The best historically accurate books about Portugal

The Books I Picked & Why

The First Global Village

By Martin Page

The First Global Village

Why this book?

I read this book with great curiosity, as it was my first foray into Portuguese history after moving here. Page takes the reader back in time, when Portugal was ‘Rome on the Atlantic,’ and brings us full circle to Portugal’s Carnation Revolution of 1974. In between, there are ample fascinating examples of the cultural cross pollination that occurred as a result of the Portuguese setting sail in the 15th century on their ‘discoveries.’ For instance, we generally associate battered and deep-fried vegetables with Japanese cuisine, and yet it was the Portuguese, the first westerners to enter Japan, who introduced their traditional dish of green beans, fried in a light batter, that ultimately became Japanese tempura. 


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The Portuguese: A Modern History

By Barry Hatton

The Portuguese: A Modern History

Why this book?

On the back cover, Hatton says that his purpose in writing The Portuguese – and this quote made me smile knowingly, and it’s why I bought the book – “is to describe the idiosyncrasies that make this lovely, and sometimes exasperating country unique and to search for explanations, surveying the historical path that drove the Portuguese to where they now stand.” Hatton succeeds beautifully in his endeavour, offering up 280 pages of an enlightening and scintillating read.


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Lisbon: War in the Shadows of the City of Light, 1939-1945

By Neill Lochery

Lisbon: War in the Shadows of the City of Light, 1939-1945

Why this book?

I grew up with lots of stories and books about WWII because my father was a veteran. What is different about this book’s narrative is Portugal’s position of neutrality during the Second World War and the resulting web of political intrigue. Salazar, Portugal’s dictator at the time, played both sides, aligning with the British, all the while selling off Portugal’s Tungsten, a metal used to produce armor-piercing projectiles (which apparently melted the British tanks), to the Germans for gold that the Nazi’s looted. And at the end of the war, all that gold helped Portugal emerge economically intact. 


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The Last Kabbalist in Lisbon

By Richard Zimler

The Last Kabbalist in Lisbon

Why this book?

Zimler is an award-winning American writer who has lived in Porto, Portugal’s second-largest city, since 1990. I admire Zimler’s historical fiction for its fact-based accuracy, and The Last Kabbalist is a beauty for that reason. His acclaimed novel details the Portuguese inquisition and the massacre of its Jews in 1506. Via his incisive research and great storytelling, Zimler sheds light on this period of history unknown to many Portuguese; as a result, there is now a Jewish Memorial Plaque in Rossio Square in Lisbon’s city center, honouring the two to five thousand Jews who were massacred. 


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Estoril

By Dejan Tiago-Stankovic, Christina Pribichevich-Zoric

Estoril

Why this book?

Part spy novel, part historical fiction, this book tells the tale of a young Jewish boy who’s been deposited by his parents at the Hotel Palacio in Estoril for safekeeping during WWII, when the hotel was home to exiled European nobles and royalty, British and German spies. We meet the Polish pianist, Yan Paderewski; Ian Fleming, the British spy novelist and creator of James Bond; French writer and flyer Antoine de St. Exupery; the ex-king of Romania, Carol II, and his mistress Elena Lupescu, the woman for whom he renounced the crown. We’re privy to the goings-on at the Hotel via the lives of this cast of colourful characters in a way that’s reminiscent of the quirky movie, The Grand Budapest Hotel


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