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Things I Didn't Know (Vintage) Paperback – December 4, 2007

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Product Details

  • Series: Vintage
  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (December 4, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307385981
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307385987
  • Product Dimensions: 0.9 x 5.2 x 7.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,012,630 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


“Riveting. . . . Marvelously entertaining. . . . Hughes’ portraits of people he knew in his youth often display the bravura touch that has distinguished his best journalism.” —The New York Times“[Hughes] deftly intertwines personal and cultural history in this fiercely erudite memoir. . . . A fascinating examination of artistic patrimony and the formation of a critic.” —The New Yorker“Splendid. . . . Hughes has turned his hand to autobiography, with predictably and gratifyingly rewarding results.” —The Washington Post Book World“Hughes is the sort of ebullient writer who floods his reader with great bursting accumulations of words and gets carried away with the sheer exuberance of his narrative. It is compelling. You don’t want to miss a sentence” —The Christian Science Monitor

About the Author

Robert Hughes was born in Australia in 1938. Since 1970 he has lived and worked in the United States, where until 2001 he was chief art critic for Time, to which he still contributes. His books include The Shock of the New, The Fatal Shore, Nothing if Not Critical, Barcelona, and Goya. He is the recipient of a number of awards and prizes for his work.

More About the Author

Robert Hughes was born in Australia in 1938 and has lived in Europe and the United States since 1964. Since 1970 he has worked in New York as an art critic for Time Magazine. He has twice received the Franklin Jeweer Mather Award for Distinguished Criticism from the College Art Association of America.

Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

20 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Armchair Interviews on January 12, 2008
Format: Paperback
In this tightly written, adventurous memoir we begin with tragedy. Hughes gets into an automobile accident in his native Australia after a fishing trip and almost died. He did plead with family members, friends and his significant other to kill him while in hospital, but he made it through the horrendous surgeries and constant pain to write this wondrous memoir.

His description of the Australian legal system, the differences between the States and Australia, as well as his own life as a long-time art critic, are well rendered and his language is beautifully choreographed.

Hughes' writing is visual and you know right away that for him life and art are inseparable in his mind. But this makes the book even more formidable. We follow Hughes through life, his affluent upraising in Sydney to the first moment when he realizes art is important-when as a student he sees a Miró-he told a professor, "That can't be art." His professor replied, "All right, Robert," he replied, "if that isn't art then why don't you tell me what art is?" This was an epiphany for Hughes who actually started thinking about what art really was.

Overall, this is a light-hearted memoir, except when Hughes discusses his first marriage, which, while it settles him, his wife wants sexual freedom, and this left him feeling like a "cuckold, going cuckoo." But once the divorce is finalized, his writing takes back its tinge of gold, pulling away from the gothic darkness of that experience. An absolutely fantastic read where you visit Australia, London, the States and Italy

Armchair Interviews says: A must read for anyone who loves exceptional writing.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Ivor E. Zetler on January 17, 2010
Format: Paperback
Robert Hughes is a great Australian (not being a sports hero he is sadly unrecognized) and one of the premier art critics alive. This book covers his memoirs from his birth in Sydney in 1938 to 1970 when he was appointed to the the position of art critic for Time Magazine.

The book begins in 1999 with Hughes's recollections of a near fatal car accident he sustained in Western Australia. It then reverts to his early years in Sydney plus his school and university experiences. Sydney was quite a parochial city in those days and Hughes gives a vivid description of life in those times. Then it is off "overseas" to Italy and London-the swinging sixties.

Hughes is a brilliant writer and these breezy memoirs are an easy and vastly entertaining read. Those not familiar with Sydney and the Australian scene might be slightly disadvantaged but not greatly so. Hughes is piercing in his observations, laconic, honest and sometimes very funny. This is truely a book that I "couldn't put down" and I heartily recommend it. Hopefully a further volume will be forthcoming in the near future.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By MJS on September 20, 2008
Format: Paperback
Only one customer review (albeit 5-star) tells me this is a greatly underappreciated book. The life story (so far) of the man who became art critic for TIME Magazine is as entertaining as it gets. No stuffy, artsy, blather to wade through here, though there are some worthy insights on art.

We follow Hughes from his priviledged but down-to-earth (and down-under) childhood, through WWII with Japanese subs in Sydney harbor, to the fluke of his becoming an art critic on the strength of his political cartoons for an underground paper ("You draw, you're the f-ing art critic," the editor proclaimed.), to meetings with artists way beyond eccentric, to "beat", "mod" and "hippy" life in London, to flood restorations in Florence, to the life of an expatriot in Italy, and back to Australia for car accidents, lawsuits and epiphanies.

A taste of his unromantic prose (re: his days in London): "The depths of tedium that can be plumbed by sitting around half stoned, listening to people chatter moonily about rewriting human-kind and erasing its aggressive instincts through love and dope, are scarcely imaginable to those who have not suffered them."

On a personal note, his unflattering views on colorfield painters were amusing to me, as I remember as a lowly drone in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts' publicity department sending Hughes at Time Magazine photos and information on Morris Louis and his ilk, with the hope of stirring up some interest for a story on the MFA show.

His book The Fatal Shore, a history of Australia, is also recommended, with the caveat that you'll need a strong constitution and plenty of time to get through this thorough-to-a-fault chronicle.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By P. Stern on January 10, 2009
Format: Paperback
Everything you ever wanted to know about Robert Hughes, and perhaps more, in the first installment of his autobiography. Readers of "The Fatal Shore" and his art criticism will enjoy learning about his early days (upper middle-class Sydney family; Catholic; loss of his father at age 12). Hughes has some wonderful stories to tell, and as always with him, the writing is luminous. Hughes's writing about art invites us to see the almost chemical reaction that the art produces in him. This is fascinating, and it's fun to see how he developed his formidable descriptive powers over time.

The problem, however, is that Hughes cannot resist swerving into cultural criticism. Here he has little to say that's new, and he becomes a bit of a bore. He spends a lot of time attacking too-easy targets -- like the excesses of the 1960s. You can take or leave his aggressive "cultural elitism" (on balance, I'll take it), but he's a lot less of a counter-revolutionary than he seems to think he is. When Hughes moves away from the central poles of the book -- Australia, and the beginnings of his own engagement with art -- he is less articulate, less insightful, and much less attractive.

It's an engaging portrait of a complex man. (Who would have guessed he's such a fan of Robert Crumb?!) If a second volume appears I will certainly read it. But I think I'll pass on the chance to sit down with him for the proverbial beer.
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