The International Brigades: Magnificent and readable history

Book review: Giles Tremlett offers a sweeping account of fascism and the Spanish civil war, with a vital warning

Some of the 3,000 members of the International Brigade entering the border town of Le Perthus with the retreating republican army, during the Spanish civil war. Photograph: Keystone/Getty Images

Some of the 3,000 members of the International Brigade entering the border town of Le Perthus with the retreating republican army, during the Spanish civil war. Photograph: Keystone/Getty Images

When the classicist Bernard Knox was interviewed at Yale University after the second World War, he was asked how he had come to speak such good “and (if necessary) pungently coarse” French. Knox explained that he had fought in the French brigade on the republican side of the Spanish civil war, prompting the head of the Yale classics department to call him “a premature anti-fascist”.

Knox found the description baffling. “Could there be anything such as a premature antidote to a poison?” he later wondered. “If you were not premature, what sort of anti-fascist were you supposed to be?”

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