In his Prologue to this erudite book the author, a Cambridge University historian, states that he has not attempted to write a narrative history, but to present instead an ""interpretative synthesis"" of events under the Habsburg dynasty in Spain. The study begins in 1469, with the marriage of Ferdinand, King of Sicily and heir to the throne of Aragon, to Isabella, heiress of Castile; it ends with the disappearance of the Habsburgs and the creation of a new Bourbon state in 1716. The marriage united Spain under the leadership of Castile and transformed the country from a ""geographical expression"" into ""an historical fact"" ; the skill of her kings and the incredible riches from her New World conquests made Spain for a ""few fabulous decades"" the greatest power in Europe. Writing of the rise and slow decline of this power, the author tells of social and economic life in Habsburg Spain: the expulsion of the Moors and the Jews; the recurrent epidemics of Plague and resultant poverty and revolts; the effects of the Inquisition; the disintegration and bankruptcy that followed the bureaucratic rule of Philip II, and the final dissolution of the empire. A book for scholars by a scholar, this carefully integrated study of a diffuse subject will appeal only to advanced students of Spanish history.