Updated: January 27, 2023Published: January 25, 2023
Was history your favorite subject at school? Mine certainly wasn’t. I wonder if it was because the teachers made the class boring or because the books were boring!
Spain is a country with a lot of history, so it is extremely important to choose a good book and an excellent author to be able to understand well and at the same time feel attracted to the history of Spain.
For this post, we have counted on the help of our great friend Ramon De Meer, professor of history and philosophy of law. Along with him, we have made this selection of books about the history of Spain and some of the characters that marked a before and after.
So I won’t keep you any longer! Let me introduce you to these 13 fascinating books that can’t be missing from your bookshelf!
P.S.: The books are ordered according to their first publication date, from the newest to the oldest.
Table of Contents▼▶
1. Franco: A Biography - “Franco: Caudillo de España”
Author: Paul Preston
Published in 1967
Paul Preston is a great British Hispanist/historian. He has published many books about Spanish history. Still, the most debated one that has had more influence is this book, Franco. It was first published in 1993, but he has published other editions.
This book is a biography of Francisco Franco, the dictator who ruled Spain for 40 years (1936-1975). The biography of Franco starts from when he was born until his death. Still, it emphasizes his dictatorship period, mainly during the Spanish civil war and the post-war. His dictatorship can be divided into four fundamental stages:
The opening to the exterior (1951-1959)
The economic take-off (1959-1973)
The period of instability (1973-1975)
Preston analyzes the role of Franco during these four stages. He talks about Franco as an ambitious and implacable military person.
Franco was an admirer of Hitler and Mussolini and was incapable of understanding the complexity of the modern state and economy. He was very conservative, ambitious, and had the skills to manage people as he wanted.
Preston does a great analysis of this period in Spain. He conducts very objective research because he is not Spanish and wasn’t in Spain when Franco was governing.
In his study, we can clearly see the use of primary and secondary sources of information which help in understanding everything better.
This book will help you understand Spain’s situation with Franco as the head of the government. You will see which things he did wrong and others that made Spain more prosperous. You will also be able to understand his way of thinking and draw your own conclusions about Franco.
Captain Alatriste is a book that reminds me of my childhood, as every Spaniard has read it in school.
It’s a saga of books written by the Spanish novelist Arturo Pérez-Reverte with the help of his daughter Carlota. The novel is a plausible story in which many events happen.
It is set in Madrid in the 17th century, during the Spanish Golden Age. Spain, at this moment, was known for its art, literature, and political and military situation. Mainly between the 15th and 17th centuries.
The book narrates the adventures of the main character, Diego Alatriste y Tenorio, together with his page Íñigo Balboa.
Tenorio was in the war, and when he came back, he was hired as a swordsman for a special mission in which a series of entanglements and misunderstandings that are the hallmark of these stories begin.
All the adventures of Tenorio are a mix between classic juvenile action novels and historical novels.
The author conducted excellent research to insert their fictional protagonists in a real historical context with real characters such as Diego Velázquez and Francisco de Quevedo.
The saga has seven novels and has been so successful that they have made comic books and television series in his honor.
Soldiers of Salami it’s an exciting book. It’s a testimony novel that simultaneously presents its character of history and fiction.
The book took place in the final months of the Spanish Civil War. The Republican troops retreated towards the French border on their way to exile when someone decided to shoot a group of Francoist prisoners.
Among those Francoist prisoners was Rafael Sánchez Mazas, founder and ideologist of “La Falange” (a Spanish political party of Fascist ideology founded in 1933).
Sánchez Mazas not only managed to escape the collective firing squad but also when they were looking for him, an anonymous militiaman spared his life at the last moment. He is later protected by a group of peasants in the region. However, he will never forget the militiamen that helped him and didn’t betray him.
The narrator of this book is a young journalist who wants to reconstruct the real story of the events and wants to keep the secret of its enigmatic protagonists private. An unexpected twist, however, will lead him to discover that the meaning of this story is to be found.
The book is divided into three parts:
The first part refers to the first time the writer hears the story of Sánchez Mazas and becomes interested in it.
The second part is the story itself, where he conducts his research using documentaries, interviews, and books… to give reliability to his story.
The third part talks about the writer’s doubts about the publication of the book and the possibility that arose of meeting a communist war veteran who will tell him a completely different point of view, and he will be able to finish the novel.
4. Children of a Gothic King - “Hijos de un Rey Godo”
Author: María Gudín
Published in 2009
With this book, you will travel in time throughout the Iberian Peninsula. After the success the fantastic writer Maria Gudin had with her first book, “The Nameless Queen,” she presents her second book.
“Children of a Gothic King” results from historical research to bring readers closer to Spanish people in the first centuries.
It’s a novel set in the 6th century and full of adventures related to the splendor of the Visigoth kingdom, where the Visigoths were taking territories. It’s a story in which love, camaraderie, remorse, revenge, and the lust for power are related.
Why did I say that you will travel in time throughout the Iberian Peninsula with this book? This book takes you into Visigoth, Spain, from Asturias to Seville, passing through Toledo and reaching the Mediterranean.
A fast-paced adventure full of intrigue and characters in which reality and fiction are masterfully blended. Ricardo, one of the main protagonists, falls in love with whom the law forbids. Hermenegildo, another main character, will discover the truth about his origins.
You should know this book is the second volume of a trilogy called “The Sun of the Kingdom,” where this book is part of it.
You can still read the first book to understand the second. This book can be understood by itself. The trilogy is a series of fantasy novels united by the cup of power.
The novels go through the time when the Goths ruled Iberian persons, generating a period of unity in the Peninsula.
Many people have enjoyed reading this book as they described it as very entertaining and didactic. So please don’t wait any longer and start reading it!
5. Spain: Biography of a Nation - “España: Biografía de una nación”
Author: Manuel Fernández Álvarez
Published in 2010
The writer of this book is Manuel Fernández Álvarez, a Spanish historian considered an authority in 15th and 16th-century Spain. Many Spaniards considered him the best historian of the country!
If you want to learn the history of Spain, this is your book! It begins with the Altamira cave and finishes at the end of the 20th century.
The author emphasized the Renaissance period, which he devoted 50 years of study. In it, the author reflects on the main events of Spanish history, focusing on the most conflictive debates that have arisen in time.
This book gives you a unique and exciting opportunity to go through the history of a spectacular country like Spain.
Manuel Fernández makes a complete vision of the history of Spain in this book, which he considers his most precious legacy and that was published shortly before his death.
It’s a book to know our past and our present, with the style that the best historian of Spain gives to a story like this one, using a very personal vision. He once said, “My purpose in this book has not been to present the history of Spain but to reflect on it.”
The author has provoked in me an interest in history that I had never had before! I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to learn the history of our country!
6. Spain: A Unique History - “España: Una historia única”
Author: Stanley G. Payne
Published in 2011
In this book, you will be able to learn everything related to the history of Spain. The writer is the famous American historian and Hispanist Stanley G. Payne. He makes an exhaustive and meticulous analysis of Spain, where he talks about the past and the present.
He will start talking about the Visigoths through the imperialist era, the Transition, the Spain of Francisco Franco, or the Spain of Zapatero, among many other interesting topics about our history. Everything he says is based on his most recent research or studies.
This book is divided into three blocks. In the first block, Payne focuses on his work as a historian/Hispanist, describing how his vocation was born, how he was trained in this discipline, and how he has developed his career until now.
This section of the book is fascinating and will make you understand the fundamental importance of the work of a historian. They help us understand the past to understand the present much better.
In the second block, Payne starts his analysis by talking about the history of Spain, starting from the Visigoth period, passing through Islam and the myth of Al-Andalus, the reconquest, the Spanish Empire, or the Spanish Transition.
He will answer questions such as; Can the Visigoths and the Asturians be considered Spanish? Why did the Arabs occupy the Iberian Peninsula so quickly?
In the third block, he tries to answer 10 contemporary Spanish history dilemmas related to the Civil War and Francoism.
Payne tries to clear up doubts, clarify positions, resolve dilemmas, and demystify old clichés, all based on documents.
In this book, you will learn everything about one of the most famous queens of Spain, Isabella of Castile. Isabella of Castile helped with the voyage of Christopher Columbus to America.
There is not a lot of information about her childhood, but the book explains that she had a lonely childhood due to her mother’s mental problems.
When she was very young, she was forced to live in her stepbrother’s court, where the nobility was jealous of his brother. The brother’s wife was planning to destroy all her rivals, including Isabella and her younger brother.
This biography novel will immerse you in all the adventures that Isabel lived. You will be able to read how Isabel was held against her will and why she was suspected of treason during a revolt against the king.
The book also reflects her romance story and her decision to marry Ferdinand of Aragon, with whom she falls deeply in love. Their love story would last forever and shock most of the Castilian nobility.
All these adventures will be decisive for her to be part of the new heiress of Castile, where she will struggle to stay on the throne, a throne which she had never desired.
The book writer, C. W Gortner, is a professor of historical fiction, research, and writing. He decided to tell the story of an exciting queen beautifully and curiously while rendering it in a very personal and intimate way.
I recommend this book to everyone who likes history, and to those who don’t like it, you should read it anyway! I’m sure you will end up loving it!
This book starts as a result of the inspiration of the writer Juan Manuel de Prada, with the Spanish detachment called “Last of the Philippines” in 1989.
It’s one of the most heroic and unknown episodes in the history of Spain, narrated by who is considered by many as the most brilliant writer of contemporary literature.
You might be wondering what the “Last of the Philippines” was and what they called a Spanish detachment that was resisting the siege of the town of Baler.
Baler was subjected to a group of dissatisfied persons with the country’s situation. And it’s this event that Juan Manuel de Prada chooses to discuss.
The book narrates the adventures and epic battles, both physical and dialectical, of those who stood up. The story takes place in spectacular scenarios.
It’s a story about an exceptional woman and about love, friendship, courage, and sacrifice in the most tumultuous period of our history.
The novel’s characters are unforgettable. There are officers wounded by a secret pain, tributaries, soldiers, Philippine insurrectionists… It’s a historical fiction book in which real people of the time coexist with fictional characters.
Juan Manuel de Prada, the writer, decided to conduct very rigorous and precious research, using extraordinary documents to give reality to his story.
A very interesting book; you should be adding it to your list!
9. That Was Not in My Book of Spanish History - “Eso no estaba en mi libro de historia de España”
Author: Francisco García del Junco
Published in 2016
“That Was Not in my book of Spanish History” is a book that deals with a great variety of events and historical periods in a very close and pleasant way, sometimes even anecdotal.
As the name of the book indicates, in this book, they will talk about curious facts that are usually not explained in the history books of school.
Let’s start talking about the topics of the book. Many of us know that Philip II ordered the Invincible Armada to punish England for its piracy and attacks on the Spanish colonies, but he failed.
But I’m sure you didn’t know that England suffered its most significant naval defeat at the hands of Blas de Lezo, who had one Spanish soldier for every ten Englishmen.
Many people are unaware that Spain sent an expedition around the world to vaccinate thousands of persons that were going to die of the disease against smallpox. You will also understand more about this by reading this incredible book!
As well, despite the fame that had the Spanish Inquisition, it was the most condescending of all European inquisitions. It caught my attention that England and the United States were, at that moment, the countries most interested in falsifying part of Spain’s history to hide their own.
These, and many others, are some of the topics you will find in each chapter of this magnificent book.
This book is for those who enjoy discovering and learning about surprising topics. And if you liked this book as much as I did, I recommend you buy the second part, written by the same author. The book is called “This Was Also Not in My Book of Spanish History.”
10. In Defense of Spanishness - “Defensa de la Hispanidad”
Author: Ramiro de Maeztu
Published in 2017
“In Defense of Spanishness” was written by Maeztu. He is considered one of the most prestigious thinkers and essayists in Europe.
Maeztu is part of the Generation of ‘98, together with other greater writers of the time. A period where Spain was in decadence, but he was the only one who felt shame for that Spain and wanted to change it by having a national ideal.
To achieve the national ideal he wanted, he defended the idea that Spain must believe in itself. To achieve this, Spaniards must know their history and appreciate their collective achievements over the centuries.
In this book, he defends the idea of Hispanity, looking to the past and future.
It exposes tradition as the path to finding the keys to the future. It defends the Hispanic monarchy, to which it attributes the fundamental quality of being Catholic, missionary, mestizo, and egalitarian.
In “In Defense of Spanishness,” Maeztu proposes to remind Spaniards of the role played by Spain in universal history and the need for a national project to recover that role.
This book has had an enormous influence all over the country. For example, it influenced the consolidation of a political alternative with a markedly Hispanic character.
Everyone should read this book as they will be able to understand the history of Spain in the past and also in the present.
11. The Roman Conquest of Hispania - “La conquista romana de Hispania”
Author: Javier Negrete Medina
Published in 2018
With this book, you will be able to read and understand some of the most exciting historical episodes of Spanish history. This period is as fascinating as it sounds but also unknown to many.
The story starts with the arrival of the Carthaginians to the peninsula and Rome’s subsequent arrival and expansion. It’s marked by the continuous revolts of the Iberian peoples, civil wars, conspiracies, and political games that will keep a before and after in Spanish history.
This book tells the history of the Roman conquest. A story of how the Romans conquered Hispania (actual Spain) when they arrived on the peninsula in 218 B.C., just at the beginning of the Second Punic War.
In this story, they will appear great characters such as Scipio, Hannibal, Viriato, and even Julius Caesar, offering the reader one of the most exciting historical episodes of our past.
I recommend you to read this book due to the impressive use of illustration and the magnificent narrative style.
The author uses the spectacular illustrations of Sandra Delgado that will give life to his words in about thirty original works. The narrative style used can evoke images typical of an adventure novel.
All these things make this book an excellent book that reflects one of the most exciting stories in the history of Spain.
This is an excellent biography, written by Alfredo Albar, of a significant king in the history of Spain.
Alfredo Alvar tells us in this book everything this king had to live during one of the most committed and decisive periods of the imperial era.
You will read about his personal greatness, intimacy, and the responsibility he had to survive a period with thousands of political pitfalls, wars, and personal tragedies.
You will also learn about his way of promoting the arts and literature as no one had done it before, turning Spain into one of the most outstanding artistic references the world has ever seen.
The book is structured in four parts (to which three colophons are added and several appendices with a bibliography, mentions, abbreviations, and onomastic index).
It is organized into chronological order the life of the king:
The first part covers the childhood and youth of Philip IV, from his birth in 1605 until his proclamation as king in 1621.
The second part talks about his reign between 1621 and 1635.
The third part covers the years from 1635 to 1648, during which the Hispanic Monarchy was confronted with many political and economic fronts that caused its decline and personal misfortunes. But this period was also a period of art and cultural projects.
The last part goes from 1648 to 1665, the final years of his reign. Philip IV was at the head of the government trying to overcome a dire situation that called into question the Crown itself.
This book will help you understand the Spain of that time and learn about many significant events that marked a before and after in our history.
13. Philip II: The Man, the King, the Myth - “Felipe II: El hombre, el rey, el mito”
Author: Enrique Martínez Ruiz
Published in 2020
This book talks mainly about the life of Philip II, one of the most important characters in our history.
Philip II became very popular due to his great personality and the complexity of the Europe of his time. He lived in a period of vital abundance in Spain.
Most of the biographies and studies that have been made on Philip II focus mainly on his role as a ruler. Sometimes, they refer to his family and some other factors.
However, this book can show a global vision of the monarch. At that time, he was a Renaissance prince who was formed as such. He became the most powerful monarch of his time, ruling territories in the four continents known at that moment (Europe, Africa, America, and Asia) and over the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific oceans.
Enrique Martínez Ruiz, the book’s writer, is one of the most renowned specialists of that period. In this biography, which is richly illustrated, he addresses the three main aspects of Philip II’s life.
The first is the man who has to be formed, taking care of the responsibilities that awaited him as head of a great empire in the four continents known at that time.
Second, that of the king, who must exercise a permanent government over all territories.
And the third, derived from the two previous ones, elevates his figure to the category of myth.
This is a great book! It’s one of the main historiographical references, focusing on the monarch’s life and everything related to it.
Inigo Navarro is a seasoned travel writer with a deep understanding of Spain's cities, culture, people and language. Born and raised in Spain, he has spent years exploring the country and is currently one of the most-read Travel Bloggers about Spain. Inigo is also an experienced digital marketer, a father to 4 beautiful children and a huge Real Madrid Fan. ¡Hala Madrid!