Spain's peaceful transition from Franco's authoritarianism to democratic polity is a fascinating success story, and the book by Gunther et al., full of important details, based on an analysis of electoral statistics and supplemented by interviews and questionnaires, focuses on the role of the emergent political parties. It argues in tedious and sometimes banal, if highly quantified, form what does not seem very surprising: the Spanish elites cooperated in establishing a democratic framework and were determined to avoid the extremism that had marked the years before the civil war. A narrow book for specialists on a subject of the broadest interest. Preston, a British historian who lived in Spain for three years toward the end of the Franco regime, also analyzes the peaceful transition in much greater breadth if perhaps less depth. His book is instant history, crisp, clear and persuasive. He emphasizes that difficulties abounded in Franco's final years, including a growing discrepancy between a rapidly modernizing economy and "a refractory polity," with an erstwhile supporter (the church) moving away from the regime. The transition was beset by enormous dangers: the recalcitrance of the ultras with their "bunker mentality" and the violence of Basque terrorism. Much credit goes to Juan Carlos, who intuited and gave direction to the political will of moderate Spaniards. A reconstruction of dramatic events, perhaps too narrowly focused on individual actors and events, but eminently readable. The more scholarly book is also the duller: a necessary professional deformity?
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