Madrid is one of the largest cities in Europe, and it’s a major world center for art, architecture and culture. With so much history and diversity, it’s hard to find the right starting place for exploring the Spanish capital. One option is to just book your tickets and set off on foot. Another way to do it without leaving the comfort of your home is to read books about Madrid. This has the added benefit of giving you context that you won’t necessarily see written on the city’s walls.
With such a rich literary history, Madrid provides plenty of reading options. While by no means comprehensive, we’ve put together a list of 10 books that span across genres and centuries. No matter what kind of books you like to read, there should be an option here that appeals to you.
While many of these books were originally written in Spanish, they’re all available in English as of today. Still, if you’re up for a challenge and are learning the language, it’s worth it to give the Spanish editions a try.
Nonfiction Books About Madrid
For The History Buff: Madrid By Jules Stewart
One of the most useful ways to prepare for a visit to any city is by learning, at the very least, the outlines of that city’s history. Jules Stewart’s Madrid is a great choice to do just that. It’s relatively brief considering the hundreds of years of history it’s covering, but the book will give you an introduction on the city’s role in everything from its earliest days as the country’s capital to the Spanish Civil War. For someone who isn’t very familiar with Madrid’s past, it’s an excellent starting point.
For The Memoir Lover: Without A Second Thought By Diane Lorz Benitez
Diane Lorz Benitez was born in the United States, but she moved to Madrid with her husband and promptly fell in love with the city. The only problem was she moved there toward the end of Francisco Franco’s regime, when the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War lingered without being spoken of very much. In Without a Second Thought, Benitez writes about the highs and lows of this time in both her life and Madrid’s history, and the events that led to the dissolution of her marriage.
For The Artist: Picasso By Patrick O’Brian
Many talented artists have lived in Madrid over the years, but few have matched the cultural impact of Pablo Picasso. A deeply flawed individual — his treatment of women in particular was terrible — he’s impossible to ignore, having embedded himself in the 20th century artistic canon. To learn about the man behind Guernica, you can read Patrick O’Brian’s Picasso, a biography that tells the life of Picasso from beginning to end. It covers both his career and his lurid private life, giving a portrait of a man filled with contradictions.
For The Photographer: Madrid By Antonio Muñoz Molina
If you want to see the city without going to the city, a photography book could hit the spot. Madrid collects works from over a dozen photographers who were drawn to the streets and people of Madrid to make their work. It also serves as a capsule history of 20th and 21st century Madrid, showing how the city changed through turbulent times, and how it keeps evolving today.
For The Sports Fan: Fear And Loathing In La Liga By Sid Lowe
There’s no question as to the most popular sport in Spain: it’s football (or soccer, for the Americans). And Spanish football is home to one of the greatest sports rivalries of all time: Barcelona FC versus Real Madrid. In Fear and Loathing in La Liga, Sid Lowe tells the century-long history of the two teams. While focused on the sport, the story goes well beyond football to show how the rivalry has intersected with the political and cultural history of Madrid, Barcelona and Spain as a whole.
Fiction Books About Madrid
For The Classics Reader: Exemplary Novels By Miguel De Cervantes
Miguel de Cervantes is one of the most famous writers to have ever lived, and his most famous work, Don Quixote, changed the course of literary history. While we’d certainly recommend reading that, Cervantes’ Exemplary Novels shed more light on the Madrid that Cervantes lived in. It’s a collection of 12 short stories that in some way comment on the various issues Cervantes saw in early 17th century Spanish society. While that can sound a bit dry, Cervantes’ stories are filled with whimsy and invention that pull the reader along.
For The Young Reader: The Story Of Ferdinand By Munro Leaf And Robert Lawson
The Story of Ferdinand is a classic children’s book that has won over countless people in the decades since it was first published in 1936. It’s about a young bull who likes the simple pleasures in life, and is caught off guard when one day he’s thrown into the bullfighting ring in Madrid. The authors of the book are American, and ironically the book was banned in Spain because of its pacifist message, only to be unbanned after Francisco Franco’s death.
For The Literary Fiction Lover: A Heart So White By Javier Marías
Javier Marías is widely considered one of the most talented Spanish writers working today, and he has had several of his novels translated into English. There are a few common threads in Marías’ work: many of them focus on human relationships (especially marriage) and many of them are set in Madrid. A Heart So White starts with a newlywed woman dying by suicide for reasons no one can immediately understand. From there, it becomes a literary crime novel, as one man tries to find the reason behind the horrendous event.
For The Historical Fiction Fan: The Fencing Master By Arturo Pérez-Reverte
The Spanish Civil War looms large in 20th century Spanish literature — for good reason — but Arturo Pérez-Reverte reaches further back in time in his novel The Fencing Master. Set during the Glorious Revolution of the mid-19th century, the book focuses on a fencing master who does his best to stay out of the affairs of the day. When he’s approached by a young woman who wants his teaching, though, a chain of events is set off that drags him into international intrigue.
For Those Split Between Worlds: Madrid Again By Soledad Maura
Madrid Again starts with a young student in Madrid who lives with her oppressively religious teacher. When she is given the option to move to the United States with a professor, she leaps at it, but then is promptly abandoned with a baby daughter (you can imagine the circumstances). She and her daughter live the rest of their lives dividing their time between the United States and visits to Madrid, leading to many mixed feelings about identity and language, as well as what “home” truly means.