I enjoyed this book. From my limited understanding of the time period and my inability to read history (facts after facts never interest me... the human element, devoid of many historical accounts, does...).
I have read the positive reviews and the negatives. I can understand either. I will say this book is a great introduction. It is romantic, an account of a world seen with Rosy-Tinted Scholarly eyes. Perhaps it is not going to be the greatest book for the nitpicking historians - and hey, I can see their point - but it is a good place to start, to know the names, the dates, and some of the scenery.
I wish more history books were like this. What is 'history' - a story... the word is there within the greater word most scholars will defend, arguing our need to be objective and search for the facts ('just the facts, 'mam'). But isn't that life, "stories" interweaving, facts important sidenotes to the human element. I respect this work because it has introduced me to a world I have heard about before. It will be my choice to move on further and read other works.
Those who have written their one-star reviews have their point. There is a lot missing here. I don't doubt it. But if a work of history introduces and inspires curiosity, is that a bad thing? Ideals are ideals and ideally, this isn't meant for the historian but for the layman. I am a layman, I enjoyed it. If you're looking for an introduction to a fascinating time in Spanish/Western history, this is a fine place to start. I don't know enough to squabble over details or put the author down for 'misreading' history. I'll simply say, Menocal has written a story about a time and place. Her writing is infused with melancholy and wonder, looking back to the golden aspects of a time believed to be harmonious.
If history was written from the perspective of the people, not so much the events and politics, I would read more history. But then again, I'm not a historian and this book suits me fine. I'll read further but I am thankful I had this book to open my eyes to an interesting time in human civilization.
The final word: historians, you know enough, so don't read this because you'll probably just write more negative reviews and negativity is really tiring at times. (If you don't have something nice to say, don't say it all all... I've written the odd negative review, so I'm guilty...) Layman and Laywoman, if you have a passion for a literary interpretation of history, enjoy this book. It is like wine for me. I savoured it, I took it in, I will remember and go on to the next. But I value the beginnings of what I have learned. And that's the facts, 'mam.