Saturday, April 30, 2016


Two recent books on the New Books shelves at the Monrovia Public Library highlight the brutality, the senselessness and the politics of war. Although set in different time periods, geographic locales and from different viewpoints, the books share some common themes.

Spain in Our Hearts: Americans in the Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939 is a beautifully written narrative about a somewhat unfamiliar war which divided the left-leaning Republicans and the fascist Nationalists, led by General Francisco Franco and backed by the Nazis. The war was immortalized by Ernest Hemingway in For Whom the Bell Tolls and by Pablo Picasso in his artwork Guernica. In Spain in Our Hearts historian Adam Hochschild chronicles and analyzes the War by telling the stories of those involved, including the Americans and others who joined the Republicans and the journalists who reported the war (including Martha Gellhorn who married Hemingway), as well as unfurling the complex politics and propaganda surrounding it. The Nationalists won the war and Franco ruled Spain until 1975. The War is remembered as a very unique conflict in which a volunteer army lost to an organized force.

Memoirs by war correspondents always cite the dangers of reporting from battle zones. NBC’s Richard Engel’s new book And All Hell Broke Loose: Two Decades in the Middle East is not just a gripping read, but also a terrific overview of the history, politics and geography of a region riddled by chaos and war.  Engel covers his 20 years of eyewitness reporting about the Iraqi war, the Arab Spring and the rise of terrorism; his prose reads like a thriller. Most heart pumping is the story of his 2012 kidnapping in Syria. This fast-paced work will especially appeal to those who like behind-the-scenes books.

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