Juan Carlos: Steering Spain from Dictatorship to Democracy

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The definitive biography of Spain's enigmatic king, a riveting work of late-twentieth-century history.
Paul Preston, the author of the definitive biography Franco, explores the political and personal mysteries of the Spanish monarch's life in Juan Carlos, a story of unprecedented sweep and exquisite detail. Handed over to the Franco regime as a young boy, Juan Carlos was raised according to authoritarian traditions designed to make him a cornerstone of the dictatorship. How then...

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Overview

The definitive biography of Spain's enigmatic king, a riveting work of late-twentieth-century history.
Paul Preston, the author of the definitive biography Franco, explores the political and personal mysteries of the Spanish monarch's life in Juan Carlos, a story of unprecedented sweep and exquisite detail. Handed over to the Franco regime as a young boy, Juan Carlos was raised according to authoritarian traditions designed to make him a cornerstone of the dictatorship. How then did he later emerge as an emphatic defender of the democracy that began to form after Franco's death? In his peerless voice, Preston provides the details necessary to answer this central question, examining the king's troubled relationship with his father and his vital work in consolidating parliamentary democracy in Spain. What begins as the story of one monarch becomes at once a history of modern Spain and an indispensable exegesis of how democracies come to be.

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Editorial Reviews

Nicholas Gordon-Lennox - Daily Telegraph
“[Preston] is a master of narrative, with an eye for the arresting and sometimes horrific detail.”
Joshua Goode
This book, written by one of the most energetic and respected historians of modern Spain, does not seek out salacious details or purport to tell the essence of the man. This is really a history of modern Spanish politics, the dictatorial years of Francisco Franco and the surprisingly central role the king played in bringing about Spain's peaceful transition to democracy.
The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
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) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
A logical step for this London School of Economics historian after Franco. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
An impressively thorough but tepid life of Spain's reigning Bourbon monarch, who helped foster democracy after the dark decades of the Franco junta. The hard-nosed dictator-who is, yes, still dead-had little use for the monarchy: he harbored reasonable suspicions that the Bourbons were inclined to liberal views, and he was quite happy to see them in exile in Switzerland. His attitude softened when, in 1946, the UN denounced Franco's government as an Axis regime, in fact if not in name, and "invited him to surrender the powers of government." Franco, determined to have his regime accepted as legitimate, promulgated a law of succession that declared that Spain was a Catholic kingdom with a monarch in residence-but, of course, with Franco sitting at the head of government. To emphasize this succession, Franco called for nine-year-old Juan Carlos, the heir to the Bourbon throne, to return to Spain and study under his tutelage. Juan Carlos did so, demonstrating a regal equanimity in the face of "the fact that his father, Don Juan, to all intents and purposes sold him into slavery." As Preston (History/London School of Economics; Franco, 1994) shows at altogether too much length, Juan Carlos absorbed the teachings of Don Francisco while keeping the liberal flame alive; on a state visit to the US, Juan Carlos told officials of the Nixon administration that he intended to steer his country toward democracy, plans that Franco was surely aware of and perhaps, Preston suggests, even approved of. Franco's death in November 1975 brought considerable resistance on the part of fascist loyalists, and a short-lived military coup in 1981; yet Juan Carlos managed to steer a middle course, restore democraticinstitutions, keep the army from seizing power, weather Basque terrorism and regional separatism, and elevate Spain from historical afterthought to its present prosperity and prominence. A useful biography, though overwritten and overlength; of particular interest to students of contemporary European politics.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393058048
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 5/19/2004
  • Pages: 614
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.50 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Paul Preston, author of The Spanish Civil War, Franco and Juan Carlos, and The Spanish Holocaust, is the world's foremost historian on twentieth-century Spain. A professor at the London School of Economics, he lives in London.

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Table of Contents

1 In Search of a Lost Crown 1931-1948 1
2 A Pawn Sacrificed 1949-1955 52
3 The Tribulations of a Young Soldier 1955-1960 95
4 A Life Under Surveillance 1960-1966 148
5 The Winning Post in Sight 1967-1969 205
6 Under Suspicion 1969-1974 249
7 Taking Over 1974-1976 301
8 The Gamble 1976-1977 354
9 More Responsibility, Less Power: the Crown and golpismo 1977-1980 397
10 Fighting for Democracy 1980-1981 444
11 Living in the Long Shadow of Success 1981-2002 489
Bibliography 521
Notes 545
Index 595
Illustrations 613
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 3 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 22, 2007

    A reviewer

    Couldn't have put it better and will only add that this is a British biography and thus runs dry and to excessive detail. Great effort, spectacular King.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 1, 2005

    Franco's successor, his father's heir

    Ever since I literally walked off a bus and into the golpe attempt of 1981 in Madrid I have been a fan of Juan Carlos. The King's speech that night made clear that the plotters would have to kill him and start another civil war if they were to succeed. The plot promptly collapsed. This book is a comprehensive and even exciting account of how a boy became a king. It starts by Juan Carolos' 'double exile,' first by being born to an exiled royal family and they by being sent away from his parents to be educated in Spain at the age of ten. Preston is best at describing the difficult upbringing of Juan Carlos, how he loved his father and yet became his rival, how he loathed Franco's dictatorship but had real affection for him as a father figure. Juan Carlos is portrayed by Preston as a man with (like the famous description of FDR) 'a second rate intellect but a first rate temperament.' Juan Carlos, by his charm, courage and genuine concern even for his opponents, shows that politics is many times more personality than ideology. Two criticisms of the book, it does go into a little too much detail about the politics of the transition and the conspirators of the golpe (coup) attempt of 1981. Nevertheless it is fascinating and worth the effort to plow through this material. The book The New Spaniards by John Hooper has a good summary of this period that will help you through this. My other criticism of the book is that after Juan Carlos becomes an adult his personality seems to disappear. It would have been good to get some more insight into his personality. One disagreement with the Kirkus Reviews in that Preston makes clear that Franco never thought Juan Carlos would be able to change Spain into a democracy. Franco may have known that Juan Carlos was more liberal than he but Franco was sure the state he had built could not be changed. Thank goodness for Spain that King Juan Carlos was able to prove Franco wrong! All in all, a good profile of a great King.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 7, 2009

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