Oct 21, 2015

Books About the History of Catalonia

Picasso self-portrait during his Blue Period in Barcelona. 

At the last meeting I was asked to identify alternative books on the history of Catalonia. I found a useful article from the Harvard Political Review that may serve as a background for the choice. It was decided to postpone discussion of a book on Catalonian history for the selection of a book to discuss in April 2016.

Here are some books to consider:

The Revolt of the Catalans. a Study in the Decline of Spain 1598-1640  by J. H. Elliott. issued in 1963 (reissued in 1984, out of print), Hardcover $25.70; 44 used & new from $15.79, Unrated,  552 pages of text. Here is a review of the book. We are reading a book by J. H. Elliot for December.
The revolution of Catalonia in 1640 was a signal event in seventeenth-century Europe. Its causes and antecedents - essential for an understanding of the revolution itelf - form the basis of Professor Elliott's study of the Spanish monarchy at this time. They throw remarkable light on the whole question of the decline of Spain in the seventeenth century from its position of pre-eminence in Europe. From the fierce suppression of Catalan bandits by their Castilian overlords during the second decade of the century, Professor Elliott traces the gradual deterioration of relations between the principality of Catalonia and the government in Madrid. He shows how Olivares, the favourite and chief minister of Philip IV, attempted to use Catalan resources to fight Spain's foreign wars, and how the growing tension led ultimately to a revolution, which he suggests played a crucial part in Spain's decline. Professor Elliott's story is almost entirely based on previously unknown documents found in the Spanish national and local archives. These sources enabled him to write the first full-scale treatment of Olivares and his policies. While exciting as a story in its own right, it also stands as a case-history of the perennial struggle between regional liberties and the claims of central governments.
Barcelona by Robert Hughes. 1992, 4.1 stars (Amazon, 34 reviews)/3.9 stars (Goodreads 486 ratings), 592 pages (542 of text) We read his book, The Fatal Shore, some years ago. Here is a brief review of the book. (Identified by The Guardian as one of 10 of the best books on Barcelona.)
Barcelona is Robert Hughes's monumentally informed and irresistibly opinionated guide to the most un-Spanish city in Spain. Hughes scrolls through Barcelona's often violent history; tells the stories of its kings, poets, magnates, and revolutionaries; and ushers readers through municipal landmarks that range from Antoni Gaudi's sublimely surreal cathedral to a postmodern restaurant with a glass-walled urinal. The result is a work filled with the attributes of Barcelona itself: proportion, humor, and seny -- the Catalan word for triumphant common sense.
Homage to Barcelona by Colm Toibin. 2002, 4.7 stars Amazon (7 reviews)/ 3.74 stars Goodreads (242 ratings), 240 pages. (Identified by The Guardian as one of 10 of the best books on Barcelona.) Toibin was nominated some years ago for the Man Booker Prize.
This book celebrates one of Europe's greatest cities -- a cosmopolitan hub of vibrant architecture, art, culture and nightlife. It moves from the story of the city's founding and its huge expansion in the nineteenth century to the lives of Gaudi, Miro, Picasso, Casals and Dali. It also explores the history of Catalan nationalism, the tragedy of the Civil War, the Franco years and the transition from dictatorship to democracy which Colm Toibin witnessed in the 1970s. Written with deep knowledge and affection, Homage to Barcelona is a sensuous and beguiling portrait of a unique Mediterranean port and an adopted home. 'Toibin has the narrative poise of Brian Moore and the patient eye for domestic detail of John McGahern, but he is very much his own man' Observer 'Having lived in Barcelona off and on since the 70s, Toibin knows all the fascinations of its sensuous Mediterranean history and lifestyle and "the most precious jewels in the city's treasury of bars" 
Catalonia Since the Spanish Civil War: Reconstructing the Nation by Andrew Dowling. 2014. unrated, 272 pages. Here is a review of the book.
Catalonia Since the Spanish Civil War examines the transformation of the Catalan nation in socioeconomic, political, and historical terms, and offers an innovative interpretation of the determinants of its nationalist mobilization. With Franco’s and Spanish nationalism’s victory in 1939, and the consolidation of a long-lasting dictatorship, it appeared certain that the Catalan national movement would be crushed. Yet, this did not happen and Catalan nationalism and identity reemerged at the end of Franco’s dictatorship in 1975 more firmly rooted than before. The 21st century has been marked by an ever-growing independence movement, culminating in the vast demonstration in the city of Barcelona in July 2010. Andrew Dowling provides multifaceted viewpoints in historic perspective and reflects on possible steps and outcomes for this new pro-independence turn in Catalan nationalism. The themes treated in the book—Franco’s Spain, nationalism, anarchism, Catholicism, communism, and the Catalan role in Spain’s transition to democracy—make this work an essential point of reference for students and researchers in Hispanic studies, modern European history, and political science. Andrew Dowling is a lecturer in Catalan and Spanish history at Cardiff University.
Goodbye, Spain?': The Question of Independence for Catalonia by Kathryn Crameri. 2015, unrated, 224 pages. Here is a review of the book.
Goodbye, Spain? discusses the question of Catalan independence and is fully up-to-date with respect to the most recent elections. Support for independence in the autonomous community of Catalonia has risen significantly since 2005. Opinion polls confirm that the idea of holding a legally binding referendum on independence is now supported by 80 percent of Catalans. Many commentators on nationalism in Western Europe had come to the conclusion that there was no serious threat to the established nation-states from secessionism within their borders. Causes for these striking changes in public sentiment include changes in the Catalan political landscape since 2003, problems of infrastructure, public apathy with the political process, disillusionment with the Spanish government, a rise in anti-Catalan feeling from other Spaniards (and a rise in anti-Spanish feeling among Catalans), the effects of the global financial crisis, and the bumpy ride experienced by Catalonia’s new Statute of Autonomy. One notable change has been a shift in the dominant discourse of Catalan nationalism from concerns regarding language, culture, and identity toward the political and economic welfare of Catalans.
What's up with Catalonia?: The causes which impel them to the separation edited by Liz Castro. 2013, 4.2 stars (Amazon 17 reviews)/3.73 stars (Goodreads 49 ratings), 224 pages. Here is a review of the book.
On September 11, 2012, on Catalonia’s National Day, one and a half million people from all over Catalonia marched peacefully and joyfully through the streets of Barcelona, behind a single placard: Catalonia: New State in Europe. Fifteen days later, President Artur Mas called snap elections for the Parliament of Catalonia, in order to hold a referendum that would let the people of Catalonia decide their own future. The rest of the world and even Spain were caught by surprise, but the events unfolding in Barcelona have been a long time coming. In this new book, 35 experts explore Catalonia’s history, economics, politics, language, and culture, in order to explain to the rest of the world the fascinating story behind the march, the new legislature, and the upcoming vote on whether Catalonia will become the next new state in Europe.
And I add the book that was considered in the last meeting, resulting in a request for more choices on the history of Catalonia.

Catalonia Is Not Spain: A Historical Perspective by Simon Harris. 2014, 4.9 stars (Amazon 8 customer reviews))/4.55 stars (Goodreads 11 ratings), 300 pages.
How much does the world know about Catalonia and its role as a great medieval empire and one of Europe's first nation states? In Catalonia Is Not Spain: A Historical Perspective author Simon Harris takes the reader through 1,000 years of Catalan history focusing on the Principality's often difficult relationship with Castile-dominated Spain. This insightful and balanced history gives an insider's background to the current political situation and why Catalonia is currently deciding whether or not it wants to be independent from Spain. 
Simon Harris has lived in Barcelona, capital of Catalonia, since 1988, where he is a university-level teacher of English and translator. His main writing topics are Catalan history, language and culture. His first book, Going Native in Catalonia. was published by Native Spain in 2008. He self-published Catalonia Is Not Spain: A Historical Perspective in late 2014. He is currently working on a biography of Catalan president Artur Mas centered on the Catalan independence movement, which he plans to self-publish in spring 2015.
A friend of our member John recommended a few more books on the History of Catalonia

Catalonia: Nation Building Without a State (apparently published in the USA as Catalonia) by Kenneth McRoberts. 2001, 3 stars (Amazon one review)/3.5 stars (Goodreads 4 ratings) 224 pages. The paperback edition, the only one available at the U.S. Amazon is $45.)
Catalonia provides a thorough survey of Catalonia's politics, society, culture, and economy. It traces Catalonia's political and economic insertion within Spain, paying particular attention to the terms of Catalonia's political autonomy.
John's friend wrote:  "I noticed a number of copies are available online for as little as $10."
The History of Catalonia By F. Xavier Hernandez Cardona. I can't find this on Amazon, except in the Catalan language on the French Amazon site.)
John's friend wrote: "published in 2007, which I bought in Barcelona. Online copies were $20+.
Catalan Nationalism: Past and Present by Albert Balcells. 1995, unrated, 248 pages. Amazon prices the paperback edition at $39.96.
Outlines the history of Catalonia, showing how the national and cultural identity of the region peristed despite persecution. This provides the necessary background for the analysis of the contemporary political and cultural situation in Catalonia in the wider context of the European Union. 
John's friend wrote that this is "a more specialized book."
The Basques, the Catalans and Spain: Alternate Routes to Nationalist Mobilization by Daniele Conversi. 2000, 3.33 stars (Goodreads  6 ratings), 338 pages.
This work provides an introduction to Basque and Catalan nationalism. The two movements have much in common, but have differed in the strategies adopted to further their cause. Basque nationalism, in the shape of the military wing of ETA, took the path of violence, spawning an efficient terrorist campaign, while Catalan nationalism is more accommodating and peaceful. Conversi examines and compares the history, motives and methods of these two movements, considering the influence of such aspects of nationalist mobilization as: the choice of language, race and descent; the consequences of large-scale immigration; and the causes and effects of social violence.
John's friend wrote:   A fourth more political science-oriented book covering Catalans and Basques.

One Other Thing

2015 is the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta. I wanted to get this new book on the great British charter into consideration before the year is up.

Magna Carta: The Making and Legacy of the Great Charter by Dan Jones. 2015, 5 stars but only 5 Amazon rating/4.07 stars by Goodreads on 59 ratings, 144 pages. (only available in Hardback, Amazon quotes at $16.64) Here is Dan Jones discussing the book on NPR's Diane Rehm Show. SELECTED for March 2016
From the New York Times–bestselling author of The Plantagenets comes a beautifully produced account of the signing, impact, and legacy of a document that became one of the most influential statements in the history of democracy 
On a summer's day in 1215 a beleaguered English monarch met a group of disgruntled barons in a meadow by the river Thames named Runnymede. Beset by foreign crisis and domestic rebellion, King John was fast running out of options. On June 15 he reluctantly agreed to fix his regal seal to a document that would change the world. A milestone in the development of constitutional politics and the rule of law, the "Great Charter" established an Englishman's right to Habeas Corpus and set limits to the exercise of royal power. For the first time a group of subjects had forced an English king to agree to a document that limited his powers by law and protected their rights. Dan Jones's elegant and authoritative narrative of the making and legacy of the Magna Carta is amplified by profiles of the barons who secured it and a full text of the charter in both Latin and English.
Catalan Flag


  1. «Colón nació en Portugal y era en realidad hijo del rey polaco Ladislao III»

    "Según el historiador portugués Manuel Rosa, el auténtico Colón no era un plebeyo italiano a las órdenes de la monarquía española, sino un hombre de confianza de la monarquía de Portugal que sabía que no se dirigía a las India sino a América."


  2. I have visited a couple of places where Columbus is buried, so I should not have been surprised to discover that some people believe he as not Italian after all, but from Catalonia.named Joan Colom i Bertran. Read about it here: http://www.amazon.com/Catalonia-Not-Spain-Hist…/…/1502512300