Christopher Hitchenss Literary Essays
The death of Christopher Hitchens in December 2011 prematurely silenced a voice that was among the most admired of contemporary writers. For more than forty years, Hitchens delivered to numerous publications on both sides of the Atlantic essays that were astonishingly wide-ranging and provocative. The judges for the PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the EssayThe death of Christopher Hitchens in December 2011 prematurely silenced a voice that was among the most admired of contemporary writers. For more than forty years, Hitchens delivered to numerous publications on both sides of the Atlantic essays that were astonishingly wide-ranging and provocative. The judges for the PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay, posthumously bestowed on Hitchens, praised him for the way he wrote “with fervor about the books and writers he loved and with unbridled venom about ideas and political figures he loathed.” He could write, the judges went on to say, with “undisguised brio, mining the resources of the language as if alert to every possibility of color and inflection.” He was, as Benjamin Schwarz, his editor at The Atlantic magazine, recalled, “slashing and lively, biting and funny—and with a nuanced sensibility and a refined ear that he kept in tune with his encyclopedic knowledge and near photographic memory of English poetry.” And as Michael Dirda, writing in the Times Literary Supplement, observed, Hitchens “was a flail and a scourge, but also a gift to readers everywhere.”
The author of five previous volumes of selected writings, including the international bestseller Arguably, Hitchens left at his death nearly 250,000 words of essays not yet published in book form. And Yet… assembles a selection that usefully adds to Hitchens’s oeuvre. It ranges from the literary to the political and is, by turns, a banquet of entertaining and instructive delights, including essays on Orwell, Lermontov, Chesterton, Fleming, Naipaul, Rushdie, Pamuk, and Dickens, among others, as well as his laugh-out-loud self-mocking “makeover.” The range and quality of Hitchens’s essays transcend the particular occasions for which they were originally written. Often prescient, always pugnacious, and formidably learned, Hitchens was a polemicist for the ages. With this posthumous volume, his reputation and his readers will continue to grow.
Christopher Hitchens was the cartographer of his own literary and political explorations. He sought assiduously to affirm—and to reaffirm—the ideas of secularism, reason, libertarianism, internationalism, and solidarity, values always under siege and ever in need of defending. Henry James once remarked, “Nothing is my last word on anything.” For Hitchens, as for James, there was always more to be said....more
Hardcover, 352 pages
Published November 24th 2015 by Simon Schuster
Christopher Hitchens, who died on Thursday at sixty-two, was one of the most prolific essayists and authors of his time, writing regularly for Vanity Fair, The Nation, The Atlantic, and Slate, among others, and producing a long shelf books, including “Letters to a Young Contrarian,” “God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything,” and his memoir, “Hitch-22.” It would be nearly impossible to collect a truly representative sample of his work, in part, because of the political transformation he made in recent years—a journey from left to right that Ian Parker chronicled in this magazine in 2006—and in part because of the sheer volume, which he managed despite a legendary drinking habit. The pieces selected below are, at least, a taste of some of his notable articles from the past decade.
“Trial of the Will”: In this, his latest article for Vanity Fair, Hitchens wrote of the toll that the treatment for his cancer had taken on his body, but concluded, “So far, I have decided to take whatever my disease can throw at me, and to stay combative even while taking the measure of my inevitable decline.”
“Unspoken Truths”: In this article, which he wrote earlier this year for Vanity Fair, Hitchens discussed his cancer, the possibility that it would take his voice from him, and the way in which the ability to speak is connected with the ability to write.
“How To Make a Decent Cup of Tea”: Hitchens could turn something as simple as preparing tea into a screed—but, as always, he wrote it well. It may have helped that in this case he was following in the footsteps of one of his heroes, George Orwell.
“How Can Anyone Defend Kissinger Now?”: After the Nixon Library released tapes of conversations between then-President Nixon and his Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, in which Kissinger had said, “[I]f they put Jews into gas chambers in the Soviet Union, it is not an American concern,” Hitchens launched another attack on one of his favorite targets. (In his 2001 book, “The Trial of Henry Kissinger,” Hitchens had argued that Kissinger should be tried for war crimes.)
“The Commander: My Father, Eric Hitchens”: The writer discusses his father and looks back at his childhood in this excerpt from his memoir.
“Believe Me, It’s Torture”: Though in his later years he generally aligned himself with the right on issues like the invasion of Iraq, after he chose to be waterboarded in order to determine for himself whether it was truly torture, Hitchens concluded, “I apply the Abraham Lincoln test for moral casuistry: ‘If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong.’ Well, then, if waterboarding does not constitute torture, then there is no such thing as torture.”
“On Becoming American”: Two years before he officially became a U.S. citizen, Hitchens wrote about his feeling that he already was an American, and what it means to be one.
“Mommie Dearest”: Not many people would be willing to take on Mother Theresa, much less spend years doing so. But Hitchens never shied away from such things; in this 2003 piece for Slate, he railed against Pope John Paul II’s decision to beatify the late nun.
“The Honorable Schoolboy”: As Christopher Buckley wrote in his obituary for his friend Hitchens, P. G. Wodehouse was “the writer Christopher perhaps esteemed above all others.” In this 2004 book review for The Atlantic, Hitchens wrote of Wodehouse, “His attention to language, his near faultless ability to come up with names that are at once ludicrous and credible, and the intricacy of his plotting are imperishable.”
“Stranger in a Strange Land”: In this piece that The Atlantic published two months after the attacks of 9/11, Hitchens summed up his break from the establishment left over the attacks and the war on terror that was then only beginning.