One of the books I’m reading at the moment, in my non-fiction mood, is
David Birmingham’s A Concise History of Portugal (in the Cambridge Concise Histories series, which I’ve been collecting for a while). This
follows on from William Atkinson’s A History of Spain and Portugal, which I thought I’d read first to get a more general overview of the
area; – this latter book I’m hoping will fill in gaps, solidify ideas in the mind, and concentrate a bit more on the modern period. (I’m amazed
though so far how Portuguese history is intertwined with British history – a love/hate relationship if ever there was one: – but seemingly, while you
could easily tell the history of Britain without once mentioning Portugal (I certainly don’t recall it ever being mentioned), you could never tell
Portuguese history without constant reference to Britain).
The reason though why I’m reading Portuguese history (apart from my long-term goal
of reading through the whole of world history) is because one day I was looking at the first page, thinking of reading, an Antonio Lobo Antunes novel,
and I realised I didn’t know any of the political context he was talking about – and I felt to myself I owed it perhaps to the author and my
appreciation of his work to learn something about it.
Later, while I was already well into my history reading, I bought José Saramago’s
The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis, the opening words of whose prefare are: “José Saramago suggested in a recent interview that …
The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis might be fully appreciated only by somone who is Portuguese. In effect, the novel demands
considerable knowledge of Portugal’s history and culture from the stirring times of glory and empire up to the first ominous chapters of dictatorship
under Salazar.” – So I felt pretty pleased with myself. – On the other hand, maybe I should also be reading Fernando Pessoa’s The Book of
Disquiet first as well.
I do get into these long chains of books however: for various reasons to be explained later, I wanted to read
Machiavelli’s The Prince and Discourses, but I felt that, better to appreciate them, I should first read: JCL de Sisimondi’s
A History of the Italian Republics, Vincent Cronin’s The Flowering of the Renaissance, Christopher Hibbert’s The Rise and Fall
of the Medici, the first ten books of Livy and Aristotle’s Politics (by way of philosophical contrast). – Needless to say, it’ll take
me a long time to get around to Machiavelli.