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3.89 of 5 stars 3.89  ·  rating details  ·  450 ratings  ·  53 reviews
Barcelona is Robert Hughes's monumentally informed and irresistibly opinionated guide to the most un-Spanish city in Spain. Hughes scrolls through Barcelona's often violent history; tells the stories of its kings, poets, magnates, and revolutionaries; and ushers readers through municipal landmarks that range from Antoni Gaudi's sublimely surreal cathedral to a postmodern r ...more
Paperback, 592 pages
Published March 9th 1993 by Vintage (first published February 18th 1992)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,196)
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Dec 19, 2007 Michael rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: everyone
Robert Hughes is a cantacertous art critic who has produced some fine
retrospectives on American and Modern Art. He describes himself primarily a writer who writes about art, which will make sense
after reading Barcelona. This is wonderful combination economic/cultural history of a place that is its own nation. Respectful
but not reverential Hughes examines the economic success of Catalonia and the cultural supportors it spawned. Another important factor for
defining the Catalonia identity is that i
Hughes is a great writer and insightful critic who has penned the ultimate biography of a city that harks back to Roman times and has been completely reinvented itself since the death of Franco, who attempted to crush Catalan culture, language and soul.

That said, his subject is little parochial unless you:

1) Plan to visit Barcelona or know the city well
2) Are a fan of art and architecture criticism

In addition to those two subjects, Hughes' survey is exhaustive, covering literature, agriculture,
My father is from Barcelona, and most of the family still lives there. I've been multiple times and find the city both utterly absorbing due to its architecture, food, fashion, nightlife, futbol as well as utterly frustrating due to its peoples obsession with the Catalan language and snob-ness because they are from Barca.

This book goes all the way in explaining where the Catalan nationalist sentiment comes from - From it's affinity to republican movements in Northern Europe rather than catholic
I have to confess to a gruding respect for Hughes, for his learnedness, his cantankerousness, and his sensitivity to the complexity of aesthetic environments. This is an extremely good outsider's story of Barcelona - a haunting, complex, contradictory city with its history of radical politics (potent anachist and communist histories here), its deepseated reactionary cultural nationalist (there was little 'progressive' about Gaudi), its distinctive architecture, its vibrant districts, and its unc ...more
Interesting history of Barcelona from Roman times up til just before the 1992 Olympics. The most interesting parts of the book are the end where he talks about the Barcelona Art Nouveau and Guadi and the milieu from which they emerged. (Basically there was both a left- and right-wing modernism allied with socialism/anarchism and Catalan nationalism/Catholicsm, respectively, with Gaudi coming from an ultraconservative Catholicism.) I wish it had more illustrations. There were many intriguing work ...more
Paula Jorgensen
I just wanted to know a bit more about this city -- and well, now I do. The book reminded me three important things:
1) How much I learned from reading The Fatal Shore before I came to Australia,
2) Why Australians hate their own Robert Hughes (you are too grand and confident a thinker for this flat island, Mate! )
3) This level of information is the difference between a pop song on an ipod and a symphony orchestra

Despite his admission that this is a "non-scholarly" reading of the city's history, I found it to be exhaustively researched and very comprehensive. This is a terrific starting point for those interested in how Barcelona has evolved into the mysterious and layered city that it is today...or at least in 2000, the last time I was there...
Look, this book is outrageously good. I picked it up in Barcelona for local color and it was just so interesting that I kept reading state-side. Unfortunate that he ends on Gaudi, as I thought that was not his strongest note, but I understand the need to organize it that way. I would love to see this updated after the Olympics and the formation of the EU.

If you are travelling to Barcelona and are a reader -- this is the one. Start before you leave.
Jun 29, 2013 Alex rated it 3 of 5 stars
Shelves: 2013, spain
This book could use an editor. Unfortunately it got one, and the result, Barcelona: the Great Enchantress, could use beefing up. I'm like Goldilocks with this thing. But seriously, dude bangs on for page after page about buttresses on some church or whatever, jeez.
fantastic bio of a thrilling city. Hughes is a sympathetic, knowledgeable, fun, and good writer and at almost 600 pages you get enough, i do believe. Author Hughes wrote a re-worked version of this in 2004 for a series called "national geographic directions" which is much more manageable for the armchair historian/art/architecture eggheads at 170 pages.
I bought this after seeing the Woody Allen film Vicky, Cristina, Barcelona. Robert Hughes' writing is always clear, crisp and personal; this book is no exception. It may be a little dense for an overview of the city, but it's a great basis for understanding the historic underpinnings of Catalunya.
Thomas Fortenberry
This is one of my favorite travel books ever. Can't exactly pinpoint why, but this is a wonderful read and one of the most detailed portraits of a city I have ever read. A great mix of now and history -- the art and culture and architecture and people all come alive in these pages.
I give this one a 5 because I love the subject of this book. However, be ready to be bombarded with more architectural detail that the average layperson can handle in one sitting. I read this book before, during, and after my visit to this city and enjoyed it thoroughly.
Lectura obligada para todo el que vaya de viaje a Barcelona. Un excelente compendio de la historia, arquitectura y cultura de la ciudad, descrito con humor, por un confeso enamorado de la ciudad
Thank you to Troy for recommending this terrific introduction to the history and culture of Barcelona! see
Wonderfully informative on the history of Barcelona, with a particular focus on art and architecture. It ends before the Spanish civil war, but at 541 pages it's long enough and there are anyway plenty of books on that subject. Quoting folk songs and poetry in abundance, but with a surprisingly scant relieance on anecdote, preferring larger-scale histories, Hughes has done a book that certainly FEELS complete. He writes in a slightly grouchy, no-bullshit tone, dripping with facts, which can be s ...more

Я читала, читала, и наконец прочитала эту великолепную книгу об обольстительно прекрасном городе, написанную одним из наиболее влиятельных арт-критиков ХХ века (по версии The New York Times). С января по сентябрь она лежала на моем письменном столе немым укором, посланником иных времен, когда не существовало миниатюрных электронных книг, которые путешествуют с нами везде и всюду, громоздкая и прекрасная она была стоически терпелива и наконец - прочитана!

Любите ли вы Барселону, как люблю ее я?..
Wendy Feltham
This very complete history of Barcelona is frequently fun to read because of Hughes's irreverent Australian attitude, and sometimes a bit tedious due to all the details about obscure people's lives. Overall Hughes tells a fascinating story of beautiful Barcelona, with lots of information about the life of Gaudí and other architects. I skimmed through several sections about clerics and others that weren't of much interest to me. I wish this book could be updated to include current events.
Greg Perowne
An appropriate subtitle would have been "A history of its art and culture". A bit too much focus on the style of the buildings and the artists living in Barcelona, for my tastes. Hughes' passion for the city is clear, but his longwindedness and apparent use of a thesaurus five times a sentences makes for very heavy reading and loses some of its power. Nevertheless it was enjoyable learning a lot more about the city and what makes its people unique, but unless you've got a close connection with B ...more
A whale of a book, but a very satisfying companion to Catalonian history in general and Barcelona’s story in particular with exquisite chapters on Modernism and Gaudi. Highly recommended if you have a need to be informed. One has to start early, though. I was only halfway through (541 pages in my edition) when I visited Barcelona, and I wish I had read it in its entirety before I got there. I wouldn’t have missed a couple of more obscure modernista places then, and I would have known more about, ...more
Edward Amato
Very in depth book and a "must read" for anyone who loves art history, history or architecture who is planning to visit Barcelona. I would not recommend this book for people who are just interested in Barcelona History as it veers off into the arts often and in fine details. It only covers up into the early 20th century and does not cover the Spanish Civil War. My greatest criticism is that a book that discusses the development and growth of a place should be littered with maps, maps maps. I fou ...more
This book could be a bit dry, so be in Barcelona when you are reading it.
Kevin Brass
Not a light read, but an essential resource for anyone spending time in Barcelona. A wonderful, detailed history of architecture in Barcelona and the nuances and quirks that shaped the city
Erudite and wide ranging, but a bit of a slog to get through. My previous experience with Robert Hughes was his super awesome history of Prisoner Transportation in Australia, and while I didn't expect that level of craziness in a history focused on art and architecture, I also didn't expect to come away thinking that most of the history of Barcelona is pretty dull. I will certainly take it with me if/when I ever visit Barcelona however, as even though it is twenty years old I am sure it is a ver ...more
Robert Hughes an aulstrlian art critic, historian, is fascinated by Barcelona--its history, art, arcitecture, culture. Spain is the least united country I can think of. Despite centuries of efforts to consolidate and centralize, Catolonia is so not Spain.

Our impressions of Barcelona are forever tainted by that night in the old city, walking with Alice and Brenna, a thief sneaks up and rips Brenna's purse from her and disappears into the labyrinth of the dark twisting streets.
Sam Emory
Robert Hughes is an overwhelming historical name-dropper. His strategy is to drop as many names as possible: figures of actual import, as well as their friends, their parents, their grandparents, their children, their kings, their mayors, their contemporaries and associates, their patrons and benefactors, their detractors, and their priests. The framework within which he attempts to weave this extensive cast of characters into coherency is loose: Barcelona. Still, a good read.
I've read this in preparation for my trip to Barcelona. It is a history of that city and region (Catalonia) as seen by Robert Hughes. While he's done his research, it's clear it's history through his eyes and mind and he is highly opinionated. It is part of the fun. When it comes to descriptions of architecture and art, he is even more opinionated. But I feel I have a good idea of what the people might be like--although I might have to channel Robert Hughes to really know.

I picked this book up because I was missing the wonderful city of Barcelona, and I found it to be a pretty satisfying read. Lots of information, some humor, good rhythm. There were so many people and events included that I'm not sure I remember any of them just a week after finishing the book, but it was entertaining.
David Meléndez Tormen
An astonishing account about a city full of complexities and paradoxes that add to its intriguing beauty. Didn't know about Hughes until I saw a documentary he made about Gaudí and he impressed me a lot. So seeing that he was so enchanted by Barcelona as to write such a thorough book about it was a double pleasure. I really enjoyed this reading, both in style and information.
Jul 26, 2008 Carol rated it 2 of 5 stars
Recommended to Carol by: All nonfiction list
This book lost me from the beginning. Maybe I just wasn't in the right mood. jst couldn't get interested in Barcelona, the city, at any level. I would say that the writing is okay, some of the stories are historically interesting, but the detail was just too much. The book is too long, and I would have enjoyed more pictures.
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Robert Studley Forrest Hughes, AO was an Australian art critic, writer and television documentary maker who has resided in New York since 1970. He was educated at St Ignatius' College, Riverview before going on to study arts and then architecture at the University of Sydney. At university, Hughes associated with the Sydney "Push" – a group of artists, writers, intellectuals and drinkers. Among the ...more
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“Barcelona has always been more a city of capital and labor than of nobility and commoners; its democratic roots are old and run very deep. Its medieval charter of citizens’ rights, the Usatges, grew from a nucleus which antedated the Magna Carta by more than a hundred years. Its government, the Consell de Cent (Council of One Hundred), had been the oldest protodemocratic political body in Spain.” 0 likes
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