A definitive but dull biography of the least known of Europe's 20th-century dictators. Preston (International History/London School of Economics) makes some significant changes in the generally received portrait of Franco that has come down to us. He portrays Franco as admired by his troops in Spanish Morocco, where he spent ten of his early military years, for his thoroughness and his insistence on always leading assaults personally. In the Spanish Civil War itself, however, he was prodigal with his soldiers' lives, as he deliberately waged a war of attrition designed to kill as many enemy soldiers as possible rather than to win quick victories. Preston believes that the ruthlessness and exemplary use of terror Franco learned in Africa dominated both his political and military conduct. His ferocity in getting rid of rivals was exceeded only by his executions of tens of thousands of Republican supporters during and after the war (he would sign sheaves of execution notices while in his car, without reading the details). Preston's most interesting new material derives from his analysis of Franco's relationship with Hitler and Mussolini. Admirers of Franco have seized on Churchill's praise of the Spaniard for not joining the Axis powers in 1940, despite the aid he had received from Germany and Italy during the Civil War. In truth, Preston shows, Franco was eager to get into the war, particularly when he thought that the Germans were winning, but only if he received economic aid. It was Hitler's reluctance or inability to pay Franco's price, rather than Franco's shrewdness, that scuttled negotiations. Although Preston omits some of the context in which Franco operated—notably the atrocities committed by the Republican forces opposing him—Franco emerges as an extraordinarily unlovable figure, cunning, with a hunger for adulation and an icy cruelty. Careful and thorough, if uninspired, and likely to remain the standard biography in English for some time to come.
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