Spain: Recommended Books and Movies

By Rick Steves

Spain is overwhelmingly rich in history, art, and culture. To learn more about Spain's past and present, check out a few of these books and films.

Books: Nonfiction

  • Barcelona (Robert Hughes, 1992). This is an opinionated journey through the city's tumultuous history, with a focus on art and architecture. Barcelona: The Great Enchantress (2004) is a condensed version of Hughes' love song to his favorite city.
  • Barcelona: A Thousand Years of the City's Past (Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, 1992). A historical and artistic perspective on Barcelona, this book also details the tensions between the city and the rest of Spain.
  • The Basque History of the World (Mark Kurlansky, 2001). This is an essential history for understanding the Basque region (the area between Spain and France).
  • The Battle for Spain (Antony Beevor, 2006). A prize-winning account of the disintegration of Spain in the 1930s, Beevor's work is the best overall history of the bloody civil war.
  • Discovering Spain: An Uncommon Guide (Penelope Casas, 1992). Casas, a well-known Spanish cookbook author, insightfully blends history, culture, and food in this personal guide.
  • Driving Over Lemons (Chris Stewart, 2001). In this real-life account, the one-time drummer of Genesis and his family relocate to Spain and adjust to new cultures and traditions.
  • Following the Milky Way (Elyn Aviva, 1989). In 1982, Aviva explored the nature of pilgrimage along the famous Camino de Santiago trail in northern Spain — before its newfound popularity.
  • Ghosts of Spain: Travels Through Spain and Its Silent Past (Giles Tremlett, 2007). Spain comes to grips with its past under Franco in this evocative first-person account — part social history and part travelogue.
  • Hell and Good Company: The Spanish Civil War and The World It Made (Richard Rhodes, 2015). Reporters, writers, artists, and doctors who witnessed the Spanish Civil War tell their extraordinary stories.
  • Homage to Barcelona (Colm Toibin, 1990). This rich history of Barcelona includes anecdotes from the author's time in the city.
  • Homage to Catalonia (George Orwell, 1938). Orwell writes a gripping account of his experiences in the Spanish Civil War fighting Franco's fascists.
  • Hotel Florida: Truth, Love, and Death in the Spanish Civil War (Amanda Vaill, 2014). In this popular history, Vaill reconstructs events of the Spanish Civil War through the letters, diaries, and photographs of the war correspondents who covered it.
  • Iberia (James Michener, 1968). Michener's tribute to Spain explores how the country's dark history created a contradictory and passionately beautiful land.
  • The New Spaniards (John Hooper, 2006). Hooper surveys all aspects of modern Spain, including its transition from dictatorship to democracy, its cultural traditions, and its changing society.
  • On Pilgrimage (Jennifer Lash, 1998). In 1986 Lash found out she had cancer. After an operation, she embarked on a solitary journey along the Camino through France to Spain.
  • The Ornament of the World (María Rosa Menocal, 2002). Menocal gives a vivid depiction of how Muslims, Jews, and Christians created a culture of tolerance in medieval Spain.
  • Sister Queens: The Noble, Tragic Lives of Katherine of Aragon and Juana, Queen of Castile (Julia Fox, 2011). This dual biography of the daughters of Ferdinand and Isabel tells how they each lost positions of power — one to madness and the other to the desires of England's Henry VIII.
  • South from Granada (Gerald Brenan, 1957). The eccentricities of village life in the mountains south of Granada are lovingly detailed in this British expat's 1920s experiences.
  • Travelers' Tales: Spain (Lucy McCauley, 1995). This collection of essays from numerous authors creates an appealing overview of Spain and its people.

Books: Fiction

  • The Blind Man of Seville (Robert Wilson, 2003). Wilson's popular police thrillers, including this one, are set in Spain and Portugal.
  • The Carpenter's Pencil (Manuel Rivas, 2001). The psychological cost of Spain's Civil War is at the heart of this unsentimental tale of a revolutionary haunted by his past.
  • Three Tragedies (Federico García Lorca, 1933-36). Written in the last years of the poet's life, these plays about repression, ritual, desire, and tradition are a fine introduction to Lorca's genius.
  • Don Quixote (Miguel de Cervantes, 1605). This classic tale of a deluded nobleman trying to revive chivalry in early 16th-century Spain is one of the world's greatest novels.
  • For Whom The Bell Tolls (Ernest Hemingway, 1940). After reporting on the Spanish Civil War from Madrid, Hemingway wrote his iconic novel about an American volunteer fighting Franco's fascist forces.
  • The Heretic (Lewis Weinstein, 2000). Sevilla is the backdrop for this tale exploring the brutality and intolerance of the Spanish Inquisition.
  • The Last Jew (Noah Gordon, 2000). This sweeping saga recounts one man's survival in Inquisition-era Spain.
  • The Queen's Vow (C. W. Gortner, 2012). The life and times of Queen Isabel are vividly re-created in this historical novel.
  • The Shadow of the Wind (Carlos Ruiz Zafón, 2005). This best-selling thriller is set in 1950s Barcelona; sequels include The Angel's Game and The Prisoner of Heaven.
  • Stories from Spain (Genevieve Barlow and William Stivers, 1999). Readers follow nearly 1,000 years of Spanish history in brief short stories printed in Spanish and English.
  • The Sun Also Rises (Ernest Hemingway, 1926). A bullfight enthusiast, Hemingway chronicles the running of the bulls in Pamplona in this novel about the "Lost Generation." He also wrote about the spectacle in Death in the Afternoon (1932) and The Dangerous Summer (1960).
  • Tales of the Alhambra (Washington Irving, 1832). In this timeless classic, Irving weaves fact and mythical tales into his descriptions of the Alhambra.


  • Barcelona (1994). Two Americans try to navigate the Spanish singles scene and the ensuing culture clash.
  • Carlos Saura's Flamenco trilogy. The first film, Blood Wedding (1981), adapts Federico García Lorca's play about a wedding imposed on a bride in love with another man. Carmen (1983) follows a Spanish cast rehearsing the well-known French opera. El Amor Brujo (1986) is a ghostly love story.
  • Carol's Journey (2002). A Spanish-American girl travels to Spain for the first time in the turbulent spring of 1938.
  • El Cid (1961). Sophia Loren and Charlton Heston star in this epic about an 11th-century hero's effort to unite Spain.
  • Goya's Ghosts (2006). Focusing on the last phases of the Spanish Inquisition, this film by Milos Forman is part satire and part soap opera.
  • Juana la Loca (Mad Love, 2001). This historical drama set in the early 16th century combines sex and politics in the time of Queen Juana the Mad.
  • L'Auberge Espagnole (2002). This comedy-drama chronicles the loves and lives of European students sharing an apartment in Barcelona.
  • Man of La Mancha (1972). Peter O'Toole and Sophia Loren star in this musical version of Don Quixote.
  • Manuale d'Amore (2005). The four episodes of this film follow the love stories of four couples, with Barcelona and Rome as backdrops.
  • The Mystery of Picasso (1956). Picasso is filmed painting from behind a transparent canvas, allowing a unique look at his creative process.
  • Ocho Apellidos Vascos (Spanish Affair, 2014). Two of Spain's most different cultures collide as a dumped bride-to-be from the Basque Country goes ahead with her bachelorette Sevilla. Eventually the south vs. north conflict is amorously resolved.
  • Open Your Eyes (1997). Set in Madrid, Alejandro Amenábar's film was the inspiration for the Tom Cruise thriller Vanilla Sky, in which a car accident sets off an intricate series of events.
  • Pan's Labyrinth (2006). Exploring the dark times of fascist Spain in World War II, this film is a rich excursion in magic realism.
  • Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008). In this Woody Allen film, a macho Spanish artist (Javier Bardem) tries to seduce two American women when his stormy ex-wife (Penélope Cruz) suddenly reenters his life.
  • Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988). This film, about a woman's downward spiral after a breakup, is one of several piquant Pedro Almodóvar movies about relationships in the post-Franco era. Others include All About My Mother (1999), Talk to Her (2002), Volver (2006), and Broken Embraces (2009).