Critical Mass

Literary Critic, Reviewer, Book Critic: Peter Prescott Parses the Art


Peter Prescott (1935-2004), author and longtime Newsweek book critic, defined the terms of the NBCC art and craft this way in “Never in Doubt: Critical Essays on American Books, 1972-1985:”

“The literary critic, usually an academic sort, is accustomed to applying great labors to narrow areas; he examines the past—old and relatively recent books—and retrieves from it what is of use to the present,” he wrote.

“The reviewer lives entirely in the present; he is content to describe a book’s contents and (if he remembers) indicate whether he approves of it. Somewhere in between, the fellow I call a book critic plies his trade….Most important, he demonstrates how a book works, or why it doesn’t.”