can one compile a 2000-year history of Spain into one slim 300 page
book? Ask Editor Raymond Carr. He just did it --- and it's filled
with beautiful illustrations. What's more, he's created a seamless
history of a fractured country, using eight other contributors:
Sebastian Balfour, Roger Collins, A. T. Fear, Felipe
Fernández-Armesto, Richard Fletcher, Richard Herr, Henry
Kamen, and Angus MacKay. Add all this together and you have a
palatable, informative, richly detailed yet not overbearing history
of one of the great countries of the world.
Just recently, my beautiful wife and I traveled to Spain. If only
we had Carr's SPAIN: A History to illuminate our experiences.
Certainly there is beauty --- we were constantly struck by things
fantastic and wondrous. The view of the Mediterranean from
Montjuïc in Barcelona, the spires of the Sagrada Família,
the Velásquez canvases in The Prado, the train rides through
desolate countryside, the cathedrals all spoke to us in so many
ways. But what struck us even more than the beauty was the history.
Around every corner there stood a building older than anything
standing in America. In Barcelona we stood before the sarcophagus
of a saint buried 1,000 years ago. History is what makes a place
come alive. Carr's book makes Spain come alive.
We start at the beginning, thanks to A. T. Fear: "Human history
began early in the peninsula. The bones of one of man's earliest
ancestors, Homo antecessor, who lived 800,000 years ago, have been
unearthed near Burgos, and Neanderthal Man (c. 60,000 BC) might
have been more just christened Gibraltar Woman, as the Rock was the
site of the first Neanderthal finds."
We find ourselves in the midst of Visigothic Spain before the Early
Middle Ages when Muslim's ruled: "Early medieval Spain was
multicultural in the sense of being culturally diverse, a land
within which different cultures coexisted; but not in the sense of
experiencing cultural integration. Toleration for Christians and
Jews as "Peoples of the Book" is enjoyed by the Koran. But in
practice it was limited..."