The best books on essential Spain

Gijs van Hensbergen Author Of Guernica: The Biography of a Twentieth-Century Icon
By Gijs van Hensbergen

Who am I?

A lifetime of an obsession with Spain since a childhood spent on Miro’s farm in Montroig del Camp and just a short walk away from where Gaudi was born I have cooked, researched, battled, and fallen in love with this extraordinary country. Almost 40 years ago I bought a farmhouse in Arevalillo de Cega in the central mountains in Spain from where I have crisscrossed the country in the footsteps of Goya, the culinary genius Ferran Adria and in search of information for my biography on Gaudi – the God of Catalan architecture. Spain is an open book with a million pages, endlessly fascinating, contrary, unique, and 100% absorbing. I fell in deep.


I wrote...

Guernica: The Biography of a Twentieth-Century Icon

By Gijs van Hensbergen,

Book cover of Guernica: The Biography of a Twentieth-Century Icon

What is my book about?

Artfully disguised behind Picasso’s astonishing canvas Guernica: The Biography of a 20th icon is a fascinating history of Spain and the 20thc. There is espionage, war, sex, spies, double-dealing, treason, and the devastating effects of total war – blitzkrieg. Reaching deep into personal trauma, collective grief, and the full history of art from caveman to the present day Picasso fashioned the most powerful enduring icon ever produced. Totally unique - despite its endless re-production - Guernica, still speaks to us today with alarming urgency about the horrors of war.

The books I picked & why

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Ghosts of Spain: Travels Through Spain and Its Silent Past

By Giles Tremlett,

Book cover of Ghosts of Spain: Travels Through Spain and Its Silent Past

Why this book?

As the Guardian correspondent in Madrid, Giles Tremlett’s book is a no-holds-barred deep investigation into the Spanish psyche and recent history and its uncomfortable relationship to the trauma of the Spanish Civil War. It is brave, provocative, deeply-researched but above all immensely readable.


New Art of Cookery: A Spanish Friar's Kitchen Notebook by Juan Altamiras

By Vicky Hayward,

Book cover of New Art of Cookery: A Spanish Friar's Kitchen Notebook by Juan Altamiras

Why this book?

Most books on cookery in Spain are little more than a mish-mash cobbled-together collection of other people’s recipes. Vicky Hayward’s visit to the 18thc via this Spanish Friar’s collection of recipes is an astonishing work of anthropology whose modernity and relevance to Spanish cooking today is extraordinarily prophetic.  If you want to see the future of Spanish cooking – the world’s most celebrated cuisine – go back to the past. To its roots.


The Spanish Holocaust: Inquisition and Extermination in Twentieth-Century Spain

By Paul Preston,

Book cover of The Spanish Holocaust: Inquisition and Extermination in Twentieth-Century Spain

Why this book?

No one knows better or has dug deeper into the dramatic history of 20th c Spain. The esteemed biographer of Franco and ex-King Juan Carlos reveals a harrowing horrific organised extermination of Franco’s political enemies that continued for a decade after the end of the Spanish Civil War. It is essential reading.


The Disinherited: Exile and the Making of Spanish Culture, 1492-1975

By Henry Kamen,

Book cover of The Disinherited: Exile and the Making of Spanish Culture, 1492-1975

Why this book?

With intellectual life almost completely closed down and censored by the Franco regime, the shaping of Spanish cultural life was led by its guardians in exile. From an exterior focus Kamen’s light is shone back on the brilliance and resilience of Spanish intellectual life.


Pablo Picasso: His Life and Times

By Pierre Cabanne,

Book cover of Pablo Picasso: His Life and Times

Why this book?

The world of Picasso's biography is a deeply contentious and well ploughed field. I should know as I worked for 5 years on the yet-to-be-published Volume 4 of John Richardson’s epic sex fest.  Hiding in the glare of the Picasso craze is Pierre Cabanne’s revelatory masterpiece. Cabanne knew him, knew his circle, and was not frightened to enter Picasso’s Spanish world in exile. This is the first step to a genuine understanding of Picasso’s genius.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Spain, the Spanish Civil War, and Pablo Picasso?

5,215 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Spain, the Spanish Civil War, and Pablo Picasso.

Spain Explore 120 books about Spain
The Spanish Civil War Explore 41 books about the Spanish Civil War
Pablo Picasso Explore 16 books about Pablo Picasso

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Prison of Women: Testimonies of War and Resistance in Spain, 1939-1975, Cry, Mother Spain, and The Sleeping Voice if you like this list.