This was a long read in terms of time largely, I suspect, because of the subject matter and the way in which historians tend to write. It was, quite simply, not a book you could read from cover to cover without occasionally stopping to absorb the information being conveyed.
And the information contained in this fourth edition of Kamen’s work is worth absorbing. The picture often painted of the Spanish Inquisition is one of absolute societal control, of fear and torture, and of an almost pervasive ‘police state’ approach to its task. Kamen, however, delves into the historical records and provides a portrait that challenges and at time dispels this oft held fantasy of what the Holy Office was tasked to do during its existence on the Spanish peninsula.
While it certainly true that there were instances of grave actions on the part of some of the tribunals of the Inquisition – which highlights the fact that there wasn’t a unified approach or structure in the first place – the role of the Inquisition depended in a large part on the where as much as the why of its operations. The picture painted by Kamen makes it clear that the role of the Inquisition was also not a stationary one, changing and developing over the course of its existence to meet what were perceived to be new threats to the life of the Spanish state and people.
If anyone thinks they know what the Inquisition was, and what its role in Spanish society was, then they should read this book. Perhaps, just perhaps, their understanding of the role of the Holy Office might change, and be changed on the basis of historical analysis rather than concocted images.
Though hard work to read – because of the aforementioned nature of books of history – this book is definitely worth reading.