Being as I don’t know as much as I’d like about the history of early modern Spain, I’m currently trying to rectify this at present. Enter Robert Goodwin’s book, Spain: The Centre of the World, 1519-1682, which I listened to in audiobook format with a duration of some 21 hours. This is, in my opinion, an excellent overview of the period. The first half of the book is dedicated mainly to the political scene and royal Habsburg line, with key figures such as Charles V and Philip II, taking a major role. The second part of the book focuses on the literary and artistic spheres, with a particular emphasis on Miguel de Cervantes’s life (and his highly influential novel, Don Quixote de la Mancha) and the works of Diego Velazquez.
In the sixteenth century, the Spaniards became the first nation in history to have worldwide reach; across most of Europe to the Americas, the Philippines, and India. Goodwin tells the story of Spain and the Spaniards, from great soldiers like the Duke of Alba to literary figures and artists such as El Greco, Velázquez, Cervantes, and Lope de Vega, and the monarchs who ruled over them.
At the beginning of the modern age, Spaniards were caught between the excitement of change and a medieval world of chivalry and religious orthodoxy, they experienced a turbulent existential angst that fueled an exceptional Golden Age, a fluorescence of art, literature, poetry, and which inspired new ideas about International Law, merchant banking, and economic and social theory.
Goodwin does a superb job of concisely stating the facts of this period with little waffle and none, I believe, of that snarky, smug, and judgemental prose with which certain big-named historians litter their books. I get really fed up with Indeed, I was so impressed by this, you can read my comments:
My only criticism is that the last thirty years was covered a bit too quickly, which I felt was a bit of a shame especially as I have a greater interest in the seventeenth century than the sixteenth. It seemed to have been rushed at the end, or perhaps that’s simply the impression I had because I was enjoying it so much. That being said, I enjoyed what was covered. This being the first book I’ve read by Goodwin, I hope he writes more in the future. This book covered a large chunk of time, so perhaps he’ll focus on one subject – it’ll no doubt be a good read!