In 1937, James Neugass, a poet and novelist praised in the New York Times, joined 2,800 other passionate young Americans who traveled to Spain as part of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade—an unlikely mix of artists, journalists, industrial workers, and intellectuals united in their desire to combat European fascism.

Although rumors persisted over the years that Neugass had written a memoir, the manuscript of War Is Beautiful, a nuanced and deeply poetic chronicle of his service as an ambulance driver, did not come to light for sixty years, until a bookseller discovered it among papers in a New England house once occupied by the radical critic and editor Max Eastman. The memoir combines fast-paced accounts of darting onto battlefields to pick up the wounded with elegiac renderings of days spent “on alert” in an ever-changing series of sharply observed Spanish towns, enduring that most difficult of wartime activities: waiting.