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I've greatly enjoyed Jan Morris's books on Oxford, as well as some of her travel essays, so when this appeared on an Amazon list while I was looking for books about Spain, I picked it up quickly. It's a short set of pieces about different aspects of that country, written with a characteristic delicate touch that presents the exactly appropriate image in the most memorable way - for example (p94): "In Spanish, the pronoun tu is reserved for relatives, intimates and animals"; on the following page, we learn that, "of the ten thousand varieties of flowers in Europe, more than half are found in Spain".

One of the most striking of these images occurs near the beginning of the book, where the course of Spanish history is likened to a elevation graph formed by cutting an imaginary slice through the country from coast to coast: climbing steadily to the heights of the Iberian central plateau, before sliding down to the sea again. The historical simile sees the fortunes of the country rising to a pinnacle in the sixteenth century when it was, for a brief period, the richest and most powerful nation on earth. Since then, according to Morris, it's been downhill all the way, and she ends with a question about whether the country's fortunes can rise again.

Recent visitors to that pleasant country might be surprised to read about her uncertainty on this point, but it must be recalled that she was originally writing in 1964 whilst Franco was still in charge, and although the book was updated in 1979, this was only four years after his death - still too soon to be able to spot the improvements in the fortunes of the nation that have occurred since then. However in the end, she turns this difficulty to her advantage, likening efforts at peering into Spain's future to looking at - in the memorable words of Jose Ortega y Gasset - "a cloud of dust, left hanging in the air when a great people went galloping down the highroad of history". Just perfect.
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on 14 September 2008
This perhaps is no longer a travel book, in the sense that the Spain that the author writes so evocatively about has in most part dissipated like the rare mist on the Castilian plain. Whilst modern Spain is a fine example of a modern, liberal industrialised society; at least in its principle cosmopolitan areas - one senses the lost of the Iberia that was. The grandeur of a nation that imparted so much to the world in the discovery of a New World, the staunch pride of a community of believers that was nearly biblical, a country of individuals who were in tune with the cycles of nature. This book serves as a paean to what was once, like a dusty knight tilting at those windmills.
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on 6 June 2013
A well written and engaging book. Jan seems to have gone below the surface with her thematic tour of Spain and 'Spanishness'. Her account (based on travels in early 60s albeit with minimal update post-Franco) is likely to be dated, but all the better for it.
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on 3 December 2015
A really impressive work, the writing is so eloquent. It's not a guide book but it really gives the flavour of what Spain actually is from a historical and cultural perspective.
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on 8 February 2014
Her sumptuous language draws you in to this amazing country. Makes me want to go back, NOW!
It is a shame there aren't more pages in this book.
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on 13 July 2015
If you like Spain, then this is worth a read. Not a travel guide as such, but a good read for the traveller!
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on 7 September 2015
A great book, one to return to.
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on 10 June 2016
Really good
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on 17 August 2013
I'm not sure quite why this book receives such praise. The writing is leaden and, even accounting for when the book was written, too often the "insights", reminiscences and comparisons that the reader is privileged with are banal, clumsy, pointless or all three. On the whole it reads like a hastily produced first draft that hasn't been edited. And even that might not have saved it.

Where she is good though is on the critique of crass Western materialism, the paucity of spirit engendered by industrialisation and the mass market and the noxious effect of such "progress" on Spain. If you do buy this book I'd suggest you read only the last couple of chapters.
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