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Customer Review

7 of 12 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Promising book that singularly fails to deliver, 21 Mar. 2005
This review is from: Spain of Catholic Monarchs (A History of Spain) (Paperback)
This book covers one of the most dynamic periods of Spanish history. For example the opening chapter deals with the war of the Castilian succession, which is about as colourful a tale as it is possible to imagine. Isabella of Castile escaped the dictates of her half brother, the king, to marry her prince, Ferdinand of Aragon, rather than the elderly Portuguese king chosen for her as a politically expedient match. She then battled with her niece Joanna to succeed her half brother, Henry IV, to the Crown. She bravely seized the initiative on learning of Henry's death, having herself proclaimed Queen in Segovia and proceeding in state through the town with the unsheathed sword of state carried by its point before her to signify that she was the successor to royal authority with the power to administer the law. She proceeded thus in the absence of her husband, who was attending to his own business in the neighbouring kingdom of Aragon and who, by all accounts was surprised and not altogether delighted that his wife should have set herself up as "proprietary queen".
In short the reign of Ferdinand and Isabella was as gripping and dramatic as anything played out by the Houses of Plantagent and Tudor across the sea in England. However the author fails to excite much passion for his subject. His account of the early adventures of the Catholic Monarchs reads like a Customs & Excise statement, clarifying some new and exceedingly dull innovation in an obscure double taxation treaty.
The author has an annoying habbit of seizing upon Spanish terms for little apparent effect other than to demonstrate his grasp of the language. From a reader's perspective this device is highly unsatisfactory. Some obscure medieval Spanish term is introduced, and then used intermittently in the narrative without further reference to its English meaning. Even those familiar with modern Spanish are left reaching for their dictionaries as the pages turn and the term reappears. However, given that it is a sixteenth century term the modern Spanish dictionary offers little assistance, and the reader is left disconsolately fingering backwards to find the English meaning in the preceding text where it was first introduced.
Many of the author's explanations are garbled leaving the bemused reader scratching his head. For example (and sticking with the theme of taxation - yawn) we are told: "Between the accession of John II in 1406 and that of Isabella in 1474 there was a decline of up to two thirds in the taxation revenues of the Castilian crown. This catastrophic loss was mainly caused by the collapse of the yield from the main indirect tax, the alcabala [yes this is another term that's not in the modern Spanish dictionary],[sic - punctuation] This was a notional tax of 10 per cent on sales and purchases, similar to the modern value added tax in the European Union, which had been established since the 1340's as the most important source of income for the Crown." The reader is left dangling at this point without any explanation as to why the level of "alcabala" collapsed. Given that the excerpt set out to give an insight into the "catastrophic" collapse in tax revenues, this failure to explain the central reason for their collapse seems to be something of an egregious oversight.
I could continue; there are many other instances of half-baked explanations that miss the real essence of the matter under discussion and a surprising number of typographical mistakes. My advice would be to give this book a miss unless you are really interested in the period of the Catholic Monarchs.
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2.0 out of 5 stars (1 customer review)
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