Over the course of his 60 years, Christopher Hitchens has been a citizen of both the United States and the United Kingdom. He has been both a socialist opposed to the war in Vietnam and a supporter of the U.S. war against Islamic extremism in Iraq. He has been both a foreign correspondent in some of the world’s most dangerous places and a legendary bon vivant with an unquenchable thirst for alcohol and literature. He is a fervent atheist, raised as a Christian, by a mother whose Jewish heritage was not revealed to him until her suicide. In other words, Christopher Hitchens contains multitudes. He sees all sides of an argument. And he believes the personal is political.
This is the story of his life, lived large.
Christopher Hitchens had some things in common with Ayn Rand. They were both atheists, writers, and both publicly expressed distaste and disrespect for Mother Teresa. That said, Hitchens disliked Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism and publicly derided her character.
Christopher Hitchens stands alone among 20th- and 21st-century pundits for his enthusiastic enmity and political flip-flopping, but while he makes no apologies for his beliefs, he does acknowledge their intrinsic contradictions. Critics praised Hitchens’s frankness in sharing the details of his mother’s suicide and of his breezy bisexuality, but they simultaneously balked at his decision to omit significant people and events (i.e., his wives, his children, and his role in Bill Clinton’s impeachment). They also objected to his relentless name-dropping and some overly dense prose, and a few were appalled that Hitchens would continue to insist that Saddam Hussein did indeed possess WMDs. Despite these complaints, Hitch-22 is a sharp, rebellious, and sometimes bawdy account of the making of a modern mastermind.
*Starred Review* Hitchens, who, in his earlier books, has expressed contempt for both God and Mother Teresa (although not in that order), is often described as a contrarian. In fact, in his book Letters to a Young Contrarian (2001), he himself noted that he “can appear insufferable and annoying,” albeit without intending to. This memoir, bracing, droll, and very revealing, gives him yet another description: storyteller. He writes with a voice you can hear clearly, warmed by smoke and whiskey, and draws readers into his story, which proves as personal as it is political. As with many memoirs, it is not the public moments that are so fascinating, though there are plenty of those. Hitchens takes readers with him to Havana and Prague, Afghanistan and Iraq; tests himself by being waterboarded (he was disappointed in his early capitulation); and hobnobs with politicians and poets. He almost gets himself beaten up by defacing a poster in Iraq with a Hitler mustache. But the most intriguing stories are the personal ones, both from his early days, at home and at boarding school, and from his later life, when he learns that his mother was Jewish, which, if only technically, makes him Jewish as well. This revelation leads Hitchens on a quest to learn the story of his family, many of whom died in the Holocaust. How this new identity squares with his oft-proclaimed atheism sheds a different light on the meaning of religious identity. (He struggles mightily with his political identity as well.) Few authors can rile as easily as Hitchens does, but even his detractors might find it difficult to put down a book so witty, so piercing, so spoiling for a fight. He makes you want to be as good a reader as he is a writer. –Ilene Cooper
About the Author
Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011) was the author of Letters to a Young Contrarian, and the bestseller No One Left to Lie To: The Values of the Worst Family. A regular contributor to Vanity Fair, The Atlantic Monthly and Slate, Hitchens also wrote for The Weekly Standard, The National Review, and The Independent, and appeared on The Daily Show, Charlie Rose, The Chris Matthews Show, Real Time with Bill Maher, and C-Span’s Washington Journal. He was named one of the world’s “Top 100 Public Intellectuals” by Foreign Policy and Britain’s Prospect.
Hitch-22: A Memoir by Christopher Hitchens
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Christopher Hitchens is a smart writer and his phlegmatic reading is entertaining with his dry sense of humor. The cultural and political references are somewhat lost on me as I don’t appear to have paid attention during the sixties and seventies. (I was very small then and I haven’t made up for it since.)
Hitchens is a master of language, but so brilliantly conversational. I listened to the author’s own reading of the book and read along at the same time. His recorded voice has a conversational tone that matches both his speaking and writing style. Yet, he drops so many cultural and literary references just outside of my range. The visible words help me put them in context should I encounter them again.
I recommend Hitch-22 to anyone who likes Hitchens’s style and wants more. I plan to pursue more Hitchens titles. I’m sad he’s not around to write more.
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