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56-Jan-Feb-2012
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Selected Essays

A-ArguablyOver a long career, public intellectual Christopher Hitchens has accepted--in fact, embraced--his role as a political and social agitator. His consistent, prodigious output has produced such volumes as Letters to a Young Contrarian (2001), The Quotable Hitchens: From Alcohol to Zionism (2011), god Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything (2007), and a memoir, Hitch-22 (3.5 of 5 Stars Sept/Oct 2010). Arguably collects more than 100 pieces that have previously appeared over the past decade in the Atlantic, Slate, and Vanity Fair.

The Topic: Rabble-rouser, antitheist, political lightning rod, traitor, a writer's writer. A devotee of George Orwell, cigarettes, and alcohol, essayist and social commentator Christopher Hitchens, having come from his native England with an Oxford degree and a background in leftist journalism, cut his teeth with the Nation in the early 1980s. Since then, he has undergone a much-publicized move to the political right with his views on Islam and the wars on terror. The far-reaching and insightful essays and reviews in Arguably, perhaps his last collection (Hitchens has been fighting advanced esophageal cancer since 2010), offer the author's take on politics (of course), foreign affairs, fiction (from Stieg Larsson's thrillers to Harry Potter to Lolita), women in comedy (his most unpopular essay ever, Hitchens reports), and the mind of a bibliomaniac, among other topics.
Twelve. 816 pages. $30. ISBN: 9781455502776

Independent (UK) 4 of 5 Stars
"That Christopher Hitchens is the most compelling polemicist writing in English today is proven by his latest collection, and the point is given sharpness by the fact that he won't be writing for much longer. ... The value of his prose comes from the depth of his conviction--often child-like in its clarity--and the startling breadth of his erudition." Amol Rajan

Los Angeles Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Though there are plenty of essays on politics to be found here, the book also treats us to other arrows in Hitchens' proverbial quiver, including his bracing, exhilarating approach to important literary figures. He addresses not only his long-admired Orwell, but many other writers as well--popular and contemporary--which is why this book merits a lasting place on your bookshelf in company with collections such as John Bayley's The Power of Delight or George Steiner's No Passion Spent." Nick Owchar

Miami Herald 4 of 5 Stars
"[Hitchens] continues to elucidate and pontificate with his inimitable energy. Unlike Dr. Johnson's condemned preacher (one of many things we learn about in Arguably), Hitchens does not need the added incentive of looming death to concentrate his mind." Ariel Gonzalez

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"Although the necessity of imposing some order on a collection of this type means that his literary reviews are more or less sequestered from his political polemics and foreign reporting, [Hitchens's] mind does not observe these boundaries. ... His range is extraordinary, both in breadth and in altitude." Bill Keller

Boston Globe 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Without fail, Hitchens brandishes his pen with vicious lucidity. ... This vast, erudite, startlingly impressive collection of his daily labor offers a fitting last call for one of the most talented and productive of that dying breed, the freelance print-based man of letters." Michael Washburn

Guardian (UK) 3 of 5 Stars
"There are many sad moments when thought has withered into vacuity or bombast, moments in which we can see what Hitchens might have become--just another purveyor of American super-patriotic orthodoxies. But they serve in the end to define a fate that, somehow, he eludes." Fintan O'Toole

Critical Summary

Christopher Hitchens's calling card has always been his unwillingness to toe anything that resembles a line--including his capricious views on politics, which have managed to alienate him from both left and right. Still, at his best, Hitchens's work recalls that of similarly gifted and influential essayists George Orwell, Edmund Wilson, and H. L. Mencken. The essays and reviews in Arguably, even removed as they are from the context and timing of their original magazine publication, are passionate, scathing, witty, and always distinctly Hitchens. Very few readers respond to Hitchens or his work with ambivalence (though a few critics noted that Hitchens includes some questionable pieces in the collection, such as one on the Tunisian autocracy), and he's undoubtedly one of the most outspoken and grudgingly admired social and political commentators of his generation. Long after he's gone, Hitchens's contrarian voice will remain.