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The New York Times chief film critic shows why we need criticism now more than ever

Few could explain, let alone seek out, a career in criticism. Yet what A. O. Scott shows in Better Living Through Criticism is that we are, in fact, all critics: because critical thinking informs almost every aspect of artistic creation, of civil action, of interpersonal life. With penetrating insight and humour, Scott shows that while individual critics – himself included – can make mistakes and find flaws where they shouldn't, criticism as a discipline is one of the noblest, most creative and urgent activities.

Using his own film criticism as a starting point – everything from an infamous dismissal of the international blockbuster The Avengers to his intense affection for Pixar's animated Ratatouille – Scott expands outwards, easily guiding readers through the complexities of Rilke and Shelley, the origins of Chuck Berry and the Rolling Stones, the power of Marina Abramovic and 'Ode on a Grecian Urn' Scott shows that real criticism was and always will be the breath of fresh air that allows true creativity to thrive. As he puts it: ‘The time for criticism is always now, because the imperative to think clearly, never goes away.’

Reviews

He wears his considerable learning lightly – although not apologetically: Scott knows that the arguments he is exploring have a long pedigree.

Jonathan Derbyshire, Financial Times

It’s a serious tome that raises criticism to the level of art.

Jonathan Dean, Sunday Times

That he succeeds in speaking to us all…while at the same time delineating his own specific role in culture, is only one of the many pleasures to be found in this erudite work.

Lesley Mcdowell, Independent on Sunday

Jam-packed treasure trove… The result is often deeply rewarding.

Andrew Barrow, Spectator

Fluent, learned volume… Conscious of the irony that a culture in which everyone passionately wants their opinions heard is systematically devaluing critical thinking and analysis… Reflects the age-old critic's dilemma of how subjective to be – one of many fascinating quandaries that are put through the intellectual wringer here by a calm and clever champion of an unfashionable art.

Hannah McGill, Independent

Profound yet also perhaps surprisingly uplifting appreciation of the art of criticism… He blends intimacy with something more objective, which is perhaps the ideal combination for the critic… That he succeeds in speaking to us all ("everyone’s a critic"), whilst at the same time delineating his own specific role in culture, is only one of the many pleasures to be found in this erudite work.

Lesley McDowell, Independent

You don’t have to have a personal investment in the future of criticism to find this a stimulating read.

Hannah McGill

I love Scott’s characterization of criticism… Better Living Through Criticism is, in short, both the most important and the most annoying book on the topic I’ve read in years. Scott cold not have picked a better time to highlight the usefulness of criticism than this moment.

Sight and Sound

Truly accessible, avoids obscurity and demonstrates learning without demanding it of the reader… Nothing less than a work of art.

Tanjil Rashid, Prospect

One of the funniest, smartest, most articulate critics around.

Gaby Wood, Daily Telegraph

One of the funniest, smartest, most articulate critics around.

Gaby Wood, Daily Telegraph

An engaging host… His voice is good-natured, even chummy, the prose populous and bright.

Jenny Hendrix, Times Literary Supplement

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Formats & editions

  • Trade Paperback

    9781910702550

    May 2, 2016

    Jonathan Cape

    288 pages

    RRP $38.00

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  • EBook

    9781473545939

    March 24, 2016

    Vintage Digital

    288 pages

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