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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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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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on 19 July 2014
A slim volume of 95 pages by CH with 9 pages of foreword by Graydon Carter and 9 of afterword by CH's wife Carole Blue. Slim, but as always with CH, quality triumphs over quantity. He discovers he has been invaded by a virulent form of cancer. He describes it as an alien. The writing flows with rich irony and humour in his search for insight, information and understanding of the alien. For me the beauty, value and challenge of CH's writing is to read and re-read his sentences until I comfortably feel I am moving at his speed and journeying through the richness of his ideas and perceptions. This book is no exception. I did not see, at all, CH as describing his 'pain' as a cancer sufferer, although of course he does describe painful periods. I felt throughout that he was meeting the alien head on and journeying with it as it took him from the country of the well across a border to the land of the malady. He rejects Elisabeth Kubler-Ross's stage theory that posits the stages we go through when we are confronted by death, betrayal and taxes - denial, rage etc. I laughed out loud (ish) when he contemplated the dumb question 'Why me?' and the cosmos (the abyss?) barely bothered to reply "Why not you?" I will not say sadly missed because ..... it goes without saying.
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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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on 31 August 2012
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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on 4 September 2012
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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on 8 January 2015
It would seem somehow disrespectful to put it that way, given that this small volume is a collection of observations and notes written during the course of the horrific illness that eventually claimed his life. These notes are on various topics - battling (or not) cancer, the brevity of life and the boredom of "eternity", the pointlessness of prayer and the absurdity of religious belief (themes Hitchens devotees will recognize as constants particularly of his later career), and the life-giving value of such things as friendship, reason and the word, both spoken and written.

Mortality was published posthumously in 2012 and includes an introduction by his editor Graydon Carter and an afterword by his widow, Carol Blue. Any Hitchens fan will appreciate and garner much from Mortality, but that percentile is the choir which is in the least need of further preachment. For that reason, maybe the rest of this review should be given over to plugging the man himself and not the book.

I came to Hitchens' work late, as a result of my interest in the God debate and the so-called New Atheist movement. Of the four original leading lights of that movement (the other three being Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett and Sam Harris), Hitchens was conspicuous as one whose towering intellect was matched and grounded by an finely-tuned moral sensitivity, and an unmatched command of the English language and canon of literature. More than that, his forceful and acerbic wit, often deployed without pity on his dialogue partners, was complemented by a kind-heartedness and generosity of spirit which made a clear distinction between those opponents who were hypocritical and cynical, and those who like him were earnest seekers of and believers in truth, whether religious or not. These and other qualities endeared many to him (and I count myself among them) whose views he publicly ridiculed.

As a committed and intellectually-fulfilled Christian, I nevertheless frequently found myself applauding Hitchens' commitment to moral integrity, and his ruthless denunciation of those who used religion to further their own interests or control others. That being said, I found god Is Not Great (2007) strong on rhetoric and weak on cogent argument, and in more than a few places scholarly accuracy. Much more rewarding was his memoir, Hitch 22 (2010), the reading of which should probably be a pre-requisite to benefitting full from Mortality. But I think to truly weigh Hitchens' genius, he should be heard in full-frontal verbal assault - to which end, Youtube has lent its full capacities and can be consulted.

Hitchens' passing in 2011 represents the loss not only of one of the great orators of our time, but also a writer cherished alike by his intellectual comrades and detractors. This reader hopes that as new leading voices emerge in the atheist world, Hitchens' contribution to the debate will not be forgotten, nor, and perhaps more importantly, the zealous yet personable spirit in which he wrote and debated. He is sorely missed.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 8 September 2012
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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on 30 December 2012
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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on 12 January 2014
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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