Barcelona: Recommended Books and Movies

By Rick Steves

To learn more about Barcelona's past and present, check out some of these books and films. (And see our similar lists for elsewhere in Europe.)

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 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 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.
  • Cathedral of the Sea (Ildefonso Falcones, 2006). A humble medieval bastaixo who toils to build the Church of Santa Maria del Mar gradually climbs the social ladder of medieval Barcelona.
  • The City of Marvels (Eduardo Mendoza, 1986). A young man rises from poverty to wealth and power in 1890s Barcelona.
  • For Whom The Bell Tolls (Ernest Hemingway, 1940). After covering the Spanish Civil War from Madrid, Hemingway wrote his iconic novel about an American volunteer fighting Franco's fascist forces.
  • Nada (Carmen Laforet, 1943). This semiautobiographical novel details the experiences of an orphaned university student in post-civil-war Barcelona.
  • 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.

Films

  • Barcelona (1994). Two Americans try to navigate the Spanish singles scene and the ensuing culture clash.
  • L'Auberge Espagnole (2002). This comedy-drama chronicles the loves and lives of European students sharing an apartment in Barcelona.
  • 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.
  • Salvador (2006). Barcelona is the backdrop in this story about the life of Salvador Puig Antich, an anarchist and bank robber executed by Franco in the 1970s.
  • 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).