Like most of the 2,800 nonfiction books that I read, this book was historical in nature and was done as research for an upcoming writing project of mine that partially takes place during the Spanish Civil War. But as often happens, I was pleasantly surprised by how fascinating and well-written this book was. Actually, I really wasn’t surprised. The author is the best-selling author of To End All Wars about World War I, and this book has received kudos for a long time. I’ve actually looked forward to reading it a long time.
The book focuses on the 2,800 mostly little-known Americans who fought on the Republican side of the Spanish Civil War between 1936 and mostly 1938. They were for the most part formed into the Abraham Lincoln Battalion and later, the George Washington Battalion. Later, when casualties depleted their ranks, the two battalions were united. Both of these battalions formed within what was considered the International Brigade, all foreign volunteers who served as the shock troops of battles and in the end suffered three times as many casualties as their Spanish counterparts.
Hochschild uses extensive research and documentation to tell how the Federalist troops were well-supplied by Nazi Germany, Italy and even by western forces (most of their oil came from the Texaco Oil Company, as well as information on ship movements on the other side), with Hitler taking advantage of the conflict to test his new war machine in anticipation of the coming war in Europe. On the Republic side, the only reliable source of equipment (which became less reliable as time went on) was the Soviet Union. The Republic was a pro-Communist government that had been elected by the people, but Franco and his Federalist forces decided to overthrow them.
Looking through the eyes of Americans fighting on the front lines, Hochschild tells of going into battle with guns without bullets, bolt-action rifles without bolts, and often going into battle without guns at all. Troops suffered from starvation, lice, frostbite, dysentery, and other ailments. But there was a sense of camaraderie and mutual respect that many of them had never experienced before, not even in the United States.
The book is comprehensive and yet is not boring. I recommend it to history buffs everywhere. Five stars (out of five).