I just posted my review of Christopher Hitchens’ new book “Hitch 22” over at Amazon.com. This is what I wrote:
Must read. No excuses.
Let’s get the most important bit out of the way first. You ought to read this book. If you love good, insightful, literate, compelling writing then you must read it. You will not agree with all of it, maybe not even most of it. That’s OK. Echo chambers are sterile places: creativity and energy comes from conflict.
It’s tempting to adopt a personal approach to this book. After all, there are a number of points of commonality between Hitchens’ life and mine – our origins in post-war England, our youthful socialism, our migrations to the United States at the beginning on the 1980s, our uncompromising atheism, and anger at institutionalized mumbo-jumbo. But it would be a mistake for me to try to take this too far. At our cores, we are very different. Hitchens is an actor, a performance artist, a painter. He paints with words. He’s a passionate romantic, with the creative energy and curious myopia which this engenders.
Above all – and even though he is ambivalent about the term – he is a contrarian. He is defined by his oppositions, his targets. Mother Teresa. Henry Kissinger. Bill Clinton. Saddam Hussein. Ayatollah Kohmeini The Pope, and religion in general. And his opponents have to be big, controversial, and deserving of his attention. I searched the book in vain for any opinions of George W. Bush, and eventually concluded that Hitchens didn’t consider him worth comment. (And Hitchens chooses his targets because they trigger his passions – he feels no obligation to be even-handed or consistent.)
This is also an account of friendships of various kinds: the mentor, the partner in crime, the defender and advocate. I came away with the strong impression that for Hitchens, friendship is more important than love, which is an old idea that is rather out of fashion. It is not about intimacy, unless this is taken to include the intellect.
At the end, both I and the author seemed to come to the same conclusion: the memoir is not exactly a natural vehicle for Hitchens’ extraordinary literary talents. How does one end such a work? In my case, I set aside “Hitch 22” and turned to what I regard as his best work: his slim volume on Thomas Paine’s Rights of Man.