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  • The International Brigades

  • Fascism, Freedom and the Spanish Civil War
  • By: Giles Tremlett
  • Narrated by: Laurence Bouvard
  • Length: 23 hrs and 49 mins
  • 4.4 out of 5 stars (44 ratings)

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The International Brigades

By: Giles Tremlett
Narrated by: Laurence Bouvard
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Summary

Bloomsbury presents The International Brigades by Giles Tremlett, read by Laurence Bouvard. 

The first major history of the International Brigades: a tale of blood, ideals and tragedy in the fight against fascism. 

The Spanish Civil War was the first armed battle in the fight against fascism, and a rallying cry for a generation. Over 35,000 volunteers from 61 countries around the world came to defend democracy against the troops of Franco, Hitler and Mussolini.  

Ill-equipped and disorderly, yet fuelled by a shared sense of purpose and potential glory, disparate groups of idealistic young men and women banded together to form a volunteer army of a size and kind unseen since the Crusades, known as the International Brigades. These passionate liberal fighters from across Europe, China, Africa and the Americas would join the Republican cause, fighting for over two years on the bloody battlegrounds of Madrid, Jarama and Ebro. 

Were they heroes or fools? Saints or bloodthirsty adventurers? And what exactly did they achieve? 

This is a story rendered vivid in the writings of Orwell and Hemingway, the paintings of Picasso and the photographs of Taro and Capa. But here, in this magisterial history, award-winning historian Giles Tremlett tells for the first time the story of the Spanish Civil War through the experiences of this remarkable group of people. Drawing on the Brigades' extensive archives in Moscow, Comintern documents and first-hand accounts, Tremlett captures all the human drama of an historic mission to halt fascist expansion in Europe.

A fascinating history of resistance, The International Brigades shows just how far ordinary people will go to save democracy against overwhelming odds in a tale of European solidarity that resonates just as strongly today.

©2020 Giles Tremlett (P)2020 Bloomsbury Publishing Plc
  • Unabridged Audiobook
  • Categories: History

Critic reviews

"Magnificent. Narrative history at its vivid and compelling best." (Fergal Keane)

What listeners say about The International Brigades

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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Very good

My great grandfather continued to fight Francis's facisists until 1942 in the mountains of Galicia. I just wanted to know what it was like and this book provided a really good guide to what it was like. Thank you!!

2 people found this helpful

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An inspiring book

I really enjoyed the focus on some of the individual battles that are written about in this book. The trials and tribulations of some of the volunteers are fascinating to hear and of course the way in which the international community abandoned the republic was a disgrace and this is highlighted once again here. I really enjoyed learning about the post conflict influence of the volunteers as well. It’s not something I knew and it was very interesting to hear.

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  • ed
  • 03-01-21

Balanced and gripping account of those who fought

Only downside to listening as an audiobook is you really need a map. Nicely read and well paced. The accounts of the men and women are a combination of all human emotion. Suitable for those dipping their toes into 20th century history or those more familiar with Spain and the world of the '30s

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Narrator dreadful.

Really hard to listen to. I get it to stress italics or quotes some ofemphasis required but spaces either side

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Narrator?

A good history hard to listen to because of the narrator. The tone is almost jaunty and most off putting.

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More collection of vignettes than coherent narrati

More of a collection of interesting vignettes than a coherent narrative. Worth reading/listening if you're into the Spanish civil war but a bit all over the place to be honest.

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Excellent

As I have said above this is excellent. I cannot find fault with it anywhere, but it’s only the first of many readings.

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  • Oliver B.
  • 13-06-21

Very strange timing

It almost seems like this is read by a computer. The pauses in the wrong places are really difficult to listen to. It’s such a shame because the story is fascinating. I found it unlistenable in the end

2 people found this helpful

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  • Joselo
  • 20-07-22

Perplexing analysis

Giles Tremlett, correspondent to The Guardian in Spain, celebrates the role of the International Brigades in the Spanish Civil War. His account of the events is exciting, and heartbreaking at times. There is much that I actually like about this book. But his conclusions and final analysis seem politically biased.



The International Brigades were composed of anti-Fascists from all over the world, who regarded Franco's Nationalist coup in Spain as a microcosm of what was to come elsewhere in Europe and the rest of the globe. They valiantly fought against Franco’s brutal forces, which were allied with Fascists Hitler and Mussolini. Unfortunately, the Brigades were mostly controlled and armed by Stalin, who was yet another terrible autocrat taking over other nations. The problem as I see it is that Tremlett refuses to acknowledge the very real threat that Communism posed to Spain. 



To begin with, years before Franco's coup in 1936, some of the most prominent Socialists in the Spanish government (such as Largo Caballero) spoke loudly and publicly against democracy and threatened to violently impose a Stalinist regime in Spain. This is all well documented in other history books, like Stanley Payne’s “The Collapse of the Spanish Republic, 1933-1936: Origins of the Civil War”, which I recommend. While there were responsible, moderate leftists and conservatives in parliament who were willing to compromise and negotiate, as one does in a democracy, sadly, extremists on both sides ripped the country apart. After conservatives won parliamentary elections in Spain, the left tried to overthrow the government in 1934, which is precisely when Franco (then a promising, young general) was brought in to suppress the uprising. This coup attempt from the left is widely regarded as a hugely important step towards the Spanish Civil War. However, it is barely mentioned in this book.



The International Brigades was made of all sorts of anti-Fascist factions, including anarchists and Communists (who often conflicted with one another), and socialist democrats. Most of the armament was sent from the Soviet Union. Much of its leadership, as well as many of the troops, were Stalinists who arrived in Spain with direct orders from Moscow, while pretending to be "Mexicans". Tremlett's book does describe this in great detail. It also goes on to explain how surviving Brigadiers went on to become some of the most ruthless oppressors in East Germany and other countries under Soviet rule. To name one example, Eric Mialke went on to serve as head of the Stasi police for 32 years and was nicknamed "The Master of Fear". 



Despite all this, Tremlett applauds the Brigadiers in general as defenders of democracy and wonders why anyone would express any doubts about them. Offering no logical explanation, he outright rejects the idea that Stalin would have exerted any power over Spain had the Republican side won. According to Tremlett, Stalin simply wasn't interested. It’s a perplexing conclusion, when one observes the influence of Communist Russia over much of Europe and the rest of the world.

The great George Orwell (author of 'Animal Farm’ and ‘1984', among other works) travelled to Spain to fight against Fascism (and in the process, received a dangerous bullet wound in the throat from a sniper). He left the country greatly disappointed by the influence of Communists over the International Brigades and the Republican side in general. He documented his experiences in his classic ‘Homage to Catalonia'. Tremlett dismisses Orwell by claiming that he didn't have a proper understanding of politics. 



While I agree that many of the Brigadiers did show sacrifice and idealism in their fight against Fascism, much of it was misguided, as history would later go on to prove. Tremlett ignores the obvious facts and seems to propose that 2 + 2 = 5. Especially in today's polarized world, I find it crucial to keep in mind that Spain’s democracy was threatened by extremists from both the left and the right. It is irresponsible to rewrite history and pretend that the threat only came from the right. To be fair, Tremlett does detail some of the disturbing ways in which the Communist leadership handled the International Brigades. But this is not enough. 



Personally, I didn't like Laurence Bouvard's narration, as I found it very uneven. Some of her reading sounds artificial and she mispronounces many Spanish words and names. This didn’t stop me from listening to the entire audiobook with great interest.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 06-06-22

Defective recording

Audio stopped at 17:45 into chapter 7 so I was not able to continue past that point. Very disappointing since I was very much enjoying the narration.