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Generalissimo Francisco Franco, the Caudillo of Spain, was the most tenacious and most successful of twentieth-century Europe's great dictators. He is remembered widely as the astute general under whose leadership the Nationalist cause was victorious in the Spanish Civil War and the Communist threat exterminated, and as the head of state who skillfully negotiated safe pass Generalissimo Francisco Franco, the Caudillo of Spain, was the most tenacious and most successful of twentieth-century Europe's great dictators. He is remembered widely as the astute general under whose leadership the Nationalist cause was victorious in the Spanish Civil War and the Communist threat exterminated, and as the head of state who skillfully negotiated safe passage for Spain through World War II, played Hitler off against the Allies, modernized his country, and orchestrated the Spanish economic miracle of the 1960s. By the time of his death in 1975, he had steered a unified Spain to worldwide respectability and envy and deftly schooled the young prince Juan Carlos to be his successor. To many, Franco was Spain incarnate—a heroic figure to match his illustrious—a heroic figure to match his illustrious predecessors El Cid, Charles V, and Philip II. This idealized portrait—still widely accepted today—is now subjected to Paul Preston's penetrating scrutiny. He has written a magnificent, monumental biography that vividly recreates the man and sets before us, unclouded by the prejudices or simplifications of apologists or adversaries, a definitive portrayal of this complex, elusive figure. The controversy about Franco's achievements has raged since his death. Just how good a general was he? Would he have won the civil war without German and Italian help? Can he be blamed for the bombing of Guernica and other atrocities? Did he dupe Hitler during World War II? Were his self-sufficient economic policies directly responsible for ushering in Spain's economic boom? Did he deliberately seek to liberalize the regime in his later years, or was he perhaps losing his grip on the controls? Did Franco preside over another Spanish golden age or did he merely stall and stifle his country's natural growth? How, in the final reckoning, are his achievements to be judged? Preston addresses and resolves, often to startling effect, these pivotal questions, deploying an enormous quantity of new evidence and fresh insights culled from previously inaccessible sources and unexamined witnesses, colleagues, and enemies alike. Paul Preston's credentials as the biographer of France are incomparable. His many books on modern Spain have been acclaimed for their seriousness and their stylishness, and this gloriously engaging biography is, in many ways, the culmination of his work of an intellectual odyssey of twenty-five years' duration, spent in the company of the Caudillo. Paul Preston sits in judgment on this enigmatic dictator, and his verdict will be compelling to anyone interested in the history of modern Spain or, indeed, in the formation of modern Europe.


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Generalissimo Francisco Franco, the Caudillo of Spain, was the most tenacious and most successful of twentieth-century Europe's great dictators. He is remembered widely as the astute general under whose leadership the Nationalist cause was victorious in the Spanish Civil War and the Communist threat exterminated, and as the head of state who skillfully negotiated safe pass Generalissimo Francisco Franco, the Caudillo of Spain, was the most tenacious and most successful of twentieth-century Europe's great dictators. He is remembered widely as the astute general under whose leadership the Nationalist cause was victorious in the Spanish Civil War and the Communist threat exterminated, and as the head of state who skillfully negotiated safe passage for Spain through World War II, played Hitler off against the Allies, modernized his country, and orchestrated the Spanish economic miracle of the 1960s. By the time of his death in 1975, he had steered a unified Spain to worldwide respectability and envy and deftly schooled the young prince Juan Carlos to be his successor. To many, Franco was Spain incarnate—a heroic figure to match his illustrious—a heroic figure to match his illustrious predecessors El Cid, Charles V, and Philip II. This idealized portrait—still widely accepted today—is now subjected to Paul Preston's penetrating scrutiny. He has written a magnificent, monumental biography that vividly recreates the man and sets before us, unclouded by the prejudices or simplifications of apologists or adversaries, a definitive portrayal of this complex, elusive figure. The controversy about Franco's achievements has raged since his death. Just how good a general was he? Would he have won the civil war without German and Italian help? Can he be blamed for the bombing of Guernica and other atrocities? Did he dupe Hitler during World War II? Were his self-sufficient economic policies directly responsible for ushering in Spain's economic boom? Did he deliberately seek to liberalize the regime in his later years, or was he perhaps losing his grip on the controls? Did Franco preside over another Spanish golden age or did he merely stall and stifle his country's natural growth? How, in the final reckoning, are his achievements to be judged? Preston addresses and resolves, often to startling effect, these pivotal questions, deploying an enormous quantity of new evidence and fresh insights culled from previously inaccessible sources and unexamined witnesses, colleagues, and enemies alike. Paul Preston's credentials as the biographer of France are incomparable. His many books on modern Spain have been acclaimed for their seriousness and their stylishness, and this gloriously engaging biography is, in many ways, the culmination of his work of an intellectual odyssey of twenty-five years' duration, spent in the company of the Caudillo. Paul Preston sits in judgment on this enigmatic dictator, and his verdict will be compelling to anyone interested in the history of modern Spain or, indeed, in the formation of modern Europe.

30 review for Franco: A Biography

  1. 4 out of 5

    Michael Finocchiaro

    This was definitely not a biography written like a novel as advertised on the cover. It was a long, detailed and extremely well-researched book about a shadowy figure, Francisco Franco, who dominated Spanish politics for most of the 20th Century. Having visited Spain many times, I found it surprising that a fascist dictatorship existed there well into the '70s (and there was a proto-fascist uprising that was fortunately unsuccessful in 1981). Wanting to learn more about this mysterious 3rd total This was definitely not a biography written like a novel as advertised on the cover. It was a long, detailed and extremely well-researched book about a shadowy figure, Francisco Franco, who dominated Spanish politics for most of the 20th Century. Having visited Spain many times, I found it surprising that a fascist dictatorship existed there well into the '70s (and there was a proto-fascist uprising that was fortunately unsuccessful in 1981). Wanting to learn more about this mysterious 3rd totalitarian ruler that survived his friends Musolllini and Hitler, I read this Preston biography (honestly there are not a lot of other choices) and was both saddened and depressed from what I learned. For one thing, the cost of the Spanish Civil War was 500,000 lives plus famine-like conditions for over a decade after it ended and continued imprisonment and execution of Republicans for even longer. Franco manipulated both the Allies and the Axis during WW2 by pretending to want to join the war with Italy and Germany and yet making overtures to the UK and the USA about remaining neutral - in both cases, just to reap the benefits of victory while paying the minimal price. He accumulated as much power as the medieval kings he adored and emulated and ruled with an arbitrary, heavy hand on overtly fascist principles. It was particularly heinous that until the 50s, he had the full, unequivocal support of the Vatican despite what everyone knew about the atrocities he committed during his africanista phase and throughout his self-imposed mandate. Postwar US and UK foreign policy had shamefully short memories in their off and on backing of the regime. Spain is fortunate to have had a more democratic spirit in Juan Carlos after such a dark period in her history. It was also interesting to see that the balance of power under Franco was between the fascist Falangist movement and the militantly Catholic and royalist Carlist faction, both of which participated actively and knowingly in atrocity after atrocity while being at one another's throats but under Franco's thumb for over 30 years. Other reviewers on GR have found this book's author to have taken an anti-Franco editorial line throughout the book. While indeed this book offers little praiseworthy about the Caudillo, I believe the author was relatively distant from his subject (meaning he did not express personal opinions but rather documented facts) and he does not come off in this reader's mind as judgmental beyond the objective reality he describes. I found it a bit long at times with copious details on each of the various cabinet shuffled as Franco divided and ruled, but it was educational and informative.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Carlos

    Although a very informative and interesting book, its author is clearly, from the first pages, ill disposed and biased against the subject of this biography. Thus the author commits the cardinal sin of the historian and biographer, which is tainting clear, objective facts with subjective, uncalled-for, damning personal opinions and innuendo about the person portrayed so the reader somehow feels like the author is trying to lead him by the nose into sharing his convictions.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Mick Maye

    Epic biography of Francisco Franco and the iron fist he controlled Spain with. Explores how he maintained SPanish neutrality and the decades after the war. I liked the book, occassionally it got a little heavy, but overall a good read.

  4. 4 out of 5

    John Meffen

    Very difficult to rate this, my political leanings mean I do not like Franco, but Paul Preston is the genius on the Guerra civil. It is too big, coming in at just under 1000 a4 pages. He just was not that interesting, he was a deeply flawed character but so were many. Na, overdone & overcooked Very difficult to rate this, my political leanings mean I do not like Franco, but Paul Preston is the genius on the Guerra civil. It is too big, coming in at just under 1000 a4 pages. He just was not that interesting, he was a deeply flawed character but so were many. Na, overdone & overcooked

  5. 5 out of 5

    Johan

    A very interesting read, but a bit of a slough, at the company of Franco was wearing me down: what a mean and 'little' man. Noel Coward was absolutely right: 'Never trust short people, brains too close to their bottoms.'

  6. 5 out of 5

    Adrian

    This 787 page monster of a book is the definitive one on the Spanish dictator. Preston's coverage of the Civil War is topnotch. He emphasizes how Franco slowed down Nationalist progress against the wishes of his cohorts in order to secure his own leadership and to thoroughly wipe out Republicans. He saw all Republicans as Communists, who like the Moors he fought against in his early military career in Morocco were not part of la patria and therefore expendable. He executed the enemy without comp This 787 page monster of a book is the definitive one on the Spanish dictator. Preston's coverage of the Civil War is topnotch. He emphasizes how Franco slowed down Nationalist progress against the wishes of his cohorts in order to secure his own leadership and to thoroughly wipe out Republicans. He saw all Republicans as Communists, who like the Moors he fought against in his early military career in Morocco were not part of la patria and therefore expendable. He executed the enemy without compunction. During WWII he supported the Axis (though Hitler quickly gave up any hope that Franco would actually fight) but kept the US and Britain's attempts to woo him in play. He rightly guessed that the west's view of him and his stand as a bulwark against Communism would change their minds about him. Spain was brought into NATO and the UN fairly quickly after the war. Franco was a classically insular dictator. Surrounded by acolytes and an adoring media he had no clear conception of how poor Spain was in the 1940s and 50s. In 1961 an official took him into a Seville slum and he was shocked at what he saw. He believed in many odd theories and gimmicks and was a lifelong hater of freemasonry. He supposed that all of his enemies belonged to the order. From the late 1950s on Spain was run by a group of young technocrats who brought Spain into modern Europe with some sage economic policies which Franco had no understanding of. Franco had a fine instinct for survival warding off cadres of generals and groups of monarchists who hoped to overthrow him. His end was horrendous. He had three heart attacks, suppurating ulcers and stomach hemorraghing. He was operated on three times and only died when his daughter demanded that life supporting machines be unplugged. Other than some lack of social detail and information on the development of the secret police and Guardia Civil I can't think of what the author could have added to this impressive tome.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Brad Eastman

    This book is exhaustive in detail about the life of Mr. Franco, but very little else can be said about it. After finishing it, I feel like I had read too much detail with nothing other than chronology giving structure to it. Mr. Preston does very little to put Franco's life in the context of Spain of the times or why some would support Mr. Franco's program for Spain. Mr. Preston refers throughout the book to the reaction of the the Flange to Mr. Franco's policies, but Mr. Preston never really ex This book is exhaustive in detail about the life of Mr. Franco, but very little else can be said about it. After finishing it, I feel like I had read too much detail with nothing other than chronology giving structure to it. Mr. Preston does very little to put Franco's life in the context of Spain of the times or why some would support Mr. Franco's program for Spain. Mr. Preston refers throughout the book to the reaction of the the Flange to Mr. Franco's policies, but Mr. Preston never really explains the various political parties: who were their supporters? How could the Flange continue to be so popular in Spain after the collapse of fascism in Western Europe? What was the Flangist message to Spain? Mr. Preston does do an admirable job of dissecting the internal and foreign politics of Spain in the lead up to and early days of World War II. Mr. Preston punctures quite convincing the myth that Franco wisely kept Spain out of the war. In truth, Franco was desperate for Axis membership and recognition. Germany refused at first because Germany was sacred of the weakness of Spain and the need to bail out a partner in the same way Germany had to bail out Italy in Greece and North Africa. Mr. Preston however more or less ignores the long period of time after the early 50s when Franco continued to rule for decades. Mr. Preston hints at changing attitudes in Spain as affecting Franco's rule, but does not really explore or even identify those changes. He spends far more time on the personal relationship between Franco and the exiled monarch. In the end, I would not recommend this book as a general introduction to the period, Franco or Spain. The excessive detail feels more like a chronology and a catalog than a history with analysis.

  8. 5 out of 5

    David Bird

    Four stars does not really mean "really liked it." Franco the man is loathsome company, and I was glad to finish the book and be done with him. Rather it reflects my admiration for Preston's telling of his story. Although one of the reviews on the back of the book notes that Preston despises his subject, on the whole he does not belabor it. He relies more on showing us the man, and leaving the judgments to the reader. Yes there are moments where the text implies a judgment, but they are on the wh Four stars does not really mean "really liked it." Franco the man is loathsome company, and I was glad to finish the book and be done with him. Rather it reflects my admiration for Preston's telling of his story. Although one of the reviews on the back of the book notes that Preston despises his subject, on the whole he does not belabor it. He relies more on showing us the man, and leaving the judgments to the reader. Yes there are moments where the text implies a judgment, but they are on the whole moderate (my mental contrast was with the biography of the Dulles brothers by Kinzer, who spends more time telling us they were awful than allowing their deeds to speak for themselves). I was also, inevitably, tending to compare Franco's story with Hitler's. The latter offers a much more morally satisfying tale in the just defeat. Franco, in contrast shows how the much the world is willing to tolerate.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Francis Jarman

    An excellent biography, though I wouldn't quite concur in the comment quoted on the front cover: "as engagingly readable as a good novel." It isn't - not through any fault of the author's, but because of the unremitting mediocrity of the subject, a dictator without a single touch of generosity, kindness or greatness of spirit.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Charles J

    Few Americans know much about Francisco Franco, leader of the winning side in the Spanish Civil War and subsequently dictator of Spain. Yet from 1936 until 1975, he was a famous world figure. Now he is forgotten—but not by all. Franco is, and has been for decades, a cause célèbre among the global Left, seen as the devil incarnate for his successful war against Communist domination of Spain. To successfully delay, or worse, block, any Left attempt to establish their permanent rule, thereby reveal Few Americans know much about Francisco Franco, leader of the winning side in the Spanish Civil War and subsequently dictator of Spain. Yet from 1936 until 1975, he was a famous world figure. Now he is forgotten—but not by all. Franco is, and has been for decades, a cause célèbre among the global Left, seen as the devil incarnate for his successful war against Communist domination of Spain. To successfully delay, or worse, block, any Left attempt to establish their permanent rule, thereby revealing that history lacks a progressive direction, is the unforgivable sin. Naturally, therefore, my own impression of Franco was generally favorable. But after reading up on him, my impression of him has changed. Now it is positively glowing. It is very difficult to grasp the controversial figures of the past century. By “controversial,” I mean right-wing, since no prominent left-wing figure is ever deemed, in the common imagination formed by the left-wing dominance of academia and media, to be “controversial.” Instead, such people are “bold” or “courageous.” The only way to get at the truth about a right-wing figure is to absorb a great many facts about him. It doesn’t matter much if the facts are slanted, or are disputed, or even if lies are told, as they always are about any right-wing figure. Reading enough detail allows the truth to come into focus, which mostly means ferreting out where the Left is lying or where one’s impression has been formed by propaganda or half-truths. Even though facts matter most, the first thing to do when reading a book about any right-wing figure, or any event or happening important to the Left, is to check the political angle of the author, to know the likely slant. Somewhat surprisingly, most recent popular English-language general histories of the Spanish Civil War are only modestly tilted Left. The best-known is that by Hugh Thomas (recently deceased and a fantastic writer, mostly on Spain’s earlier history), which I’ve read; Antony Beevor, specialist in popularized histories of twentieth-century war, also wrote one, which I have skimmed. Several others exist, and voluminous Spanish-language literature, as well, about which I know essentially nothing other than as cited in English-language texts. Reading biographies of Franco, rather than histories of the Civil War, pulls back the lens to see Spain across the first three-quarters of the twentieth century, not just in the years between 1936 and 1939. Any history revolving around Franco in that period is necessarily both a history of Spain and the history of Left-Right conflict. This is useful because my purpose is not just to understand Franco, although that’s interesting enough, but what Franco and his times say for our times. While my initial intention was just to read one biography, it quickly became clear that more detail would allow more clarity. I deemed this amount of effort important because I think the Spanish experience in the twentieth century has a lot to say to us. Therefore, I selected three biographies. The first was "Franco: A Personal and Political Biography," published in 2014, by Stanley Payne, a professor at the University of Wisconsin. Payne has spent his entire long career writing many books on this era of Spain’s history, and he is also apparently regarded as one of the, if not the, leading experts on the typology of European fascism. Payne’s treatment of Franco is straight up the middle, neither pro nor con, and betrays neither a Left nor Right bias—although, to be sure, a straightforward portrait contradicts the Left narrative, and thus can be seen as effectively tilted Right, whatever the author’s actual intentions. The second was Spanish historian Enrique Moradiellos’s 2018 "Franco: Anatomy of a Dictator," a shorter treatment generally somewhat negative with respect to Franco. The third, "Franco: A Biography," is by Paul Preston, a professor at the London School of Economics, who like Payne is an expert in twentieth-century Spain. Unlike Payne, or Moradiello, he is an avowed political partisan, of the Left, and his 1993 biography of Franco is vituperative, but it was also the first major English-language study of Franco, and is regarded as a landmark achievement offering enormous detail, even if it is superseded in some ways by later scholarship. Preston also published, in 2012, the dubiously named The Spanish Holocaust, analyzing through a hard Left lens the killings of the Civil War, which I have read in part and to which I will also refer. In addition, I have consulted a variety of other books, including Julius Ruiz’s recent work on the Red Terror in Madrid, and repeatedly viewed the five-hour 1983 series "The Spanish Civil War," produced in the United Kingdom and narrated by Frank Finlay, available on YouTube, which while it has a clear left-wing bias, offers interviews with many actual participants in the war. Unlike my usual technique, which is to review individual books and use them as springboards for thought, I am trying something new. I am writing a three-part evaluation of twentieth-century Spain, through a political lens, in which I intend to sequentially, but separately, focus on three different time periods. First, the run-up to the Civil War. Second, the war itself, mainly with respect to its political, not military, aspects, and its immediate aftermath. Third, Franco’s nearly forty years as dictator, and the years directly after. Using multiple books from multiple political angles will highlight areas of contradiction or dispute, and allow tighter focus on them. True, I have not read any actually pro-Franco books—I would, but, as Payne notes, there are no such English-language books, though he mentions several in Spanish. The American (and English) Right has always been very reticent about any endorsement of Franco. Part of this is the result of ignorance combined with the successful decades-long propaganda campaign of the Left. If you’re ill-informed, it’s easy to lump Franco in with Hitler, or if you’re feeling charitable, Mussolini, and who wants to associate himself with them? Part of it is the inculcated taste for being a beautiful loser, on sharp display for some reason among modern English conservatives, not only Peter Hitchens in his book "The Abolition of Britain" but also Roger Scruton on "How To Be A Conservative." But a bigger part, I think, is distaste for the savagery of civil wars, combined with the feeling that Christians should not kill their enemies, except perhaps in open battle in a just war. On the surface, this seeming pacifism appears to be a standard thread of Christian thought. But examined more closely, it is actually a new claim, since the contested dividing line has always been if and under what circumstances killing in self-defense is permitted. Whether the killing occurs in the heat of battle is a mere happenstance, now incorrectly elevated by some on the Right to the core matter, probably as a backdoor way of limiting killing by the state. The effect, though, is to repudiate killing in self-defense outside of battle, even by the authorities, ignoring the admonition of Saint Paul, that the ruler “beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.” Competently illustrating this weak-kneed and incoherent line of thought among the modern Right, Peter Hitchens wrote a recent piece in "First Things" about Franco. Hitchens was, in fact, also reviewing Moradellios’s book, and his review exquisitely demonstrates this intellectual confusion and theological incoherence. He goes on at great length about the evils of the Republicans and how their victory would have been disastrous for Spain. But then he goes on at greater length telling us that Christians cannot look to Franco, because he committed “crimes,” none of which are specified in the review (or, for that matter, in the book being reviewed), probably because to specify them would make them seem not very crime-like. We must therefore reject Franco, Hitchens tells us, for an unspecified alternative that was most definitely not on offer in 1936, and is probably not going to be on offer if, in the future, we are faced with similar circumstances. This is foolishness. (It is not helped by Hitchens’s self-focus and his repeated attempts to establish his own personal intellectual superiority, sniffing, for example, that Franco watched television and “had no personal library,” though if Hitchens had read Payne, he would know that was because the Republicans destroyed it in 1936.) And Hitchens whines that Franco “hardly ever said or wrote anything interesting in his life,” which is false, though in part explained by Franco’s oft-repeated dictum that “One is a slave to what one says but the owner of one’s silence.” Hitchens squirms a bit, though, when he (at least being intellectually honest) quotes Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s ringing endorsement of Franco. “I saw that Franco had made a heroic and colossal attempt to save his country from disintegration. With this understanding there also came amazement: there had been destruction all around, but with firm tactics Franco had managed to have Spain sidestep the Second World War without involving itself, and for twenty, thirty, thirty-five years, had kept Spain Christian against all history’s laws of decline! But then in the thirty-seventh year of his rule he died, dying to a chorus of nasty jeers from the European socialists, radicals, and liberals.” Hitchens, for no stated reason, seems to think that Moradiellos’s book proves Solzhenitsyn wrong, when the exact opposite is the case. Hitchens even ascribes Solzhenitsyn’s praise to “infatuation on the rebound,” whatever that means, though the quote is from the late 1970s (from the recently released autobiography Between Two Millstones), long after Solzhenitsyn’s experiences in the Gulag. Probably realizing how weak his argument is, Hitchens then switches gears without acknowledging it, dropping the “crimes” line and claiming that since Franco’s work was all undone rapidly after his death, Franco was bad. Which is even more intellectually sieve-like. The lack of mental rigor in this line of thought can be seen if we switch the focus from Franco to any one of scores of Christian heroes of the past. Once you leave St. Francis of Assisi behind, any Christian military hero plucked at random from the pages of history did far worse things to his enemies, and often to his friends, than Franco. Try Charlemagne. Or Saint Louis IX. Or Richard II Lionheart. Or El Cid. Or Don Juan of Austria. All wars fought to decide ultimate questions are unpleasant and involve acts that endanger the souls of men. It is merely the proximity of Franco to us in time, combined with the lack of steel that has affected many Christians for decades now, that makes Hitchens shrink from endorsing Franco and his deeds, all his deeds. In two hundred years if, God willing, the Left and its Enlightenment principles are nothing but a faded memory and a cautionary tale, Hitchens’s complaints will seem utterly bizarre, like a belief that the Amazons were real. Would I care to stand in Franco’s shoes before the judgment seat of Christ? Not particularly. But I am far from certain that it would be an uncomfortable position. Several events appear in every history of the Spanish Civil War. Among these are the 1930 Jaca revolt; the 1934 Asturias Rebellion; and the 1937 bombing of Guernica. In astronomy, there is the concept of “standard candles.” These are stars of a known luminosity, whose distance can be accurately calculated, and against which other celestial objects can then be measured. I think of events that regularly recur in histories as standard candles: happenings about which certain facts are not in dispute, but which different authors approach differently, either by emphasizing or omitting certain facts. By examining each author’s variations, we can measure him against the standard candles, determining, to some degree, whether his history is objective, or a polemic, in which latter case its reliability becomes suspect. [Review/analysis completes as the first seven comments.]

  11. 4 out of 5

    Andrewh

    This was a real slog, despite being very well written and superbly researched (though not quite written like a 'novel' as suggested by the blurb) - 1000 pages is a lot to read about such a dull and deeply unpleasant man. Franco was probably the least charismatic far-right dictator of the 20C and, as Preston shows, was not a true fascist but a man almost wholly devoid of principle, whose sole interest was the maintenance of power once he had acquired it. While he was quite happy to use the Falang This was a real slog, despite being very well written and superbly researched (though not quite written like a 'novel' as suggested by the blurb) - 1000 pages is a lot to read about such a dull and deeply unpleasant man. Franco was probably the least charismatic far-right dictator of the 20C and, as Preston shows, was not a true fascist but a man almost wholly devoid of principle, whose sole interest was the maintenance of power once he had acquired it. While he was quite happy to use the Falange fascist movement to win power and to help maintain it, he never let them dictate policy or have much real influence (he would jail their leaders as and when necessary, as he did with any dissenting groups). Preston effectively presents Franco as a wily Gallego, prone to scheming and driven by his ego, but without any strong ideological beliefs, other than hating Reds and Freemasons. Franco had made his name as a general fighting in Spain's colonial territories in Morocco and this formative experience was then translated into his vicious and nigh-genocidal style of fighting the civil war later on. This was a brutal conflict and Franco fought it like a scorched-earth colonial war, clearing out areas with overwhelming force and then brutalising the population that was left behind, to discourage resistance. Despite this, the Republican forces fought stubbornly and, Preston demonstrates, would likely have been able to hold onto power had the Nationalists not recruited Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, who were eager to test our their war machines - in particular, their air power, which would give the Nationalists a decisive advantage. Franco eventually emerged as the leading general in the right-wing forces, and negotiated skillfully with the axis powers for vital resources, without ever fully becoming full allies (knowing that Spain could not afford to fight another conflict). When WWII erupted, after the Spanish civil war, he connived to stay 'neutral', and eventually disavowed his former allies altogether, when it became obvious they would lose, and then cannily transformed his bankrupt country into a cold war ally of the US - again, Franco had a keen eye for the main chance, and never missed an opportunity to seek material gain from a diplomatic relationship. He was a past master of making empty promises and then not delivering (such as not delivering democracy, despite being an ally of the 'free' West). The book spends a lot of time on this part of Franco's career for obvious reasons and the long years after the civil war/WWII are far less interesting, and often quite tedious. During this time, Franco’s centralised and impoverished state tried to rebuild its economy, gradually jettisoning the nonsensical autarkic economic ideas of the (fascist) Movimiento and began slowly moving towards a more typical mixed capitalist economy, albeit without democratic voting, freedom of speech, or much semblance of the liberalising of its reactionary values. During this era, Franco reinforced his cult of personality (he saw himself as a latter day El Cid, defending the nation against 'freemasons' and Reds) and, Preston notes drily, spent an increasing amount of time on hunting and other leisure activities, while his people often struggled to survive. Resistance was mainly from within the old Right, from those who had expected the monarchy to be restored after defeating the Reds, which would never happen while he lived (Juan Carlos only returned as head of state after the Dictator's death in 1975). It is a depressing work, overall, but the research is truly staggering in its scope and depth, but some judicious editing would have made it more readable.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Jonathan

    It's important to read about the villains as well, and Franco certainly qualified. This thoroughly-researched and beautifully-written biography of the 20th century's last fascist dictator takes us back to the era when radical left and right wing ideologies were engaged in mortal combat for the future of the world, and one of the worst battlefields was Spain, with fascism under Franco for the win. Franco was cruel as only a Spaniard can be, but once the Spanish Civil War ended, and his enemies sa It's important to read about the villains as well, and Franco certainly qualified. This thoroughly-researched and beautifully-written biography of the 20th century's last fascist dictator takes us back to the era when radical left and right wing ideologies were engaged in mortal combat for the future of the world, and one of the worst battlefields was Spain, with fascism under Franco for the win. Franco was cruel as only a Spaniard can be, but once the Spanish Civil War ended, and his enemies safely dead, imprisoned or in torture chambers, he was contented to let the Spanish economy rot while he spent much of his time on vacation, or hunting and fishing. His relations with the fellow fascist powers in Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy were close, but not so close that he was willing to risk the much-weakened Spain in a shooting war. Franco's vision of Spain was that of the medieval Reconquista and the great Spanish empires of the early modern era, with their authoritarian and Catholic orientations, and it showed in his policies. He was a relentless believer in conspiracy theories, convinced tha Spain's difficulties were the result of plots by Freemasons, Communists, Jews and other liberal forces. For those of you who like happy endings, his demise allowed Spain to become part of the family of nations again, and the country became a stable and fairly prosperous democracy. If the history of modern Spain interests you, this book is not to be missed.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Paul

    A fantastic biography of a very mundane man. The detail is exhaustive and exhausting. As Sir Paul writes, could you imagine a Hitler or a Mussolini playing the football pools? Also he emerges as a man so vain he insists his friend of thirty years refers to him as "your Excellency"?

  14. 5 out of 5

    Rich McAllister

    Kind of a slog getting through it but I'm glad I did. Some amazing bits. Heinrich Himmler visited Franco in the early /40s and thought Franco was too harsh in dealing with the Civil War losers. If *Himmler* thinks you are too harsh.... Franco apparently thought the core problem of Western Civilization was the Freemasons' conspiracies. During his final illness, they were trying to keep him alive for another week so they could claim he reappointed some officials for another term; despite pumping n Kind of a slog getting through it but I'm glad I did. Some amazing bits. Heinrich Himmler visited Franco in the early /40s and thought Franco was too harsh in dealing with the Civil War losers. If *Himmler* thinks you are too harsh.... Franco apparently thought the core problem of Western Civilization was the Freemasons' conspiracies. During his final illness, they were trying to keep him alive for another week so they could claim he reappointed some officials for another term; despite pumping new blood into him as he bled it out, resulting in the bed, floor, and wall being blood soaked, they had to give up at his daughter's insistence.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Mark

    From Benito Mussolini to Adolf Hitler, the 1930s was the heyday of right-wing dictatorships in Europe. Yet none of them proved as enduring as that of Francisco Franco. From the triumph of his Nationalist forces in 1939 until his death in 1975 Franco dominated Spain, guiding it from years of war and scarcity through the tumultuous economic and social changes of the postwar era. Such a figure deserves a through and penetrating study of his life set within the context of his times, and Paul Preston From Benito Mussolini to Adolf Hitler, the 1930s was the heyday of right-wing dictatorships in Europe. Yet none of them proved as enduring as that of Francisco Franco. From the triumph of his Nationalist forces in 1939 until his death in 1975 Franco dominated Spain, guiding it from years of war and scarcity through the tumultuous economic and social changes of the postwar era. Such a figure deserves a through and penetrating study of his life set within the context of his times, and Paul Preston provides his readers with just such a book. Preston's presentation of Franco's life within its pages can be divided into four periods. The first covers his early years, from his childhood in Galicia to the start of the Spanish Civil War. The scion of a family of naval officers, Franco was destined for the sea until Span traumatizing defeat at the hands of the United States in 1898 curtailed his options. Instead Franco opted for a career in the army, where his discipline and his organizational skills ensured in a meteoric rise. Preston pays particular attention to Franco's service in Morocco during the drawn out Rif War, arguing that it was here where Franco's approach towards governance — one in which obedience was to be compelled with force rather than cultivated through building consensus — first developed. With Spanish politics veering from monarchy through dictatorship and republicanism, it was one that would increasingly appear to be the only solution to Spain's problems. Nevertheless, Preston notes that despite his burgeoning right-wing political views, Franco was willing to reconcile with the Republic provided that he continue to be appointed to the positions he felt he deserved. Yet even after he was relegated to the command of the Canary Islands Franco hesitated to join the emerging conspiracy against the newly-elected left-wing government, only committing to the cause at the last minute. This brings Preston to the second part of his book, which chronicles Franco's role in the Spanish Civil War. Here Franco waged campaigns on several fronts, fighting the Republicans militarily while gradually cementing his control over the Nationalists and ensuring his emergence as the dominant leader at the end. Though Franco had opportunities to win the war more quickly than he did, Preston shows how Franco pursued his meticulous approach both to give himself time to cement his control over the disparate Nationalist factions and to purge the Republican regions conquered by his forces. For Franco, the civil war was nothing less than an ideological crusade for his vision of Spain, one that he would spend the rest of his life trying to preserve. Achieving his vision of Spain, though, required navigating a variety of international challenges, most immediately those created by the Second World War. This part of Preston's book is in many ways the most revelatory, as he goes to considerable lengths to debunk the postwar myths perpetuated by Franco and his regime. Rather than carefully hewing to a course of neutrality in the conflict as he subsequently claimed, Preston shows Franco as an eager ally of Germany and Italy, to the point where Franco offered in 1940 to join the war on the Axis side. Franco's mercenary interests, however, alienated Adolf Hitler, who prioritized Vichy France's compliance over the Spanish participation that Franco offered in return for France's empire in North Africa. Even as Franco's interest in joining the war waned he continued to offer the Germans considerable support, which ranged from aiding U-boat operations to providing thousands of volunteers for Germany's campaigns against the Soviet Union. Well after the Allied invasion of Normandy Franco's preference for a German victory endured, even as he pivoted to court the Allies. With the end of the war Franco scrambled to adapt to the postwar environment. This serves as the final period covered in Preston's book, as it shows how Franco gradually adjusted to the realities of the world now before him. Here he was aided by the nascent Cold War, which helped transform Spain from a pariah to a useful ally for the United States against the Soviets. But Franco was also forced to adjust in the 1950s to the economic realities before him by abandoning the autarkic policies advocated by his Falangist allies and embracing the economic liberalization urged by the more technocratic members of his government. While Spain prospered over the course of the 1960s, Preston sees Franco as more of an obstacle than an enabler here, noting that his resignation and the transfer of power back to a monarchist system earlier would have opened up more of the international aid opportunities that Spain so badly needed. Yet Franco proved reluctant to give up control of Spain, a reluctance that was borne out when within two years of his death Spain rejected the undemocratic regime he preferred in favor of the parliamentary democracy that endures to the present day. In this respect, Franco's greatest achievement lay not in the Spain he tried to create but in his own ability to endure. Preston succeeds in showing how Franco survived in a world moving past him. While the reader can get burdened down in the later chapters with the details of cabinet formation and the jockeying of various family members for money and power, overall his book is a masterpiece of biography. From it emerges a portrait of a man vainly holding back the forces of change in Spain, yet one who managed to hold on to his own position to the very end. To understand his ability to do this and why he failed in his broader effort to reshape Spain to conform to his vision for it, Preston's book is necessary reading.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Windsor

    So many things to say. I picked this book out as a “learn something about a topic I know nothing about” kind of book, and I’m glad it was this. Franco is very hard to define in his own time, and this book isn’t an easy read, but is well worth it if you want to see how Franco navigated nazi support along with staying out of the war, although allies would later not forgive Spain for clear nazi support during the war. Not a light read, but well worth it if you have the time

  17. 4 out of 5

    Shaun Bona

    Captivating as a novel, this is an immensely impressive and very readable book although disconcerting and terrifying. Franco maintained his control in Spain through meticulous suppression of dissident views, imprisonment of enemies in concentration camps, implementation of forced labour in prisons, and extreme use of the death penalty and prison sentences. What is as shocking is how a second-rate dictator could deceive Britain, France, Germany, Italy, and the United States. After reading the hist Captivating as a novel, this is an immensely impressive and very readable book although disconcerting and terrifying. Franco maintained his control in Spain through meticulous suppression of dissident views, imprisonment of enemies in concentration camps, implementation of forced labour in prisons, and extreme use of the death penalty and prison sentences. What is as shocking is how a second-rate dictator could deceive Britain, France, Germany, Italy, and the United States. After reading the history of the Basques, I searched high and low for Franco’s biography and have no wonder why this community continued to gain a higher degree of self-empowerment. When Franco died, there was an estimated half a million people that filed past his body, said to reassure themselves that he was actually dead. Few significant Heads of State attended his funeral, save for Franco’s admirer, Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet! Paul Preston has written a smooth, extraordinary, and intriguing account of a complex but loathsome man.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Dean MacKinnon-Thomson

    Fantastic read. Authentic, real and passionate. Paul Preston holds no punches with this, he doesn't pretend to be impartial. Indeed he nakedly and proudly highlights his Spanish Republican sympathies. Despite that, he succeeds in an objective & rational demolition of the arguments of Franco apologists. He head on tackles some of the biggest myths, like 'Franco succeeded in keeping Spain out of Hitler's wars'...Preston proves, if Franco & his cronies had their way, the opposite was more truthful. Fantastic read. Authentic, real and passionate. Paul Preston holds no punches with this, he doesn't pretend to be impartial. Indeed he nakedly and proudly highlights his Spanish Republican sympathies. Despite that, he succeeds in an objective & rational demolition of the arguments of Franco apologists. He head on tackles some of the biggest myths, like 'Franco succeeded in keeping Spain out of Hitler's wars'...Preston proves, if Franco & his cronies had their way, the opposite was more truthful. He explores the disasters of Franco's 'autarky', highlights his pro-axis belligerence, his rampant human rights abuses. For anyone interested in the one autocratic, semi-fascistic dictator who escaped WW2 - READ THIS. Paul Preston at his best. Precise, concise, readable voluminous history. Reading this was an utter pleasure.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Oleksiy Kononov

    It is a very detailed bio of the Caudillo. Took me a while to finish it but I cannot say the book was boring or smth. I have learned a lot. All my life I was taught that Franco did not want to participate in WWII and managed to get away by sending the Blue Division to fight the godless Bolsheviks and making unrealistic demands to Hitler. Well, the facts brilliantly summarized by John Preston prove that wrong. The author did his best to be neutral and only in the Epilogue judges Franco. Ironicall It is a very detailed bio of the Caudillo. Took me a while to finish it but I cannot say the book was boring or smth. I have learned a lot. All my life I was taught that Franco did not want to participate in WWII and managed to get away by sending the Blue Division to fight the godless Bolsheviks and making unrealistic demands to Hitler. Well, the facts brilliantly summarized by John Preston prove that wrong. The author did his best to be neutral and only in the Epilogue judges Franco. Ironically, I started reading the book one day before Franco`s exhumation on October 24, 2019.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Sebas JP

    Thorough and detailed biography of Franco. Enjoyed Preston’s account of the Spanish Civil War most. Did not give 5 stars as I thought the author went into tangents that were not that additive to the entire narration and perspective about Franco, his life, the regime etc. Overall, I very much enjoyed learning about this part of Spanish history which is not often talked about.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Susan Groves

    Rambling and repetitive but an insight into the Spanish dictator

  22. 5 out of 5

    Clayton Brannon

    Excellent well written and fascinating account of one the worlds worst dictators.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Marta

    This book is a commitment, but I loved it.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Rio Jose Ramon

    Paul Preston has written a very detailed biography about Franco, well researched, and very well documented on the ascent in the Spanish Army, the relationship with his father, mother and brothers, it gives a clear view on Franco´s campaign in Morocco, and how this marked the ascent of the young captain in a deeper psychological perspective in the Spanish army. The author describes very accurately how Franco slowly position himself to grab absolute power in the army during the civil war, centraliz Paul Preston has written a very detailed biography about Franco, well researched, and very well documented on the ascent in the Spanish Army, the relationship with his father, mother and brothers, it gives a clear view on Franco´s campaign in Morocco, and how this marked the ascent of the young captain in a deeper psychological perspective in the Spanish army. The author describes very accurately how Franco slowly position himself to grab absolute power in the army during the civil war, centralizing on him all negotiations with Hitler and Mussolini, his views on the influence the church should have, his brutal military methods when taking cities using regular army against citizens, its desire to reestablished an "imperial" Spain after loosing Cuba, the Philippines, and to take away Gibraltar from the British. After WWII, Preston provides an insightful approach on how Franco position himself in the cold war, while Spain was in desperate need of financial aid, the type of diplomatic relations with the U.S. as a counterbalance against the Soviet Union. Preston describes how Franco disapproved the reestablishment of the monarchy and how, by the end of his rule he could not understand the message of prince Juan Carlos, as a desire to be king of all Spaniards under one united country and not only one "type" of Spaniards under the dictator´s view. Highly recommended book, a must read to understand this brutal dictator.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Tim

    An exhaustive, and exhausting, detailed history of the sorry rise and rule of Franco, Spain's dictator from 1936 to 1975. If you are REALLY wanting to know every last character involved in Spain's ruling class, all the winners, losers, and each of their trajectories, this is the book to read - all 787 pages. With perhaps one third of that aside, the story of Franco's rise and role in the Spanish Civil war which found George Orwell fighting for a time on the eventual losing side is fascinating. Mor An exhaustive, and exhausting, detailed history of the sorry rise and rule of Franco, Spain's dictator from 1936 to 1975. If you are REALLY wanting to know every last character involved in Spain's ruling class, all the winners, losers, and each of their trajectories, this is the book to read - all 787 pages. With perhaps one third of that aside, the story of Franco's rise and role in the Spanish Civil war which found George Orwell fighting for a time on the eventual losing side is fascinating. More chilling was Franco's deep admiration for Hitler and Mussolini, only his caution and miscalculations in negotiations kept him from formally entering WWII as an Axis partner. Never quite sealing that alliance ironically kept Franco from being overturned by the eventual victorious allies, who then were facing a cold war. For 40 years after the war, Franco kept a ruthless control of Spain, a blight and terror for hundreds of thousands of Spaniards who were imprisoned and executed over that time. Another example of dictators imposing their will in the shadows and byways of world history.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Ian Chapman

    A massively referenced work, which follows Franco from boyhood to old age. Much detail on the personalities of post-war Spanish politics. The author shows a slight negativity towards the subject. For example, I felt that Franco's reported comment that American military bases in Spain had provided husbands for Spanish whores, was humour rather than puritanical contempt. Franco the man can be seen more between the lines.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Susanne

    Five Books recommendation

  28. 5 out of 5

    Patrick Elsey

    Very interest view on a subject that is very hard to find anything decent to read about in English.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Ms.Caprioli

    Still slugging through it...

  30. 4 out of 5

    P.J. Sullivan

    Standard biography of Francisco Franco. Presents him as a suitable case for treatment.

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