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43 of 46 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An important historical perspective
I read Hughes' Barcelona before I went to Barcelona for the first time, and it made all the difference in the world. I arrived not as a stranger, but as a student of Catalan culture and history. The book gave me the background to have an informed perspective on what I was seeing. It may be long, but it has tons of information. My only complaint is that Hughes...
Published on April 27, 2000 by DvoraT

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15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant or boring
When on his game Hughes' writing is insightful, witty, observant, educational. Here that would be the first 100 pages and the last 120, of the 574 pages which reveal that the Catlans are not Spanish, but Catalan; their art, architecture and politics come from their history of being with or against the rest of Spain, having their own language and culture, with...
Published on June 19, 2004 by Stephen McHenry


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43 of 46 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An important historical perspective, April 27, 2000
By 
DvoraT (Catalunya Spain) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Barcelona (Paperback)
I read Hughes' Barcelona before I went to Barcelona for the first time, and it made all the difference in the world. I arrived not as a stranger, but as a student of Catalan culture and history. The book gave me the background to have an informed perspective on what I was seeing. It may be long, but it has tons of information. My only complaint is that Hughes assumes the reader has a knowledge of history that I, for one, don't have. So there were things I didn't understand.
I liked that Hughes sometimes talked about the big things -- big events, important people, and he sometimes talked about the little things that make a place distinctive. His love of the place came through to me, and I fell in love with it too.
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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful city, scholarly book, September 19, 2004
By 
C. B Collins Jr. (Atlanta, GA United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Barcelona (Paperback)
I visited Barcelona in 1982 and then again, 20 years later, in 2002. I am certainly glad I read Robert Hughes' "Barcelona" before going the second time since it certainly gave me a new perspective on the city, its history, its art, and its architecture.

The history of the Catalunya area is fascinating, an area that predates the Roman Empire. Two Roman Emperors came from Barcelona, Trajan and his nephew Hadrian. Hughes helps us understand the unique development of the Catalan language, culture, history which is frequently at odds with Madrid and Spain's central government.

Hughes does an excellent job of mapping the development of city with changes in politics and the coming of the industrial revolution. At one point, Barcelona was filled with sweat shops, offering long 12 hour days, very low wages, unhealthy nasty work conditions, deprivation of exercise and light, and explotative child labor. As I walked the city of Barceona, I imagined the struggling families trying to survive under these conditions in times past.

Even though the full 574 pages are engaging in this long book, the chapters on Gaudi are the strongest, most enjoyable, and most insightful. If pressed for time before taking a tripto Spain, I would strongly recommend reading the sections on Gaudi before seeing his actual works which are spread out all over the city of Barcelona.

The concept that was fascinating to me was Hughes' explanation that Gaudi's work was in fact very conservative rather than radical. His work is based on a return to the natural object, the shell,the wing, the tail, the spine, the leaf, the root. His work takes these natural objects and reduces to essential form and then expands again from that essential form with texture, color, and sensitivity to the material and physicality of the medium. This explains the amazing popularity among the Japanese for the work of Gaudi, which philosophically and esthetically is more in line with Japanese culture and esthetics. Knowing this before seeing his Cathedral, parks, and residences gave me a completely new appreciation for Gaudi and the city in which he created his masterpieces.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good detail on Barcelona and Catalunya, May 21, 1998
By 
Ratón de Biblioteca (Puerto Bories, Chile) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Barcelona (Paperback)
Robert Hughes' "Barcelona" is the book that I wish that I had before I went to live in and around Barcelona, and since it came along after that time, reading it made me want to go back to that city again and again. By all means, if you plan to visit Barcelona or any other city in Catalunya, dedicate the time necessary to absorb this book before you go. It is not light reading, nor is it a "guidebook." The format doesn't really lend itself to a brief and casual visit -- but the market is full of those alternatives. Instead, you gain a more fulfilling context and deeper historical perspective. "Barcelona" is a bit like the famous Canaletas fountain near the head of the Ramblas. Once you have drunk from it, as they say, you are thereafter certain to return to the city.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Detailed enough to get you in trouble with the natives, January 4, 2008
This review is from: Barcelona (Paperback)
While "Barcelona" was intended as a social and artistic history, not as a guidebook, it is sufficiently detailed as to have gotten a friend of mine in trouble there.

Few stones are left unturned. One is an exploration of Catalan nativity scenes. These include, typically, a figure of a squatting peasant defecating, symbolic of the fertility of the soil. Characteristically, Hughes knows of a museum of these figures, in the upper story of an obscure building on a byway.

A friend of mine was traveling to Barcelona on a business trip, so I asked her to pick up one of these peasants for my own Christmas display. Her Catalan hosts were extremely displeased to learn that she knew about this part of their history.

Catalans, famous heretics, have always been known for going their own way, and as -- originally -- an art historian and critic, Hughes revels in the idiosyncratic art and especially architecture of Barcelona.

Probably the only Catalan architect many Americans could name is Gaudi, but there were many like him. `Modernism' in art had a different meaning in Barcelona than it has elsewhere.

Hughes writes, wistfully, of the Catalan tradition of hand craftsmanship that allowed the Gaudis to have their fancies turned into three-dimensional reality. All gone under the press of industrialization.

But there is much more, including Spain's vicious politics.

Unless specially interested in Barcelona or Catalonia, most readers probably would shy away and doubt whether they really want to know 500 pages worth about Barcelona. Once started, though, they are likely to become enmeshed in what Hughes calls the "immense, often irrational ambitions" of the city.

Once taken up, this book is hard to put down.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Review by a Barcelona native, June 26, 2006
By 
This review is from: Barcelona (Paperback)
I am glad Robert Hughes wrote this book. We, Barcelonites tend to take our city for granted and have lost the ability to take in its historical depth.

Now, when Barcelona is changing rapidly and is spilling over the former sleepy towns and small industrial settlements that are now its suburbs, Hughes book is a comprehensive and easy-to-read source of information about our ancient city, the city that is somehow still living under all the modern development driven by nothing-short-of-ridiculous real estate prices.

One can see that Hughes has written this book with the utmost care. There are surprisingly few errors. The only one worth mentioning is that Hughes mistakenly translates the nickname of the legendary Catalan ruler, Guifré el Pelós, as "Guifré the Hairy", when it should have been "the Fuzzy". In the Catalan language "pelós" refears to short and fuzzy hair, which our first independent ruler is supposed to have had instead of a full beard. A peach, for example is "pelós". If Count Guifré would have been indeed hairy, his nickname would have been "Guifré el Pelut".

Thus, except for this point (and the erroneous conclusions Robert Hughes derives from it in a paragraph at the end of chapter 2, part 5), the book "Barcelona" makes excellent reading.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Armchair Hit and A Must-Read for Barcelona Visitors, April 17, 1998
By A Customer
This review is from: Barcelona (Paperback)
This book is enormous fun to read, full of keen observation, and vastly informative about the city. On a recent trip to Barcelona I carried it everywhere. Anytime I wound up somewhere that felt "historic" I'd open it up and refresh my memory about what Hughes said. His chapter on Gaudi is essential to understanding the architect, and the way he spots figures like the Catalan inventor of the submarine, and weaves them into his text, is enchanting. Hughes on Barcelona is even better than Hughes on the culture wars and modern art, which is saying a lot.
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15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant or boring, June 19, 2004
By 
This review is from: Barcelona (Paperback)
When on his game Hughes' writing is insightful, witty, observant, educational. Here that would be the first 100 pages and the last 120, of the 574 pages which reveal that the Catlans are not Spanish, but Catalan; their art, architecture and politics come from their history of being with or against the rest of Spain, having their own language and culture, with economic/political battles against Madrid from early Roman history to today (Beckham was going to Barcelona F.C. before Real Madrid stole him away at the last second). I imagine he started with the idea of writing a book about the fantastic Art Nouveau architecture in one of the most architecturally interesting cities in the world, to discover that the Catalan spirit was such a force in shaping the uniqueness of the style that more needed to understood about who these people with their own language and culture that is sometimes banned by the national government. Unfortunately the author goes too deep in cataloging the complexities of the history of Barcelona, some of which is just not that interesting, the large middle of the book saps the reader's strength. The text comes alive again for the ending sections on the late 1800s when Barcelona was the bomb throwing anarchy capital of the world leading into the development of the Art Nouveau/Modernista movement, although slowing a bit before finishing with a really excellent examination and comment of Gaudi, the person and his work.
Mr Hughes needed a stronger editor for this book, it would be a brilliant 250 page book. Some severe editing to take out the boring but academic sections was really needed.
That said, it is worth reading. Scim the middle sections. When Hughes is on his game it is good reading
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Impress your friends!, September 16, 1999
By A Customer
This review is from: Barcelona (Paperback)
One of those books that makes you feel like you know it all. When you finally finish it (and it does take a little effort) you'll think you're ready to lead tours of the city, even if you've never been there. Hughes finds so many great stories and artfully fits them together to make you think you're tuning in to a single millenium-length narrative.
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19 of 25 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Turgid, March 21, 2004
By 
Diego Banducci (San Francisco, CA United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Barcelona (Paperback)
This book is effectively a 540-page Encyclopedia Britannica article -- lots of facts dryly presented. I read it after spending 7 days seeing what I thought were the worthwhile sights in Barcelona, and soon had a list of things I missed good for another 7 days. I recommend it to anyone planning a visit to Barcelona, since I am not aware of any other source of information about the city that is as comprehensive.

Hughes does a fine job of describing the architectural history of the city, particularly the Modernisme (Art Nouveau) period, but wastes far too much time on Catalan music, literature and art, which even he admits are mediocre. You will do yourself a favor by skimming those chapters.

Note that this book was written in 1993, after the city had been spruced up for the 1992 Olympics but still 11 years ago. It is an even better city today, with nice people, excellent and reasonably priced food, and plenty of things to see and do. The comparison that comes to mind is "Tuscany 25 years ago."

Apparently taking to heart some of the criticism of this book, Hughes wrote a revised version, "Barcelona the Great Enchantress" [ISBN: 079226794X] in 2003, a far more enjoyable read that reflects significantly better editing. Given a choice, I would read it first and only then buy "Barcelona" if I was interested in more detail.

There is an excellent VHS tape of Barcelona [ASIN: 6303209777] that combines both ground and aerial footage. Well worth purchasing.

Additional recommended reading: George Orwell's "Homage to Catalonia"
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Very good but very prolix, June 9, 2014
By 
L. J. Lovell (Eureka Springs, AR USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Barcelona (Paperback)
Very good book written with tremendous insight although it could have used better editing to cut down on the verbiage. I appreciate so much of the shared info though. I understand that Hughes' later Enchantress book on Barcelona is more concise.
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Barcelona
Barcelona by Robert Hughes (Paperback - March 9, 1993)
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