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Culture of Complaint: The Fraying of America Hardcover – 1 Jan 2006

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 228 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; First Edition edition (1 Jan. 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195076761
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195076769
  • Product Dimensions: 14.6 x 2.4 x 21.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 379,210 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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.

Product Description


'splendid diatribe ... The reader may sometimes flinch under the barrage of furious one-liners, but nobody could begrudge Hughes the pleasure he must have had in constructing them. Nothing ought to be compulsory reading, but I'd like to think that The Culture of Complaint might accidentally fall into the hands of a few schoolteachers on both sides of the Atlantic.'Times Literary Supplement

'a curious mixture of gritty truth and liberal piety ... On the attack he can be sensible as well as amusing.'Roger Kimball, Sunday Telegraph

'what sets this book apart is the fact that Hughes argues that the right is also guilty of supreme lack of connectedness to reality'Kevin Young, Living Marxism, August 1993

'Political correctness is out to clean up our speech and behaviour. This short book, by an Australian-born art critic who still values America as a Utopian site of experiment and pluralism, lucidly diagnoses where pc has come from and where it will take us if we don't watch out.'The Independent on Sunday

'his local insights are persistently invigorating ... Reading him, you are constantly aware of a mind cutting through sham and cant, doing marvellously trenchant things with language.'John Carey, Sunday Times

'infused with a generous and humorous spirit, of the sort that is indispensable to any authentic manifestation of outrage or impatience ... The immense value of his book is that it wants to uphold pluralism and experiment without compromising or qualifying the thing that makes these things at once possible and worthwhile - namely free inquiry and uninhibited debate.'Christopher Hitchens, Independent on Sunday

'Like all of Hughes's work it possesses not only wit, common sense and learning, but more than its fair share of intellectual courage. His criticism and his histories are so fresh and original in part because he is so shockingly different to what he is meant to think and say.'Michael Lewis, Literary Review

'It is frequently delightful, often very funny, and splendidly abrasive. It is also quite important ... He is also an excellent historian of the deep American roots of a therapeutic aesthetic ideal.'Fredric Paul Smoler, The Observer

'provocative and often amusing book ... throughout his book, Hughes maintains a good sense of humour about the absurd factionalism that has overtaken so much of American political and cultural life.'Michael Sheldon, Daily Telegraph

'it is as spirited and jolly a book as one is likely to find, even as it catalogues a host of grim trends that have overtaken US culture ... an agile and mellifluous quodlibetarian and damned funny too'Jim Holt, The European

'Hughes is joyously merciless, but in this engaging and invigorating essay, he has more in mind than another diatribe on the banality of the New World. His acid wit does not obscure his moral purpose; Hughes is a sceptic, not a cynic, and his real target is the extremists.'Ronald Brownstein, The Times

'Culture of Complaint, three lectures hammered into a book, is a sombre plea for reason ... much of the book is scorching, bright and keenly felt'Robert Winder, The Independent

'an enormously stimulating and wide-ranging book ... Enormously erudite and inspired in his aesthetic discrimination ... Hughes's writing makes a telling contrast to the chic sludge that often passes for cultural criticism. It is readable, humane and, behind the swagger, communicates enthusiasm and curiosity.'Colin Donald, The Scotsman

'the book is outspoken but not the "scorching" look at America of the hype; it is too deeply thoughtful, by a very well-educated Australian who loves his adopted country, to merit such a hype.'Lloyds List

'particularly sharp on any and all sign of whinging and whining ... we can revel in the racy ruderies of this book'Brian Wenham, Financial Times

'a clarion call for the reunification of a fragmented America ... "Culture of Complaint" is bloodily smart, funny with a cold edge - and true. It's also fired by a legitimate and compassionate concern. I wish I could buy you all a copy ...'Jane Ehrlich, The American

'immensely entertaining ... His best barbs are reserved for 'Afro-centric' history ... He has especial fun with the fact that, unfortunately for the Afro-centrists, slavery in Africa predated the arrival of white men by hundreds of years.'Niall Ferguson, Daily Mail

'Culture of Complaint exposes the new American dreamers ... There is plain sense and reasonableness in much of the critique.'Ellis Cashmore, New Statesman & Society

'a useful guide to a sometimes amusing, but more often appalling, American phenomenon ... Robert Hughes, the art critic for Time, will delight only those already converted to his point of view with a clever diatribe which, like his title, comes close to one long sneer.'The Economist

'It's not exactly a pretty exhibition, but it's nothing if not entertaining.'Jonathan Yardley, International Herald Tribune

'In his book Culture of Complaint, Hughes has attempted to sound the alarm with the characteristic raucous brilliance that has made him bitter enemies ... his love for America rises to an intensity of faith in his conviction that the solution of her problems may lie in "what America has been.".'6LBryan Appleyard, The Independent

'A lacerating study of the decline in American values that will surely raise amens among many people, as well as hackles among others.'Time

'Full of wicked pleasures ... Discoursing at yellow heat, Mr. Hughes is a happy Jeremiah, an uncommon scold who casts a sharp eye successively on the political-cultural debates of the 1980's ... Mr. Hughes can display with precision and clarity what a multicultural intellectual work ought to sound like, and he can put the great canon debate on campuses in its place.'Linda Bradley Salamon, The New York Times Book Review

'Hughes's prose, especially in its more caustic turns, issues apothegms at a spitfire rate ... The result can be exhilerating: Jeremiah meets Sebastian Melmoth ... What's distinctive about Hughes's analysis isn't ... that he shuns the excesses of both the left and the right ... His particular gift is to understand the foibles of both sides as symptoms of a single malaise - to see that they are, in effect, the same excesses.'Henry Louis Gates, Jr., The New Yorker

'Neither right nor left, liberals nor conservatives come away untarnished by Hughes's scouring observations, the sting of his analysis, which is to say his views have the fresh tone of being biased by experience and intelligence, not by politics, careerism, and the will to power.'John Robinson, The Boston Globe

'A small gem ... Mr Hughes's main targets are hypocrisy, hucksterism, racism, anti-Semitism, religious bigotry, feminist extremism, anti-abortionists, ignorant and biased professors, political and patriotic correctness and, in general, respected right-wing spokesmen, editors and their publications. Which gives him more than enough to write about! ... I can't wait for the sequel.'Herbert Mitgang, The New York Times

'Never deserted by his rapier wit, Hughes delivers the most enjoyable, most sensible contribution to date to the American cultural debate.'Ray Olson, Booklist

'A brilliant mocking cultural criticism ... Only a splendidly educated Australian art critic with something of the Australian's professional bluffness could have exuberantly taken on so many cultural bad actors as Hughes has in this book.'Alfred Kazin, The New York Review of Books

'Nothing if not entertaining ... We suffer, Hughes claims, from 'a hollowness at the cultural core, a retreat from public responsibility,' and he is right.'Jonathan Yardley, Washington Post Book World

'What does Robert Hughes have to contribute? Exuberance in a deadly dry season, a sane wit and a splash of polychrome in a battle usually fought under the whited colors of its sepulchral extremes. And, finally, an unhesitating pleasure in making points for and against both sides ... Taking together the exuberance and corrosiveness, we have something valuable ... A badly needed touch of Dean Swift and George Bernard Shaw.'Richard Eder, Los Angeles Times

'he has written an angry, devastating attack on the newest wave of conformity in American intellectual life ... His book ... is passionate, polemical and eminently readable ... Robert Hughes's relentless polemic has struck the new philistines a mighty blow and made a fine contribution to the cause of a genuinely democratic culture and to the creation of a new politics of intellectual engagement in an America which sorely needs both.'Times Higher Education Supplement

'is probably the funniest, recent diatribe against American cultural decline ... He summarises many things, and his trenchant satire is eminently quotable ... His despair, if such it is, is that of a sensible man who sees folly and vanity, the fatuous and the banal, triumph at the expense of mature values.'Derek Mahon, The Irish Times

`what sets this book apart is the fact that Hughes argues that the right is also guilty of supreme lack of connectedness to reality'Marxist Review of Books

'Hughes clearly cares a great deal about art, artists, politics, culture in general, Australia, Barcelona, religion, the American redemptive idea ... He is amon the most valuable cultural critics writing today. Hughes has a matchless eye for the unexpected bloom. Sure, he's post-modern; but he's also a truth-and-beauty man, and a damned good one.'London Review of Books

'Robert Hughes's prose is so seductive and his arguments so sane that this is a welcome threnody for American culture and politics. America can often seem silly, but it is alive. This book stands as a tribute to that living spirit.'John Keenan, Catholic Herald

'wise and hilarious new book ... Robert Hughes is always lightening things up. Not many minutes pass while reading this book when you're not laughing. The brilliant glitter of Robert Hughes prose, its poise, its sheen, is an inspiration. How can one but respect his erudition, how can one but envy his wit? 'Christopher Bray, Modern Review

'a ferocious attack on Political Correctness, right-wing demagogy, Afrocentrism and other idiocies'John Naughton, The Observer

'Robert Hughes is no Salem scaremonger and the lucid passion with which he dissects realities in his adopted lands makes scary reading.'John Booth, Tribune

About the Author

Time art critic and author of two best-selling books, The Fatal Shore and Barcelona, Robert Hughes is a recognized authority on the 20th century art scene.

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3.7 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 1 Jun. 1999
Format: Hardcover
I thoroughly enjoyed Hughes' lively and pointed skewering of the apostles of PC and their tiresome love of victimhood. I must question how closely the Kirkus Reviews writer (cited above) read "Culture of Complaint" because the reviewer takes Hughes to task for not addressing some issues in more ponderous depth. The explanation is simple and is provided in the preface: "Culture" was drawn from a series of three lectures Hughes gave at Yale University, and the lectures are presented in the book with a minimum of editing. Heavily-footnoted lectures would have been a sure path to mass narcolepsy among Hughes' original sudiences.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Mr. G. Morgan on 1 Sept. 2014
Format: Paperback
'Political Correctness' was originally a term of art of the Left, not a tag with which to bash it. Hughes is plainly enraged at its inanities, seeing it as a substitute for rather than a form of social action. As one who heard a (teaching) colleague congratulate herself for learning not to say 'Blackboard' and not able to tell me why this was meritorious, like Hughes I am mightily fed up with the mealy-mouthed puritans I 'travel' with who are what Yeats would've called "injustice collectors". Hughes's talks - and they read as such, it is not his finest stylistic hour - lay waste the crass self and other censorship of an often supine Left, taking offence at, say, 'niggardly' (eh? are people really so thick?) and unable to avoid clunkers such as what I saw advertised as a 'ploughpersons' lunch'. The reduction ad absurdum is reached by the PCers themselves and endless fun is had at their expense by populists like the odious Littlejohn. Hughes makes somewhat heavy weather of this but he nails the points and calls out the right people. His targets are like Dickens' Mrs Jellyby: unable to DO much at home, they choose easier targets elsewhere as a substitute for the hard yards they are not tough enough to make where it matters. So good on Hughes for giving them the hammering their stupid, counterproductive selves require. How dare they give the liberal Left a bad name in the pursuit of a chimera.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Developed from a series of lectures given in 1992, Culture of Complaint is a discussion of political correctness, multiculturalism and the politicization of the arts in late twentieth-century America, both in academe and beyond. As an Australian art critic who had then lived in the US for more than 20 years, Hughes has brought the perspectives of both outsider and insider to bear on his topics. Although the book is intelligent journalism rather than an in-depth professional study, it is well informed and its generalisations are supported by specific examples. Hughes also strengthens his discussion by a historical perspective on the place of the arts in American life and politics. Overall, he makes a strong case for genuine tolerance and openness in the reception of the arts and rejects the extremes of both right-wing reactionaries and the politically correct separatists of identity politics. Hughes's short book represents an intelligent, reasonable voice which still has relevance to today's version of the culture wars.
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Format: Hardcover
Robert Hughes tries to position himself somewhere in between Karen Finley and Jesse Helms in his essays about the politics of art in America. The result is that he comes out about where the Supreme Court has found itself in June 1998 -- linked to Jesse Helms anyway by critics, despite trying hard to distance himself. He apparently thinks Karen Finley is a fraud, and that's just not what the art crowd wants to hear. It was courageous of Hughes to write the book, which contains the seeds of "American Visions" (also worth reading).
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