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Robert Goodwin

Spain

Robert Goodwin's new book recounts the history of the Spain that ruled the biggest and richest empire in the world. He begins his epic story in 1519 with the conquest of Mexico and ends it unusually in 1682 with the death of the painter Esteban Murrillo, the last surviving protagonist of Spain's golden age. Goodwin, a Fellow of University College, London, tells this history through the lives of twelve emblematic figures, including the great Hapsburg monarchs, Charles V and his son Phillip II, the Inca chronicler Garcilaso de la Vega, and Spain's leading general, the Duke of Alba; but also religious figures like the mystic Saint Teresa and the Jesuit founder Ignatius of Loyola, as well as artistic geniuses like Diego de Velasquez and literary lions like novelist Miguel de Cervantes and poet Luis de Gongora. It is a strategy that engages the reader and helps make this lengthy but well-written book a good read. Spain has a rich and complex history and Goodwin divides his book into two parts to tell it. "Gold" the first part, is divided iton two in turn; the first half under the reign of Charles, and the second half under that of Philip. It begins with the conquest of Mexico and Peru and the enormous riches these conquests brought Spain and its Hapsburg rulers, who spent much of it on fruitless efforts to suppress the Protestant Reformation and construct a "universal monarchy" It ends with the disaster of the Spanish Armada and Philip's vain attempt to claim the crown of England just as he had successfully claimed the crown of Portugal a few years before with the help of Alba and his army. The second part of Goodwin's book,"Glitter" provides an engaging cultural history of Spain's golden age. Paradoxically, Spain's 17th century cultural golden age takes place within a context of political and economic decline. Philip III and Philip IV were weak monarchs who preferred to reign, not rule, leaving the affairs of state to corrupt and manipulative favorites. Goodwin sees this as an era in which the Spanish aristocracy followed its monarchs into "fabulous decadence" as cultural consumers of great painting, poetry, theater and pageantry. Art and display replaced valor and virtue. Chapters celebrate Cervantes and his Don Quixote, (perhaps the greatest novel ever written), the Baroque poetry of Gongora, the brilliant canvases of Velasquez, the theatrical portrayals of Don Juan and the spectacular displays of Holy Week in Seville. Throughout both parts of this well-crafted book, the author weaves together political and cultural history, showing the influence of one on the other. The result is a richly textured account of Spain during its century and a half of political and cultural greatness.
Peter Winn
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Guy de la Bédoyère

The Real Lives of Ro...

In his fifteenth book published since 1986 on the history and archaeology of Roman Britain, Guy de la Bedoyere focuses squarely on altogether ordinary individuals who spent at least part of their lives in what was the northwestern most province of the Roman Empire. How are these comparative nonentities known to us, more than sixteen centuries after the Romans in the year 410 withdrew their last remaining troops from what they called Britannia? Aside from a small number mentioned in the writings of such well-known classical sources as Tacitus and Cassius Dio, the names of these people-whether women or men, slave or free, young or old-and what is known of their life stories derive entirely from Latin inscriptions, most of them in the form of tombstones. In his provocative introduction to this collection of interesting snippets from highly abbreviated biographies, the author invites his readers to ponder, from several different points of view, what caveats they should keep in mind as they follow him chronologically from Julius Caesar's initial Roman landings in Britain in 55 and 54 BCE through the conquest of Britain and its incorporation into the Empire almost a century later under the emperor Claudius, and from then on in roughly century-long intervals down to Honorius; early fifth century abandonment of the island to its own devices. For example, how "ordinary" can his subjects have been if they left behind texts about themselves in a language foreign (Latin) to their immediate environment? In fact, how many of them are likely to have been Britons? Indeed, what did it mean to be a Briton before the Romans created a single province out of the numerous warring tribes that occupied the island prior to the conquest? As it turns out, although we can't be at all sure, relatively few of the individuals profiled are likely to have spent their entire lives in Britain, so one thing the author is asking us to consider is what population they actually do represent. Yet even if not as "ordinary" as one might have initially imagined, these oddly immortalized inhabitants of the Empire's wildest-west province come across as a fascinating group. No matter how fragmentary and serendipitous their preserved life stories may be, they have a good deal to tell us about the range of human experience during the first four centuries of the United Kingdom's participation in the literate world. Aside from telling engaging stories about the persons he has selected here for inclusion, de la Bedoyere provides first-rate instruction in historical method by repeatedly drawing attention to how fragile our interpretations of the inscriptions and archaeological evidence (hoards of jewelry and plate, tombs, and religious dedications) he surveys must necessarily be.
Jeremy Rutter
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Derek Smith
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Andy McSmith
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David E. Hoffman
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Jimmy Carter
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Frank McLynn
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James Neff
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Chris Brenneman
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David L. Preston
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Robin Prior
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James A. Hessler
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Joseph Loconte
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Rinker Buck
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Nancy Goldstone
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Alexander V. Pantsov
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Michael Coe
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Randy Petersen
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Jacky Colliss Harvey
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Rory Muir
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Edna Greene Medford
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Jed Rasula
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Charles Bracelen Flo...
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Richard Alston
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Thomas S. Kidd
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James A. Crutchfield
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Donald J. Gara
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Brady J. Crytzer
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Godfrey Hodgson
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Pierre Birnbaum
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Philip Leigh
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Steve Inskeep
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Joseph Ellis
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David K. Shipler
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H.W. Brands
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Stephen L. Moore
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Michael Morell
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Matthew J. Davenport
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David Sehat
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Harold H. Bruff
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Andrea Mays
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Charles Leerhsen
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Earl J. Hess
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