The best books telling the truth about Spanish history

Who am I?

I am a writer who lived in the city of Granada for almost four years, in the uncanny barrio of the Albayzin. The daily blessings of life there are powerful and cumulative, and I wrote a book in honor of such luminosity; and I wrote it, as well, because most of us have been lied to about Spanish history. But the truth, like the poetry of Garcia Lorca, cannot be suppressed. In my sojourn in Spain, and in my visits over the years, I have found Granada to be a treasure-house of stories and poetry; and in flamenco singing, the home of one of the most powerful art-forms of music in the world.


I wrote...

Granada: A Pomegranate in the Hand of God

By Steven Nightingale,

Book cover of Granada: A Pomegranate in the Hand of God

What is my book about?

Granada is one of the iconic cities of the world. It stands for the culture of Al-Andalus, composed of Muslims, Jews, and Christians, who lived together in the legendary convivencia of the Spanish Middle Ages. Al-Andalus was one of the most brilliant cultures in Mediterranean history and set in place the foundations of the European Renaissance. 

The history of Granada is one of utopian ecstasy, vicious tragedy, mystical exaltation, and creations of durable beauty. It is a story of spiritual longing and artful dreams, with a bracing mixture of practical science, world-changing philosophy, and unforgettable music. It is a teaching story, where we can learn something about the best way forward in our own tumultuous epoch.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Arts of Intimacy: Christians, Jews, and Muslims in the Making of Castilian Culture

Steven Nightingale Why did I love this book?

These three women give us Al-Andalus in depth. They are scholars of prodigious learning. This book shows their gift for clear explanation and offers a rich selection of color illustrations that are not collected so cogently together in any other books about the period. It is a major achievement and a joy to read; indispensable for anyone who wants to understand the history of Spain.

By Jerrilynn D. Dodds, María Rosa Menocal, Abigail Krasner Balbale

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A dynamic vision of medieval Castilian culture and the Arabic, Hebrew, and Latin strands that are woven into its fabric

Named a Book of the Year by the Times Literary Supplement, this lavishly illustrated work explores the vibrant interaction among different and sometimes opposing cultures, and how their contacts with one another transformed them all. It chronicles the tumultuous history of Castile in the wake of the Christian capture of the Islamic city of Tulaytula, now Toledo, in the eleventh century and traces the development of Castilian culture as it was forged in the new intimacy of Christians with the…


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

Steven Nightingale Why did I love this book?

The whole of Spanish history is contentious, with hardly a fact not subject to challenge or attack. But slowly, clarity and understanding have come forth, and finally, in this volume, the extraordinary scholar Paul Preston gives us the facts about the campaigns of extermination in the Spanish Civil War. Anyone who wants a solid, grounded, informed understanding of this miserable time of slaughter needs this book. Painful reading, and all the more necessary for that.

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 Legacy of Muslim Spain Volume 1

Steven Nightingale Why did I love this book?

Incomparable. In the long effort by scholars to establish the facts about the brilliant period of Al-Andalus—711-1492—this book is a breakthrough and a marvel. Salma Khadra Jayyusi assembled the leading scholars in the field on a whole host of subjects, and the two volumes have everything from meditations on broad historical themes to detailed accounts of book-making, ceramics, and techniques of dyeing and weaving silk. No serious reader of the history of Spain should have to live without these two extraordinary volumes.

Book cover of God's Crucible: Islam and the Making of Europe, 570-1215

Steven Nightingale Why did I love this book?

The perfect book, beautifully written, for anyone who wants to understand Spain and Al-Andalus in the context of medieval European history. Most of us are taught the history of Medieval Europe to the strange exclusion of the brilliant culture of Al-Andalus, but it remains the case that the whole history of Europe cannot be understood without knowing the contributions of the convivencia across a very wide spectrum of subjects—commerce, mathematics, agriculture, philosophy, and medicine, to name a few. 

By David Levering Lewis,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked God's Crucible as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Resonating as profoundly today as when it was first published to widespread critical acclaim a decade ago, God's Crucible is a bold portrait of Islamic Spain and the birth of modern Europe from one of our greatest historians. David Levering Lewis's narrative, filled with accounts of some of the most epic battles in world history, reveals how cosmopolitan, Muslim al-Andalus flourished-a beacon of cooperation and tolerance-while proto-Europe floundered in opposition to Islam, making virtues out of hereditary aristocracy, religious intolerance, perpetual war and slavery. This masterful history begins with the fall of the Persian and Roman empires, followed by the…


Book cover of The Spanish Inquisition

Steven Nightingale Why did I love this book?

It is always good to have a close, thoughtful comprehensive examination of a mythical institution. This book corrects some of the legends and does us the important service of showing how the Inquisition was not merely dark and atrocious. With its violent and administrative mix of ideology and politics, it provided to the world a model for evil, and its influence is evident throughout subsequent history, from the show trials of Stalinist Russia to various totalitarian movements worldwide.

By Joseph Pérez, Janet Lloyd (translator),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

This is the story of 350 years of terror. Established by papal bull in 1478, the first task of the Spanish Inquisition was to question Jewish converts to Christianity and to expose and execute those found guilty of reversion. Authorities then turned on Spanish Jews in general, sending 300,000 into exile. Next in line were humanists and Lutherans. No rank was exempt. Children informed on their parents, merchants on their rivals, and priests upon their bishops. Those denounced were guilty unless they could prove their innocence. Nearly 32,000 people were publicly burned at the stake; the "fortunate" ones were flogged,…


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Holy Food: How Cults, Communes, and Religious Movements Influenced What We Eat - An American History

By Christina Ward,

Book cover of Holy Food: How Cults, Communes, and Religious Movements Influenced What We Eat - An American History

Christina Ward Author Of Holy Food: How Cults, Communes, and Religious Movements Influenced What We Eat - An American History

New book alert!

Who am I?

For me, history is always about individuals; what they think and believe and how those ideas motivate their actions. By relegating our past to official histories or staid academic tellings we deprive ourselves of the humanity of our shared experiences. As a “popular historian” I use food to tell all the many ways we attempt to “be” American. History is for everyone, and my self-appointed mission is to bring more stories to readers! These recommendations are a few stand-out titles from the hundreds of books that inform my current work on how food and religion converge in America. You’ll have to wait for Holy Food to find out what I’ve discovered.

Christina's book list on the hidden history of America

What is my book about?

Does God have a recipe? Independent food historian Christina Ward’s highly anticipated Holy Food explores the influence of mainstream to fringe religious beliefs on modern American food culture.

Author Christina Ward unravels how religious beliefs intersect with politics, economics, and, of course, food to tell a different story of America. It's the story of true believers and charlatans, of idealists and visionaries, and of the everyday people who followed them—often at their peril.

Holy Food explains how faith pioneers used societal woes and cultural trends to create new pathways of belief and reveals the interconnectivity between sects and their leaders.

Holy Food: How Cults, Communes, and Religious Movements Influenced What We Eat - An American History

By Christina Ward,

What is this book about?

Does God have a recipe?

"Holy Food is a titanic feat of research and a fascinating exploration of American faith and culinary rites. Christina Ward is the perfect guide – generous, wise, and ecumenical." — Adam Chandler, author of Drive-Thru Dreams

"Holy Food doesn't just trace the influence that preachers, gurus, and cult leaders have had on American cuisine. It offers a unique look at the ways spirituality—whether in the form of fringe cults or major religions—has shaped our culture. Christina Ward has gone spelunking into some very odd corners of American history to unearth this fascinating collection of stories…


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5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Spain, the Spanish Civil War, and medieval society?

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