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194 of 197 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Christopher Hitchens - The final journey through "Tumortown"
It comes as no surprise that one of the most remarkable troublemakers and polemicists this country has ever produced didn't leave without having a few important things to say. The late great Christopher Hitchens used the pages of Vanity Fair during his full frontal battle against a tumor in his esophagus to apply the maxim of Dylan Thomas to "rage, rage against the dying...
Published on 27 Aug 2012 by Red on Black

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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars The casual brutality of death
A wistful codicil from an essayist who is both gripped by and distracted by the casual brutality of death. It's such a pity that Mr Hitchens did not have the time to develop his thesis, so this book is more a short series of notes and observations. In a way it is curiously unsatisfying as a book and those who do not know Mr Hitchens' broader writings might prefer to begin...
Published 23 months ago by Edinburgh


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194 of 197 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Christopher Hitchens - The final journey through "Tumortown", 27 Aug 2012
By 
Red on Black - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Mortality (Kindle Edition)
It comes as no surprise that one of the most remarkable troublemakers and polemicists this country has ever produced didn't leave without having a few important things to say. The late great Christopher Hitchens used the pages of Vanity Fair during his full frontal battle against a tumor in his esophagus to apply the maxim of Dylan Thomas to "rage, rage against the dying of the light". But you also sense throughout the pages of "Mortality", a book collecting those very special essays, that Hitchens instinctively felt that this was one argument he wasn't going to win. As such his tangle with death is a level headed but poignant dalliance with the slow degradation of a body which graphically charts the "wager" with chemotherapy taking "your taste buds, your ability to concentrate, your ability to digest and the hair on your head". He is painfully honest and reflective throughout about his predicament not least the "gnawing sense of waste" and the reality of becoming an early "finalist in the race of life". Yet it wouldn't be Hitchens if the opportunity for settling some old scores was not taken and in particular his restatement of his vociferous views on atheism despite the fact that September 20th 2010 was designated by one religious website in the States as "Everyone pray for Hitchens day".

Others were less charitable for in some quarters the onset of Hitchens illness produced a vicious form of schadenfreude not least amongst his many enemies in the US Christian right where his strong opinions on religion had provoked and outraged those not prepared to countenance any debate. He quotes an opinion from an American religious blog that viewed his throat cancer as "Gods revenge for him using his voice to blaspheme him". Undoubtedly genuine Christians would find such a view repugnant and in any case Hitchens would have no truck with such nonsense. In his autobiography "Hitch 22" he was candid about a lifestyle that some described as "convivial" while others thought "excessive" a better term. He argued alternatively that a cigarette permanently locked in his hand and the love of a "second bottle" were as much sources of inspiration for his writing as his limited repertoire of heroes particularly hie love of Tom Paine and George Orwell. He knew the source of his problems but that is not the point of this book. It is in essence a slow diary of his journey through ""Tumortown" its excruciating levels of pain, the corresponding fatalism and resignation, its false hopes and eventual knock out blow. There are brilliant passages on figures as diverse as Leonard Cohen, and Nietzsche, a retelling of the waterboarding torture which Hitchens endured to attack the Bush administration with a searing polemic and finally the weariness at the offerings of possible cancer cures. `You sometimes feel that you may expire from sheer ADVICE", he exclaims in frustration.

This short book concludes with a chapter of fragmentary jottings which are in every sense the most affecting part of the book. The broken phrases and quotes show a mind that thinks deeply, still questioning, still at work and debating until the very last. This is despite of "Chemo-brain. Dull, stuporous" and fears that this "lavish torture is only the prelude to a gruesome execution". Hitchens also brilliantly unearths a quote from Saul Bellow which argues with simple insight that "death is the dark backing that a mirror needs if we are able to see anything". Christopher Eric Hitchens was a man who did his fair share of seeing not least on his many travels to chart despotism and dictatorship and to rally against it with clarity not heard since George Orwell. He also always had the right words even when he was fundamentally wrong and the best of his writings are furiously brilliant, deserving the widest readership whether you agree with him or not. Hitchens died on 15th December 2011, and this the book concludes with a tender "Afterword" from his widow Carol Blue. At one point in "Mortality" the author quotes Horace Mann's observation that "Until you have done something for humanity you should be ashamed to die". In the case of the sadly lamented and much missed Christopher Hitchens there was no need to worry about this, he did more than enough.
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30 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A True Contrarian, 4 Sep 2012
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This review is from: Mortality (Hardcover)
Mortality is a slim and sober volume, and one that gets harder to read as it nears its (and the author's) conclusion. Christopher Hitchens gladly took on the role of public intellectual, and it is one in which he effortlessly excelled. His erudition was remarkable, his essays managing the tricky combination of being nuanced and pugnacious, eloquent and funny. And it was these qualities he brought to his valiant and very public crusade against esophageal cancer, the final and unwinnable conflict waged in the theatre of his body.

The present collection of essays starts with a touching Foreword by Graydon Carter (Hitchens's editor at Vanity Fair), a Foreword in which he describes the convivial and controversial character Hitchens embodied. But despite political differences of opinion, the Iraq war being foremost among them, Carter conveys how hard it was (is) to dislike Hitchens, a sentiment extending to his large readership. For that was the thing about Hitchens: it didn't matter how much you disagreed with what he was saying, and there was quite a lot, he was still one of the most insightful and ruthless essayists around, a true contrarian.

Primarily, the essays begin with Hitchens being diagnosed in June 2010. The openness with which he relates the news is brave, the mixture of shock and motivation palpable. But he controls the pointless rage and favours curiosity instead. This was an aggressive cancer, and one whose encroaching malignity robbed him of his two main attributes: his voice and the energy to write. The measured reflections on these two aspects of his illness are the most poignant, as he keeps responding to the cancer in new ways, undertaking a dialectical approach to the disease that will kill him. The humour, however, is still there, and despite this being an irreversible trip through 'Tumortown', Hitchens is still the best guide you could have.

The final jottings and fragments are followed by Carol Blue's Afterword. Hitchens's widow shows the private side of her husband, the side his readers did not see. And it is devastatingly personal in tone, the few tiny triumphs of his illness recounted with an admirable honesty.

But it is the industriousness, both on and off the page, which grabs the reader's attention, as Hitchens, even in his final days, didn't seem to stop: he kept on thinking and evaluating ideas in his mind, an unimpeachable example to us all.
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39 of 41 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The last words ..., 31 Aug 2012
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This review is from: Mortality (Hardcover)
I agree with Red on Black's review in its entirety and though the final thoughts and musings of CH have already been provided in Vanity Fair and in interviews he gave during his last months, Mortality is a dignified, reflective and enriching literary coda to the life of one of the most stimulating writers/columnists/polemicists of the last thirty years and more.

To those drawn to this slender volume, perhaps mainly, as a result of the recent articles/obituaries about CH - and who have not read much of his voluminous output, buy this book; it will whet your appetite for more of his stimulating and enriching works.

Reading Mortality I was again struck by an abiding sense of loss, a sense of bereavement that has endured since his passing in December, last year. Such was his uniqueness and his unfailing courage that, together with his intellect and literary talents, it is doubtful that any other writer or columnist will fill the void.

One last point, for the sake of accuracy, Amazon needs to amend the product details of Mortality. This slim volume is 106 - and not the claimed 240 - pages in length.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Profound Final Words From This Generation's Finest Thinker., 2 Oct 2012
By 
Gregory W. French "gegsville" (Ipswich, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Mortality (Hardcover)
When Christopher Hitchens wrote about the humbling experience of being accidently referred to as the `late' Hitchens in his memoir Hitch-22 in 2010, he could have had no idea that a `malignant alien' was in fact already burrowing deep into his oesophagus. Perhaps this earlier realisation that he, too, was an aging mortal helped soften the blow somewhat when he was diagnosed with terminal cancer in June 2010. Adopting the stoic tradition previously undertaken by journalist's Richard Brookhiser and John Diamond, Hitchens decided to document, as part of an agreement with Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter that he would write about anything except sports, his experience of the disease - in no uncertain detail.
At the time, many considered it an interesting experiment; imagine, if you will, your favourite intellectual faced with the subjective circumstance of their fast-impending demise and their considered reaction to this on-going malady. The results here are at least interesting not only for the humour and fluency present in the writing, even when describing excruciating pain in real time, but for displaying his contempt for euphemism and holy cows (of all kinds), an affirmation of his character and with a good deal of (cowboy, as it turned out to be) hat-tipping to the stoics gone before him (including Sir Kingsley Amis, and his own father). Whilst he also maintained a steady output of essays on politics and culture until at least a few weeks before his death in December last year, the filings from `Tumortown' have now been gathered in a short book, under the bold collective title of Mortality.

After reading the first few pages of the book, it becomes clear one was right to not simply buy it through sympathy, disregarding the grave, sheepish looking Hitchens on the front cover. This is something he would certainly have none of and berates such consolations on others himself, even previous residents of Tumortown; Randy Pausch and Friedrich Nietzsche are hardly spared a cynical analysis - the only way we would want it to be. No, these works emit the perfume of admirable objectivity, with the central idea being to inform and educate particular groups concerned: the religious, writers, the doctors, the family members and the public regarding general cancer `etiquette'. It was on this last topic that I found myself laughing out loud at the description of a fan discussion at a book signing containing the following dialogue:

`She: And then he died. It was agonizing. Agonizing. Seemed to take him forever.
Me: [Beginning to search for words.] ...
She: Of course, he was a lifelong homosexual.
Me: [Not quite finding the words, and not wishing to sound stupid by echoing "of course."] ...'

The empathy is absolute. Even people like I, who fortunately have been lucky enough never to have family members felled with any such disease become engrossed in this person's world; such is the trick of the anecdote. The easy writing style and straight forward construction of this book - and we unfortunately, know in advance the ending - make for a very speedy reading, and accordingly induce a profound regret that this is undoubtedly the final Hitchens publication.

Perhaps it is also a shame that such a last book would be riddled with pockets of distinct ugliness, like the descriptions of having skin numbing injections into his wretched body, or losing his golden voice which could previously command many-a dinner table, or the slightly distressing `fragmentary jottings' included at the end of the book which display a man emerging in and out of consciousness to give a disjointed monologue, as though these thoughts are considered specially profound. These do however serve to affirm Christopher Hitchens' lifelong belief in materialism, summed up best by the man himself: `I do not have a body, I am a body'. It is therefore in retrospect puzzling to learn that he firmly believed he would be in the 5% or so of patients who would `beat' the disease, without special reason (his father had also succumbed to the illness) ; or resist it, as the contrary Hitchens camp might have it. His admiration for science and medicine still resonates though, with written tributes paid to personal physician Francis Collins, leader of the Human Genome Project and surely incompatibly for Hitchens, a committed Christian, as well as various doctors and nurses. Hitchens also squares up to the Nietzschien philosophical doctrine (and a personal conundrum) `what doesn't kill me makes me stronger', which he was clearly more than qualified to discuss and rather tersely resolves the thought to a populist sound bite which even Nietzsche experienced as a falsity in his last miserable, bed-ridden years.

If there is to be any criticism of this small collection about one's inevitable demise, it might be because it is limited to solely this. Given that we know `Hitch' (as he was affectionately denoted by his comrades) was writing on the topics of Dickens, Chesterton, and The Republican Party nominations until up to a matter of days before his death, why not include all these and other unpublished articles and thoughts? Mortality feels unfinished without a definite conclusion -perhaps silence can be the only conclusion? - and surely these half-hearted jottings aren't the way he would like his last work to finish up. Widow Carol Blue's consummate and touchingly sad afterword leaves us with a bit more information about his circumstance at the end than we had at the time (and of how it was `unexpected'; indeed, I remember from October last year reading how he was to attend an atheist convention earlier this year).

These final writings in Mortality act as an accessible, lucid, perfectly secular, and life-affirming reflection on our common fate, with as much vinegar as anybody dying could muster. It's a comfort in a way to know he never let the inspective audience down up to the last point, and created a muse with the spectre of oblivion, paving the way for anybody else. W ith Hitchens gone, the world feels a bit lighter, with nobody to fill his shoes; it's strange to think it will almost be a year since he went. This book works well as a tribute to the man who `wasn't going to give up, until I absolutely have to'. Well, that he certainly didn't.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars The casual brutality of death, 7 Jan 2013
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This review is from: Mortality (Kindle Edition)
A wistful codicil from an essayist who is both gripped by and distracted by the casual brutality of death. It's such a pity that Mr Hitchens did not have the time to develop his thesis, so this book is more a short series of notes and observations. In a way it is curiously unsatisfying as a book and those who do not know Mr Hitchens' broader writings might prefer to begin with his earlier collections of essays.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Mortality by Christopher Hitchens, 30 Dec 2012
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For Christmas I received a Kindle and my first download was Mortality by Christopher Hitchens. And I am now a HUGE fan, better late than never. His writing is dense and profound without being pompous, he has wonderful wit and his insight and honesty with handling the onslaught of cancer was, for me moving and incredibly helpful.

He touched on so many subjects that interest me and I am delighted to think I have all this reading ahead of me by him. I hope I can use his enormous breadth of knowledge and opinion to piggyback my way to be more informed and able to fight my corner on controversial subjects. Just wish he wasn't dead but he has certainly left a legacy of enormous worth.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The words live on, 8 Sep 2012
By 
Sam Quixote - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Mortality (Hardcover)
Most of us have had contact with cancer in our lives - we've either experienced it firsthand or know (or known) a family member or friend who has had it - and in each instance it's been horrible, an experience unlikely to provide you with much and likely to take a lot from you, if not everything. But most of us aren't Christopher Hitchens - if fact none of us are, and that's why we know who was. He was a unique voice whose essays, columns, articles, and books made the person reading them much more enriched having read them.

"Mortality" is his last book (though I'm sure further anthologies of unpublished material will appear in the years ahead) detailing his fatal encounter with esophageal cancer, from discovering it while on a book tour promoting his memoir "Hitch 22", to the final pages which are scraps of notes for future (and now forever unwritten) writings.

But it's not a sad book. Hitchens was ruthless in his approach to subjects and he is no less so when dealing with himself and "the alien" (which is how he characterises his cancer) - no sentimentality or feeling sorry for himself is allowed on the page.

He is informative, funny, and stubborn all at once when writing on the reaction among religious groups when news of his cancer was reported with some Christians instigating a "Pray for Hitch" day - a day he encourages everyone to ignore. He also reinforces his atheist position, almost aggressively, writing "What if I pulled through and the pious faction contentedly claimed that their prayers had been answered? That would somehow be irritating." As if he wanted to die to once more further his argument that there is no God! If this book shows anything it is that death and the prospect of death does not change the person, and that Hitchens remained dignified and his own person right to the end.

There are essays on coping with the cancer treatment which is almost as bad as the cancer, and a fantastic piece on Nietzsche and the etymology of the phrase "whatever doesn't kill me makes me stronger". The book is full of rich writing displaying a luminous and inquisitive mind, questioning death, the mundanity of illness, and moving from issues of existence to anecdotes of past columns such as the time he underwent waterboarding to experience how bad a torture it is (very bad as it turns out, traumatising in fact).

Also included is a foreword by Hitchen's editor at Vanity Fair Graydon Carter and a moving afterword by his wife Carol Blue. Our culture lost a brilliant mind on December 15, 2011, and "Mortality" is a fine coda to a man who lived life fearlessly and wrote some of the best reportage of the last 50 years. Christopher Hitchens remains an essential writer to read.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Joyous!, 21 Nov 2013
By 
Eileen Mitchell (London) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Mortality (Hardcover)
A grim subject, and one very relevant to me, as I have terminal cancer, but as ever with Christopher Hitchens, this was a joy to read, and echoed my own attitude perfectly. I absolutely identified with what he was saying, to the extent of being in constant gales of helpless laughter. Paradoxical but true.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gone but not forgotten, 22 Sep 2012
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Christopher Hitchens' last book is a moving testament to his determination to live life to the full. He concedes he often burnt the candle at both ends and cheerily proclaims it gave a lovely light. He says his "life-style" almost invited the Reaper to take a free swipe in his direction and felt no self-pity at his condition. Determination to, if at all possible, delay the inevitable was matched by his insistence on continuing writing.

The world lost a thinker it can ill afford to lose. His final work is a fitting but premature full stop.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Long Live Hitch, 12 Jan 2014
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This review is from: Mortality (Hardcover)
In less capable hands, this book could have been mawkish, or even quite depressing - dealing as it does with the author's gradual descent into incurable cancer, as he ends up eventually contemplating his own death.

But these last brief writings from the wonderful Hitch (consisting mainly of chapters adapted from some of his last Vanity Fair articles) have all the hallmarks of his trademark wit, insight & candour. He even jokes about the irony of recently qualifying for a 'lifetime's' free air travel (having chalked up a million air miles!), for example.

Christopher is also blunt about his worsening condition - he's not 'battling' cancer, cancer is battling him.
I thought this might be an uneasy read as, like many others, I have a great respect for Hitch & didn't wish to pry into his last few months of suffering.
But writing was obviously a great tonic for him, & this was his final message to the world, even if it was unceremoniously truncated when he could write no more.
Unlike any other book I've read before, I could really hear his voice as I was reading his words - his wonderful warm & mellow tones coming to life from the page.

Christopher has left an excellent legacy of work - he will never be forgotten, & long may we hear his voice & wise words in his many TV appearances, presentations & debates.
Finally, this book gets the reader really thinking & contemplating their own mortality too, & the fragility & (relative) brevity of life itself.
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