Alistair Boyd The Essence of Catalonia (o/p). Part-history, part-travel book, with discourses on various Catalan themes - food and drink, art, literature, language. A good general introduction.
Robert Hughes Barcelona (Harvill, UK). This is the best of the 1992 books on the Olympic city: a text that, in the author's stated ambition, "explains the zeitgeist of the place and the connective tissue between the cultural icons".
Norman Lewis Voices of the Old Sea (Picador, UK). Set in the early 1950s, on what is now the Costa Brava, this exemplary blend of novel and social record charts the lives of two remote Catalan villages and the breakdown of the old ways in the face of tourism.
Rose Macaulay The Fabled Shore (o/p). The Spanish coast as it was in 1949, an account starting in Catalunya with barely credible descriptions of the Costa Brava before the package holiday.
Manuel Vasquez Montalban Barcelonas (Verso Books, UK). One of Spain's most influential writers produced one of the most entertaining books designed to lay open the city to pre- and post-Olympic visitors - part guidebook, part discursive analysis of everything from sex to soccer in Barcelona.
Colm Tóibín Homage to Barcelona (Picador, UK). A personal account of the city by an Irish journalist, who traces Barcelona's history through its people, personalities, organizations and rulers.
Raymond Carr Modern Spain 1875-1980 (OUP, UK/US) and The Spanish Tragedy: the Civil War in Perspective (Weidenfeld, UK). Two of the best books available on modern Spanish history - well-told narratives.
Felipe Fernandez-Armesto Barcelona: A Thousand Years of the City's Past (o/p). A recent and expertly written appraisal of what the author sees as the formative years of the city's history, from the tenth to the early twentieth centuries. Detailed, intelligent, but dry.
Ian Gibson Fire in the Blood: The New Spain (o/p). Gibson is a passionate enthusiast for and critic of Spain and the Spanish, both of which he gets across brilliantly in this 1993 book - the accompaniment to a TV series. Recommended.
John Hooper The New Spaniards (Penguin, UK/US). Excellent portrait of post-Franco Spain and the new generation. If you buy just one book for general background on the rest of the country, this should be it.
Juan Lalaguna A Traveller's History of Spain (Windrush, UK; Interlink, US). One of a series, this is rather confusingly laid out if you're looking for the sections and periods applicable to Catalunya, but handy for a general Spanish overview from the year dot to 1988 - with informative cultural and economic asides.
Peter Sahlins Boundaries: The Making of Spain and France in the Pyrenees (University of California Press, US). Detailed historical account of the effect on Catalans on both sides of the border of the emergence of Spain and France as separate nations.
The Civil War
Arturo Barea The Forging of a Rebel (o/p). Autobiographical trilogy taking in the Spanish war in Morocco in the 1920s, and Barea's own part in the Civil War. Praised by Orwell, the books are published under the individual titles The Forge, The Track and The Clash .
Gerald Brenan The Spanish Labyrinth (CUP, UK/US). First published in 1943, Brenan's account of the background to the Civil War is tinged by personal experience, yet still impressively rounded.
Ronald Fraser Blood of Spain (Pimlico, UK). Subtitled The Experience of Civil War , this fascinating oral history of the years 1936-39 gets behind the people who fought in and lived through the war. As a record of ordinary people's lives in extraordinary times, it's more accessible than almost any straight political account of the war.
Jason Gurney Crusade in Spain (o/p). Unlike Orwell (see below), the sculptor Jason Gurney fought for the Republicans in the International Brigades, but his story is similar, the deprivations and defeats the same.
George Orwell Homage to Catalonia (Penguin, UK/US). If not Orwell's most celebrated book, then at least the one where he honed his acute political reportage and observational skills. A forthright, honest - and entertaining - account of the fight on the Aragón front, followed by Orwell's injury and subsequent flight from the factional infighting in Republican Spain. A classic.
Paul Preston (ed.) Revolution and War in Spain (Fontana, UK). A selection of essays on the Civil War period, most of them from a regional perspective - including Catalunya. Preston also wrote Franco , a penetrating and monumental biography of Franco and his regime.
Hugh Thomas The Spanish Civil War (Penguin, UK; Touchstone, US). Massive, classic, exhaustive political study of the period. Still the best single telling of the convoluted story of the Civil War.
As well as the volume listed below, there are numerous individual studies of Picasso, Miró, Dalí and Gaudí. In Barcelona, look in the bookshops in the Museu Picasso and the Fundació Miró, and in the Museu Dalí in Figueres.
John Richardson A Life of Picasso (Pimlico, UK). Sumptuously produced biography of Picasso, the first volume is an extremely readable account of the artist's early years, covering the whole of his time in Barcelona and his trip to the Catalan Pyrenees.
Catalan literature and books about Barcelona
Bernado Atxaga The Lone Man (Penguin, UK/US). Basque novelist sets a well-received thriller during the 1982 World Cup, when two ETA gunmen hole up in a Barcelona hotel.
Victor Català (Caterina Albert i Paradis) Solitude (o/p). This tragic tale of a woman's life and sexual passions in a Catalan mountain village is regarded as the most important pre-Civil War Catalan novel.
Salvador Dalí Hidden Faces (Peter Owen, UK). Dalí's only novel, first published in 1944, is a typically arrogant and absurd romp through the prewar lives of a group of aristocrats. The jazzman and surrealist critic George Melly said reading it left him "feeling that I had just woken up after a night of elaborate and meaningless excess, with a bad headache and a filthy taste in my mouth". Recommendation indeed.
Ramon Llull Blanquerna (o/p). A thirteenth-century mystic and philosopher, Llull was born in Mallorca; Blanquerna was one of the first books to be written in any Romance language - a fascinating tale of mysticism, chivalry and missionary zeal.
Eduardo Mendoza City of Marvels, The Truth About the Savolta Case and The Year of the Flood (Harvill, UK). Mendoza's first and best novel, City of Marvels is set in the expanding Barcelona of 1880-1920, full of rich underworld characters and riddled with anarchic and comic turns; it's a milieu repeated with flair in The Truth About the Savolta Case , while The Year of the Flood adds a light touch to an unusual amorous entanglement.
Manuel Vasquez Montalban Murder in the Central Committee, Southern Seas, The Angst Ridden Executive, An Olympic Death (Serpent's Tail, UK). Montalban lives in Barcelona, like his great creation, the gourmand-detective Pepe Carvalho, who stars in all of his wry and racy crime thrillers.
Raul Nuñez The Lonely Hearts Club (Serpent's Tail, UK). Montalban-like parade of grotesques and hard-bitten characters haunt the city in this likeable, oddball romantic comedy.
Colm Tóibín The South (Picador, UK). Tóibín's first novel uses the Barcelona he knows well as background for his tale of an Irish woman looking for a new life.
Barbara Wilson Gaudí Afternoon (Seal Press, UK). Pacy feminist thriller set in Barcelona, and making good use of Gaudí's architecture as a backdrop for deception and skulduggery. One to read in a Ramblas café.
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