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.’
He wears his considerable learning lightly – although not apologetically: Scott knows that the arguments he is exploring have a long pedigree.
It’s a serious tome that raises criticism to the level of art.
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.
Jam-packed treasure trove… The result is often deeply rewarding.
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.