JUAN CARLOS: Steering Spain from Dictatorship to Democracy

Paul Preston, Author . Norton $35 (614p) ISBN 978-0-393-05804-8

Ever since the Middle Ages, Spanish history has been a deeply polemical field. Preston, professor of international history at the London School of Economics, is one of a coterie of English-speaking historians of Spain whose reputation for objectivity has gained them intense admiration among the Spanish public. Following his definitive biography of the dictator Franco, Preston now turns his attention to the man Franco chose to perpetuate his repressive regime, the grandson of King Alfonso XIII. Juan Carlos, with his soldierly temperament and his taste for women and fast cars, was widely perceived as Franco's stooge and an intellectual mediocrity. Preston, however, a self-confessed pragmatist, is thoroughly sympathetic, presenting his subject as an intelligent patriot, repeatedly sacrificing personal happiness in long-term pursuit of democracy. In the pivotal years after Franco's death in 1975, Juan Carlos pacified the left, legalizing the Communist Party and bringing the socialists around to the cause of a constitutional monarchy. At the same time, the king desperately attempted to limit the fallout from attacks by the Basque terrorist group ETA and partially defused the threat of military conspiracy. While unable to avoid the attempted coup of 1981, he was, in Preston's view, undoubtedly instrumental in its failure, preventing a bloodbath and a second civil war. The warmth of Preston's respect for the king will be a surprise to some, but is well supported by the evidence in this exhaustive and compelling book, which should be read by anyone with an interest in contemporary Europe. 16 pages of illus. not seen by PW. Agent, Andrew Wylie. (June)

Reviewed on: 04/12/2004
Release date: 06/01/2004
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 624 pages - 978-0-00-638693-3
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