Adam Gordon. Prophets, Publicists, and Parasites: Antebellum Print Culture and the Rise of the Critic. Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 2020. Paperback, 280p. $27 (ISBN: 978-1-6253-4453-3).

Nicole Topich


Adam Gordon’s Prophets, Publicists, and Parasites: Antebellum Print Culture and the Rise of the Critic examines the role of the critic and criticism in early nineteenth-century America using a wide variety of sources to show how critical forms shaped arguments. This deliberate inclusion of a range of source types allows the author to compare and study criticism with a unique perspective. As Gordon argues, the definition of literary criticism should be expansive enough to include different forms because of how criticism is inextricably linked to the forms in which it circulated. In defining these forms, he states, “By ‘critical form,’ I mean two intertwined and overlapping structures: the print media through which criticism circulated (monthly magazines, daily newspapers, anthology, pamphlet, etc.) and the critical genres through which it expressed itself (brief notice, lengthy review essay, tabloid literary gossip, etc.)” (6). A strong case is made that studying these different forms can also bring a new perspective to the current debates over the value of criticism.

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