Letters to a Young Contrarian – Christopher Hitchens

27 Feb

HitchSlapIn the book that he was born to write, provocateur and best-selling author Christopher Hitchens inspires future generations of radicals, gadflies, mavericks, rebels, angry young (wo)men, and dissidents. Who better to speak to that person who finds him or herself in a contrarian position than Hitchens, who has made a career of disagreeing in profound and entertaining ways.This book explores the entire range of “contrary positions”-from noble dissident to gratuitous pain in the butt. In an age of overly polite debate bending over backward to reach a happy consensus within an increasingly centrist political dialogue, Hitchens pointedly pitches himself in contrast. He bemoans the loss of the skills of dialectical thinking evident in contemporary society. He understands the importance of disagreement-to personal integrity, to informed discussion, to true progress-heck, to democracy itself. Epigrammatic, spunky, witty, in your face, timeless and timely, this book is everything you would expect from a mentoring contrarian.

Forthright, erudite and outspoken, agree with his views or not Hitch is required reading for all, a brilliant orator, thinker and writer, full of wit and intelligence, logical and uncompromising.  A welcome nod to Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet, this is the first book in the ‘Letters to a Young…’ series which gives short guides om ways to live life or pursue careers.

I have spent whole days watching videos of the author on YouTube and not considered the time wasted one bit, now in book form, not only do I find that he once again incisively gets to the heart of whichever matter he chooses to turn his attention to but he also invokes such a wide range of reading material that my book list has been sufficiently topped up for a few more years.

“Be … suspicious … of all those who employ the term ‘we’ or ‘us’ without your permission. This is [a] form of surreptitious conscription … Always ask who this ‘we’ is; as often as not it’s an attempt to smuggle tribalism through the customs.”

A wide range of subjects are tackled with Hitchens’ immense talent and intellect, from faith, the under reported horrors of the Balkans war, The Dreyfuss Affair, Henry Kissinger, the less than palatable side of Mother Teresa, the manipulation of language, socialism, humour and plenty more.  Each chapter is refreshingly honest, nothing is held back, it’s refreshing and clear and applies literature, history, logic and considered persuasive arguments.

His espousing of the courage to question, to not accept at face value what we are told and to confront  what we assume to be true by looking at the sources we gained the knowledge from is spot on.  To better oneself and not accept the status quo at face value, to refine your thoughts and embrace contrary opinion and arguments and to challenge yourself and clarify your thoughts.  To never compromise your faculties, keep evolving, be skeptical and never let others do your thinking.  Only in this way can anybody seek to make rationally informed decisions and see the fraudsters for what they are.

“And the pleasures and rewards of the intellect are inseparable from angst, uncertainty, conflict and even despair.”

Its hard not to be effusive of the man with his precise use of language who fights for the freedoms of women, their rights and education, a more equal society for all and one that encourages free thought and does not censor contrary opinions but encourages debate and clear thinking.

It occurs to me that if our politicians were as interesting and intelligent as the author, well read and versed in history, literature and logic, who could also hold an audience’s attention (without the need of the media obsession with sound bites) then perhaps the world would be a better place, a safer place arguably.  This book has left me hungry to read more of his works and the enthusiasm shown for his chosen subjects also fuels the need to read and learn and be informed.

If you have a spare nine minutes, here is a typically outspoken snippet of the man who I am sure you will find thought-provoking, whether you agree or not.


Posted by on 27/02/2016 in Essays, Politics


Tags: , , , , , ,

29 responses to “Letters to a Young Contrarian – Christopher Hitchens

  1. Love, Life and Whatever

    27/02/2016 at 14:15

    Truly he is indeed absorbing and interesting.


    • Ste J

      28/02/2016 at 08:57

      There are plenty of people out there who talk an try to make a point but Hitch did it with so much eloquence and flair, he knew how to keep an audience concentrated in a world full of distractions. A rare talent who is sadly missed.


  2. Claire 'Word by Word'

    27/02/2016 at 20:48

    Sounds like an interesting thinker and writer, glad to hear you enjoyed this one, I sometimes read his journalistic articles, always interesting and thought provoking, a little controversial towards the end.


    • Ste J

      28/02/2016 at 09:05

      He was but then again unlike a lot of today’s writers who need to come up with a controversial sound bite or just be plain offensive to get people to listen he was so much better than that. His varied writings here are a great cross section and he never fails to make me think deeply about what he says.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Theanne aka magnoliamoonpie

    28/02/2016 at 00:49

    Hurrah…I can put down V. Woolf and her style and try something new…I’m actually excited by the prospect!!! I was curious though, what about angry OLD (wo)men? 🙂


    • Ste J

      28/02/2016 at 08:50

      He left out a whole potential reader base there, although I am sure he intended young at heart and those book people cut it from the blurb. This is an anecdote to Woolf whose style is wonderfully dense, each of Hitchens’ letters is only 12-20 pages long but I felt compelled to read as many as I could at a time.


      • Theanne aka magnoliamoonpie

        28/02/2016 at 18:36

        Young at heart, now there’s a plan 🙂 I did watch one of Mr. Hitchen’s videos and had the bejeebers scared out of me. The middle east has been fermenting for 100s (nay 1000s) of years and more recently has been spreading it’s population around the world. While I certainly don’t want to lay down and give up, I believe this migration is inevitable. I do, however, have a very bad feeling that it going to lead to something enormously catastrophic…for the world. 😦


        • Ste J

          29/02/2016 at 16:36

          The migration is inevitable over time, I think the safe guarding of laws and state as a solely secular domain would help no end, also probably a critical look at the religion of Islam, free of any threat against those individuals would help as well. Hitch certainly makes one think about such things which in the end is for the good of all. Debate will always be the better solution.


  4. clarepooley33

    28/02/2016 at 02:19

    I must read this book! I haven’t watched the video as everyone else has gone to bed and I must be quiet! I will be back tomorrow.


    • Ste J

      28/02/2016 at 08:53

      Although there are plenty of fascinating things he says, in the book as well as on all the other media he spoke through, he isn’t the most tolerant of religion and as I know you are a believer, I thought it best to mention. Having said that as the intelligent lady that you are, I know you will find the video thought provoking in regards to religion (in this case Islam) and the future.

      Liked by 1 person

      • clarepooley33

        28/02/2016 at 21:43

        Thank-you Ste – how thoughtful of you. 🙂 I have heard it all before – my sister and brother are very harsh though they were brought up as church-goers.


        • Ste J

          29/02/2016 at 16:32

          I think you will still find some of his points thought provoking and of course in the book as well as stuff found on YouTube, he discusses more than just religion so there will be something of interest to you in any event.

          Liked by 1 person

  5. macjam47

    29/02/2016 at 00:38

    Steve what an interesting and thought-provoking review.


    • Ste J

      29/02/2016 at 16:31

      Thank you, I really do think that Hitchens should be read by all, whether you go with his arguments or not, he comes across very eloquently and encourages learning for its own sake and also to be better informed about what matters. If only all those writers of rabid comments on news stories seen on every web page would take a leaf out of his book..but not physically, his books should be kept intact!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Jilanne Hoffmann

    29/02/2016 at 06:53

    I’ve got one or two of his books, but I haven’t read either. When I open my boxes after the bookshelves are built, I’ll put them on the top shelf. I feel the need to read something intelligent and thought-provoking these days. Something to counter balance the horror of the current presidential race.


    • Ste J

      29/02/2016 at 16:24

      The Republicans in particular are met with disbelief over here, such a bunch of kid,s it’d be funny if it were satire but to be real life really makes me wonder why anybody would consider any of those candidates viable. You’ll get a lot out of Hitchens, he is refreshingly frank and has put my faith back in humanity somewhat.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Resa

    03/03/2016 at 01:53

    I just hope Hillar..ssschhhcheee eeerququququ pfftssstt


  8. shadowoperator

    04/03/2016 at 13:47

    I’ve heard of Chistopher Hitchens before, but never read him. You are an excellent apologist for him (not in the sense that apologies are needed, but in the technical dictionary definition of the word). Speaking of adding to TBR stacks, you are constantly adding to mine!


    • Ste J

      04/03/2016 at 20:56

      I do my best to add to your wish list and to give a fair account of all the books I review, I am glad I can do a good job of both. Hitchens is great, you’ll appreciate his intellect.


  9. Nandini

    05/03/2016 at 07:20

    Ah, we miss Hitchens, don’t we? Great post and thanks for sharing the details, Ste. I have read only one of his books so far, but have watched many of his videos. It’s a pleasure to listen to him.


    • Ste J

      06/03/2016 at 11:50

      Welcome to the blog! He does demand attention whereas the people he debates against seem so out of their depth when he is about. I look forward to picking up more of his books, which one have you read?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Nandini

        06/03/2016 at 15:30

        “God is not great -how religion poisons everything”. 🙂


        • Ste J

          07/03/2016 at 10:18

          Always a book title to cause fierce debate in the coffee shop!

          Liked by 1 person

          • Nandini

            08/03/2016 at 04:05

            Very true! Debates are good. They lead to conscious-raising (at least for some people).


  10. Patrisya

    24/04/2016 at 13:35

    Christopher Hitchens is one of my favorite writers. I love his books and his outstanding writing style! What I always admired was his courage to say what he really thought. He was extraordinary man not only because of his intellect but also because of people around him, such as Salman Rushdie and Edward Said.
    I would say “rest in peace Hitch”, but I guess he would not like it!


    • Ste J

      24/04/2016 at 14:17

      He was contentious in his beliefs but unlike many people he was able to back them up not just with well thought out logic but also with examples from history that he had studied in detail. He had a razor sharp wit as well, wherever Hitch maybe, I am sure he is still entertaining away if that is an option!



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