Book Review: Franco: A Personal and Political Biography


by Stanley G. Payne & Jesús Palacios,

Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2014. Pp. xii, 618 . Illus., notes, index. $34.95. ISBN: 0299302105

A Nuanced Look at the Spanish Dictator

Two specialists on modern Spain and the Spanish Civil War give us a life of Francisco Franco. They do an excellent job of putting Franco into the social and military context of his times, and especially in explaining how he came to be one of the generals leading the military rebellion of 1936, and ultimately its supreme commander, without having been among its key planners or instigators. Contrary to much later writing, left wing or right wing, the events of 1936-1939 were neither Franco’s rebellion nor, initially, Franco’s war. 

The authors are very good at covering Franco’s early life and military career through the military uprising of 1936. In the chapters on the rising and the civil war they focus on how Franco rose to the supreme command and how the military and political events shaped his role as dictator and supreme commander in a macro context. The authors are especially good at explaining the quite complex relationship between Franco and the Falange. Franco’s Spain was never a single party state in the German or Soviet model, but it was more than just a traditional military dictatorship with a cult of personality glorifying the leader.

The authors also do an excellent job of explaining the twists and turns of Franco’s actions during World War Two and the early stages of the Cold War. Their coverage of the later period of the Franco regime, from the conclusion of the alliance with the U.S. through the death of Franco in 1975, is, unfortunately, less impressive. 

All in all this is an excellent biography of a complex and frequently poorly understood leader of a mid-twentieth century power of lesser rank. Those whose politics are of the traditional left or right may disagree with the authors, but they make their case well.


Note: Franco: A Personal and Political Biography , is also available as an eBbook, $29.95, ISBN 978-0-299-30213-9         


Our Reviewer:  Scott Palter graduated from Dartmouth and Stanford Law. A veteran war gamer, one of the old SPI playtesters, he is also a game developer and was founder and publisher of West End Games.  His most recent reviews for StrategyPageinclude Savage Continent: Europe in the Aftermath of World War II,Normandy Crucible: The Decisive Battle that Shaped World War II in Europe, The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914, Exorcising Hitler: The Occupation and Denazification of Germany, andA Mad Catastrophe: The Outbreak of World War I and the Collapse of the Habsburg Empire.


Reviewer: Scott Palter   

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