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An excellent, comprehensive account of contemporary Spain

  • Apr 5, 2010
Within the past 30 years, Spanish society has been almost completely transformed, with change becoming the country's defining characteristic. Transformations that took generations elsewhere have been squeezed in to the span of a single generation in Spain. I spent six months there in 2007 and another four months in 2009 and was fascinated both times

John Hooper's book is an extensive reworking of an earlier edition, "The Spaniards", which he wrote in 1987 after several years working as a foreign correspondent in Madrid, where he had been posted to cover Spain's (eventful) transition to democracy. Some authors are lazy about second editions, doing little more than graft a cursory "update" onto the already existing version. John Hooper is not such an author - the additional material is extensive and has been integrated into the earlier text with great care.

The result is an excellent book. I came across it in 2009 and immediately wished I'd had it during my stay in 2007. One of its major strengths is an outstanding account, in its first section, of Spain's transition from dictatorship to democracy. In only 90 pages, Hooper provides a clear, insightful analysis of events from Franco's death to the political upset that followed the terrorist attacks of March 2004. As a single source to help understand the key political effects of the last 40 years, and their residual effects on the current political scene, Hooper's book is unsurpassed.

Its first section alone makes it worth reading, though the rest of the book is also very good. In 31 chapters all the major bases are covered. Hooper organises the material according to a few major themes:

Private Domains: with chapters on the Church, sexuality, the role of men and women, the role of the family, and the Spanish propensity for `living on the edge' (gambling, addiction, prostitution and the like).
King and Country: with chapters on the monarchy, the army, and their relationship to the government.
A Fissile State: the Basques, the Catalans, the Galicians, autonomy in action.
A Changing Society: immigration, housing, education, welfare, the legal system.
New Perspectives: the press, TV and radio, the cultural revolution, flameco and bullfighting, art and artists, the new Spaniards.

Hooper writes clearly; though his style might reasonably be described as dry, I never found him boring. He has a skilled journalist's ability to leaven discussion of policy or political events with a well-chosen concrete example or anecdote, so the reader's interest is maintained throughout. The book's comprehensive scope and its brilliantly concise account of Spain's transition to democracy are particular strengths. My only possible criticisms are (very) minor - a certain remoteness in Hooper's tone (which other readers might consider a virtue), and that his commentary extends only to 2004. This means that Hooper is silent about very recent developments, in particular, the ongoing debate about the legacy of the Spanish civil war that has been triggered by the discovery of several mass graves throughout the country. (These criticisms do not apply to another book published in 2006, Giles Tremlett's Ghosts of Spain: Travels Through Spain and Its Silent Past, which was a helpful complement to Hooper's book).

For anyone with an interest in contemporary Spain, Hooper's book would be an excellent point of departure.

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About this book


Hooper . . . not only knows where Spain has been in recent decades and centuries, but he also has an impressively authoritative view of where exactly it is today and where it is headed. --The Washington Post

Unputdownable . . . A must for anyone . . . who wants to know what Spain is really like. --New Statesman, London
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ISBN-10: 0141016094
ISBN-13: 978-0141016092
Author: John Hooper
Genre: History
Publisher: Penguin
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