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.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission

The books I picked & why

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

Why did I love 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.

By Giles Tremlett,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Ghosts of Spain as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Spaniards are reputed to be amongst Europe's most forthright people. So why have they kept silent about the terrors of their Civil War and the rule of General Franco? This apparent 'pact of forgetting' inspired writer Giles Tremlett to embark on a journey around Spain and its history. He found the ghosts of Spain everywhere, almost always arguing. Who caused the Civil War? Why do Basque terrorists kill? Why do Catalans hate Madrid? Did the Islamist bombers who killed 190 people in 2004 dream of a return to Spain's Moorish past? Tremlett's curiosity led him down some strange and colourful…

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

Why did I love 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.

By Vicky Hayward,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked New Art of Cookery as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Winner of the Jane Grigson Trust Award 2017 and the Aragonese Academy of Gastronomy's 2017 Prize for Research

New Art of Cookery, Drawn from the School of Economic Experience, was an influential recipe book published in 1745 by Spanish friary cook Juan Altamiras. In it, he wrote up over 200 recipes for meat, poultry, game, salted and fresh fish, vegetables and sweet things in a chatty style aimed at readers who cooked on a modest budget. He showed that economic cookery could be delicious if flavors and aromas were blended with an appreciation for all sorts of ingredients, however humble,…

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

Why did I love 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.

By Paul Preston,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Spanish Holocaust as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Evoking such classics as Anne Applebaum's Gulag and Robert Conquest's The Great Terror, The Spanish Holocaust sheds light on one of the darkest and most unexamined eras of modern European history. As Spain finally reclaims its historical memory, a full picture can now be drawn of the atrocities of Franco's Spain-from torture and judicial murders to the abuse of women and children. Paul Preston provides an unforgettable account of the systematic terror carried out by Spain's fascist government.

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

Why did I love 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.

By Henry Kamen,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Disinherited as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A provocative, brilliant, and groundbreaking historical reconsideration of the roots of Spanish culture.

We all carry in our heads a seductive picture of what Spain stands for: its music, painting, buildings, and history. But much of what we think of as Spanish culture is, in fact, the invention of a very specific group: the Spanish in exile.

Historian Henry Kamen creates a vivid portrait of a dysfunctional, violent country that, since the destruction of the last Muslim territories in Granada in 1492, has expelled wave after wave of its citizens in a brutal attempt to create religious and social conformity.…

Book cover of Pablo Picasso: His Life and Times

Why did I love 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.

By Pierre Cabanne,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Pablo Picasso as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Vintage book

5 book lists we think you will like!

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

9,000+ 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 160 books about Spain
The Spanish Civil War Explore 47 books about the Spanish Civil War
Pablo Picasso Explore 21 books about Pablo Picasso

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like God's Crucible, The Arts of Intimacy, and The Legacy of Muslim Spain Volume 1 if you like this list.