Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Likely Stories - Ugly: The Aesthetics of Everything by Stephen Bayley

If you have been to the mountains recently and had the opportunity to soak in the alpine forests, the placid lakes, the beautiful leaves, and the pristine snow, then you may have the fourteenth-century Italian poet Petrarch to thank.

In a letter from the year 1336, he claimed to have been the first to climb a mountain for pleasure. But you may also have the nineteenth-century Romantic poets to thank. They helped shift our view of mountains from demonic "vast, undigested heaps of stone" to objects of beauty, contemplation, and peace.

This is the kind of thing you learn in Stephen Bayley's book Ugly: The Aesthetics of Everything, the kind of coffee table book that your introverted uncle picks up during the holidays, sits down in a recliner in the corner, and reads, from start to finish. It is a truly fascinating book, with plenty of full-color illustrations, paintings, and photographs to accompany its provocative arguments.

In this book, Bayley seeks to answer a simple question with many complicated answers: what makes something ugly? Why do our perceptions of ugliness change over time? Is ugliness just the opposite of beauty? Why do we find it difficult to look away from ugly things? Why, for so long, did people assume that ugly people were also morally suspect? And, perhaps most importantly for those of us in Central Texas, is 1-35 actually... beautiful?

I ask these questions in part because this is the way that Bayley begins each chapter in this book, with a set of questions meant to pique your interest and help you to follow his train of thought. And while this is a book that includes a great deal of visual art, it also takes you through the history of how we have thought about beauty for especially the last 500 years or so.

Bayley is especially interested in how the industrial revolution affected our perceptions of ugliness. Is machinery always ugly and nature always beautiful? Sometimes, he points out, the opposite is true. Sometimes, an initially ugly industrial object like the Eiffel Tower becomes beautiful through repeated tourism and appreciation. It becomes part of the landscape, part of the mythology of Paris and now, it is unimaginable to think of Paris without it.

Sometimes, it is the thing that makes our lives easier, smoother, and better that eventually becomes beautiful to us, whether that is a wind turbine, a coffee pot, or a railroad.

What I liked most about this book is that it doesn't have any clear answers. If you've ever gotten into an argument with someone about whether or not something is beautiful, you know that the reasons we might think something is ugly are complex and variable. But Bayley doesn't say that beauty is simply in the eye of the beholder. And, on the other hand, he doesn't say that there is some eternal standard of beauty that applies at all times and in all places. He keeps you guessing, keeps you interested, keeps you learning, keeps you thinking. And maybe, just maybe, he will get you to the point where you can even find beauty in I-35.


Likely Stories - Every Man For Himself and God Against All
Outside of narrative fiction I'm rather partial to memoirs. In recent years I've vicariously lived amongst rock stars, performing artists, and iconic comedians. Today I want to talk about the strangest, and at times, the most frustrating memoir I've ever read.
Likely Stories - Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind
Have you ever been to the Grand Canyon? It is one of my favorite National Parks and one of the most memorable places I have visited.Standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon, I was overwhelmed with sublime awe, I felt small and insignificant, contemplating the unfathomable scale of earth time. I felt the same way reading Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yoo vuhl Noah Hraa ree.
Likely Stories - The Ascent
Hello. My name is Douglas Henry, Dean of the Honors College at Baylor University.For this week's Likely Stories, I'll be discussing The Ascent. A gripping new thriller, the debut novel of Adam Plantinga.
Likely Stories - How to Stop Time
Maybe it's the point in my life right now but aging slowly sounds devine."How to Stop Time," by Matt Haig, shares the story of Tom Hazard, who has a dangerous secret. He looks 40-ish, but he has actually lived for centuries.
Likely Stories - The Women
Welcome to Likely Stories. I’m Paige Connell, and I’m a 9th grade English teacher at Midway High School, and today I want to talk about Kristin Hannah’s latest historical fiction masterpiece, The Women.
Likely Stories - Chain-Gang All-Stars
Over the years there have been numerous books that have lingered hopelessly in my list of titles to read. Novels that have captured my interest, sparked my curiosity, and then…found themselves hanging in the ether as I’ve neither found, nor made the time to actually read them. However, one title that has evaded this perpetual limbo is Chain-Gang All-Stars. The debut novel by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah.
Likely Stories - Peace Like A River
My name is Harrison Otis, and I'm a graduate student in the English Department at Baylor University. Today I'm reviewing Peace Like a River, the 2001 debut novel by Minnesota author Leif Enger.
Likely Stories - The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
John Hopkins Hospital... Medical Revolution...and Henrietta Lacks...are words that will ring in your mind for endless days after reading "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks" by Rebecca Skloot.
Likely Stories - Black Cake
I've read many novels that have one or two well developed main characters, while all other characters seem more one dimensional, supporting cast types. But the novel Black Cake by Charmaine Wilkerson couldn't be more opposite of this.
Likely Stories - This Side of Paradise
Even though knowing better, Gia Chevis is a sucker for "before you die" lists. She has found one read that doesn't make the cut for her.