The Spanish Civil War (1936–1939) inspired and haunted an extraordinary number of exceptional artists and writers, including Pablo Picasso, Joan Miró, Martha Gellhorn, Ernest Hemingway, George Orwell, and John Dos Passos. The idealism of the cause—defending democracy from fascism at a time when Europe was darkening toward another world war—and the brutality of the conflict inspired some of their best work: Guernica, For Whom the Bell Tolls, Homage to Catalonia, The Spanish Earth.
The war spurred breakthroughs in military and medical technology as well. New aircraft, new weapons, new tactics and strategy all emerged during this time. Progress arose from the horror: the doctors and nurses who volunteered to serve with the Spanish defenders devised major advances in battlefield surgery and frontline blood transfusion. In those ways, and in many others, the Spanish Civil War served as a test bed for World War II, and for the entire twentieth century.
From the life of John James Audubon to the invention of the atomic bomb, readers have long relied on Richard Rhodes to explain, distill, and dramatize crucial moments in history. Now, he takes us into battlefields and bomb shelters, into the studios of artists, into the crowded wards of war hospitals, and into the hearts and minds of a rich cast of characters to show how the ideological, aesthetic, and technological developments that emerged in Spain and changed the world forever.
cover art and blurb via Amazon – released 2015
Hell and Good Company: The Spanish Civil War and the World it Made is a pretty good book title. We are lucky to live in a time where there are oodles of books on the SCW, and all have their own slant. You can go Preston if you want to pure facts. You can go Brennan if you want a clear understanding of who was who and what felt like what. You can go Barea for the perfect first-person narrative. You can go Orwell for the internal collapse of Barcelona. Many people attempt to tell the series of individuals who aren’t well-known, with much success. That is what the author of Hell and Good Company tries to do.
I will admit I saw reviews/comments on this book before I read, which I try not to do. I saw Hell and Good Company being compared to Hotel Florida, which I will admit to not liking (not due to the author, rather the personalities used). In this book there are multiple characters – NYT writer Herbert Matthews, UK scientist J Haldane, US volunteer Robert Merriman, and always mentioned Hemingway and Gellhorn (sorry I just can’t like Gellhorn, for various reasons).
The author is an academic, a Pultizer prize winner, and written many highly acclaimed books. The author uses his characters’ narratives and writes in that 30’s style – lyrical, sometimes dark, very stiff-upper-lip. The thing is, the characters the author has written are people who aren’t hard-fast in their ideals, and the whole ‘Spain vs Spain’ situation isn’t well explained. The sides aren’t in great detail; it’s more ‘the hopeless and suffering Spaniards’ vs ‘evil-man Franco’. That is how I would explain the SCW to a preschooler (if that situation somehow existed). The endless debate on Communism in the war, and the whole Soviet involvement doesn’t really get the depth it requires. Communism’s involvement in medicine in the war was important but somehow not given its due, even though medical staff in the war are discussed. Likewise, If Anarchism needs to be explained to someone, it isn’t really that complicated, yet somehow doesn’t yet the attention it deserves either.