Tuesday, March 01, 2016

Hell and Good Company, by Richard Rhodes

Hell and Good Company: The Spanish Civil War and the World It Made, by Richard Rhodes

Before reading Hell and Good Company pretty much all I could have told you about the Spanish Civil War was that it occurred between World Wars I and II and Hemingway wrote For Whom the Bell Tolls based on his experiences there. Rhodes only lightly touches the military and political aspects of the war, instead concentrating on the innovations that were made real during this time. I was shocked to discover that frontline blood donations weren't commonplace before Spain, and the practice of sealing open wounds and compound fractures with plaster to keep them clean and immobile finally gained medical acceptance at this time, too. Hard to believe that before the late 1930's a broken leg was usually amputated on the battlefield in order to save the soldier. Military tactics also saw a lot of advancement during this time; air power truly came into its own, resulting sadly in prominent, purposeful civilian targets and the first war with a city bombed into literal rubble.

Rhodes has a sophisticated writing style; readable, but with an impressive (and occasionally off-putting) vocabulary: "In pursuing a latter-day, reverse reconquista he was less a fascist than an aggrandized martinet." One chapter in particular I found difficult to finish; the author discusses the creation of Picasso's Guernica, explaining in excruciating detail how the painting changed with each small step in the artistic process. Oddly, there isn't a rendering of the entire finished work included, so much of the included minutia was severely lacking in context. This literary wandering was an anomaly, though, and the book itself was both engrossing and appealing, and I recommend it to anyone interested in this time in history.

First Sentence:
Barcelona, 25 July 1936: In the glare of Spanish summer, the first witnesses to the igniting civil war are leaving to tell the world.

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