Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011) was a matchless writer, debater and humanist. Throughout his life he shone the light of reason and truth into the eyes of charlatans and hucksters, exposing falsehood and decrying hypocrisy wherever he found it. With his passing, the world has lost a great soul, the written word one of its finest advocates and those who stand for freedom everywhere have lost one of their clearest voices.
Arguably collects Hitchens’ writing on politics, literature and religion when he was at the zenith of his career; it is the indispensable companion to the finest English essayist since Orwell.
The joys of learning about scintillating new books, of stories both fact and fiction is tempered by the sheer amount and scope of the eclectic selection already on offer. The never-ending list of books I need to read has grown by around fifty books since reading this tome but on the other hand I will never be short of a quality read..
It turns out, if this book is anything to go by, that I am distinctly under read, despite my best efforts to the contrary. I shall not let that soul-destroying revelation ruin my enjoyment of what is a magnificent set of essays, that should be required reading for all those who love to learn and think for themselves.
The finite amount of time that the reader has to tackle such a broad base of literature is at best daunting and at worst obscenely short. As one who rushes from one to the other in a futile battle to read and process them all; whilst simultaneously collecting even more avenues of enquiry, it occurs that all I can do is horde these treasures (read and unread) to one day pass on to another enquiring mind who will appreciate them.
In these days of ignorant and woefully ill-informed internet commentors and the prevalence of lazy journalism, it is refreshing to not only be able to read a literate and educated voice but also one that knows no fear in not only arguing but backing up said points with actual facts and a clarity that is most welcome. Being critical is a right afforded to citizens in many (not enough) countries and it should be used in debate to better ourselves, Hitchens was one man who never shied from giving his opinion and we should be thankful for his body of work.
Language is as important as the defence of the freedom to speak it, the author’s deft use of English and his ability to critique the minutiae of fellow writers in not only an honest and forthright but also stylish way will delight the reader. Not only will you come away from the book with an expanded vocabulary but also with a new understanding of the topics he chooses to tackle.
Over the course of 752 pages you will come across a rich list of his wide-ranging essays, from detailing his experience of being waterboarded to a review of harry potter and the Deathly Hallows, as well as being a tourist in Kurdistan and North Korea and as a (surprisingly informative) brief history of the blowjob. Being a book of essays it is probably to be expected that the reader will dip in and out of it but such is the addictive nature if H’s enthusiasm for everything he tackles, I read them greedily one after another not only for the politically relevant and historicity but also the vein of a cutting sense of wit that frequently pops up.
If you have any interest in human rights, politics, history, literature or religion then this book will reward your effort and if none of those things interest you, then firstly hang your head in shame and secondly pick up this book regardless as it will change your mind, educate you and encourage a further exploration into this world we briefly toil through. To understate this collection would be a transgression on my part, for even if certain ideas are disagreed with they will challenge your perceptions and push you to consider the alternatives.
Hitchens is exactly the reason why free speech should be defended at all costs, controversial, gloriously outspoken and always thought-provoking, he demands respect and gives short shrift to those he found morally objectionable. Upon finishing this book the reader will enjoy a sense of having plenty of new ideas to think on and a mass of new literature into which to delve, your interests will have been expanded and your views challenged in the best of ways, this is a must read.