34 of 34 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Guidebook for thinking
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...
Published on 15 Mar 2006 by Stephen A. Haines
17 of 62 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars The right man for the job?
Christopher Hitchens talks of George Orwell (his own self-styled mentor) in his invited lectures and at the New School in New York where he occasionally teaches, writes of Orwell in his books, and backs Paul Wolfowitz as a matter of Realpolitik on the second gulf war. One waits in vain to read a piece of his that, knowledgable as he is and not one to turn away from a...
Published on 18 May 2003
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34 of 34 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Guidebook for thinking,
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. The reader is enjoined to reflect on which paths to consider and follow, since Hitchens is sympathetic with those confronted by the multiplicity of issues facing them. He further stresses that none of the subjects confronting young people today are likely to be resolved in absolute terms. He is conscious of his own inability to deal in absolutes - 'quietly proud of what little I'd done, as well as ashamed by how little that was." A realistic statement, it's one adding value to the advice on individuality permeating this book.
Reading this collection is, of course, but a starting point. While he abjures demands for a "reading list," the essays are sprinkled with sources for examples of unconstrained thinking. Beginning with Emile Zola, he encourages readers to investigate George Dangerfield, Rilke, E.P. Thompson and Joseph Heller. That's a hefty assignment, but, as Hitchens stresses, achieving justice isn't an easy nor popular path. Hitchens disavows aspirations of becoming either a "leader" or a "role model" for young contrarians. Even so, his autobiographical comments provide clues to what must be done to fulfill the role. And every individual, he stresses, has an individual role - not everyone is expected to reach his level nor anyone else's. The only injunction is to continually self-examine what your beliefs are and how you express them. Only then can you be certain you qualify as a contrarian in pursuit of justic.
The theme of this book was anticipated by F. M. Cornford at the beginning of the last century: "There is only one argument for doing something; the rest are arguments for doing nothing." Derive and argument for doing something . . . It was a valid statement a century ago, and remains important today. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Inspirational,
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...
14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant. A must for all independently minded people,
By A Customer
This review is from: Letters to a Young Contrarian (Hardcover)
I may not agree with all the conclusions that Mr Hitchens comes to, but, as he himself states, this is a book about how to think, not what to think. It gives courage to those who believe intellectual thought should not be left to politicians or professors in ivory towers, nor to the dogmatists of the left and right, but should be conducted by every day people so they can challenge the assumptions and truths constantly fed to us. Christopher Hitchens is intelligent and witty. Most of his examples are comments on his life and changing attitude and I look forward to reading more from this brilliant contrarian.
19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Provocative prose from our most erudite left-wing critic,
By A Customer
A great idea from Hitchens (that's Christopher, not to be confused with Peter, his right-wing [...] younger brother). Challenging the youth of today to match the rebelliousness of his '60s youth, he poses questions around international issues with the intention of arousing our young people from their seeming complacency and acceptance of the new world global order. This is ideal for parents of the baby-boomer generation who are frustrated at their off-spring's unquestioning life-style and failure to see Che Guevara tee-shirts as anything more than fashion statements. Whether they can get their kids to read it is another matter. Revolt, damn you, revolt.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I wish I'd read it when I was younger,
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.
5.0 out of 5 stars Inspiritn,
A wonderful book leading to more books, from Hitchens, a brave soul who had the mettle to face life in all its challenges, headlong.
5.0 out of 5 stars A mesmerising read,
This book reminded me of one of Hitchen's thought "If you can speak, you can write." He certainly excels at both.
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing,
An amazing book, as long as the 'young' reader has a good understanding of the world, its history and language.
5.0 out of 5 stars The Profound Sentence,
For me, what marks out Christopher Hitchens as a writer is how, as I read his prose, I cannot help but find an abundance of profundity, with tutelage in each word or turn of phrase and sentence. If you want to learn how to begin thinking independently, then you could do worse than read this collection of essays, an excellent introduction to cultural and literary criticism.
4.0 out of 5 stars A very good synthesis of Hitchens,
This review is from: Letters to a Young Contrarian (Art of Mentoring) (Kindle Edition)
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. I am only recently acquainted with Hitchens' work, but I consider this to be a worthy starting point for anyone wishing to understand the essence of this most excellent specimen of man. "Letters" basically delivers a synthesis of the late Hitchens' view, the reasons for his stance on many varied topics and also his personal advice to anyone truly wishing to become a professional contrarian, or (more realistically) anyone who wishes to maintain an upright moral stance in the face of popular or personal complacency. I cannot say that I agree with all of the author's espoused views, but he doubtlessly anticipated some such differences of opinion.
Therefore I suggest that this book is to be treated both as textbook and exercise book for developing an opinion on many controversial. From his advice one should learn how and why to take a stand in both the heat of argument or the chill of general complacency and then instantly apply the techniques of open criticism to his own views. In my humble opinion, that is what the man would've desired to see in a young contrarian (feel free to disagree with me though).
I suppose my only criticism of it is that it is far too short to provide an even view of the examples described therein, but I repeat that this is a synthesis: it is not enough to make an informed decision on big issues, but enough to comprehend the author.
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Letters to a Young Contrarian (Art of Mentoring) by Christopher Hitchens