Spain in Our Hearts: Americans in the Spanish Civil War, 1936–1939

About the book:

Spain in Our Hearts: Americans in the Spanish Civil War, 1936–1939 is a non-fiction book by Adam Hochschild that was first published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on March 29, 2016. The book is an account of the American volunteers who participated in the Spanish Civil War from 1936 to 1939. The story centers around several American volunteer fighters and journalists, tracing their motivations for joining the war and their experiences during the war which left many disillusioned. The book explains the involvement of foreign leaders including Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini and Joseph Stalin, and explains why the Republican faction ultimately lost.

Hochschild knew several American volunteers personally, and was partly inspired by them to write the book. Most of Hochschild’s archival research on the subject was carried out at the Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Archives.

Spain in Our Hearts was generally well received by critics. Hochschild’s writing in particular, was praised for being compelling and well-researched. Many reviewers also commended the book’s balanced perspective that covers the atrocities committed by both factions in the war. In his lukewarm review, William Deresiewicz felt that the book did not provide adequate context for the war, leaving many of the questions the book raises unanswered.[3]

Adam Hochschild is an American author and co-founder of the progressive American magazine Mother Jones.[4][5] Much of his writing focuses on historical social injustices and the individuals who campaigned to end them.[5][6] Hochschild said of the overarching theme in his work: “To me there’s nothing more interesting than trying to evoke moments when men and women risked their lives to battle horrendous injustice […] It’s hard for me to imagine spending four or five years working on a book if there isn’t some pressing moral issue at the core of the story.”[7] A popular historian,[2] Hochschild has stated that his intention is not to provide new analyses of historical events with his books, but rather “to bring a period of time alive by focusing on 10 or 12 people who lived through it, and whose lives intersected in some way.”[7] Hochschild’s previous books include the acclaimed King Leopold’s Ghost, an account of the colonial atrocities committed in the Belgian Congo;[8][9] The Unquiet Ghost: Russians Remember Stalin, an account of the effects of Joseph Stalin’s dictatorship on contemporary Russians;[10] and Bury the Chains, an account of the anti-slavery movement in the British Empire.[11]

Hochschild was first drawn to write about the Spanish Civil War due to his personal associations with several Americans who had volunteered in the war. Hochschild’s interest in the topic was deepened by his high regard for Homage to Catalonia, George Orwell’s personal account of his experiences in the war, as well as Hochschild’s observation that the war was the only time that many Americans had risked their lives in another nation’s civil war.[7]

Hochschild began his research for Spain in Our Hearts by spending months reading books and articles about the participation of American volunteers in the Spanish Civil War, so as to determine the main characters in his book. After narrowing down the focus of his book, Hochschild conducted extensive archival research, particularly at the Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Archives, whose collection includes the writings of hundreds of the American volunteers. While visiting the Hoover Institution Library and Archives, Hochschild was introduced to the writings of Lois Orr who then became a major character in his book.[7]

The title for the book is taken from a quote by French philosopher Albert Camus on the Spanish Civil War: “Men of my generation have had Spain in our hearts. It was there that they learned … that one can be right and yet be beaten, that force can vanquish spirit and that there are times when courage is not rewarded.”[12]

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