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Empire: How Spain Became a World Power, 1492-1763

3.66  ·  Rating details ·  244 ratings  ·  30 reviews
How did a barren, thinly populated country, somewhat isolated from the rest of Europe, establish itself as the world's first superpower? Henry Kamen's impressive new book offers a fresh and highly original answer.

Empire is a global survey of the two and a halt centuries (from the late fifteenth to the mid-eighteenth) in which the Spaniards established the most extensive
Hardcover, 640 pages
Published March 4th 2003 by Harper (first published 2003)
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John Caviglia
Rarely do I not finish a book, but.... On page 119, Kamen presents the Spanish invasion of the land now called Chile by Pedro de Valdivia--something I know quit a bit about--in what is a tissue of outright error, hasty fact, and muddled indirection. At this point I set the book down, for I no longer trusted Kamen.

And, since much of Kamen's ignorance concerns the indigenous people who are one half the history of that invasion, I was deeply troubled that his errors were precisely those of empire.
Charles Nicholas Saenz
Sep 04, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone
Henry Kamen's examination of the Spanish Empire serves as a deconstruction of the very idea of Spain itself. His position takes the often cited observation that Spain did not exist in any concrete sense during the early modern period to one extreme. If Spain did not exist, then precisely who presented the most formidable presence in Europe and the force capable of colonizing the New World? The answer he puts forth argues that the Spanish monarchy encompassed a global enterprise, inlvolving not ...more
Apr 24, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
¿Después de la Reconquista, qué estaba España? Un reino junto que nació de la guerra, del último suspiro del Moro; una gran península de piedra y tierra que tenía un ejército de montañas y varias grandes mesetas. La joven nación, en que la sangre católica circulaba apasionadamente y con sed del mundo desconocido, por la mar occidental realizó imperio. Para Castilla y Aragón del oeste llegaban las riquezas doradas y plateadas - las que se han manchado con la crueldad y la avaricia de los ...more
Apr 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is one of those books that's very hard to decide why I gave it 5 stars. Just easy to read, good summary, good insight into very simple ideas about the Spanish Empire. A lot of his points kinda hit me out of nowhere, they were that simple and abrupt. Maybe that's why I liked it. A viewpoint you maybe haven't thought about, even though it might be super obvious. I wish he would have gone about 40 years further, but there's always an argument for that with every history book you read, so ...more
Mar 29, 2018 rated it really liked it
Long before there was a Britain to have an empire upon which the sun never set, Spain established a presence that spanned the globe. From the Caribbean and Central America to the Philippines, the Spanish empire thrived as the first expression of European global dominance — an achievement even more remarkable when set against the unpromising circumstances from which it started. How Spain achieved this is the subject of Henry Kamen's book. A longtime scholar of Spanish history, Kamen marshals a ...more
Aug 13, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This extraordinary lucid study is even more awe inspiring by its profundity and understanding the world of Europe’s cusp into imperial power, from the foundations of the world’s first defining global market.
Explaining how; who; why, and repercussions of the first truly global empire, where all the propagators belonging to many nations, be them Dutch, Belgians, Lombard, Hungarian, German, Neapolitans, Milanese, Sicilian, Corsican, Sardinian, Bohemian, Portuguese, Irish, Genoese, the Americas
Carl Remi Beauregard
The prose can be awfully dense, but it's worth slogging through every page.

The author's discussion of Spain's empire (on both a micro and a macro level) has colored the way I think about international relations.

By far, I consider this to be one of the best books I've read in the past year.

In fact, I like it so much that I've read this book twice.
Focuses more on readability and provides better coverage of Spain's global empire. While Kamen has been criticized for his tendency toward historic determinism, this particular book avoids most of it and has been widely praised.
Nathan Albright
Dec 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: challenge-2019
There are a great many writers, some who fancy themselves historians, who complain about the sorts of biases that histories often have in emphasizing only certain players. This book does more than that, in actively seeking to provide some necessary balance to a look at Spain's empire and what that meant and who was involved in it, over the course of a lengthy book of more than 500 pages where the author goes into great detail about the polyglot composition of Spain's imperial possessions and the ...more
Lauren Albert
Jan 15, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history-european
This was a very well-researched and thorough book which suffered from one defect--the author couldn't stop riding his hobby horse. As I've said in other reviews, when the author keeps hammering you vehemently over the head with his or her argument, even when you agree with them, it can cause doubts or at least extreme readerly discomfort. In this case, Kamen's hobby horse is his thesis--that Spain couldn't and didn't develop its "empire" on its own but depended on other groups and countries to ...more
Bryan Patterson
Jan 09, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This piece is a very good look at the development of Spain as a world power. Filled with facts and evidence it can be very dense and overwhelming if you are expecting a simple fun read. That being said it is very enjoyable. Kamen presents the entrance of Spain into the Imperial world in a fashion that helps a person to realize that Spain needed help and that Spain was not the conquerors that we are often made to think they were. As a history teacher this book was very enlightening.
David Alonso vargas
As others universal empires the Spanish monarchy success was put the cooperation of many countries and people under its interests. Like British empire, who many Indians fought in the World War One, the Spanish Monarchy built the first worldwide empire
Feb 18, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
All empires have been a combination of incredible feats of enterprising courage and horrendous disruption and violence. Only a few believers in myths defend their balance as positive when the unavoidable collapse shows the cracks on the foundation. The Spanish Empire was no different. But its history is as mind-boggling today as it was unlikely then.

This book goes a long way to explain how a barren and poor kingdom came to become an enterprise of unbelievable reach. What we call today the
Jackson Cyril
Interesting take-- his contention that the seeds for the Spanish empire were first planted in Spain's relation to its own Muslim and Jewish populations, as well as early colonial ventures in N. Africa is quite good. That said the subsequent history of the Spanish empire, to quote Gibbon "is indeed little more than the register of crimes, follies, and misfortunes of mankind."
Jeroen Van de Crommenacker
Didn’t finish this book. It just never gripped me, despite the fact that the subject matter should be great.
May 07, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
In my quest for my Hispanic identity, I discovered that Spain might be considered the first global economy, and that this occurred through the cooperation of inherited non-Hispanic kingdoms (Genoa, Naples, Netherlands, briefly Portugal) who helped the Castillians in the sudden absence of talented Jews and Muslims. I learned how the idea of an actual Spanish Empire is a fallacy, as only Cuba, New Spain (Mexico) and Peru were actual viable governments, the latter two due to the effort put into ...more
Feb 17, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Loved the economic history parts and when he truly focused on his thesis.
Kevin Lallah
Feb 04, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I'd been looking for a book on this particular subject for quite some time, but found some of them a little off putting - i.e. - dry. I took the plunged with this title and almost passed out, because of the density of the material. It took me a while to finish this book and now that I've finally done it, I'd say that it was a commendable attempt by Mr Kamen on such a convoluted subject.
Many things I didn't know now about; how this nation(Castile) took on the role of imperial power with the help
Oleg Nikanorov
Эта книга привлекла мое внимание не только "испанской" темой, но еще двумя фактами. Первый - автор английский ученый, живущий в Барселоне. Второй - на неких испанских исторических форумах он оппонирует Перес-Реверте.
В результате после прочтения этот немалый труд можно сравнить с исторической передачей на Viasat History. Что-то историческое есть, но подано эта история в крайне популярной форме.
Главным минусом книги является ее рыхлость. Мысли автора мечутся по трудно предсказуемой траектории.
Nicole B
I really enjoyed Kamen's deconstruction on what "Spain" meant during the period of the Spanish Empire. However, the book was oddly organized for me, as it was somewhat, but not completely, chronological, making it hard to follow. 1763 was also an odd 'end' point and I felt like the book had no real conclusion because of it (so much of the book focused on the rise/fall of the Spanish Habsburgs, but the book goes well into the reign of a few Bourbon kings who are barely mentioned at all).

Overall I
Andrew Lord
This one was definitely 3.5 stars for me. Very interesting explanation of how Spain truly backed themselves into being a world power that never could keep it up by themselves. From the moment Spain became the head honcho of Europe, it really never had the infrastructure or domestic resources to make it last. Even the vast wealth of The New World was not enough to keep Spain afloat for long, as ultimately it nearly cost more to maintain those overseas parts of the empire than they could ever hope ...more
This book made me re-think empires. Rather than all-powerful entities, they often are deeply divided and uncertain. Spain plundered much from the Americas, but itself did not become especially wealthy because to build the empire it needed loans from financiers elsewhere in Europe. By no means an apology or attempt to make empire seem less destructive, but still quite thought-provoking.
David Bird
Dec 21, 2013 rated it liked it
Perhaps the ideal reader of this book would have more familiarity than I did about the broad outlines. But I found Kamen's shifts back and forth across his period were often disorienting. I appreciate that trying to undo the triumphalist single narrative of Empire is at the heart of his project. His work reads more as a critique of that view of history, than as a coherent counter-narrative.
Allison Thurman
Jan 18, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Dense factual read of the players in Spain's historic quest for empire. The short version: Spain needed the peoples and countries Europe and the New World to make it work.
Mar 28, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Good information but ponderous
Jun 28, 2008 added it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: to-do
lookin fwd to this
Duane Donecker
Excellent book learned so much that was different than what I was taught in high school back in the eigthtys
Mikhail Belyaev
Sep 13, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Тонкое, нюансированное и часто весьма детальное повествование о становлении и разложении "Испанского мира". Однако, на мой взгляд, не хватает определенной систематичности в изложении.
rated it really liked it
Mar 17, 2015
Louis Taylor
rated it did not like it
Sep 11, 2017
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Henry Kamen is a fellow of the Royal Historical Society in London and an emeritus professor of the Higher Council for Scientific Research in Barcelona.