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Compulsory Reading for a Visit to Spain
on 11 August 2014
This is a great book. It is not your usual history book. The chapters deal with themes rather than periods and the book itself is a meditation on ideas that are relevant to the present day. This ought to make it bad history: historians usually don't like the idea of using the lens of the present to investigate the past. However, Lowney makes valuable points about the different periods of Spanish history in which intolerance triumphed over plurality. He has immersed himself in the literature and has a great talent for finding colourful details and personalities that bring his work to life. We learn about Averroes and Maimonides and are treated to an intelligent analysis of the differences between the Chanson de Roland and El Cid.
If you like history that tells you about ordinary people , this is definitely a book for you. It does not give excessive space to the chronologies of kings and princes and is alive to the ways in which popular culture in Spain has often been at variance to the official line of the state. It is even-handed and doesn't fall into the tiresome trap of glorifying Muslim culture, which we learn was subject to the same waves of fanaticism and intolerance as the Christians.
The book was recommended to me by a pilgrim in one of my groups on the Camino de Santiago and I have recommended it to many others since.