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Empire: How Spain Became a World Power, 1492-1763 [Bargain Price] [Hardcover]

Henry Kamen , Illustrated
2.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)


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Book Description

March 4, 2003 0060194766 978-0060194765

How did a barren, thinly populated country, somewhat isolated from the rest of Europe, establish itself as the world's first superpower? Henry Kamen's impressive new book offers a fresh and highly original answer.

Empire is a global survey of the two and a halt centuries (from the late fifteenth to the mid-eighteenth) in which the Spaniards established the most extensive empire the world had ever known, ranging from Naples and the Netherlands to the Philippines. Unlike previous accounts, which have presented the Empire as a direct consequence of Spanish power, this provocative work of history emphasizes the inability of Spain to run an imperial enterprise by itself The role of conquest was deceptive. Spain's rise to power was actually made possible by the collaboration of international business interests, including Italian financiers, German technicians and Dutch traders, in the task of setting up networks of contact ranging across the oceans. At the height of its apparent power, the Spanish Empire was in reality a global enterprise in which non-Spaniards -- Portuguese, Basque, Aztec, Genoese, Chinese, Flemish, West African, Incan and Neapolitan -- played an essential role. It is this vast diversity of resources and people (which included many of its greatest adventurers and soldiers) that made Spain's power so overwhelming.

There is no better account in English of this time. Henry Kamen's book provides a highly relevant analysis of the origins and nature of imperial power, and of global economic activity. Challenging, persuasive and unique in its thesis, Empire explores Spain's complex impact on world history with admirable clarity and intelligence.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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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

  • Hardcover: 640 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins (March 4, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060194766
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060194765
  • ASIN: B0002D6CXE
  • Average Customer Review: 2.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #5,916,380 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
38 of 39 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good history with an important Caveat 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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22 of 28 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Solid Study 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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76 of 102 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Historical revisionist non-sequiter December 30, 2004
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is not Henry Kamen's book. Mr. Kamen did not finance the publishing of this book or it's marketing (this was performed by Harper Collins Publishers). He did not design the cover jacket or perform the actual printing, paper cutting or binding. Furthermore, Mr. Kamen did not create the computers and/or typewriters he used in 'writing' the 'manuscript'. In addition, he did not write any of the other books mentioned in the Bibliography and Notes. He did not locate, collect and catalog the source materials. And, of course, he had nothing to do with the actual events recorded in the 'book'. Therefore, to speak of this book as "Henry Kamen's" book is an act of arrogant and ignorant pride.

Now, if you can see through the inanity of the above, then you'll be able to grasp the failure of Henry Kamen's central thesis in "Empire." He tries to make the case that the Spanish Empire was neither Spanish nor an Empire (along the lines of Voltaire's quip about the Holy Roman Empire). The main premise in his argument is that since the Spanish Empire was not created entirely by Spaniards using only Spanish money and all Spanish technology (etc., etc.), that therefore it is more properly to be called a corporate empire, an international one, or whatever.

The short demolition of this thesis lies in my 1st paragraph. Mr. Kamen can claim this book as his own because he had the Vision for it and because it would not have existed without his effort. It may be that all the materials capable of producing the book "Empire" already existed and Mr. Kamen had nothing to do with them. But it does not follow that "Empire" would have come into being without the active input and motivation of Mr. Kamen. If he (or you) doubts it, just try to take away his royalty checks.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Lost in the details
This generally excellent work presents a detailed revisionist view of the Spanish Empire with tremendous detail about its internationalist origins and with detailed descriptions... Read more
Published on April 1, 2011 by RYoast
2.0 out of 5 stars A misleading title.
This book was not exactly what I was looking for, and not what I expected after reading about it on Amazon. Read more
Published on March 29, 2011 by R. Boland
1.0 out of 5 stars Another piece of Anglo-Saxon Protestant propaganda passed off as...
Very disappointing; Mr. Kamen is another undercover Anglophile propagating Anti-Spanish and Anti-Catholic views fabricated by the English and other Protestant Europeans since the... Read more
Published on June 1, 2010 by Chris DeVaas
4.0 out of 5 stars How The West Was Built
Taking into consideration this book and Kamen's following work, Disinherited, the Greco-Persian Wars come to mind. Read more
Published on February 18, 2010 by A. Rodriguez
1.0 out of 5 stars A simplistic book full of prejudices
This book has been a disappointment to me. I expected a well balanced revisionist work. What I found is an attempt to re-write history for political motivations. Read more
Published on January 30, 2010 by Martul
1.0 out of 5 stars Kamen's prejudices at his worst
Henry Kamen's prejudices against his main subject of study- Spain- are well known. What is really surprising is that he is still considered to be a serious historian at all. Read more
Published on November 26, 2008 by Aranda
2.0 out of 5 stars Not an entry-level history
I agree that this book suffers from poor organization and an overwhelming avalanche of detail. Kamen often shifts from one continent to another with no transition at all, only an... Read more
Published on October 10, 2007 by Heather L. Edwards
4.0 out of 5 stars Imperfect but interesting
Although it is hardly Spanish bashing, reviewers with Spanish names tend to not like the book, which is admittedly more of a collection of very good essays than a coherent... Read more
Published on May 25, 2005 by John Hamill
4.0 out of 5 stars Highly informative but ill-organized
This fact-laden book is worth reading if you have the patience. It is based on a mixed chronilogical and thematic outline, and aside from describing the rise and fall of Spain's... Read more
Published on December 14, 2004 by Kirk H Sowell
3.0 out of 5 stars The Journal Article That Grew
Mr Kamen has been working on Euorpean history during the sixteenth century for more than 30 years, and he knows quite a bit; this book is a sort of overgrown article for a learned... Read more
Published on March 2, 2004 by Michael Meo
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