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on 9 January 2003
Mr. Kamen begins his book with the following lines of Bertolt Brecht: "The young Alexander conquered India. All by himself? Caesar beat the Gauls. Didn't he even have a cook with him?" The answers are obvious. Mr. Kamen asks a different question. Who built the Spanish Empire? The answer to that question seems obvious, also...the Spanish, right? But Mr. Kamen spends the next 500 pages showing us that the obvious answer, in this case, is the wrong answer. In a dazzling display of erudition, covering events in Granada, North Africa, Italy, the Spanish Netherlands, the Caribbean, Mexico, Peru, the Philippines, etc., the author reveals that the Spanish Empire was built and maintained with the help of people of many nations...that it was a true "multinational enterprise". Mr. Kamen also shows that rather than the Empire being created by Spain, Spain was created by the Empire- for at the starting point of the book, 1492, there really was no such entity as Spain. Like several other European countries of the time, such as Italy and Germany, Spain consisted of many geographical units- each with its own language and/or culture, and people felt a loyalty to that particular area rather than to the larger abstraction called "Spain". Only after the Empire developed and the language of the largest geographical area, Castile, became the language of Empire did people start to think of themselves as belonging to something bigger than the particular region they lived in. Mr. Kamen also points out that the population of Spain (which was much less than that of France or England) was never great enough to provide the soldiers needed to support the far-flung Empire. Where did this Empire come from, though? When Ferdinand of Aragon died in 1516, the thrones of Castile and Aragon passed to his grandson the archduke Charles of Habsburg (known to us as Charles V). Charles was born in Ghent and raised in the Netherlands. In 1520 he was crowned Holy Roman emperor. Besides Spain, his responsibilities included (from his Burgundian inheritance) the Netherlands and (from his Habsburg inheritance) also Austria, Hungary, Naples, Sicily and the continent of America. So, the Empire started by inheritance rather than by conquest. But, to maintain what already existed and to, later on, "branch out", Charles and later rulers had access to the people and resources of these various possessions. Thus, most of the soldiers and sailors were Italians, Belgians, Germans, etc. with the addition of mercenaries, such as Swiss troops, when needed. As Castile didn't have the financial resources necessary to handle the responsibilites that went along with administering these areas, most of the financing was provided by the bankers of Milan, Genoa, Amsterdam, etc. When the Empire expanded to encompass the Caribbean, Mexico, Peru, the Philippines, etc. it had to rely on native peoples, and African slaves, for manpower. The Spanish didn't have the muscle to conquer and control these vast areas and had to rely on cooperation, usually, rather than coercion. Fortunately for the the conquistadors, native tribes were usually at war with one another and some of them were only too willing to form alliances with the Spanish in order to defeat powerful enemies, such as the Aztecs or Incas. Even so, the areas under Spanish control were usually not extensive, as the Spaniards and their allies still didn't have enough manpower to control large regions. Tribes that were hostile to the Spanish would simply go elsewhere and the two sides would generally just stay clear of one another. These arrangements also existed in the American Southwest. In the Philippines, again, the Spanish presence was so slight that they had to depend on native Filipinos for labor and on outsiders, such as the Chinese, in order to maintain a trading network. Mr. Kamen is particularly fascinating when he helps us to follow the "silver trail". The huge amounts of silver mined in Mexico and Peru went both west (to the Philippines and, ultimately, to China and Japan) to pay for trade goods and east (to the Italian and Dutch bankers and to many places all over Europe) to pay off soldiers and loans, and to buy the goods that people in Spain desired but couldn't produce themselves. It is interesting to note that the Spanish even found it necessary to have most of their ships manufactured in other countries. So, the vast amounts of silver did not end up in the coffers of Spain, but went towards "growing" (in modern parlance) the economies of many countries. Mr. Kamen notes the irony that when the Empire started to decline in the last half of the 17th century, Spain's enemies had to be careful not to let her fall too far, lest they drag themselves down with her! I don't want to make this book sound like an economics thesis, however. Mr. Kamen's book is intended for the general reader and although he uses statistics to support his arguments he never loses sight of the human element. He talks about the cultural aspects of the Empire- how Spain expected the other countries she dealt with to learn Castilian, while not even the Spanish diplomats (usually) would bother to learn the languages of other countries. The human touch is present in many places as Mr. Kamen provides excerpts from the narratives of diplomats, soldiers, missionaries, etc. I found I had to read slowly- not because the book had an awkward style (quite the contrary- the prose is often elegant) but because the ideas being presented were new to me and also because the book was so wide-ranging in time, space and content. The book represents a lifetime of learning and thinking by this noted scholar, and it is a deeply rewarding experience for the reader.
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on 7 January 2011
Being a Spaniard fond of history (albeit no scholar) I read this book because I am fed up with Spanish writers. I must admit I learned a lot, but the main thing about this book is that it seems a little bit like the personal interpretation of history by the author. It's like his theory. The facts are what they are, but the explanations given by the author are intriguing. The main line goes something like this: Spain was a world power of certain status during the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries (second to Great Britain and France in the late 17th and throughout the 18th century) because it was in the best interest of the other powers to keep her as such. It was convenient, (so Kamen says or implies) to keep a certain balance or status quo among the nations. I must say that his theories struck me as odd. I give it 3 stars because I enjoyed reading it, however puzzling his explanations seemed to me, and I learned history. But believe me, this is no ordinary history book. It's a personal defence of the theories of Kamen by himself. I would not give it 4 stars, because history books should be more objective, I think.
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on 22 December 2016
fanyastic book with lots of relevant information, also arrived within days of ordering and in excellant condition
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on 18 September 2007
Believe it or not Kamen's books on the Spanish Empire are actually necessary in order to produce a renovated approach to the study of Empire building. There is plenty of food for thought in this book which will undoubtedly spark heated debate in the academic world. Unfortunately Kamen's theories are wild, subjective and blatantly anti-Spanish at times. His emphasis on Spain expecting her partners and allies to speak Spanish as if it were a sign of a blatant superiority complex is absolutely correct, but in what does this differ from other Imperial policies throughout history? Did the Romans take crash couses in Iberian and Gallic during their empire building? Were the British recognised as masters of the different Indian languages in their colonisation of the Sub-Continent or to further prove a point, how much diplomacy or trade was run in native languages up and down Africa? This lack of linguistic skill is applicable to France, Germany, the USA and any other country that has initiated a policy of imperialism and colonialisation. To mention such anecdotes as part of a theory is, in my opinion, puerile. A further point which demands criticism is his mention of the numbers of actual Spanish soldiers in Imperial armies in order to prove that Spain really -and I quote another reviewer- "did not have the muscle" to realise its imperial dreams. XVI century Europe had, to name just a few examples, French armies composed of minimal amounts of Frenchmen and rather large amounts of Swiss, Dutch armies composed mostly of German mercenaries and so on....so what is Kamen really trying to prove?

Kamen should for his own good promptly revert to an objective methodology and stick to facts which are surprisingly not that traumatic to obtain. Meanwhile he would do well to try harder to convince us of his revisionist theories by being less subjective, less slanderous and more rigorous in his analysis. Maybe he could do this at half-times in the Nou Camp, where as everybody knows local players make up but a distinct 17% of the team.
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on 26 January 2007
This is a generally well written and extensively researched book, however the author seems more intent on castigating the Castillians than he is on delivering an objective history. Some of the criticisms levelled at the Castillians seem almost personal, for example "the poor reputation of Spain in matters of courtesy and culture..." This is simply a gratuitous insult that has no place in a grown-up history. There are many more examples of unjustified and petty criticisms of Castillian culture that add nothing to Mr Kamen's argument.

If you are looking for a mature, balanced history of the Spanish Empire I would suggest you look elsewhere.
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on 11 May 2011
This book was originally read as background material. I was impressed at the depth of knowledge of Kamen. I have read another book by Kamen, and found this to be equally well presented. I am rather shocked that people have reviewed this book negatively, particularly because it is so well-researched. It does not contain a mass of footnotes (which would make the book anything but a "pocket book"). Instead, references are listed at the end. Kamen's book is not intended to be (in my view) a specialist's book; rather, it gives the average reader an excellent (best ?) overview of the Spanish Empire as it was.

I suggest that claims that Kamen is subjective in his approach be dismissed.

My only criticism is that the organisation of the book is more like a novel than a textbook. The reader has to reference the index to find specific material rather than by the table of contents. That is, the typical chronological-subject table of contents is replaced by something more thematic.

Nonetheless, if there were one book to choose as a summary of the history of the Spanish Empire, this would be it.
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on 13 March 2003
I would have expected some more research on the side on Kamen on this book. It is obvious that he has not spent enough time in the Archivo de Indias in Seville. There are clearly many aspects of his book that fall in the traditional black legend of Spanish history. If he had been a little more rigorous in his research he could have avoided falling in this typical topic.
It is nicely written but it has been taken out of context.
Have not really learnt much new about Spanish history and that is why I am somehow disspointed for the opportunity time invested in this book. Need research to prove theories.
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