The best books to understand the Spanish Civil War

Who am I?

James McGrath Morris is the author of The Ambulance Drivers: Hemingway, Dos Passos, and a Friendship Made and Lost in War, which the Economist said was “as readable as a novel.” His previous work, Eye on the Struggle: Ethel Payne, The First Lady of the Black Press was a New York Times bestseller. His next book is Tony Hillerman: A Life.


I wrote...

The Ambulance Drivers: Hemingway, DOS Passos, and a Friendship Made and Lost in War

By James McGrath Morris,

Book cover of The Ambulance Drivers: Hemingway, DOS Passos, and a Friendship Made and Lost in War

What is my book about?

Rich in evocative detail--from Paris cafés to Austrian chateaus, from the streets of Pamplona to the waters of Key West--The Ambulance Drivers tells the story of two aspiring writers, Ernest Hemingway and John Dos Passos, who met in World War I and forged a twenty-year friendship that produced some of America's greatest novels, giving voice to a generation shaken by war.

In war, Hemingway found adventure, women, and a cause. Dos Passos saw only oppression and futility. Their different visions eventually turned their private friendship into a nasty public fight, fueled by money, jealousy, and lust. This is not only a biography of the turbulent friendship between two of the century's greatest writers but also an illustration of how war inspires and destroys, unites, and divides.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Spanish Civil War

James McGrath Morris Why did I love this book?

First published in 1961, and reissued many times since, The Spanish Civil War remains the single best account of the Spanish Civil War. Thomas was a historian who had served in the British government and whose political allegiances shifted from the Labour to the Conservative party. His seminal work was quickly adopted by the left in Europe and the United States as the go-to work on a legendary clash between the right and left. Despite a few errors and the publication of new accounts, Thomas’s book deserves to be the first on any list like this one. It was banned in Spain until after Franco’s death. Travelers would smuggle copies across the border.

By Hugh Thomas,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Spanish Civil War as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

“Mr. Thomas has understood [the Spanish Civil War] incredibly well and has written it superbly. A full, vivid and deeply serious treatment of a great subject.”—Vincent Sheean, The New York Times Book Review

A masterpiece of the historian’s art, Hugh Thomas’sThe Spanish Civil War remains the best, most engrossing narrative of one of the most emblematic and misunderstood wars of the twentieth century. Revised and updated with significant new material, including new revelations about atrocities perpetrated against civilians by both sides in this epic conflict, this “definitive work on the subject” (Richard Bernstein, The New York Times) has been given…


Book cover of For Whom the Bell Tolls

James McGrath Morris Why did I love this book?

For Whom The Bells Toll follows an American volunteer who joined the Republican forces opposing Franco. It is a reminder that fiction can often contain deeper truths than non-fiction.  I reread the work while writing my book The Ambulance Drivers. I found it had not grown dated and should remain among Hemingway’s best three novels, Sun Also Rises and A Farewell to Arms, being the other two. Its prose is so urgent. “There is nothing else than now,” Hemingway writes. “There is neither yesterday, certainly, nor is there any tomorrow. How old must you be before you know that? There is only now, and if now is only two days, then two days is your life and everything in it will be in proportion. This is how you live a life in two days. And if you stop complaining and asking for what you never will get, you will have a good life”

By Ernest Hemingway,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked For Whom the Bell Tolls as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Inspired by his experiences as a reporter during the Spanish Civil War, Ernest Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls tells the story of Robert Jordan, an American volunteer in the International Brigades fighting to defend the Spanish Republic against Franco. After being ordered to work with guerrilla fighters to destroy a bridge, Jordan finds himself falling in love with a young Spanish woman and clashing with the guerrilla leader over the risks of their mission.

One of the great novels of the twentieth century, For Whom the Bell Tolls was first published in 1940. It powerfully explores the brutality of…


Book cover of Homage to Catalonia

James McGrath Morris Why did I love this book?

Unlike Hemingway, Orwell chose not to use fiction for his 1938 account of the Spanish Civil War. He went to Spain in 1936 to join the POUM (Workers’ Party of Marxist Unification) to help in the fight against the Fascists. He served on the front lines for several months and was nearly killed by a sniper’s bullet. His account of his time in Spain took years to find an audience because by the time it was published World War II was already underway. Nonetheless, the Spanish Civil War a turning point in Orwell’s life and helped him grow into an influential champion in the fight against totalitarianism famously writing the classic novels Animal Farm and 1984.

By George Orwell,

Why should I read it?

10 authors picked Homage to Catalonia as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Homage to Catalonia remains one of the most famous accounts of the Spanish Civil War. With characteristic scrutiny, Orwell questions the actions and motives of all sides whilst retaining his firm beliefs in human courage and the need for radical social change.

Part of the Macmillan Collector's Library; a series of stunning, clothbound, pocket sized classics with gold foiled edges and ribbon markers. These beautiful books make perfect gifts or a treat for any book lover. This edition is introduced by Helen Graham, a leading historian on the Spanish Civil War.

When George Orwell arrived in Spain in 1936, he…


Book cover of Spain in Our Hearts: Americans in the Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939

James McGrath Morris Why did I love this book?

Both Hemingway and Orwell show up in this compelling, well-written, and sweeping account of the war. Hochschild is a brilliant writer who was aspired to take up this topic by Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia. Like he did in King Leopold’s Gold, Hochschild focuses his attention on a limited number of people making it easier to follow the story. The co-founder of Mother Jones, he brings to the book a lively magazine-style of narration. If Thomas’s work is too much, this is the one history worth reading. 

By Adam Hochschild,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Spain in Our Hearts as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER. A sweeping history of the Spanish Civil War, told through a dozen characters, including Hemingway and George Orwell: A tale of idealism, heartbreaking suffering, and a noble cause that failed.

For three crucial years in the 1930s, the Spanish Civil War dominated headlines in America and around the world, as volunteers flooded to Spain to help its democratic government fight off a fascist uprising led by Francisco Franco and aided by Hitler and Mussolini.

Today we're accustomed to remembering the war through Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls and Robert Capa’s photographs. But Adam Hochschild…


Book cover of Hotel Florida: Truth, Love, and Death in the Spanish Civil War

James McGrath Morris Why did I love this book?

If there was a soap opera in the midst of the Spanish Civil War, it would have been filmed at Madrid’s Hotel Florida where famous foreign supporters of the Republican cause stayed. For a brief time, as it became clear Franco would prevail, armed amateur mercenaries, writers, filmmakers, and journalists, drank and did all they could for the lost cause. The tale of three love affairs, including that of Hemingway and Martha Gellhorn, animate this book whose entertaining style masks some insightful passages. Certainly, a book that’s hard to put down.

By Amanda Vaill,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Hotel Florida as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Madrid, 1936. In a city blasted by civil war, six people meet and find their lives changed forever. Ernest Hemingway, his career stalled, his marriage sour, hopes this war will give him fresh material and new romance; Martha Gellhorn, an ambitious novice journalist hungry for love and experience, thinks she will find both with Hemingway in Spain. Robert Capa and Gerda Taro, idealistic young photographers based in Paris, are inventing modern photojournalism as they capture history in the making. And Arturo Barea, Madrid's foreign press chief, and Ilsa Kulcsar, his Austrian deputy, are struggling to balance truth-telling with loyalty to…


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Coyote Weather

By Amanda Cockrell,

Book cover of Coyote Weather

Amanda Cockrell Author Of Coyote Weather

New book alert!

Who am I?

Author Reader Dog walker Lapsed academic

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What is my book about?

Coyote weather is the feral, hungry season, drought-stricken, and ready to catch fire. It’s 1967, and the American culture is violently remaking itself while the country is forcibly sending its young men to fight in a deeply unpopular war.

Jerry has stubbornly made no plans for the future because he doesn’t think that, in the shadow of Vietnam, the Cold War, and atomic bomb drills, there is going to be one. Ellen is determined to have a plan because nothing else seems capable of keeping the world from tilting. And the Ghost, who isn’t exactly dead, just wants to go home to a place that won’t let him in, the small California town where they all grew up.

Coyote Weather

By Amanda Cockrell,

What is this book about?

Coyote weather is the feral, hungry season in California, when everything is drought-stricken and ready to catch fire. It's 1967 and the American culture is violently remaking itself while the country is forcing its young men to fight in a deeply unpopular war. Jerry has stubbornly made no plans for the future because he believes that, in the shadow of Vietnam, the Cold War and atomic bomb drills, there won't be one. Ellen's determined to have a plan, because nothing else can keep the world from tilting. And the Ghost just wants to go home to a place that won't…


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Interested in the Spanish Civil War, Spain, and Ernest Hemingway?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about the Spanish Civil War, Spain, and Ernest Hemingway.

The Spanish Civil War Explore 48 books about the Spanish Civil War
Spain Explore 186 books about Spain
Ernest Hemingway Explore 49 books about Ernest Hemingway