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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic book on a fantastic person
Paul Preston's book is a POLITICAL biography of Spanish king Juan Carlos. Having read the Spanish version of it (the English one is due in 2004), I can only say that this is an absolute masterpiece!
Who ever might think of this as yet another of the many dumb books on European, and especially British, royality is wrong: Preston's main interest is not gossip. He wants...
Published on 14 Oct 2003 by Michael Thaidigsmann

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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Paul Preston, Juan Carlos, a people's King.
The publication of Paul Preston's authoritative biography of Francisco Franco in 1993 confirmed him as the leading British political historian of contemporary Spain. A decade later, his Juan Carlos. A people's King, has been greeted rather less enthusiastically in Spain, both by the academic community and the public at large. This may of course simply be due to the...
Published on 27 Jan 2007 by James


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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic book on a fantastic person, 14 Oct 2003
By 
Michael Thaidigsmann "michael_thaidigsmann" (Brussels, Belgium) - See all my reviews
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Paul Preston's book is a POLITICAL biography of Spanish king Juan Carlos. Having read the Spanish version of it (the English one is due in 2004), I can only say that this is an absolute masterpiece!
Who ever might think of this as yet another of the many dumb books on European, and especially British, royality is wrong: Preston's main interest is not gossip. He wants to show readers how Juan Carlos initiated and managed his country's peaceful transition from the Franco dictatorship to a modern democracy. Juan Carlos had to overcome the system from within, having been chosen by his exiled father to be educated in Spain, and later elected by the dicator himself as his 'faithful' successor.
Yes, the author is sympathetic to his subject, but having read the 570 pages of this biography, I can only admire the achievements and the courage of this king, especially during the critical phase of the late 1970s and early 1980s. He has been an astute political operator, and was able to unite the Spanish people behind him - not by force, but by charm and conviction.
Preston has done a magnificient job in meticulously researching everything relevant to the investigation. This is a great achievement, and everyone interested in Modern Spanish History should read it.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Would-be Kings Take Note, 28 Aug 2004
They say that people do not change - that, as they grow older, they are just the same as always, only more so.
I was reminded of this on reading Paul Preston's biography of King Juan Carlos. It is a story full of dark and complicated labyrinths. A story of a man who even as a boy and adolescent found himself to be a political football between the canny dictator Franco and his own father, the Conde de Barcelona, heir to the last king. It is said that from the age of 10 until when he was about 50, well into the late 1980s, he had no life of his own. He was constantly under surveillance from all sides: his family, his tutors, the military, the courtiers, even the servants in the pay of Franco. His friends were chosen for him. Aged 21 and fooling around with his brother Alfonsito, a pistol shot killed the younger brother. There were no witnesses but it is said that it was Juan Carlos' finger on the trigger.
For 40 years there was always a threat, sometimes to the institution that he represents, sometimes to himself personally. It is little wonder that he looked so glum during all that time and it is amazing that he came out of it having gained in poise, dignity and wisdom. He seems to have reconciled the apparently irreconcilable. Few would have survived the experience. Perhaps his wife had something to do with it.
It seems that the happiest period of his youth was when he was a cadet in the military academies, passing out as second lieutenant, aged 19. This stood him in good stead later on when, in 1981, he confronted the Generals and, by his actions, courage and bearing, defused a nasty coup d'état that attempted to set up a military junta as had been the case in Greece.
The book does not say this, but it is safe to assume that his wife, the Queen, who had seen her brother lose the throne in 1967 under similar circumstances and therefore had some experience in these matters, would have urged him to stand up to the Generals. The television images of Colonel Tejero brandishing his pistol in the Cortes and of the King, in full Captain-General's uniform, broadcasting in the early hours of the morning of 24 February declaring that he had ordered the conspirators to step down, are deeply etched in the consciousness of all Spaniards. Although there were conspiracies after 1981 and various attempts to destabilise the country, it is from about that date that it became clear that the monarchy was there to stay.
This had not always been so. In spite of Franco's affirmations that he was the guardian of the monarchy and that it would eventually be restored, few people believed him. He had a reputation for being duplicitous and canny and the prospects for monarchies after the War were not good. The Conde de Barcelona was not seen as a candidate. In fact, Juan, the father, was seen as just another count living in exile in Estoril. In 1949 Juan Carlos (Juanito) was seen by his contemporaries as an ordinary boy, of limited intelligence, introspective and rather shy. He was tall for his age, had fair hair and grey eyes, and seemed rather lonely. Yet I remained with a strong impression that there was something impish about him and at the same time very controlled. It did make me follow his progress with great interest and sympathy for the last 55 years, and remark, in the opening sentence of this review, that people do not change fundamentally.
Although I found this book to be admirable in many respects, well researched and telling a very complicated story with a remarkable degree of clarity, there is, for me, one lamentable aspect. That is that, occasionally, the author descends into tabloid-style, unsubstantiated stories of dalliances with various females which the alleged participants are unable to refute, and I do not see this as adding any value to the book. On the contrary, it diminishes it and perhaps also its author.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not quite a masterpiece . . ., 22 July 2004
By 
Philip Hurst (Seville, Spain) - See all my reviews
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Other reviews of Professor Preston's biography of the King of Spain describe it as a masterpiece. For all its virtues, I am reluctant to go that far.
No-one seeing the emotional pictures of the King and Queen of Spain and their family visiting the injured and bereaved in the wake of the bombing atrocities in Madrid on the 11th March can be in any doubt about the position and role of the Bourbon monarchy in contemporary Spain. Of all the European monarchs today, Juan Carlos I of Spain enjoys the greatest stature, primarily for his role in the nurturing and development of democracy in the wake of the decades of dictatorship under General Franco. The road to his coronation as King of Spain in 1975 was a long one and a hard one, indeed a dangerous road. From 1948 the two decades under the watchful and omnipresent eye of the Caudillo, the years of monarch-in-waiting after designation as Franco's successor, and as king after Franco's death, until the mid-1980s, were fraught with uncertainty, loneliness, political tension and intrigue, threats of military intervention, and, in 1981, a somewhat farcical but potentially deadly attempted coup by army officers who longed to return the country to the old days of the Caudillo. Professor Preston relates this history of Juan Carlos's youth, apprenticeship to Franco and succession to the throne with painstaking, sometimes numbing detail, all supported by a wealth of footnotes pointing to original sources. But it is very much a political, academic biography.
Where Preston excels is in the elaboration of the intrigues of the Franco "court" in the years from 1948 to the Caudillo's death in 1975, and the thorny path, politically and morally, that Juan Carlos had to tread to ensure that the Bourbon monarchy would be restored on Franco's death. He had to contend not just with what Preston calls the Francoist "bunker" of hard-line Falangists and conservatives, but also his father, Prince Juan de Bourbon, Count of Barcelona, son of King Alfonso XIII (who had abdicated before the outbreak of the civil war). Juan de Bourbon firmly believed that he should be the king, despite the fact that it was long obvious that he was totally unacceptable to Franco; Juan Carlos's position as Franco's putative successor placed him an inextricably uncomfortable relationship with his father Prince Juan. Equally, Preston explores in great detail the jockeying and intrigue, the terrorism and the military plotting and unrest that followed the death of Franco, up to and including the failed coup of 1981. It is an impressive accomplishment.
Why, then, do I qualify my praise of Professor Preston's book? First, I approached the book as a general interest reader, not as an academic, and as such I found the extraordinary detail that attends the telling of some episodes too much: politicians, ministers, and especially military officers come and go at a bewildering rate, many never to be heard of again. In this, the reader's comprehension is not helped by Professor Preston's somewhat loose treatment of personal pronouns in the text: all too often one is left wondering who is the "he" or "him" referred to. Elegant prose is not Preston's forte.
A parallel point: there is, as one would expect, much discussion of the House of Bourbon, but either Professor Preston or the publishers decided not to include a family tree. This would have been most helpful in working out why there were several potential candidates for the throne. Moreover, a footnote explaining who the "Carlists" were and why they maintained a claim to the throne (stemming from episodes in 19th Century Spain) would have clarified the significance of demonstrations against Juan Carlos by "Carlist" supporters.
What I found most surprising, however, and what I think is a major shortcoming of the book, is that there is little personal detail about Juan Carlos's life outside the "official" or "political". While at the end one has been led through a veritable jungle of Spanish post-civil war and post-Franco politicking, one knows very little indeed about Juan Carlos (except for his relations with his father) as a man, rather than as a prince or monarch. For example, after more than 400 pages of text, one is suddenly surprised to be told, in little more than a paragraph, that Queen Sophia had contemplated divorce in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Preston provides no preparation for this statement, and almost no analysis of it. Indeed, while Sophia is a critically important figure in the Spanish monarchy, and hugely popular today, there is no discussion of her contribution, her personality, or her relationship with the king, other than her encouragement of Juan Carlos to do whatever was necessary in the years before 1975 to ensure the restoration of the monarchy. Surely we can expect a major biography of the king to provide this sort of personal background, and to throw some light on the reasons why the royal marriage almost went the way of so many of their Windsor cousins. It leaves me with the slightly uncomfortable feeling that maybe Professor Preston is a little too keen to please.
Finally, having painstakingly worked his way in 500 pages from 1938 to 1981, Preston gallops through the last 20 years in a matter of 30 pages, with a cursory mention of the 14-year premiership of Felipe Gonzales and nothing at all of that of Jose Maria Aznar.
While I have been critical of some aspects of this book, I readily admire its scholarship and its dedication to its subject. It is hard to imagine this biography being bettered in the foreseeable future, but it is a pity that Professor Preston did not make it even better himself.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Analysis, 12 Nov 2004
By 
Paul Preston's book on Juan Carlos is an excellent and detailed analysis on what must surely be the most unusual figure in (modern) Spanish history.
Juan Carlos was born in exile in Rome in 1938 as first son to the Count of Barcelona - the then Head of the Royal Household - and pushed from an early age to pave the way for the Count to regain the Spanish Crown - a rather naive belief as it quickly turns out. Nevertheless, Juan Carlos duly delivers himself into the clutches of Franco, perhaps remembering his Father's words that a Borbon only cries in bed.
Juan Carlos is an unlikely hero, yet what comes through throughout his early years is how well others got along with him and the lasting friendships he made. Following his marriage to Princess Sofia of Greece in 1962 he moved closer to Franco understanding fully well that only the Caudillo could deliver the Throne, which he eventually ascends in 1975. As the driving power behind the transition from dictatorship to democracy and facing down the 1981 coup, Juan Carlos forever changed Spain's political landscape.
It does surprise that Juan Carlos is such a champion of democracy given his upbringing, but I could well imagine that the close proximity to dictatorship all these years, may have instilled in him a lasting distaste for this form of government. Hence it would have been impossible for Juan Carlos to choose any other course of action than he did in 1981.
Preston does an excellent and very detailed analysis on all aspects of political Spain right up to 1981. At times, it is hard to follow the network of political interests, however, Preston manages to put all these into a coherent story. He does take a positive attitude towards his subject, which puts him into a class of his own when it comes to royal biography. If you are looking for the usual gossiping on Royal Houses, then this book is definitely not for you.
For further interest on Spain's political development, you might also want to have a look at Paul Preston's biography of Franco (published in 1993).
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Simply "fantastico"!, 14 Oct 2003
By 
Michael Thaidigsmann "michael_thaidigsmann" (Brussels, Belgium) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Paul Preston's has written a political biography of Spanish king Juan Carlos. This Spanish version of the book (an English one is due in 2004) is an absolute masterpiece. Who ever might think of this as yet another of the many dumb books on European, and especially British, royality is wrong: Preston's main interest is not gossip. He wants to show readers how Juan Carlos initiated and managed his country's peaceful transition from the Franco dictatorship to a modern democracy.
Juan Carlos had to overcome the system from within, having been chosen by his exiled father to be educated in Spain, and later elected by the dicator himself as his 'faithful' successor.
Yes, the author is sympathetic to his subject, but having read the 570 pages of this biography, I can only admire the achievements and the courage of this king, especially during the critical phase of the late 1970s and early 1980s. He has been an astute political operator, and was able to unite the Spanish people behind him - not by force, but by charm and conviction.
Preston has done a magnificient job in meticulously researching everything relevant to the investigation. This is a great achievement, and everyone interested in Modern Spanish History should read it.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Paul Preston, Juan Carlos, a people's King., 27 Jan 2007
By 
James (Madrid, Spain) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Juan Carlos: 564 (Bestseller) (Paperback)
The publication of Paul Preston's authoritative biography of Francisco Franco in 1993 confirmed him as the leading British political historian of contemporary Spain. A decade later, his Juan Carlos. A people's King, has been greeted rather less enthusiastically in Spain, both by the academic community and the public at large. This may of course simply be due to the difference in subject matter: although the once discredited biographical genre has flourished spectacularly in recent years, Spanish readers, academic and otherwise, are still somewhat suspicious of a scholarly tome dedicated to someone who is both alive and influential. Furthermore, many possibly think it somewhat premature to attempt a definitive biography of a monarch born in 1938, particularly since the papers one would need to consult for the post-Franco period in the major Spanish archives are as yet unavailable. Finally, while very few serious historians -Juan Pablo Fusi being the obvious exception- have lived up to the daunting task of dealing with the former dictator, a number of competent biographies of Juan Carlos had already been published in recent years.

There may also be other, less reasonable explanations for the phenomenon observed above. During the Franco dictatorship, British (and North American) historians of modern Spain acquired an unassailable reputation for their dispassionate fairness and stylish readibilty, enabling Raymond Carr, Hugh Thomas, John Elliott and others to attain nothing short of cult status. More recently, however, some Spanish historians have come to resent the prestige and popularity enjoyed by these authors, which they tend to attribute to a somewhat childish knee-jerk admiration for all scholarship produced abroad, a view which, while partly justified, fails to explain why French, German or Italian historians of Spain are rarely regarded in the same light.

In spite of the above, some of the criticism levelled at Preston's biography of the Spanish monarch is not misplaced. Above all, his account of how Juan Carlos became King of Spain in November 1975, and of his role in the country's transition to democracy in subsequent years, does not add much to what was already known, a shortcoming largely attributable to the sources used. In an interview published shortly after the book appeared in Spanish in 2003, the author claimed not to have sought any contact with the king so as to prevent his legendary charm and bonhomie from undermining his independence of mind, but this did not stop him from speaking to many other prominent political figures, whom he quotes liberally as reliable sources. It is probably truer to say that, since the publication of José Luis de Vilallonga's book of interviews with the monarch in 1994, which has came to be regarded as the standard authorised biography in spite of its surprising inconsistencies and numerous inaccuracies, the Spanish royal household has been extremely reluctant to grant in-depth interviews to inquisitive academics, whatever their nationality (or prestige). Be this as it may, although Preston makes expert use of the limited material available from British archives, while at the same time milking the existing primary and secondary published sources with characteristic skill, the final product is rather more predictable than readers of some of his earlier work might have come to expect.

The book sets out to explain what the author regards as the two main mysteries in the life of Juan Carlos, one personal, the other political. The first concerns the "apparent equanimity" with which he accepted the fact that his father, Don Juan, "to all intents and purposes sold him into slavery", wrenching him away from his exiled family home in Portugal and sending him to live in Spain in 1948, amongst complete strangers, at the age of eleven. For much of his early life, Juan Carlos was a mere pawn in the political tug-of-war played out by Franco and Don Juan, who saw his son's presence in Spain as the best way of keeping his own chances of succeeding the dictator alive. Understandably, this resulted in a less than intimate relationship with his father, which deteriorated further when the eighteen-year old Juan Carlos accidentally killed his younger brother Alfonso while playing with a pistol. Incredibly, according to a friend of the dead infante quoted by Preston, Don Juan's first words to his elder son after this tragic event were: "Swear to me it wasn't deliberate!".

The other mystery is more political, namely "how a prince emanating from a family with considerable authoritarian traditions, obliged to function within `rules' invented by General Franco, and brought up to be the keystone of a complex plan for the continuity of the dictatorship should have committed himself to democracy". This is certainly the key question to raise, though it could be objected that while his father and grandfather both succumbed to authoritarian temptations (with dire consequences for King Alfonso XIII, who was forced into exile in 1931 after having subverted the constitution in 1923 by allowing General Primo de Rivera to take power after a bloodless coup), the Borbón dynasty was also part of Spain's not insignificant tradition of liberalism and parliamentary politics. However intuitively, Juan Carlos always knew that there was more to the monarchy than the defence of privilege: as he told The New York Times in early 1970, "I am Franco's heir, but I am Spain's heir as well".

These two mysteries are more intimately connected than is generally recognised. Given that Don Juan had not thought twice about sacrificing his son's happiness to the cause of the monarchy's restoration, there was more than a little poetic justice in the manner in which his son gradually shed his early status as his representative in order to become his major rival. As Preston underlines, there was a personal, as well as a political dimension to this evolution, which is best interpreted as a quest for greater autonomy and self-respect, and which was most evident in Juan Carlos's decision to remain in Spain against his father's wishes after marrying princess Sofía in 1962. The moment of truth finally came in July 1969, when, after more than a decade of vacillation, Franco decided to name Juan Carlos his successor, thereby shattering Don Juan's dreams. Although it was some time before the pretender forgave his son for accepting, the decision was fully in keeping with the somewhat ruthless dynastic logic which had inspired the former's behaviour from the outset. Furthermore, given Don Juan's intermittent protestations of loyalty to Franco and his Movimiento over the years, it was more than a little cynical of his advisers to accuse Juan Carlos of opportunism and disloyalty.

The question most often asked about Juan Carlos is when and how he became a democrat. It could be argued that, in spite of having attended the three military academies, and having completed his University education under the close scrutiny of regime apparatchiks, he could not have failed to notice the growing (and increasingly outspoken) demand for political change stirring in Spanish society. There is indeed evidence that, before swearing to uphold the fundamental laws of the regime in 1969, he first obtained guarantees from him mentor, Torcuato Fernández-Miranda, to the effect that this was compatible with a far-reaching transformation of the political system. More importantly, perhaps, in the course of the early 1970s Juan Carlos realised that the Organic Law of the State that defined the workings of the future Francoist Monarchy was in fact a gilded cage: far from inheriting the dictator's powers, he would have been the impotent figurehead of a system largely controlled by an unaccountable president of the government, working in tandem with an unelected president of the Cortes. This would have made him politically responsible for appointments and policies beyond his control, at a time when Spaniards were becoming increasingly resentful of their authoritarian rulers. In short, a Western-style parliamentary democracy was a more attractive alternative not only because it was a better and more popular system of government in its own right, but also because it (paradoxically) offered better prospects for Juan Carlos as monarch and for the Borbón family as a ruling dynasty.

Much, of course, was to depend on the king's ability to perform what the political scientist Giuseppe di Palma has described as the `forward legitimation' of the monarchy, by convincing those initially hostile to the institution that it could play a decisive role in sponsoring a peaceful transition to a fully democratic system of government, and remain compatible with it in future. The story of how Juan Carlos, assisted by Fernández-Miranda and Adolfo Suárez, his trusted prime minister, dismantled the regime they had inherited and paved the way for free elections to a constituent assembly in collaboration with the anti-Francoist opposition parties is well-know, but in Preston's prose it acquires the tempo of a compulsive thriller, particularly when it deals with the military intrigues leading to the attempted coup of February 1981. More importantly, the author proves beyond all reasonable doubt that, contrary to the hackneyed revisionist view, the king never wavered in his defence of democracy and the Constitution of 1978.

In sharp contrast to the meticulous narrative of the early chapters, the events of 1981-2002 deserve a mere thirty pages of this six-hundred page book. This is to be regretted, since British readers in particular might be curious to learn more about the monarch's efforts to add cohesion to a semi-federal system consisting of seventeen `nationalities and regions', his role as Spain's most effective international representative, and the royal family's remarkable ability to connect with ordinary citizens. King Juan Carlos may have paid a high personal price for the circumstances surrounding his upbringing, but Spain is undoubtedly all the better for it.

Published in the Times Literary Supplement by Charles Powell
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A long way from dictatorship to a constitutional monarchy, 23 Feb 2005
By 
Amelrode (Vilvoorde) - See all my reviews
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Today it seems that a democratic Spain with its constititional monarch is quite normal. Only recently Spain was the first conutry approving of the European Constitution. That normality today hard fought for and was far from a forgone conclusion.
In the center of this development is Juan Carlos de Borbon y Borbon.
In this excellent political biography the long and difficult way till the restoration of the monarchy and from the dictatorial Franco state to the present constitutional monarchy is described in almost too much detail.
I was particuarly interested in the first part - the restoration of the monarchy, the role of the Count of Barcelona, his political views and his relationship with General Franco. The Cout of Barcelona does not come across as a very convincing leader and possible king, often as a rather cruel and hard father, but in the end as a person who is capable of setting himself aside for the sake of the dynasty. Juan Carlos played his cards well, but at a cost to himself and the relationship within the family. He had a vision for Spain and he brought it to reality. One of the most difficult operation in history and he managed to carry a whole nation with him. A remarkable achievement.
I got once from a lady as a present a biography about King Juan Carlos from a fierce republican and when handling it over she said that this is the only monarch she could accept.
This book will explain why such a statement could be made. It is not an easy read, but an ultimate very rewarding one.
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