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Rome [Hardcover]

Robert Hughes
3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
RRP: 25.00
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Book Description

23 Jun 2011

Rome - as a city, as an empire, as an enduring idea - is in many ways the origin of everything Robert Hughes has spent his life thinking and writing about with such dazzling irreverence and exacting rigour. In this magisterial book he traces the city's history from its mythic foundation with Romulus and Remus to Fascism, Fellini and beyond.

For almost a thousand years, Rome held sway as the spiritual and artistic centre of the world. Hughes vividly recreates the ancient Rome of Julius Caesar, Marcus Aurelius, Nero, Caligula, Cicero, Martial and Virgil. With the artistic blossoming of the Renaissance, he casts his unwavering critical eye over the great works of Raphael, Michelangelo and Brunelleschi, shedding new light on the Old Masters. In the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, when Rome's cultural predominance was assured, artists and tourists from all over Europe converged on the city. Hughes brilliantly analyses the defining works of Caravaggio, Velasquez, Rubens and Bernini.

Hughes' Rome is a vibrant, contradictory, spectacular and secretive place; a monument both to human glory and human error. This deeply personal account reflects his own complex relationship with a city he first visited as a wide-eyed twenty-year-old, thirsting for the sights, sounds, smells and tastes he had only read about or seen in postcard reproductions. In equal parts loving, iconoclastic, enraged and wise, peopled with colourful figures and rich in unexpected details, ROME is an exhilarating journey through the story of one of the world's most timelessly fascinating cities.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 544 pages
  • Publisher: W&N; First Edition edition (23 Jun 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0297844644
  • ISBN-13: 978-0297844648
  • Product Dimensions: 16.5 x 24.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 215,278 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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


In pages of trenchant prose, Hughes chronicles the art and architecture of Rome from the Emperor Augustus to Federico Fellini. This is quite an undertaking but Hughes is an entertaining, if at times highly opinionated critic (SPECTATOR)

in this Herculean undertaking, Hughes has captured much of the true spirit of Rome: the aspiration to great achievement despite obstacles, setbacks or failures (PROSPECT)

informative and entertaining (EVENING STANDARD)

If visiting Rome, you should certainly take this passionate, erudite bruiser's Baedeker with you - a superbly rich blend of history, art and travelogue (SUNDAY TIMES)

We enjoy reading Hughes precisely because he avoids an of that corseted coyness which characterises too much art history writing nowadays. Thankfully not having to worry about securing professional tenure at a university or gaining a coveted gallery curatorship, he can speak with the candour of a visceral enthusiasm, savaging mediocrity and rhapsodically defending excellence (LITERARY REVIEW)

His love and knowledge of the city stand forth (SUNDAY TELEGRAPH)

This authoratative and detailed cultural history of Rome is very readable despite being nearly 500 pages long...Robert Hughes loves to put forward his own opinions, which makes for a very personal view that is always entertaining (WE LOVE THIS BOOK)

A story that lasts almost 3,000 years and is pivotal to so much of Western civilisation requires a chronicler of well-nigh unattainable erudition, who can write with the skill needed to prevent readers from succumbing to a literary version of Stendhal syndrome. Mr Hughes, the Australian-born art critic of Time magazine, comes as near as anyone to fulfilling that job description and for much of this wide-ranging volume he succeeds magnificently (THE ECONOMIST)

A tour of the great city with a great guide: who could do this better? (David Sexton EVENING STANDARD)

The second half of the book is an engaging history of this wondrous city, very much in the tradition of The Shock of the New, packed full of sharp observation and trenchant one-liners, artfully and fearlessly told (Mary Beard THE GUARDIAN)

Hughes proves an entertaining and erudite guide. He is an impeccable raconteur, commanding, self-confident, witty (Alastair Sooke DAILY TELEGRAPH)

The art critic's superb cultural history is also an invaluable guide to the eternal city (SUNDAY TIMES)

Robert Hughes traces the Eternal City's history from Romulus and Remus, through the intrigues of the Empire and the Renaissance to the present day. A personal account of his relationship with the city, the book also considers Rome's place in global culture and its influence (spiritual and profane) on people around the world (THE TIMES)

Robert Hughes is that rarity, a boisterous yet unforgiving critic. When he is most engaged, ideas and instances tumble out of him in cornucopious profusion (Frederic Raphael THE OBSERVER)

the book's muscle and sinew lie in Hughes's supremely eloquent vingnettes of churches and palaces, statues and paintings - evocations of art and place crafted with all the swagger and savour of a critic who can make his readers see, and feel, afresh....He never disappoints (Boyd Tonkin THE INDEPENDENT)

No one can nail a painting like Hughes (Rachel Spence FINANCIAL TIMES)

this is the work of un maestro (Christopher Bray WORD)

his account of the art and architecture blazes, via exhilarating close-up encounters with Rome's masterworks (INDEPENDENT i)

To be sure, the city has a modern history too, and on this Hughes is predictably excellent. Anyone wanting a vivid account of how Futurism fed into Fascism, or a withering polemic on what Berlusconi has meant for the cultural health of contemporary Rome, need look no further (Tom Holland MAIL ON SUNDAY)

On the art, he's informative, insightful and entertaining (Tibor Fischer STANDPOINT)

And by all means, take this extraordinary and passionate guide with you (CATHOLIC HERALD)

In Rome, the ever-eloquent Robert Hughes merged a galloping overview into his forte of art criticism. He composed a richly textured portrait of a city we see, and feel, afresh. Each monument and artwork sparkles, scrubbed clean of tired cliches (Boyd Tonkin THE INDEPENDENT Christmas Books 2011-11-25)

I would read Mr Hughes's book if I were going to Rome. I'd read it if I weren't going to Rome. You culd read it instead of going to Rome, though given the choice, I'd choose Rome. Reading the book is like being taken around the Eternal City on a long brisk march by an entertaining, erudite acquaintance with a gift for storytelling and the oddly rare ability to describe what something actually looks like. (Francine Prose INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE 2011-12-03)

If you want an agreeable, general account of the Eternal City or need encouragement to embark on a visit, you can welcome it [the book]as a friendly and alluring companion (ARPLUS.COM 2011-11-24)

The last two sections of the book,which deal with teh time after the War, offer as sensible an account of Italian painting and sculpture of that period as you are likely to get (Joseph Rykwert ARCHITECTURAL REVIEW 2011-12-01)

Hughes was once well-known as the art critic of Time magazine and he's predictably delightful on works of art he loves: the equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius on the Campidoglio, the Vatican frescoes of Raphael, the marble fantasias of Bernini. He's also an excellent hater. Confronting the flabbergasting monument to King Vittorio Emanuele II (begun 1884, completed 1935), he offers a list of its nicknames: the typewriter, the zuppa inglese, the wedding cake, the false teeth and (this one was news to me) the national urinal (Craig Seligman BUSINESS WEEK.COM 2011-11-29)

This, so far, is my best read of the year (Michael Collins IRISH CATHOLIC 2011-12-08)

Book Description

Prizewinning writer and critic's dazzling biography of the Eternal City.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
27 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Art, architecture and the making of culture... 27 July 2011
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Firstly, let us be clear. As a writer, Robert Hughes is endlessly entertaining, does thorough research and expresses himself in ways that deal with historical moments as if they were immediate political drama, imbuing them with contemporary preoccupations and dispositions to liven them up. In dealing with his subject, whatever it is, he unfailingly manages to bring alive the context and the tensions of the time, even if this isn't exactly accurate. When that subject is as rich and historically significant as the ancient capital of Western culture, he does not disappoint.

Hughes' 'Rome' is an historical and not a contemporary one. He shows, with patience and in depth, the relationship between what the Romans made in the forms of art and architecture, and how that embodied their aspirations, their politics and their cultural dynamics. From the original founding legends to the high point of the rule of Augustus, to the mess it was in as the Renaissance got going, its reshaping in the Baroque and the tensions between Church and State unleashed by the Risorgimento, Hughes' narrative foregrounds the creative, artistic Rome that so profoundly determined and influenced Western culture during these centuries. Unsurprisingly, he is at his best when dealing with the delicious combination of venal corruption and aesthetic beauty that typfies the Roman Baroque, or in admiring the patrician cultural benefits of Augustan rule. His assessment of modern Rome is bleak, and heavily influenced by Fellini's frustrations that a country so rich in creative history could degenerate into a vapid culture of media and celebrity.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Rome - a book and a history of many parts 21 Dec 2012
By markr TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I enjoyed much of this book, including the much criticised early chapters which cover the history of Ancient Rome. I found Hughes to be an excellent guide to the time of Rome's imperial greatness, and found these chapters very easy to read as well as being informative. The section on the development of Rome as the centre of Christianity was my favourite part of the book, enlivened by Hughes's acerbic humour and biting wit.

Later chapters were equally informative, but in most of the second half of the book the focus is on art history, and i found this harder going, though still extremely interesting. The book is beautifully illustrated although I frequently found myself turning from descriptions of paintings, sculpture and architecture to the illustrations and being disappointed that they were not not all featured. Impossible to illustrate them all of course.

All in all a very enjoyable book, which concludes with biting criticism of modern Italian culture and a brief account of the author's own impressions of his visits to the city.

I will certainly make a point of visiting many of the works described here next time I am lucky enough to have the chance to visit this fascinating city, and I recommend this book to anyone thinking of visiting or who is interested in history or art in general.
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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Can only get better 11 Sep 2011
All the reviews I have read concerning this book, appear to be unanimous in their bagging of the first part of the book. I have soldiered through to past the Renaissance. I have to say, I agree with all those who condemn the first couple of chapters as a bit of a muddle - considering Hughes wonderful skills as a writer, there is a sense he just got a little tired and bored with the early history or Rome, in places it is flat but picks up and you do see glimpses as to what he is capable of and what you can expect once he gets back into familiar territory. For example, in "Medieval Rome and Avignon" he does a wonderful job of demolishing the superstitious attachments we (some) have to to supposedly holy relics. I would be surprised if even the most devout Christian could resist the temptation to chuckle at Hughes' description of the scourged Jesus leaving venerated spots and smears everywhere as he climbed the stairs of Scala Santa or Holy Staircase. And how he resisted not labelling Giovanni Bruno a red-hot Copernican is a mystery to me! Yes, there are a few mistakes regarding dates of birth and dates of death, and certainly typos, while annoying are of no real consequence to the purpose - you just have to keep your wits about you when reading.

The book picks up beginning with the Renaissance, this is where Robert hits his straps, and it is worth buying the book just for the chapters covering the" Renaissance"," Rome in the Seventeenth Century" its in these sections that you witness just what an outstanding writer he is, his descriptions of many of the paintings, architecture and sculptures defy t comparison. I think his interpretation of "Atalanta and Hippomenes" is so powerful and evocative when he observes that "..but his gesture towards her is one of repulsion and banishment...
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Highly Entertaining and Educational Read 1 Oct 2012
By Shane
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I've always enjoyed Robert Hughes' books and "Rome" proved to be no exception.

Filled with insight, love of the subject, and a fine historical perspective of Rome, the Romans, and the human and artistic condition of western civilization.

Highly recommend it, especially if you plan on spending any length of time in the Eternal City.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars High speed journey through the numinous elements of Rome
Great story telling. Succinct and nearly accurate.
Thats it really I have nothing more to say just now. Amen Amen
Published 4 months ago by Cartedor
1.0 out of 5 stars Rome by a lapsed Catholic
This book should be sub-titled "a lapsed Catholic's art history of Rome". His antipathy to the Roman Catholic Church gets in the way of his historical sense, and is... Read more
Published 6 months ago by Martha Watkins
1.0 out of 5 stars Do not read this book
Sententious, and inaccurate. Pompous. Robert Hughes has died now but Mary Beard was right when he said it would be better if he had not written this book.
Published 9 months ago by Richard Cohen
5.0 out of 5 stars The book on Rome.
This book has made me want to go back to Rome today. Now that I know more about the history of the treasures of Rome I feel that I shall see them with fresh eyes.
Published 14 months ago by frances beck
1.0 out of 5 stars Disappointed
While I enjoyed greatly his book on Australia (The fatal shore) and his book on Barcelona (which I read during a visit to Barcelona), I was very disappointed with his book on Rome. Read more
Published 17 months ago by Bart Coessens
5.0 out of 5 stars Insightful informative and readable
My Kindle version arrive in seconds.A very good overview of the history of the ancient city of Rome. I can't put it down.
Published 19 months ago by dmm
5.0 out of 5 stars If you want to know what Rome is all about, start reading
Rome: no better way to be introduced to the place.

An absolutely brilliant intro to the city, its history, its art and architecture.
Published 19 months ago by Mrs BJP Daniels
2.0 out of 5 stars A book that's not sure what it's trying to be
I'd previously read Robert Hughes Fatal Shore and seeing that he had written "a history" of Rome I thought it might be a good introduction into the long history of this famous city... Read more
Published 22 months ago by LHC
4.0 out of 5 stars A Reminder of Who we have Lost
As with all of Hughes's books, this is a hugely enjoyable, stimulating and often amusing read, but before you buy it, it is important to know just what you are getting. Read more
Published 23 months ago by Eugene Onegin
3.0 out of 5 stars Dense and very trying.
I tried, I really tried, to like this book. I ordered it prior to a trip to Rome . I thought it would give a history of the city's historic and geograhical development and notes on... Read more
Published on 9 Mar 2012 by East End Lady
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