three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
48-Sept-Oct-2010
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A Memoir

A-Hitch-22.epsNamed one of the "25 most influential liberals in the U.S. media" by Forbes and one of the "top 100 public intellectuals" by Foreign Policy and Prospect, practiced polemicist Christopher Hitchens has waged ideological war on many public figures. Here, he examines his own intellectual underpinnings.

The Topic: Whether you love him or hate him, few can deny that indefatigable journalist, author, and lecturer Christopher Hitchens has become an intellectual lightning rod in today’s media. Yet, having championed both left-wing and neoconservative positions during his 40-year career, this self-described radical has been a target of critics on both sides of the political spectrum. In this frank memoir, Hitchens tracks the convoluted and often problematic evolution of his beliefs--from his espousal of Marx and International Socialism at Oxford (where he met, and inhaled with, future U.S. President Bill Clinton) to his disillusionment with and ideological departure from the Left after his colleagues’ apathetic response to the Ayatollah Khomeini’s fatwa against close friend Salman Rushdie in 1989--a shift reinforced 12 years later by 9/11.
Twelve. 448 pages. $26.99. ISBN: 9780446540339

New York Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Hitch-22 is among the loveliest paeans to the dearness of one’s friends--Mr. Hitchens’s close ones include Martin Amis, Salman Rushdie and the poet James Fenton--I’ve ever read. ... Hitch-22 does a sleek, funny job of rolling out his life story." Dwight Garner

Independent (UK) 3.5 of 5 Stars
"No matter how noisy the buzz of the late-1960s revolutionary movements, no matter how passionate the warring ideologists, Hitchens always contrives to sound detached, loftily appreciative, self-admiring, as much at home fondling a leather-bound wine list as a Marxist tract. ... The years up to 21 take up half the book. The remainder, covering his exile to New York, then Washington, are less exciting." John Walsh

San Francisco Chronicle 3.5 of 5 Stars
"In general, Hitchens is a witty and subversive writer, but he’s not always a breezy one. I suspect many readers might be able to live without passages such as this: ‘Events in Vietnam and Selma clearly discredited the vaunted ‘New Frontier’ of American pseudo-liberalism ... while it went without saying that a British Labour government that could not even put down a white settler racist revolt in colonial Rhodesia ... was showing in practice that Social Democratic reformism had exhausted itself.’" Geoff Nicholson

Guardian (UK) 3 of 5 Stars
"England/America, left/right, gay/straight, literature/politics, Jewish/atheist/C of E: he’s engagingly frank in owning up to all the schisms. Frank, but not confessional. Intellectual history rather than emotional catharsis is the rule here." Blake Morrison

Miami Herald 3 of 5 Stars
"On [the Iraq War] his credibility is nil. On other topics, such as the pedophile scandal engulfing the Roman Catholic Church, he remains an important advocate against corruption and hypocrisy. After reading Hitch-22, the only thing you can be sure of is that this flawed knight will not breathe contentedly unless he has a dragon to slay." Ariel Gonzalez

Telegraph (UK) 3 of 5 Stars
"Hitchens is an accomplished raconteur and the many stories he tells are, for the most part, interesting, amusing or appalling enough that he can be forgiven for having told a fair few of them before. ... Fine orator and fluent writer though he is, he’s never been much of an analytical thinker, and his style of argument proceeds more by a series of emphatic, emotive and stylish assertions (he magnificently denounces Argentina’s General Videla as looking ‘like a cretin impersonating a toothbrush’), by appeals to common sense and common feeling, than by logical reasoning." Thomas Jones

Washington Post 3 of 5 Stars
"As you plunge in for your Zelig-like wallow in the past century’s zeitgeist, you begin to shiver: My God, didn’t this guy leave anything out? ... But the truth is, for the memoir of a Trotskyite George Orwell worshiper, Hitch-22 (ugh) has a humongous memory hole." Diana McLellan

Critical Summary

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.

Also by the Author

god Is Not Great How Religion Poisons Everything (2007): Award Star National Book Award finalist. In this provocative atheist manifesto, Hitchens employs his trademark humor, defiance, and vitriol to argue that God does not exist and that religious belief is the source of the world’s suffering.