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Spain: A Unique History Paperback – January 11, 2011


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 326 pages
  • Publisher: University of Wisconsin Press; 1 edition (January 11, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0299250245
  • ISBN-13: 978-0299250249
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.3 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,237,616 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

After a number of books on various aspects of Spain (The Collapse of the Spanish Republic; Franco and Hitler; The Spanish Civil War, The Soviet Union, and Communism), Payne now wants to tell the whole story of the country that so fascinates him. The Visigoth conquest kicks things off, followed by centuries of Islamic rule, reconquest and crusade, political and cultural advancement, a Civil War, and the Franco era. Payne's goal, as a historian and "Hispanist," is to create an "objective evaluation" of these events, avoiding extremist opinions and stereotypes perpetuated by the likes of Ernest Hemingway. Unfortunately, this also strips much of the flavor from what should be an exciting, as well as informative, effort. The straightforward perspective provides a less-than intriguing entry for the non-historian, resulting in a bland, concise explanation. Also lacking is enough background on significant participants. To be fair, there are nuggets of historical trivia to be gleaned here, like the fact that the region's name, Hispania, is derived from a Phoenician word meaning "land of rabbits"; helpful notes will explain other unfamiliar terms or events. Considering Spain's captivating story and culture, professional and armchair historians alike may be disappointed.
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From Booklist

Payne has been a leading historian of twentieth-century Spain for the past 50 years. In this compact survey, he covers its history from the Islamic invasion of 711 to the post-Franco era, with an emphasis on weighing the persuasiveness of schools of interpretation about eras and events. For example, popular books such as Maria Rosa Menocal’s The Ornament of the World (2002) hold forth the Muslim period as a tolerant multicultural idyll, which to Payne smacks of political correctness that ignores the Muslim practices of enslavement and recurrent warfare against Christian enclaves of northern Iberia. The historical debate concerning the ensuing Reconquista, completed by 1492, also induces Payne’s ruminations about how the experience of ejecting a Muslim rule so long imposed has uniquely shaped Spanish history. Among the consequences Payne touches on are Spain’s sense of separateness from the rest of Europe, its depth of Catholic faith, and its lagging process of modernity, all national characteristics persisting through the Franco dictatorship that have evaporated in the transition to democracy. --Gilbert Taylor

Customer Reviews

While the author is clearly knowledgeable, the book fails to tell a story.
Stingo
I am probably halfway through listening to the book and I don't know the answers to any of these questions: How many regions are there of Spain?
alex20850
It is my belief that any student of Spanish history will gain much from reading Spain: A Unique History.
Scott Quinn

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

20 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Stingo on August 8, 2011
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
One of the other reviewers states that "by reading this book the first thing you realize is that the author is really a scholar on this country[sic] History." This is true. After all the author spends the entire first part of the book, titled "Part I the Formation of a Hispanist" in telling you how cool it is to be a hispanist and why he is such a good one. A little conceit which would be easily forgiven if the work that followed told the grand story of Spain in all its glory.
Unfortunately, that is not the case. This is not so much a history of Spain as it is a history of Spanish historians. While the author is clearly knowledgeable, the book fails to tell a story. Instead, it integrates into the text source information which usually is reserved for the footnote or endnote. Here is an example.
In a typical history book when speaking of the Visigoths the author might say "While traditionally Visigoth law was thought to be based on German codes and traditions, recent research has brought a new understanding of the rule of roman vulgate law in Visigoth society."
Not so simple in this book: "Research on the Visigoths enjoys a venerable tradition in Spain, and for long it centered on the history of law, on the one hand, and of church history and patristics, on the other. In 1941, two years after the Civil War, the young historian Alfonso Garcia Gallo published a major one-hundred-page article in the first new number of the Anuario de la Historic del Derecho Espanol, which challenged traditional understanding of the origins of Visigothic law.
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24 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Scott Quinn on March 10, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Professor Stanley Payne has written that rare type of book reserved for those scholars who can say with truth that they have earned the right to do so: A broad, sweeping and, at times, personal history of Spain. Spain: A Unique History caps the career of the most distinguished historian of Spain in the 20th and 21st centuries. Payne's history begins with a brief and wistful remembrance of how it came to be that he studied the history of Spain. After 50 years there are many memories, and Payne dutifully points out the many instances in which key individuals went out of their way to help a young historian get his footing in academia.

For anyone who has read Payne's significant output of books, there will not necessarily be anything strikingly new or different, but this book is unique indeed because for the first time Payne surveys and analyzes Spain's history in a pithy format (2000 years in under 300 pages) and finds a great deal of continuity in law, art, architecture and religion--in short, national identity. Payne discusses in the first half of the book Spain and the Visigoths, Spain and Islam/Reconquest, and the rise and fall of the empire, then focuses the second half on the political, cultural and military issues that affected Spain from the 18th century on, ending in 2008.

It is my belief that any student of Spanish history will gain much from reading Spain: A Unique History. Someone who is just beginning to study the rich history of Spain will get a nice overview and the more experienced student will note some of the more subtle themes that weave their way throughout Spain's history.

As usual, Payne's writing is superb: clean, sober, efficient, even witty.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Hugo S. Cunningham on November 15, 2011
Format: Paperback
I agree with Stingo that those looking for an introductory history of Spain will be disappointed. The book might be titled
"Histories of Spain: A Thematic Comparison."
Two examples:
The author mentions the "Carlists" numerous times without explaining who they were (eg. how they got their name).
The author casually mentions (p. 250) "the persistent efforts of the [Basque nationalist] PNV to betray the Republican cause during the war itself" [1936-1939], but didn't describe any of those efforts.
The book is much more specific on pp. 171-173 outlining acts by the Left in 1933-36 that destroyed public confidence in the rule of law, making civil war more likely.
Neverless, unlike Stingo, I rate the book highly; it is interesting if you know what to expect.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By John on June 12, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I enjoyed reading "Spain: A Unique History" because it is rare to see in print these days acknowledgement that a right-wing leader may have actually benefitted his nation. Obviously, when left-wing leaders took control of Spain and labor unions used this as an opportunity to shut down industry, more sensible people had no choice but to defend themselves by fighting a civil war.

The discussion of "liberals" and "conservatives" and "fascists" and "communists" was excellent. However, more interesting to me would have been details of demographic change and economic policy, from the Visigoth era through to the Franco era.

In several passages, the author makes astute comments regarding the fact that most people today have no interest in history. This book is not for these people, nor is it for people who want to believe in the "politically correct" version of history that often contradicts actual events. Having said that, I found the book to be well worth reading.

John Christmas, author of "Democracy Society"
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