The Best Books on Spanish History

The modern shape of Spain was effectively created in 1579 when the crowns of Aragon and Castile united through the marriage of Ferdinand and Isabella. But Spanish history also includes a thriving Muslim era and a world empire.

Pierson's book has been lauded as the single-volume history of Spain, the first choice for students and general readers alike. There are certainly lots of 'extras', including mini-biographies, a timeline, and a bibliographic essay! More importantly, Pierson has written an excellent text that provides a warm and interesting overview which acknowledges recent scholarship.

This marvelous narrative covers nearly 250 years of history in a consistently clear and concise manner. Kamen's style is suitable for all readers - although this general introduction is aimed mainly at students or beginners to the subject - and the clear chapters, which make full use of sub-divisions, are wholly accessible. A glossary, maps, family tree and bibliography supplement the quality text.

This book uses a chronological structure to present a fairly revisionist (although some might just say accurate) examination of Spanish history. Historians from Spain, Britain and the Americas have contributed, providing an excellent blend of ideas from across the Spanish-speaking world. If you want new ideas and new approaches to Spain as well as good history, try this.

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Spain edited by Raymond Carr

Here, Spanish history is covered in just nine essays, each written by an expert in the relevant field and covering such topics as the Visigoths and modern politics, as well as artistic endeavors. Heavily praised and, unusually for a history, partially illustrated, Spain is too expensive for those after one essay but excellent for anyone with a broader interest.

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A Social History of Modern Spain by Adrian Shubert

Although this book does precisely as the title suggests - it's a social history of Spain since 1800 - such a description ignores the many depths of a text that fully acknowledges the relevant regional and political variations. As such, this book makes a perfect starting point for anyone interested in the people, as opposed to the government, of modern Spain.

Centuries of Christian Spaniards attacked the memory of the period when an Islamic State ruled Spain, and to be honest we’re still feeling the effects. But Fletcher’s book is a balanced account of a fascinating era that already appears in political argument.
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This older work is the standard one-volume text for Spain from the Visigoths to Ferdinand and Isabella, and it retains a sweeping sense of history. It can be heavy going but is a good overview to build on with more focused works.
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Whatever your thoughts on the political issues of Basque independence, there's no denying that Kurlansky's marvelously written history of the Basque people - a witty and anecdotal text that includes pictures and recipes - is entertaining and enlightening stuff, and the warm partisanship avoids bitterness or arrogance.

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The Spain of Catholic Monarchs 1474-1520 by John Edwards

The title may not be representative of the content, but this book offers a comprehensive introduction to the era of Ferdinand and Isabella. Edwards covers a range of subject matter, from politics to religions by way of military activities and cultures. Fortunately for readers, this volume is not only highly educational and competitively priced, but also lively reading.

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A Spanish Society, 1400-1600 by Teofilo Ruiz

Covering an earlier era than pick 5, Ruiz's text explores the changes in Spanish society between the medieval and early modern period with warmth and humor. The result is a colorful and lively account that switches between broad discussion and individual lives whilst ranging from the highest clergy to the lowest brothels.

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The Voyage of the Armada by David Howarth

It's an unfortunate fact of British education, but most schoolchildren know only one aspect of Spanish history: the Armada. Of course, the topic continues to fascinate and this cheap - but excellent - book uses Spanish sources to present a complete picture.

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Philip II by Patrick Williams

For much of the sixteenth century, Philip II dominated, not just Europe, but large parts of the world, leaving a complicated legacy which historians still fail to agree on. This study uses a chronological narrative to explore the changing nature of Philip and his actions, the king's supporters and detractors as well as the extent of his influence.

As you can conclude from the title, this look at Spain is focused on one of the first global European empires, but there’s still plenty on the European part if that’s what you want. This is a large, rich and masterful book that you can indulge in.
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When twentieth-century historians come to reappraise Juan Carlos they will find Paul Preston ahead of them. In this biography, we see the remarkable story of a man who was able to guide Spain post-Franco and establish it as a democracy, when much about his youth suggests the opposite. More »

A big book requiring some dedication to get through, this biography of Spain’s twentieth-century dictator is a classic study by one of the leading experts. There’s plenty of original research and a story which dominates modern Spain, all handled well. For a shorter work look for Michael Streeter’s ‘Franco’. More »