The best books on Spain (by people who really get Spain)

Who am I?

Jason Webster is the international best-selling author of fifteen books on Spain, including Duende, Sacred Sierra, The Spy with 29 Names, Violencia: A New History of Spain, and the Max Cámara series of crime novels. He is a publisher, broadcaster, award-winning photographer, a board member of The Scheherazade Foundation, and is married to the Flamenco dancer Salud.

I wrote...

Why Spain Matters: The Story of the Land that Shaped the Western World

By Jason Webster,

Book cover of Why Spain Matters: The Story of the Land that Shaped the Western World

What is my book about?

Frequently overlooked as just another southern European country, Spain has, in fact, long predicted the future of the West – from the Crusades to the Renaissance, the Discovery of the Americas, World War II, and the recent Occupy Movement. Moreover, without Spain, such emblematic Western concepts as rational thought, surgery, ‘modern’ artistic expression, 1984, or the American cowboy would all be missing. 

Mixing decades of research with personal anecdotes, Why Spain Matters is veteran author Jason Webster’s page-turning story of a hugely influential country from its beginnings to the present day. It is a must-read for anyone wishing to understand Spain and a complex and changing world.

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

The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Bible in Spain; or, the journeys, adventures, and imprisonments of an Englishman, in an attempt to circulate the Scriptures in the Peninsula

Why did I love this book?

On the face of it, this classic 19th-century travelogue is about one man travelling through Spain and Portugal in the 1830s distributing Bibles… which is not exactly a page-turning idea. And indeed the first section – set in Portugal – is unbearably tedious (in fact, just skip it altogether). But once Borrow crosses the border into Spain it becomes a whole other book. It’s as if he can finally cast off his dour, pious disguise and write about what really excites him: Spanish Gypsies. Already speaking their language (the man was a machine when it came to picking up foreign tongues), he falls in with them almost immediately, leading to numerous colourful adventures as he wends his way in Quixotic fashion across the country. The tales he tells are exotic and Romantic (with a capital ‘R’) and capture something of the ineffable essence of the country: a playful, mysterious and elemental potency which over-serious observers and travellers rarely perceive (and even, in some instances, militate against…).

Book cover of Tuning Up at Dawn: A Memoir of Music and Majorca

Why did I love this book?

The books in this list are all written by non-Spaniards, for obvious reasons. This one is almost an exception. Tomás Graves is the eighth son of the English poet and novelist Robert Graves. He has lived almost his entire life on the island of Mallorca, and is, effectively, as native as they come. Tuning Up at Dawn is a wonderfully lyrical account of his upbringing, his memories of his father, and his life as a musician. It is deliciously evocative of a slower world which has now all but disappeared.

By Tomas Graves,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Tuning Up at Dawn as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A loving portrait of the other Majorca, and of a blissful life there revolving around the magic of music - a book to savour, perfect for escaping those crowded beaches.

Tomas Graves was born in and belongs to Majorca. His father, the great love poet Robert Graves, famously ended up on the beautiful Mediterranean island pretty much by accident, but it is the happiest accident of Tomas' life. His love for the special beauties of Majorcan culture shines on every page of this infectiously happy book. This is the real Majorca. 'Tuning Up at Dawn' examines both the suppression and…

Book cover of Madrid: A Guide for Literary Travellers

Why did I love this book?

Hemingway (who might have fully ‘got’ Spain if he had been less obsessed with ‘being Hemingway’) once described Madrid as ‘the centre of the world’. Jules Stewart is a former reporter who knows the city like the back of his hand. In this book he provides a perfect guide for travellers (even of the armchair variety) around what is one of the most vibrant European capitals. From Dalí’s favourite café to the place where Cervantes drew his last breath, it brings the history of the place alive like nothing else.

By Jules Stewart,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Hemingway called Madrid 'the most Spanish of all cities' and the 'centre of the world'; it was a place that drew him back again and again. But he wasn't the only writer to have been inspired by this proud city which fizzes with energy and is so infused with art and literature. From the Cafe Gijon, a popular hang-out of Lorca, Dali and Bunuel, and the Bar Chicote, Hemingway's preferred watering hole and a popular haunt for bohemian Madrid during the Civil War, to the Hotel Florida where John Dos Passos and Antoine de Saint Exupery used to stay, to…

Book cover of Forgotten Places: Barcelona and the Spanish Civil War

Why did I love this book?

Another book which brings the history of a city to life. For years, Nick Lloyd has been leading highly informative guided walks around Barcelona sites associated with the Spanish Civil War, and now he has compiled much of his vast knowledge on the subject in this excellent book. Packed with fascinating details and anecdotes, this is pretty much the last word on the subject.

By Nick Lloyd, Nick Lloyd,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

This is a guide to Barcelona in the Spanish Civil War, beginning in the 19th century with the conditions and movements which led to the social revolution of 1936, and ending with the fall of the city on 26 January 1939 when Franco's tanks drove down the Diagonal and set about destroying everything the Republic and the revolutionaries had built. Stories from the aftermath of the war, the exile and the Franco regime are also included. In addition with dealing with the more obvious issues such as anarchism, the Spanish Republic, Catalonia, George Orwell, the aerial bombing, and the May…

Book cover of The Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews, and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain

Why did I love this book?

This is the best and most accessible introduction to the Moorish period of Spanish history – which stretches over almost 1,000 years – explaining how it blended with Christian and Jewish cultures to forge both Spanish and Western civilisation. The Moors are too often treated as an anomaly, as though they could be separated or placed in parenthesis, apart from the rest of the Spanish story. Yet they form an essential element, despite great efforts (e.g. by the Inquisition) to erase or draw a veil over them. A great book.

By María Rosa Menocal,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Ornament of the World as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A rich and thriving culture where literature, science and religious tolerance flourished for 700 years is the subject of this enthralling history of medieval Spain.

Living side by side in the Andalusian kingdoms, the 'peoples of the book' produced statesmen, poets and philosophers who influenced the rest of Europe in dramatic ways, giving it the first translations of Plato and Aristotle, love songs and secular poetry plus remarkable feats of architecture and technology. This evocative account explores the lost history whose legacy and lessons have a powerful resonance in today's world.

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Spain, the Spanish Civil War, and Madrid?

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 Madrid.

Spain Explore 160 books about Spain
The Spanish Civil War Explore 47 books about the Spanish Civil War
Madrid Explore 12 books about Madrid

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like The Foundations of Modern Science in the Middle Ages, Communities of Violence, and Medieval Iberia, Second Edition if you like this list.