Monday, March 10, 2014

Napoleon and the Birth of Modern Spain

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Napoleon and the Birth of Modern Spain by Gabriel H Lovett, 850 pages (2 vols.)

There is a certain humanism that lends an added charm to some historical works, an attention to the particularities of personalities and culture that is lost in texts purporting to disclose the greater trends that supposedly determine history, or which claim to speak about that greatest of abstractions, the "common man".  This is a work in that vein.

The first volume, The Challenge to the Old Order, covers the background of the failing Bourbon monarchy, the subsequent French coup and invasion, and the establishment of a government of resistance which, secure in the citadel of Cadiz, enacted a serious of liberal reforms.  The second volume, The Struggle Without and Within tells the story of the controversies surrounding the Cadiz Regency and its policies, the nature of the French occupation and its collapse, and the conservative counterrevolution which followed.  Throughout, the concentration is on the men and women whose personalities shaped the decisions that made history, and the culture that shaped those personalities.

The author captures well the flavor of the period and shows a great understanding of the contingency of history.  Much of the conflict that would define the next hundred and fifty years of Spanish history has its roots in the Napoleonic era, from the irresolvability of the differences between conservatives and liberals to the tendency of Spaniards to "take to the hills" and wage guerilla war in times of political conflict.  As such, a work like this is vital to understanding modern Spain.

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