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3.92  ·  Rating Details ·  602 Ratings  ·  67 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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Dec 19, 2007 Michael rated it it was amazing
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
Jun 23, 2010 Michael rated it really liked it
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,
Mar 29, 2009 Daniel rated it really liked it
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
Jul 28, 2011 Malcolm rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: urban-studies
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
Aug 03, 2011 Erik rated it really liked it
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
Aug 03, 2012 Paula Jorgensen rated it it was amazing
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

Jun 29, 2013 Alex rated it liked it
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.
Dec 24, 2007 Michael rated it it was amazing
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...
ο καλύτερος οδηγός πόλης ίσως επειδή δεν είναι οδηγός πόλης.
Jun 26, 2016 Mattie rated it really liked it
Pretty much a seminal work for anyone who wants to know about/is travelling to Barcelona. By turns history & travelogue it's a great way to prepare for a trip armed with knowledge and context before the wheels of the plane hit the ground. Since it came out in '93, if you want more background on more recent history about Spain's current economic issues and the current state of the Catalunya independence movement, you need to find it elsewhere. But that's hardly Hughes' fault for writing the b ...more
Sep 23, 2013 Smoothw rated it liked it
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
Jul 10, 2016 Monica rated it really liked it
A very well written book. I have learned a great deal about Barcelona and it's artists and architects. I am disappointed that the book ended in the 1930's and did not continue into the 1990's. The book also took a great deal of time on Guadi and in fact ends with his death. While Gaudi is important I would have rather had more information on other artists like Picasso and Salvador Dali and just more general history.
Jan 29, 2012 Caroline rated it it was amazing
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 23, 2009 Frank rated it really liked it
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.
May 11, 2011 Tuck rated it really liked it
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.
Thomas Fortenberry
Apr 17, 2008 Thomas Fortenberry rated it it was amazing
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.
Jul 28, 2011 José rated it it was amazing
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.
Aug 26, 2011 Susana rated it it was amazing
Shelves: en-casa
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
Oct 27, 2010 Lisa rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: australia, travel, history, art
Thank you to Troy for recommending this terrific introduction to the history and culture of Barcelona! see
Dec 12, 2016 Amy rated it it was amazing
Robert Hughes covers nearly two thousand years of Barcelona history, from the Roman founding of the walled city of Barcino -- some of which is still visible outside in the Barri Gòtic today, or in the underground levels of the Barcelona history museum -- to the preparations for the 1992 Olympics. He devotes a great deal of attention to Antoni Gaudí: his conservative Catholicism, his aesthetics and his astonishing design methods, which included suspending weights from strings to figure out how to ...more
Dec 24, 2016 Rositsa rated it really liked it
Shelves: art
Wonderful introduction to the art and art history of Barcelona. Dense at times without being comprehensively researched. Provides a very helpful framework and timeline for further exploration.
Aviva Vaughn
Oct 19, 2016 Aviva Vaughn rated it it was amazing
This book taught me the value of reading about the history of a city before visiting it and covers the history of this tremendous place from the Romans through to modern times. It is a history book that reads like a novel!
Sep 18, 2013 Telans rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

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?..
Jun 23, 2015 Dergrossest rated it really liked it
If you are looking for a brief overview of the history and architectural delights of one of my favorite cities, Barcelona, look somewhere else because this is an encyclopedic work on both the city itself and Catalonia in general from the beginning of time until just before the Spanish Civil War. Granted, the author is very funny (I have never seen the word “hirsute” used as much or as well) and insightful (who knew that Catalonia was once a trans-Pyrenees empire with outposts across the Mediterr ...more
Charlie Byers
Aug 17, 2015 Charlie Byers rated it liked it
In the introduction, Hughes says the book was begun as a much shorter project on the architecture of Barcelona. I can see why he decided to publish it as a thicker piece of research: he sets a course that inevitably wraps up in judgments on Sagrada Familia, and his final critique is bound to be controversial. But, after 500 pages of background on the physical, cultural and religious life of Catalonia, you can't call it anything less than rigorous. The one crucial caveat for anyone reading it tod ...more
Jun 18, 2013 Sveinung rated it really liked it
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
Elizabeth Millard Whitman
This book is a comprehensive and detailed political, social, and cultural history of Barcelona and, more generally, Catalonia. I did not find it as captivating as The Fatal Shore, the author's terrific book about Australia, but it is certainly informative and well written. Hughes does an excellent job describing and explaining the independent streak that has characterized Barcelona and Catalonia for most of their history and placing the history of Barcelona within the larger context of Spanish a ...more
Jul 27, 2012 Mag rated it it was amazing
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
Mar 01, 2014 Edward Amato rated it really liked it
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
Greg Perowne
May 29, 2014 Greg Perowne rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction, history
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
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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.” 1 likes
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