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.

Books: Nonfiction

For a concise, readable history of this country, pick up Portugal: A Companion History (Saraiva) or The History of Portugal (Anderson).

For a lively account of the Portuguese sea voyages and discoveries in the 15th and 16th centuries, see The Portuguese Empire, 14151808: A World on the Move (Russell-Wood). The biography Prince Henry the Navigator: A Life (Russell) reveals the man who helped set in motion the Age of Discovery. Other famous Portuguese mariners are described in Over the Edge of the World: Magellan’s Terrifying Circumnavigation of the Globe (Bergreen) and Unknown Seas: How Vasco da Gama Opened the East (Watkins).

To explore Portugal’s cuisine, read Food of Portugal (Anderson) or Lonely Planet’s World Food Portugal (Scott-Aitken and De Macedo Vitorino).

Books: Fiction

The Lusiads (Os Lusíadas), by Luís de Camões, is one of the greatest epic poems of the Renaissance, immortalizing Portugal’s voyages of discovery; it’s considered a national treasure. Also look for the work of Fernando Pessoa, a 20th-century Portuguese poet.

Jose Maria Eça De Queirós, who wrote in part to bring about social reform, is considered by some to be the greatest 19th-century Portuguese novelist. English translations include The Crime of Father Amaro, which highlighted the dangers of fanaticism in a provincial Portuguese town.

Nobel prize-winning author Jose Saramago’s novel Baltasar and Blimunda offers a surrealistic reflection on life in 18th-century Portugal, while his books Blindness and Seeing are satires on society and politics.

Set in Portugal in 1938 during Salazar’s fascist government, Pereira Declares: A Testimony (Tabucchi) is the story of the moral resurrection of a newspaper’s cautious editor. Another novel by Tabucchi is Requiem: A Hallucination.

In A Small Death in Lisbon (Wilson), a contemporary police procedural is woven with an espionage story set during World War II, with Portugal’s 20th-century history as a backdrop. Distant Music (Langley), in which Catholic Esperança and Jewish Emmanuel have an affair that lasts through six centuries and multiple incarnations, describes Portugal’s maritime empire, Sephardic Jews, and Portuguese immigrants in London. The thriller, The Last Kabbalist of Lisbon (Zimler), illuminates the persecution of the Jews in Portugal in the early 1500s.


Marcello Mastroianni is the namesake in Pereira Declares (1996), inspired by the Tabucchi novel mentioned earlier.

Capitães de Abril (2000) relates the 1974 coup that overthrew the right-wing Portuguese dictatorship, from the perspective of two young army captains.

Amália (2008) tells the story of Portugal’s beloved fado singer Amália Rodrigues, who rose from poverty to international fame and enjoyed a long, successful career (you can hear her lovely voice on YouTube clips). A documentary, The Art of Amália (2000), features interviews with the diva.