Likely to be the go-to history of modern Spain for many years to come.




One of the leading authorities on 20th-century Spain paints a dark portrait of the political history of the Iberian nation that has long struggled to find solid government and leadership.

Preston, a professor at the London School of Economics who has written many books on the history, politics, and culture of modern Spain, barely hides his anger at the failures of Spain’s major figures over the past two centuries. “Violence, corruption and incompetence of the political class have betrayed the population since 1833 and almost certainly before,” he writes near the beginning. He continues, “unlike, say, France or Italy after 1871, Spanish governments failed to create an all-embracing sense of nationhood.” Opening this authoritative yet searingly critical narrative with the restoration of the Bourbon monarchy in 1874, Preston takes us smoothly through the ruinous Spanish-American War, the Spanish Civil War and its long, repressive Francoist aftermath, and the country’s transformation into a republic since the 1970s. The author, a discerning critic of a country he clearly understands, delivers a comprehensive, vivid, and bleak record of assassinations, betrayals, anarchist attacks, extrajudicial exterminations, military coups, terrorism, dictatorship, endless corruption, and economic ruin. Even the post-Franco return of representative government and democracy within a monarchy has been “painful,” the republic’s young life a mixture of “grandeur and misery.” Preston leaves readers pessimistic about the ability of Spain’s current regime to lead the country into a bright future, and the author’s unrelenting disappointment with the country he loves is sometimes taxing to readers. The book could have used some lighter-hued relief with more focus on Spain’s ordinary people, who have always gotten on with their lives despite officialdom’s poisonous struggles for power. In the book’s welter of detail about politics and culture, the achievements of average Spaniards often get lost. Still, the scope of the narrative and the obvious depth of research are impressive.

Likely to be the go-to history of modern Spain for many years to come. (20 b/w illustrations)

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-87140-868-6

Page Count: 752

Publisher: Liveright/Norton

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Bibliophiles will love this fact-filled, bookish journey.


An engaging, casual history of librarians and libraries and a famous one that burned down.

In her latest, New Yorker staff writer Orlean (Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend, 2011, etc.) seeks to “tell about a place I love that doesn’t belong to me but feels like it is mine.” It’s the story of the Los Angeles Public Library, poet Charles Bukowski’s “wondrous place,” and what happened to it on April 29, 1986: It burned down. The fire raged “for more than seven hours and reached temperatures of 2000 degrees…more than one million books were burned or damaged.” Though nobody was killed, 22 people were injured, and it took more than 3 million gallons of water to put it out. One of the firefighters on the scene said, “We thought we were looking at the bowels of hell….It was surreal.” Besides telling the story of the historic library and its destruction, the author recounts the intense arson investigation and provides an in-depth biography of the troubled young man who was arrested for starting it, actor Harry Peak. Orlean reminds us that library fires have been around since the Library of Alexandria; during World War II, “the Nazis alone destroyed an estimated hundred million books.” She continues, “destroying a culture’s books is sentencing it to something worse than death: It is sentencing it to seem as if it never happened.” The author also examines the library’s important role in the city since 1872 and the construction of the historic Goodhue Building in 1926. Orlean visited the current library and talked to many of the librarians, learning about their jobs and responsibilities, how libraries were a “solace in the Depression,” and the ongoing problems librarians face dealing with the homeless. The author speculates about Peak’s guilt but remains “confounded.” Maybe it was just an accident after all.

Bibliophiles will love this fact-filled, bookish journey.

Pub Date: Oct. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4018-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: July 2, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2018

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet