president deprived the Republic of his considerable administrative abilities.
Anyone seriously intersted in the subject should consult J.W.D. Trythall’s Franco (London: 1970), which though old, remains a superior biogrpahy.