Paul Preston is Britain’s foremost historian of contemporary Spain. A People Betrayed is a magisterial study of its turbulent past, seen through the optic of those apparently ineradicable twins: corruption and political incompetence ... While corruption and political incompetence were, and are, prevalent in Spain, they are scarcely unique to it. Yet there has been a pronounced tendency among British authors to write with condescension about Spain’s 'troubles'. Preston himself has never done so, and has never engaged in the mythologising of 'untroubled' Britain that accompanies it. The fact that he wrote A People Betrayed in the shadow of Brexit, with its home-grown pathology of lies, corruption and eye-popping incompetence, means there is much in his acute analysis of another country’s ills to illuminate our own present malaise ... The book’s dual valency – past and present – is a helpful bonus, though not a surprising one ... The history recounted in A People Betrayed is a long one, but it races along in riveting fashion, replete with eye-catching and often blackly humorous anecdotes – especially for the Franco period and after, involving politicians, bankers, policemen and the royal family. Preston’s narrative combines his gift for cogent, summarising clarity and for telling detail – that the traffic in monopolies included one for rat extermination will stick in many readers’ minds ... Preston has written an admirable book – a lively, comprehensive history of modern Spain, but also, at barely one remove, a compelling essay on contemporary corruption, which is especially worthy of attention today, as we confront an emergency that underlines what states are really for.
... tremendously rich and learned ... massively researched, occasionally dense but powerful, persuasive and utterly fascinating — is also likely to stir controversy ... For anyone with fond memories of Spanish holidays, Preston’s book makes for harrowing reading. Although it appears to be a straightforward highly political history, somebody is assassinated, tortured, maimed or imprisoned on almost every other page. And many of his characters seem more like escapees from some chamber of horrors than traditional parliamentary politicians.
... prodigiously detailed and absorbing ... No, [Preston] doesn’t 'suggest' that Spain is matchless in terms of venality and political ineptitude, at least among the nations of Western Europe. He practically shrieks it from the rooftop ... It is a robust democracy, for all its problems with separatism in Catalonia; and a reader might want to chide Mr. Preston for not always acknowledging that laudable fact. Yet corruption is Mr. Preston’s theme, and he sticks to it like a limpet. His thesis—that the Spanish elites have let the people down time and again—is not entirely original ... Yet the diablo is in Mr. Preston’s detail. The account of corruption in his tale is encyclopedic, and its scale vast ... Mr. Preston does underplay the effect of Spain’s opening up to the outside world—more from necessity than anything else—in the second half of Franco’s dictatorship ... One can’t but conclude that Mr. Preston has just thrown up his hands—and resigned in exhaustion.
Preston has written a Spanish history about a period so steeped in assassination, mob violence, civilian bloodshed, corruption and failed governments that about halfway through reading it I wondered if I had the grit to carry on ... fascinating ... Preston, the author of an acclaimed biography of Franco, has a reputation for being pro-left, pro-republican. The clue to the tenor of the work is the title, which belies the fact that many Spaniards did not feel betrayed by a lack of social progress. Still, the book’s depth of research cannot be faulted, and the examples of grand malfeasance and political corruption are extraordinary ... Preston’s account takes us through the close-run, coup-endangered transition to democracy in the late 1970s and early 1980s. He concludes that the long history of corruption scandals and political incompetence — left, right and monarchical — is the cause for Spain’s polarisation and fragmentation today. Perhaps he oversimplifies the reasons for the country’s present woes, not giving due weight to wider influences such as the global rise of populism and international economic pressures. Nonetheless, after I had finished reading A People Betrayed, I applauded Preston’s — and my own — heroic feat.
Fascist dictators, left-wing terrorists, and feckless democratic politicians all come off badly in this nuanced and evenhanded history of modern Spain ... Preston brings this complex story alive with brisk, lucid prose and colorful character sketches, and treats Spain’s rancorous political antagonisms judiciously. This vigorous narrative history delivers sharp insight into Spain’s chaotic past.
Opening this authoritative yet searingly critical narrative with the restoration of the Bourbon monarchy in 1874, Preston takes us smoothly through the ruinous Spanish-American War, the Spanish Civil War and its long, repressive Francoist aftermath, and the country’s transformation into a republic since the 1970s. The author, a discerning critic of a country he clearly understands, delivers a comprehensive, vivid, and bleak record of assassinations, betrayals, anarchist attacks, extrajudicial exterminations, military coups, terrorism, dictatorship, endless corruption, and economic ruin ... Preston leaves readers pessimistic about the ability of Spain’s current regime to lead the country into a bright future, and the author’s unrelenting disappointment with the country he loves is sometimes taxing to readers. The book could have used some lighter-hued relief with more focus on Spain’s ordinary people, who have always gotten on with their lives despite officialdom’s poisonous struggles for power. In the book’s welter of detail about politics and culture, the achievements of average Spaniards often get lost. Still, the scope of the narrative and the obvious depth of research are impressive ... Likely to be the go-to history of modern Spain for many years to come.