World Without End: Spain, Philip II, and the First Global Empire

In This Review

World Without End: Spain, Philip II, and the First Global Empire
By Hugh Thomas
Random House, 2015
496 pp.

Thomas has written a good old-fashioned British history. It is supremely erudite, eminently readable, and politically incorrect. The topic is the Spanish empire of the late sixteenth century, which Thomas argues was the first global (and thus the first modern) empire. He focuses on the gruesome nature of Spanish conquests in Mexico, South America, and the Philippines, during which individuals of dubious, often criminal backgrounds used brutal means (including enslavement) to realize not just the Spanish royal will but also their own goals. Those goals—seeking treasure, establishing independent kingdoms, and even, in one case, conquering China—sometimes crossed over into the fantastical, if not the outright insane. At the heart of it all sat Philip II, reading every document, holding the empire together through personal rule, and authorizing massive expenditures that ultimately bankrupted his kingdom. But then comes Thomas’ politically incorrect punch line: despite these lurid details, he defends the civilizing mission of the Spanish empire as ultimately progressive. This seems odd, but in an era when Western armies are engaged in their own civilizing missions throughout the world, Westerners would do well to study what their ancestors did when faced with similar challenges.

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