Review: A Concise History of Spain

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Review A Concise History of Spain

A Concise History of Spain, written by historians William D. Phillips Jr. and Carla Rahn Phillips, is the best English introductory book about the history of Spain, that covers from Prehistory to the contemporary history of this Southern European country. And all in around 450 pages, so I consider A Concise History of Spain THE book that best introduces and summarizes the history of Spain and it’s suitable for all audiences.

This is what buyers of this book say on Amazon:

“An excellent piece of work.” – Gary L. Hyde

As a concise history it is clear and effective.” – Robert Riter

And this is what members of the Goodreads community say:

A Concise History of Spain is a fast-paced overview of Spanish history, a subject on which I am not well-versed.. Spain’s diminished presence on the global stage over the last century can lead one to forget the country’s importance in history. There are sections of the book that lack depth, but it is, after all, a concise history. It is well-written and filled with information. Spain has a fascinating history, and this book provides a helpful introduction to it.” – Seth Woodley

It is what it says, a “Concise History” of Spain, so this works well as an informational resource, and I enjoyed the first 2/3 of the book. Up until the 20th century it’s definitely a good overview without going into extreme detail, and it gives fairly good background on what leads up to the events of the 20th century.

Unfortunately, when the book gets to the Spanish Civil War, it goes completely off the rails and contains serious errors and omissions. The omissions might be understood given that it’s a concise history (the Maquis aren’t even mentioned by name, only that some armed conflict against Franco’s regime continued up until the 50’s), but the errors are bizarre. The authors incorrectly state that Franco’s Nationalists only targeted “those on the other side of the conflict” which is ludicrous, given that even the most cursory examination of the war shows that they deliberately and repeatedly bombed civilian centers, and regularly tortured and executed political prisoners. Most egregiously, the authors state that the Republican government’s purging of the POUM in 1937 was due to the POUM and anarchist fomenting a “rebellion” (!) against the government, when the reality is that the communist-controlled government attempted to disarm the anarchist and Trotskyist militias, resulting in the street battles that followed. The authors repeat the decades-old and long-since disproven reversal of chronology on this for some reason, and even state that George Orwell, who was a first-hand witness to it, didn’t understand the situation!

Probably most head-scratching is the soft, even positive treatment given the Franco regime in the post-civil-war years by the authors. There’s scant mention of the Republican, anarchist, socialist, and communist prisoners who were executed, and no mention of the horrific crimes committed by Franco’s government by way of torture and rape, not just of enemy combatants but their family members as well. Negligible discussion is given to the slave labour employed by the fascist Nationalist government, or that they had concentration camps, and mass graves. The authors even start interjecting their own unnecessary opinions at points, for no valid reason.

In the end what really makes this book problematic is the complete lack of citations. This would be forgiveable in a high school essay, but this is a published book on history and when the authors make contentious claims they need to back them up. Instead, they resort to clichés such as “others would say that,” or “some scholars argue that,” without giving any sources for these supposed contrary opinions.

Get this from the library if you must, read the first portion, but get rid of it and read some real histories of Spain once you get to the 20th century.” – Brian Clement

Summary of reviews: Most reviews are positive, highlighting the fact that it’s a concise and introductory book that achieves its aim. There are some negative reviews due to the summary tha the authors make about the complex and controversial 20th century Spain, with the Spanish Civil War and Franco’s regime, but there is a broad agreement in giving a positive review about the rest of the book.

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