A few days ago I finished reading A Concise History of Portugal by David Birmingham. I’m going to try to get in the habit of writing a bit about each book I read, so here it goes…
I’m a history geek, I’m living in Portugal, and I knew nothing about Portuguese history, so the stage was set for me to devour this little book. And yes, I thoroughly enjoyed gaining a glimpse into the long and twisting story of the Portuguese people and nation. The monuments and street names that I encounter on a daily basis make much more sense to me now, and I’m continuing to make connections. In short, I love learning.
The book, however, I would give 3 out of 5. I’ve read several of Birmingham’s books (on Angola), and all of them were more helpful than this one. The reader has to wade a bit more slowly than one might expect from a book with “concise” in the title. He lacks chronological organization, to some extent, so it’s hard to put all the pieces together in order. And he focused heavily on the interactions between various power-bases in government in each phase to the extent that other facets of life, while mentioned, seem to recede into obscurity. Still, I can’t complain too much. I had no idea that British ties were so influential until I read this book. And the same could be said of dozens of other aspects of Portuguese history – the Brazilian gold, the revolution of the 1800s, the conquest by Spain in the 1600s, and others that I’ve already forgotten. Okay, at this point I can’t remember the names of any of the major kings of Portugal, but… I still love learning!
Enough about the book. A quick thought about Portuguese history: I really appreciate that Portugal has maintained its national personality and pride, rather than being subsumed under the larger influences of Spain, Britain, or Europe in general. Okay, the Portuguese pride can go a bit overboard sometimes, and perhaps lean toward revisionist history. But in the end, I appreciate that Portuguese history is so… Portuguese, so idiosyncratic, so unique. And I really enjoy the Portuguese people who have been shaped by that history. They are one more facet in God’s diamond of creation, and as such, they honor Him just by their very existence. God is an amazing creator!