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Empire: How Spain Became a World Power, 1492-1763

23 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0060932640
ISBN-10: 0060932643
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Whether the term "globalization" is defined as the global imposition of a hegemonic culture or as a more creative dynamic of global interactivity, it's nothing new-it can be traced at least as far back as the Spanish Empire of the 16th and 17th centuries. Kamen (The Spanish Inquisition: A Historical Revision) depicts this golden age globalization on a suitably grand canvas, tracing the surprisingly hesitant and serendipitous spread of empire from Naples to Manila. He demonstrates to superb effect that this empire was in its very origins a truly multinational enterprise in which the Spanish element was one among many. This element, he suggests, was wholly-if understandably-distorted by contemporary propagandists. In reality, without Genoese bankers, expansionism into the Canary Islands (and Italy itself) would have been unworkable; without Muslim agency, Granada would not have fallen, nor Tenochtitlan without indigenous collaboration; there were Greeks, Netherlanders and at least two blacks in the party that conquered the Aztec capital. Like David Northrup in his recent study, Africa's Discovery of Europe, Kamen restores agency to those who have been relegated to victim status: the black people who helped forge colonial society, and the indigenous peoples of the Americas. While he recognizes that empire catalyzed Spanish patriotism, not least a regressive nostalgia among settlers in the New World, he observes that among those who cried out "Espa¤a!" at the battle of Muhlberg (1547) were crack Hungarian cavalry. While memories of empire (not quite so dead as Kamen claims) continue to shape Spanish culture, and as new forms of global imperialism develop, this sophisticated and broad-minded book could not be more timely. 16 pages of color illus., 11 b&w photos.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Kamen's rich, lengthy narrative is for serious students of European history, who will be rewarded with an impressive reinterpretation of the nature of the empire Spain built not only in Europe but also in the Americas and Asia. Focusing on, as the book's subtitle indicates, the three centuries of Spain's hegemony over its European sister-states while it stood as the world's "superpower," the author argues that Spain did not wield its empire based simply on its own resources but had to marshal the resources of the regions it controlled, including the Netherlands, much of Italy, and territories in America. In other words, the forging and maintenance of such a vast enterprise cannot be viewed as a "unique achievement" of Spain but as a collaborative effort, for "in war as in peace," so Kamen avers, the "power of Spain depended on its allies." Beginning with Ferdinand and Isabella, the great "Catholic Monarchs," the trends and tendencies that welded Castile to Aragon and spurred expansion of Spanish rule from Manila to Havana are tracked in dynamic detail. Brad Hooper
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 640 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial (February 17, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060932643
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060932640
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,057,275 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

42 of 43 people found the following review helpful By Griswel VINE VOICE on September 17, 2004
Format: Paperback
The caveat is that the Spanish Empire was in many ways not Spain's. Empire reminds us that many of those working, and fighting, for Spain were non-Spaniards. This is repeated throughout the book, for the most part to good effect.

Empire is a truly academic work, in the sense that it presents us with the dark side of the Empire, without pretending that Spain of five centuries ago should be judged by modern standards. What Spain did wrong, and there is plenty, is presented as simple fact, and placed in the context of how human beings behaved in that time period.

The two minor flaws I see in the book are these: Empire reminds us, rightly, that many who worked for Spain were not Spaniards, however, too much can be made of this. The men involved thought they were working for the Spanish Empire, their successes were attributed to that Empire, and benefitted that Empire. Where Spain's soldiers were born is interesting, but not quite as important as the author believes. Still, he can be forgiven for over-emphasizing in this book something that is ignored in others.

The other flaw is a lack of consistency in applying this underlying principal to other countries in their dealings with Spain. When the Spanish Empire faces other powers, whether in the old world or the new, the troops of those powers are typically treated as homogenous masses. Surely, if Spain's men were not all Spanish, and that is important, then the makeup of the forces opposing Spain should also be investigated...

Still, the book is the very readable story of one of the greatest empires in european history. It deals with the worst aspects the Empire without either condoning them or descending into moralistic chest-thumping. If you're interested in the subject matter, you'll enjoy this book.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By M. A Michaud on August 25, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Henry Kamen, a well-known expert on Spanish history, gives us a new look at how the Spanish Empire was created and maintained. He makes a good case that Spain (particularly Castile) could not have kept this enterprise going without help. Influential people from other European nations had an interest -- particularly an economic interest -- in maintaining the Empire. They supplied much of the money through loans and most of the military personnel as well. Kamen assembles extensive supporting evidence for his revisionist theory. His description of the Empire as the first example of globalization is intriguing, though that globalization was of a different sort from what we see today. The more than five hundred pages of text may discourage non-academic readers. The book includes some fine color plates.
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22 of 28 people found the following review helpful By R. Albin TOP 1000 REVIEWER on May 23, 2003
Format: Hardcover
This is an interesting history of the Spanish Empire from its foundation at the end of the Reconquest of Spain to the 18th century. The author is a leading authority on early modern Spain. Kamen has two primary objectives. The first is simply to provide an accurate narrative history of the Empire. The second is to rebut nationalistic claims that the Spanish Empire resulted from the formation and activities of a powerful Spanish (actually Castillian) state. As can be seen by some of the negative comments of prior reviewers, this second objective is surprisingly controversial. Kamen demonstrates well that early modern Castille was not a strong state and that the assembly of the huge Spanish Empire resulted from a confluence of factors that had relatively little to do with the strength of Castille. A crucial fact was the dynastic good luck of the Castillian state. A series of very competent rulers - Ferdinand and Isabella, Charles V, Phillip II - were in charge during the formation of the Empire. Beyond their own personal abilities, they were also pan-European figures and the formation of the Empire owed a great deal to the fact that the ruling dynasty was able to tap into the talents and capital of other European entities. The Castillian monarchs also exercised power in the Low Countries and Italy, and under Charles V, in Central Europe. These territories and resources were crucial for building the Empire. Kamen shows very well the multi-ethnic and trans-national aspects of the Empire. A great deal of the capital for overseas investment came from Italy. Italians, Flemings, and Germans were all important servants of the Crown. The assembly of the Empire in the Western Hemisphere was largely a private enterprise though the Crown did provide crucial captial and sanctions.Read more ›
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36 of 48 people found the following review helpful By on March 27, 2003
Format: Hardcover
To outsiders the history of Early Modern Spain appears as a story of decline. On the one hand Spain from 1492 onwards was one of the largest empires in history, ranging from Naples to Manilla, controlling much of Germany and Italy, as well as what is now Holland and Belgium. It was responsible for destroying two great urban civilizations, the Aztec and the Inca, and for shattering the culture and society of an entire hemisphere. Yet after the defeat of the Spanish Armada the history of the Empire appears to be a slow and agonizing decline, while Spain itself turned from being the feared master of Europe to a poor isolated periphery.
It is the virtue of Henry Kamen's book that he shows this to be an illusion. Kamen is one of the leading historians of Spain and the last decade has been a prolific one for him, since he has also written an important study of the counter-reformation in Catalonia, biographies of Philip II and Philip V, as well as a revision of his book on the Spanish Inquisition. In Kamen's new book he shows that Spain was always a poor country on the periphery of Europe. How then did it dominate much of the world? The short answer is that it didn't really, and it had a lot of help to dominate what it did.
People tend to think that the marriage of Ferdinand and Isabella created a united Spain. Not true. What it did was create a system in which the various territories and regions that made up Spain were ruled by a common monarch. But each region, as well as much of the rest of the Spanish empire, had its own sets of privileges and local assemblies. No unified Spanish state existed in 1492 and would not for centuries to come. The result was that Spain had no coherent bureaucracy and could never have formed its vast armies on its own resources and populations.
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