"All first-rate criticism first defines what we are confronting," the late, great jazz critic Whitney Balliett once wrote. By that measure, the essays of Christopher Hitchens are in the first tier. For nearly four decades, Hitchens has been telling us, in pitch-perfect prose, what we confront when we grapple with first principles-the principles of reason and tolerance and skepticism that define and inform the foundations of our civilization-principles that, to endure, must be defended anew by every generation.
"A short list of the greatest living conversationalists in English," said The Economist, "would probably have to include Christopher Hitchens, Sir Patrick Leigh-Fermor, and Sir Tom Stoppard. Great brilliance, fantastic powers of recall, and quick wit are clearly valuable in sustaining conversation at these cosmic levels. Charm may be helpful, too." Hitchens-who staunchly declines all offers of knighthood-hereby invites you to take a seat at a democratic conversation, to be engaged, and to be reasoned with. His knowledge is formidable, an encyclopedic treasure, and yet one has the feeling, reading him, of hearing a person thinking out loud, following the inexorable logic of his thought, wherever it might lead, unafraid to expose fraudulence, denounce injustice, and excoriate hypocrisy. Legions of readers, admirers and detractors alike, have learned to read Hitchens with something approaching awe at his felicity of language, the oxygen in every sentence, the enviable wit and his readiness, even eagerness, to fight a foe or mount the ramparts.
Here, he supplies fresh perceptions of such figures as varied as Charles Dickens, Karl Marx, Rebecca West, George Orwell, J.G. Ballard, and Philip Larkin are matched in brilliance by his pungent discussions and intrepid observations, gathered from a lifetime of traveling and reporting from such destinations as Iran, China, and Pakistan.
Hitchens's directness, elegance, lightly carried erudition, critical and psychological insight, humor, and sympathy-applied as they are here to a dazzling variety of subjects-all set a standard for the essayist that has rarely been matched in our time. What emerges from this indispensable volume is an intellectual self-portrait of a writer with an exemplary steadiness of purpose and a love affair with the delights and seductions of the English language, a man anchored in a profound and humane vision of the human longing for reason and justice.
How does one possibly narrate the essays of Christopher Hitchens while capturing the author's furious and perhaps occasionally misguided intensity and vigor? For this capacious collection of Hitchens's essays, narrator Simon Prebble wisely avoids that dilemma. Instead, he offers a dry, slightly formal delivery. Covering everything from Charles Dickens and J.G. Ballard to the recent financial crisis and global jihad, Hitchens mingles the literary with the political, using his erudition to hone arguments to a carefully wielded point. Prebble's controlled narration works to tone down some of Hitchens's force the narrator simply poses arguments without bludgeoning the author's opponents much to the benefit of this audio production. The sound is turned down, leaving Hitchens's ideas to come to the fore. A Hachette/Twelve hardcover.
I have voraciously read almost everthing Hitchens has published. I say "almost" simply because there is always the possibility that someone has printed something somewhere...
You will not agree with everything he writes, but you will always find his opinions interesting. Inevitably, he provokes reflection on many things you may have taken for granted and forces you to see current events with a keener intellect. His writing is infinitely more entertaining than the facile moribund redundancy that is typically sold as "political commentary" nowadays.
Great fun to read -- and you can cut and chase along the table of contents to read about whom you want to, when you want to. I continue to marvel at the acerbic wit, stunning vocabulary and wide knowledge and pointed perspective. Hitch at his best, on current fresh topics. Four thumbs up or more. I chuckled through- out.