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On Ugliness

3.84  ·  Rating details ·  17,264 ratings  ·  141 reviews
In the mold of his acclaimed "History of Beauty," renowned cultural critic Umberto Eco's "On Ugliness" is an exploration of the monstrous and the repellant in visual culture and the arts. What is the voyeuristic impulse behind our attraction to the gruesome and the horrible? Where does the magnetic appeal of the sordid and the scandalous come from? Is ugliness also in the ...more
Hardcover, 456 pages
Published October 30th 2007 by Rizzoli International Publications (first published 2007)
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 ·  17,264 ratings  ·  141 reviews

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Glenn Russell
Feb 10, 2014 rated it it was amazing

Umberto Eco begins On Ugliness with the observation that there is an entire history of beauty but such a history did not happen with ugliness. Why is this? Perhaps, the author reasons, since ugliness was frequently defined throughout the ages as the opposite of beauty.

Well, if there ever was a book taking a giant step to rectify a neglect of ugliness, this is the book – 450 pages and nearly 1000 full-color illustrations as well as dozens of primary source excerpts chock-full of the ugly. And
Ahmad Sharabiani
Storia Della Bruttezza = On ugliness, Umberto Eco
On Ugliness is a 2007 essay by Italian author Umberto Eco, originally published by Bompiani in 2007. The book is a continuation of Eco's 2004 aesthetic work On Beauty: A History of a Western Idea. Like the previous work, this essay combines literary excerpts and illustrations of artworks from ancient times to the present to define the concept of what it means to be ugly. "Ugliness is more fun than beauty", said Eco himself.
تاریخ نخستین خوانش: روز
Esteban del Mal
"In everyday life we are surrounded by horrifying sights. We see images of children dying of hunger, reduced to skeletons with swollen bellies; we see countries where women are raped by invading troops, and others where people are tortured, just as we are continually exposed to images from the not too distant past of other living skeletons doomed to the gas chambers. We see bodies torn apart by the explosions of a skyscraper or an aeroplane in flight, and we live in terror that tomorrow it may ...more
Leslie Jamison
Nov 09, 2009 rated it liked it
The concept for this book is wonderful. And it's gorgeous. Sometimes I pet it. But I felt a bit disappointed by the structure: there's basically a catalogue of items (everything from paintings to hotel suites) that are "ugly," with broad thematic umbrellas perched over them, but I felt a bit lost moving through--as if the whole thing were a bunch of vectors pointing in various directions. I like vectors as much as the next girl, but sometimes the ugliness itself got lost, all those interesting ...more
Roman Clodia
Dec 07, 2019 rated it really liked it
Like his History of Beauty, this is a source-book curated by Eco rather than an analysis or series of essays. That said, this is more diverse and slightly more unexpected given that 'ugliness' reaches beyond a familiar canon of texts and artworks.

The range of extracts is a testament to Eco's extraordinary erudition, so it would have been nice if he'd had the space to say something beyond the established, familiar and, sometimes, simplistic. For example, in the chapter on 'female ugliness', he
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. In other words, beauty is about contemplation, is about disinterested emotion. Ugliness, on the other hand, is not only about seeing, but also about feeling – strong feelings, like repulsion, disgust, horror and fear.

On this distinction made by Karl Rosenkrantz, in his Aesthetic of Ugliness (1856) it is loosely based this anthology. After identifying three phenomena: ugliness in itself, formal ugliness and artistic portrayal of both, Umberto Eco seems
The Literary Chick
Nov 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: horror, fairy-tales, art, dark
Praises are sung in honor of beauty, lives have lost for it, wars have been waged for it (thanks, Helen, ya strumpet) so why are we fascinated by ugliness? Umberto Eco presents a historical compendium of ugliness and horror throughout time. Ugliness in the Classical World, The Apocalypse, Hell and the Devil, The Ugliness of Woman, Witchcraft, Satanism, Sadism, The Avant-Guarde and the Triumph of Ugliness - all chapters in this lavishly illustrated (dare I say 'beautiful'?) book from Rizzoli. ...more
Tom K
Aug 12, 2008 rated it really liked it
I have to admit that I have not read this cover to cover. This is a great book to just pick up, open to a random page and read a little bit at a time. This and Eco's History of Beauty are just beautifully produced books. If you appreciate art and/or the musings of Eco, then your library is incomplete without these volumes.
Jul 14, 2009 rated it really liked it
This is an amazing work that exhaustively catalogues the artistic and social concept of ugliness throughout history. While the book focuses on the perception of ugliness in many societies and time periods, the bulk of it deals primarily with western European societies since Roman times. Eco has used his extensive knowledge of medieval and Renascence art and literature to paint a compelling, profound, and often absurdly amusing picture of the psycho-social mechanisms that define beauty and its ...more
Trixie Fontaine
Sep 15, 2015 marked it as started-resume-later
Started reading this at a friend's place, but we had more important things to do than for me to sit and read this gorgeous fat fucker so I pretty much went straight to the misogyny and kitsch chapters.

Then I made a mess -- wet stuff and ashes -- on his sheets in his new apartment and felt like I was some grotesque thing from the book come to life, fucking up the prissy wizard artist order he's trying to establish there.

No, man ... thanks but I am not up for being figure studied by your
Nov 26, 2011 rated it liked it
Different people will enjoy or dislike this book for different reasons.

I'm just going to note my own observations about the book because I honestly don't know if I would go crazy recommending it to everyone.

Be aware that there is, what I feel to be, an assumed knowledge of Classics and Philosophy as well as Literary and Art History. If these fields are foreign to you might want to have Wikipedia close at hand to get the most out of this book!

The book has an abundance of stunning full colour
Mariela Alvarez
Mar 15, 2017 rated it liked it
It is a wonderful *introduction* to the topic of ugliness. Eco discusses about a certain author and the a fragment of the text or the image is presented in the next pages, this allows a more immersive reading. Highly recommended as an introductory book.
Thomas Fortenberry
Apr 07, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Only Eco could make ugliness this beautiful. An amazing book, both in look (the artwork and photography is gorgeous) and read (the excerpts are incredible). Nice compliment to his book on Beauty.
محمد الهاشمي
Nov 19, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
You can still find untouched beauty in here. This tells much. In recognizing ugliness we find what beauty is.
Terry Palamara
Aug 26, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2018
Great collection of images and written excerpts on ugliness with analysis by Umberto Eco.
I enjoyed the structure but in some of the chapters I felt I would have loved to know more, they felt more like an introduction to the subject. Also I wish I had read it in Italian, mine and Eco's native language. I'll make up for it.
Dec 13, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: art-o-philes, philosophers, culture enthusiasts, sociologists, anthropologists
Shelves: art, essays
An intriguing read, with lots of pictures, this book is a chronicle of the opposite of attractiveness and in what way it's been applied through the arts and culture to imply certain things - whether they be about ethnicity, character or intelligence.

(As a side note, my copy was extremely heavy! Must have been the high-quality paper on which the photographs were reprinted - almost every page! It was thick, but not too bad. Just heavier than I expected. I hated lugging that thing in my knapsack!)

Jun 23, 2010 rated it liked it
This is a difficult book to explain. Eco presents a lyrical encyclopedia of the ugliness in art,poetry and literature from antiquity to present day. He does a fair job of addressing the questions surrounding the concept of The Ugly: what is it? how does change across time? why does it fascinate us? how to we portray it? how is The Ugly different (or the same) across race, gender, etc? But it's not a book that fits easily into a specific field of interest or scholarship. It's not an art history ...more
Jun 26, 2008 rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: monsters under the bed who might find their mom in the pictures
Shelves: non-fiction
This is a coffee-table history book; I was immediately disappointed when I received the book due to the thickness, the tiny size of the font, and the large number of pictures that were included. After reading through the beginning, I set the book aside--it definitely doesn't belong to the popular science genre (social science sub-genre) that I'd originally assigned it to after reading a synopsis.

It seems that most of Eco's non-fiction books really aren't meant to be read by anyone other than
Dec 28, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Eco takes the reader through a wonderful melange of ugliness portrayed in art, literature, and as discussed in philosophy.
I enjoyed the read, but I found the text to be somewhat detached from the images and literary excerpts at times, and this mad it difficult to read.
Oct 31, 2019 rated it liked it
Ugliness is bit more interesting as a topic but still the format didn't work, liked the illustrations though.
Adam Norwood
Sep 22, 2008 rated it really liked it
A great overview of the "ugly" side of art history, with Eco's commentary deferring to quoted passages from example literature, some obscure, some well-studied. More of a survey than pure discourse or analysis, but that's okay by me. The book is also disappointingly Euro-centric, with only vague references to other culture's consideration of ugliness or horror (would have been great to see some examples from Japanese, Indian, African, or Meso-American literature, etc). The visual artwork in the ...more
Anthony Lemuell
Nov 06, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Umberto Eco's profound philosophical approach to ugliness will definitely change the reader's perspective of beauty. The book argues that ,like beauty, ugliness has its unique and distinct features. Much of the book debunks the notion that all that is ugly is unattractive; the author posits that it's actually the fact that UGLINESS is repulsive that makes it unconsciously attractive. Furthermore, the book asserts that understanding ugliness is a way to understand beauty.

The book, however, was
Jul 11, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone who loves art
I LOVED this book!!! At first I was put off by all the literary quotes. Once I realized that they were an essential part of the experience, and not just Umberto Eco overkill, I started really enjoying it. His chapter on evil, hell and purgatory is still imprinted in my soul. If the bit by St. Alphonsus Liguori (preparation for death), doesn't scare you into being a decent human being, I don't know what will. I also learned so much about other writers, poets, and art through cross-referencing, ...more
snobbess sphaeritalius
Nov 15, 2007 marked it as to-read
When I saw him speak on Tuesday, he stated that beauty elicits contemplation (hence his book On Beauty from a few years ago), while ugliness is more fascinating in that it elicits a number of responses from fear to disgust to curiosity to pity. He also said that historically there are not many philosophical writings on ugliness, so the vein of research for this book was very different than On Beauty. Just as extreme genetic anomalies allow for the examination of the nature of "normalcy" in ...more
Mar 08, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: art
An amazing exploration of a complex and fascinating subject. I appreciate the quotes from literature throughout which gave me a much clearer idea what people considered ugly or repellent in history - our perspective on what repels has changed drastically. (Definitely NOT a coffee table book! The poor kid that leafs through it while visiting you will have nightmares for a good while.) I was amazed by how deeply ingrained this subject is in both art and literature, and thought Eco's almost ...more
Feb 04, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone
So far this book is very interesting. I've only just started it but I am having a problem putting it down.

I bought this book a week ago and have only one section to go. I love it. I found myself wanting to highlight lots of stuff but had to really control myself. I have friends at work who want to read it when I am done but I am afraid it will get messed up for I also was excited to get it in plastic.
Aug 15, 2010 rated it really liked it
This is not a book that can be digested at one sitting. Art is a work of contemplation and Eco provides art and supporting literature, poetry, philosophy, to help us ponder that part of us which is not easily embraced.
After each page, I want to look at a bust of Socrates and say, indeed, I know, I know nothing, yet keep going.
Not easily, but keeping on.

Feb 02, 2010 rated it really liked it
So far I love this book. I studied art in college and appreciate finding books about art that aren't dry and repetitive, too touchy-feely, etc.; and this book is definitely original and well written.
Apr 06, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: art
Like an anthology, this book explores ugliness in art and its changing significance over time. In the end, I am not sure I was that interested. Maybe the companion volume on beauty is more interesting.
Jan 03, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: thoughtful types wishing to ponder what ugly means and what if anything is ugliness
this is incredibly fascinating, pretty to look at (ironically enough), feels good in your hands and is a happy edition to my coffee table.

any book with entire sub-chapters dedicated to the disembowellment of corpses is a-okay by me!

seriously, though. this is good heady stuff.
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Umberto Eco was an Italian writer of fiction, essays, academic texts, and children's books. A professor of semiotics at the University of Bologna, Eco’s brilliant fiction is known for its playful use of language and symbols, its astonishing array of allusions and references, and clever use of puzzles and narrative inventions. His perceptive essays on modern culture are filled with a delightful ...more
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“Beauty is, in some ways, boring. Even if its concept changes through the ages, nevertheless a beautiful object must always follow certain rules … Ugliness is unpredictable and offers an infinite range of possibilities. Beauty is finite. Ugliness is infinite, like God.” 32 likes
“Classical mythology is a catalogue of indescribable cruelty: [...] It is a world dominated by evil, where even the most beautiful beings carry out atrocities.” 4 likes
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