Portugal: Recommended Books and Movies

By Rick Steves

To learn more about Portugal past and present, check out a few of these books and films. (And see our similar lists for elsewhere in Europe.)

Books: Nonfiction

  • The Book of Disquiet (Fernando Pessoa, 1982). This collection of unpublished poetry and thoughts from the great Portuguese writer, Fernando Pessoa, was compiled after they were found in a trunk following his death.
  • The First Global Village (Martin Page, 2002). Page explores Portugal's profound influence on the rest of the world.
  • The History of Portugal (James Anderson, 2000). Anderson provides a concise, readable overview of Portuguese history.
  • The Last Day: Wrath, Ruin, and Reason in the Great Lisbon Earthquake of 1755 (Nicholas Shrady, 2008). The earthquake that leveled Lisbon not only destroyed one of the leading European cities of the time, but also had a lasting effect on the world at large.
  • Over the Edge of the World: Magellan's Terrifying Circumnavigation of the Globe (Laurence Bergreen, 2003). Magellan's fascinating tale of circumnavigating the globe is told through firsthand accounts.
  • Portugal: A Companion History (José Hermano Saraiva, 1997). This easily digestible primer on Portugal is accompanied by maps and illustrations.
  • The Portuguese: A Modern History (Barry Hatton, 2011). Hatton combines information on the country's history, landscape, and culture with anecdotes from his own experience living in Portugal.
  • The Portuguese Empire, 14151808: A World on the Move (A.J.R. Russell-Wood, 1998). Russell-Wood explores the rise and fall of the Portuguese empire.
  • Prince Henry the Navigator: A Life (Peter Russell, 2000). This biography reveals the man who helped set in motion the Age of Discovery.
  • Unknown Seas: How Vasco da Gama Opened the East (Ronald Watkins, 2005). Reconstructing journeys from captain's logs, this book explores the expansion of Portuguese trade routes.

Books: Fiction

  • Baltasar and Blimunda (José Saramago, 1998). Saramago's love story offers a surrealistic reflection on life in 18th-century Portugal.
  • The Crime of Father Amaro (Jose Maria Eça De Queirós, 1875). Set in a provincial Portuguese town, this book by the great 19th-century Portuguese novelist highlights the dangers of fanaticism.
  • Distant Music (Lee Langley, 2003). Catholic Esperança and Jewish Emmanuel have an affair that lasts through six centuries and multiple incarnations; the book also delves into Portugal's maritime empire, Sephardic Jews, and Portuguese immigrants in London.
  • The Last Kabbalist of Lisbon (Richard Zimler, 1996). The author illuminates the persecution of the Jews in Portugal in the early 1500s.
  • The Lusiads (Luís de Camões, 1572). Considered a national treasure, Camões' great epic poems of the Renaissance immortalize Portugal's voyages of discovery.
  • Night Train to Lisbon (Pascal Mercier, 2004). Mercier's international bestseller, turned 2013 film, follows the travels of a Swiss professor as he explores the life of a Portuguese doctor during Salazar's dictatorship.
  • Pereira Declares: A Testimony (Antonio Tabucchi, 1997). Set in Portugal in 1938 during Salazar's fascist government, Pereira Declares is the story of the moral resurrection of a newspaper's cautious editor.
  • A Small Death in Lisbon (Robert Wilson, 2002). In this award-winning thriller, a contemporary police procedural is woven with an espionage story set during World War II, with Portugal's 20th-century history as a backdrop.

Films

  • Amália (2008). This film captures the life of Portugal's beloved fado singer, Amália Rodrigues, who rose from poverty to international fame. (If the film is hard to find, listen to a YouTube clip of her lovely singing.)
  • The Art of Amália (2000). Interviews with the diva are highlighted in this documentary chronicling her rise to fame.
  • Capitães de Abril (2000). The story of the 1974 coup that overthrew the right-wing Portuguese dictatorship is told from the perspective of two young army captains.
  • Letters from Fontainhas (2010). This trio of short films follows three troubled lives in Lisbon.
  • Pereira Declares (1996). Marcello Mastroianni plays the namesake in this film inspired by the Tabucchi novel mentioned earlier.
  • The Strange Case of Angelica (2010). Manoel de Oliveira's film about a photographer haunted by a deceased bride is set against the landscape of the Douro Valley.