Hugh Thomas, Prodigious Author of Spanish History, Dies at 85

Mr. Thomas produced a series of definitive works, including the huge “Cuba: Or the Pursuit of Freedom” (1971), which ran to more than 1,700 pages.

Later, he seemed to strike a wistful or even angry tone about developments in Cuba. Writing in The New York Times in 1980 as tens of thousands of Cubans fled the island, he said their status as refugees “must be the most vivid condemnation of a Communist system since the Hungarian revolt in 1956.”

It was, he said “fitting, if infinitely sad, to consider how this system came to be established in Cuba.”

In 2011, Mr. Thomas published “The Golden Empire,” the second of three volumes chronicling the era from the first voyage of Christopher Columbus to the Americas in 1492 to the reign of King Philip II in the late 16th century. The American historian Charles C. Mann described the book as belonging to “the genre of Nobody Does This Anymore.”

“For better or for worse,” Mr. Mann wrote in The New York Times Book Review, the 646-page volume was “history of the type critics dismiss as ‘old-fashioned’: a story in which the narrative engines are human character and action rather than the impersonal forces of economics, culture and the environment.”

“This is a history of the conquerors, rather than the conquered,” Mr. Mann wrote. “A great majority of the protagonists are white, European and male.”

Mr. Thomas completed his trilogy in 2014 with “World Without End.” (The first volume, “Rivers of Gold,” almost 700 pages long, was published in 2004.) This final volume illuminated the breadth and reach of Spain’s global ambition, borne across the earth by its navigators and conquistadors. At one point, the empire spanned Iberia; much of Italy; the Low Countries; the Americas as far north as California; the Caribbean; and the Philippines.

Reviewing “World Without End” in the British newspaper The Daily Telegraph, the author and critic Jeremy Treglown wrote, “Thomas doesn’t disguise the brutality of Spanish imperialism, though he doesn’t, either, question imperial ambitions of themselves.”

Mr. Thomas had earlier encompassed global history in a single 700-page volume, published in the United States in 1979 as “A History of the World” but in Britain as “An Unfinished History of the World.”

David Gress, a Danish historian, described it as “a fascinating catalog of inventions, ideas, developments, habits and forms of organization, the massive paraphernalia of human social existence which make up what one might call the framework of history, the tools that make things work.”

Hugh Swynnerton Thomas was born on Oct. 21, 1931, in Windsor, just west of London, the son of Hugh Whitelegge Thomas, a senior colonial official, and the former Margery Swynnerton. Mr….

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