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Letters to a Young Contrarian Paperback – 25 Nov 2002

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Product details

  • Paperback: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; First Trade Paper Edition edition (25 Nov. 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465030335
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465030330
  • Product Dimensions: 12.7 x 1 x 20.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 32,865 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011) was the author of Letters to a Young Contrarian, and the bestseller No One Left to Lie To: The Values of the Worst Family. A regular contributor to Vanity Fair, The Atlantic Monthly and Slate, Hitchens also wrote for The Weekly Standard, The National Review, and The Independent, and appeared on The Daily Show, Charlie Rose, The Chris Matthew's Show, Real Time with Bill Maher, and C-Span's Washington Journal. He was named one of the world's "Top 100 Public Intellectuals" by Foreign Policy and Britain's Prospect.

Product Description


"Hitchens is expanding his influence, showing the next generation how to 'think independently'." - USA Today"

About the Author

Christopher Hitchens is a contributing editor to Vanity Fair. His numerous books include Letters to a Young Contrarian and Why Orwell Matters.

Inside This Book

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First Sentence
The ensuing pages represent my tentative acceptance of a challenge that was made to me in the early months of the year 2000. Read the first page
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39 of 39 people found the following review helpful By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAME on 15 Mar. 2006
Format: Paperback
In an earlier day [mine] it was Paul Goodman's "Growing Up Absurd." Today, it's Hitchens' "Letters." Hitchens demonstrates he's a worthy successor to Goodman's role as a mentor to young people. Goodman wrote at the height of protests over civil rights, race and gender equality and war in Viet Nam. Hitchens assaults various icons of this generation with skillful prose and deep insight. "Unthinking acceptance" is his chief target. He is always worth reading, even if you are in opposition with his conclusions. This series of "letters" to young people is Hitchens at his best. He seeks to respond to the query asking "how a radical or 'contrarian' life may be lived." His persistent theme is to question whatever "accepted wisdom" is encountered.
He opens with some definitions and explanations for his use of the unusual term "contrarian." Earlier terms, such as "dissenter," "iconoclast" and "freethinker" are generally applied to religious heretics. "Intellectual," coined during the Dreyfus Affair in France, retains a record of scornful judgment and is too limited. Hitchens prefers "contrarian" as helping the independent mind keeping focussed on "how it thinks" instead of "what it thinks." He reminds the young reader that maintaining independent thought is a lonely and essentially thankless task. In fact, he reminds us that if somebody expresses admiration for your insights, you're probably doing something wrong!
In this collection there are no polemics, no identified targets, no vituperation against individuals or institutions. The theme is encouragement of individual thinking and reflection. No particular issues are raised and examined. Instead, patterns of thinking and the actions taken are considered.
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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful By J. C. Stichbury on 20 Aug. 2005
Format: Hardcover
From the introduction of this book onwards, it is clear that Christopher Hitchens is extremely well read and can quote extensively to support his arguments. I found this inspirational, indeed probably more so than some of the arguments he puts forward. Not only did this book make me want to be more familiar with some of the texts he mentions (Zola and Orwell to name a few) but also to become better acquainted with Hitchens' own writing, since I suspect this is not one of his best works.
I liked the format of this book, which is one of a series of "Letters to a Young xyz" written by well-recognised authorities on the subject 'xyz'. Hitchens has used short chapters for each of his letters, which makes the book easy to read in short bursts and then reflect upon. Each chapter/letter picks up where the last one left off and Hitchens often refers to a reply to the previous letter, not included in the book, presenting a counter-argument or clarification. This works well.
I think this book will appeal to anyone despairing of the cult of celebrity and the globalization of the bland. It's a reader's read, enjoyable at a number of levels and worth re-reading during periods of existentialist doubt...
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Nathaniel Dean James on 12 July 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I have to admit, and not without some degree of shame, that prior to picking up this book I had shunned the author for the most part as someone whose views diverged too sharply from my own to be of any interest to me. It remains true that I do not share many of his specific views, or at least approaches to them, but that does not take away from the fact that Christopher Hitchens was a remarkable and highly intelligent man who stood by his convictions and contributed more than most to some of the the great debates of his generation.

In this short work the author takes up the subject of what it means to devote oneself to a life of opposition to the status quo by responding to many of the questions he has received on the subject throughout the years. It is not so much a treatise on any one subject – although his controversial opinion on things like religion and politics inevitably come up – as a dissertation on the very mindset a person should adopt if he or she is to successfully assume the role of the outspoken critic, and the various pitfalls of doing so. As such, the book lends itself well to anyone in such a position, be they a supporter of his views or not. I was particularly taken by the self-reflective and often humble tone of the book, as well as the beautiful simplicity and inescapable logic of the advice Hitchens offers on the subject of moral compromise and the temptation to “go along to get along”. Again, one does not have to agree with the author’s politics to make sense of his motives. In fact I would go so far as to say that a refusal to read this book on personal grounds is as much a vindication of what it has to say as it is an objection to it.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Guy on 2 Dec. 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is quite different from much of Hitchens' output. It's neither journalism nor polemic, but a very thoughtful book about what it means to be a 'Contrarian' and to challenge the status quo and conventional opinion, and why it is important to do so.

This is Hitchens, he of the erudite but meticulous and common-sense argument, so this certainly isn't a book on 'why everyone else is wrong'. It is a guide to how to challenge yourself and others to get to the nub of issues, written in the form of answering letters to an imaginary young reader who poses questions about how and why and when we should be 'Contrarian'. Hitchens answers with warmth, humour, and rigour. Even if you don't feel you need his guidance (he book can feel slightly patronising at times), it is an enjoyable read and raises and tries to answer various philisophical and moral challenges. Like most of Hitchens best writing (I'm aware many will disagree), it is valuable because his approach to the topic is level-headed, honest, and inquisitive.

A short, powerful book which simultaneously challenges us to question orthodoxies, and gives us the tools and encouragement to do so. I wish I had read it at nineteen when it was released, but I'm still glad I got around to it at thirty.
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