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Obituary: Hugh Thomas, author of seminal book on the Spanish Civil War

Passionate about Spain, he also wrote a much-applauded trilogy about the days of empire

The British historian Hugh Thomas, author of a seminal book on the Spanish Civil War, died on Saturday at age 85. His death was announced by the Spanish news organization Abc, to which Thomas was a regular contributor. His 1961 The Spanish Civil War, published in Paris when he was just 30 years old, was banned by the Franco regime back in Spain. It became a highly influential work during the country’s transition to democracy, and has since become a classic reference in the existing literature about the 1936-1939 period in Spanish history.

Hugh Thomas
British historian Hugh Thomas in 2008. EL PAÍS

At a talk he delivered at Madrid’s Círculo de Bellas Artes cultural center in 2001, on the 40th anniversary of the book’s publication, Thomas said that its excellent reviews were a determining factor in his own life and career. A revised edition came out in 1977 and it was printed again in 2001.

Born in Windsor, England, Thomas was passionate about the history of Spain, a country that he visited for the first time in 1955. He would go on to publish a trilogy about the Spanish Empire that he began in 2003 with Rivers of Gold, followed by The Golden Age: The Spanish Empire of Charles V in 2010 and World Without End: The Global Empire of Philip II in 2014.

He said that the book’s excellent reviews were a determining factor in his own life and career

He also analyzed the history of Cuba, from its colonial past up until the revolution. Europe was another one of his passions: he published Europe: the Radical Challenge in 1973, and served under British Prime Minister Harold Wilson, but left the Labour Party in 1975 over what he viewed as its lukewarm views on European integration, Abc reported. Later he left the conservatives for the same reason, and in 1997 he joined the liberal democrats.

Thomas, the son of a colonial commissioner, studied history at Cambridge and the Sorbonne. He taught history at Reading University, and worked for the Foreign Office between 1954 and 1957. From 1979 to 1991 he headed the Centre for Policy Studies, a research center with ties to former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who made him a baron.

Besides his 20 or so history books, Thomas published three novels: The World’s Game (1957), The Oxygen Age (1958) and Klara (1988). He is survived by his wife, the painter Vanessa Jebb, and by their three children.

English version by Susana Urra.

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