Christopher Hitchens is one of those writers whose prodigious output of letters, essays, and commentaries on the life, the universe, and everything is so pointed and provocative that he is capable of irritating anyone, sometimes repeatedly so, familiar enough with his work to have read more than just one of his essays. This should not be construed as a negative. In fact, if one is going to fall into paroxysms of anger or annoyance when reading an essay at the very least it should be well written, intelligent, and amusing. "Love, Poverty, and War" a collection of essays written by Christopher Hitchens has all three attributes in abundance and will please anyone willing to take the risk that his/her cultural or political icons may be subject to one of Hitchens' literary assaults.
As noted, Hitchens is prolific. Many of the essays in this anthology were originally published in a variety of magazines. In addition the anthology includes prefaces that Hitchens has written for new editions of classic works of fiction such Saul Bellow's Adventures of Augie March and Aldous Huxley's Brave New World.
It is fair to say that Hitchens does not suffer fools or cultural icons gladly. In short order he takes aim at Winston Churchill, Mother Theresa, Noam Chomsky, Michael Moore, Mel Gibson, and allegedly oppressive no smoking regulations implemented by the Mayor of New York. Given the diversity of political and social views held by these subjects it is hard to accuse Hitchens of toeing a particular ideological line. One may wince, for example, when Hitchens takes on Churchill and then applaud when he eviscerates Chomsky. No matter whether one agrees with the substance of any particular essay it is hard to disagree with the intellect and writing style of the drafter. Hitchens' very success in advancing his point of view may explain the ferocity of the attacks upon him by those who have been subject to his rapier. Very few can best him intellectually (I certainly can't) or match the sheer breadth of the subjects he has no small amount of knowledge of. Of course the immediate reaction then becomes a personal attack on his motives.
I expected the book to be dominated by the political and literary commentary that marks most of his writings for the Atlantic and Salon. What both surprised and delighted me was Hitchens more apolitical essays. His journey on the tattered remains of Route 66 is a brilliant piece of writing. So to is his look at Hollywood's famous Sunset Boulevard.
All in all these essays have something to please and annoy just about everyone. Colette once said that the "writer who loses his self-doubt, who gives way as he grows old to a sudden euphoria, to prolixity, should stop writing immediately: the time has come for him to lay aside his pen." Hitchens may be prolific but he is far from prolix. I trust it will be a long time before he lays down his pen.
This book is recommended for anyone that admires good writing and who is not concerned about damaging any particular sacred cows.
on 31 May 2012
Christopher Hitchens' erudition and passion are a formidable combination. Such a richly informed and radical thinker, he makes compelling, consistently impressive,
He delivers inspirational advocacy of a variety of liberal causes. Firstly, and perhaps most famously, he eloquently defends `liberal civilisation' against 21st century fascism, robustly and at some length supporting the Iraq war.
He is riveting, too, in an account of the horrors of witnessing (in the US) the capital punishment of a known PTSD sufferer.
His well-known `revisionist' study of Churchill is included. Praising him for his emphatic (though late) identification of the profoundness of the Nazi evil, Hitchens also wants the record straightened to reveal the slimness of the difference between Churchill and Chamberlain: the former initially expressed some pro-Nazi sympathies, while the latter did deliver some significant support for war. He wants Churchill criticised, too, for his failure to deal effectively with Japan, for arguing too much with Roosevelt, and too little with Stalin. Finally he wants Churchill's ruthlessness acknowledged ( for example in his ordering of the destruction of the French fleet): he was not the avuncular figure of his PR.
He endeavours to remodel the myths surrounding other fabled figures. The physical, psychological, moral and political failings of JFK are listed. Hitchens even targets Mother Teresa of Calcutta for her preference for propagating her rather extreme religious dogma to the poor and sick to making any constructive difference to their plight.
There's some lighter stuff here, too. We're treated to a couple of American journeys: a fascinating one down the memory-laden Sunset Strip, and a rather kicks-light one down a now worn-out Route 66.
Add to this some stimulating literary reviews (Ulysses, Augie March, Swann's Way, Lucky Jim) and the overall result is an absolute intellectual feast.
on 15 September 2010
Christopher Hitchens pisses people off. Thats what he does. Fortunately, he speaks only the truth, and consequently is one of the most important and influential figures to have ever graced the British and American left.
As well as being a cutting edge journalist who is not afraid to put his neck on the line for groundbreaking reportage, he is also a sound literary critic and a fluent and elegant writer. All these qualities are displayed flamboyantly here in this selection of essays. Many in the first section (Love) are reviews of or introductions to other literary works, and I found that a full understanding of these passages required prior knowledge. In fact, this is my only gripe about the book in general; when Hitchens invariably crosses into self-indulgent territory, the literary and historical references come thick and fast, and sometimes it's hard to keep up.
But this is a minor issue. Overall the man is an intellectual giant, and this compilation stands as a legacy of one of the 20th/21st centuries more enduring and important authors.
This book contains valuable (inside) information on J. L. Borges (religions believe `in immortality, but the veneration paid to the first century of life is proof that they truly believe only in those hundred years, for they destine all the rest, throughout eternity, to rewarding or punishing what one did when alive.'), A. Huxley and eugenics, M. Proust (`exposes and clarifies the springs of human motivation'), W. Churchill and his hypocritical overture to Stalin's heirs, a visionary L. Trotzky, Byron's hubris, J. Joyce and handjobs, a reactionary E. Waugh, a democratic and cosmopolitan S. Bellow or the importance of the `emigration of genius' for the US (B. Wilder).
C. Hitchens criticizes severely the US deliberate negligence of history education (`there is still an unmet need for an intelligible past'), the J. F. Kennedy myth, Michael Moore (Fahrenheit 7/11) and Mel Gibson (The Passion of Christ).
He castigates religion (`that most toxic of foes'), be it in the name of the Dalai Lama (`proclaiming reincarnation') or Mother Teresa (no empowerment of women).
He is viscerally opposed to capital punishment (`I feel permanently degraded and somewhat unmanned as a complicit spectator.')
But there is, at least, one false note in his reporting (on the Iraq war). Here we can quote G. Orwell in his evaluation of R. Kipling's work: he didn't understand that `an empire is primarily a money-making concern'.
This book will mostly appeal to literary buffs. So, only for the happy few.
on 29 April 2012
Love, Poverty and War. Journeys and essays. By Christopher Hitchens.
Christopher Hitchens had a great way with words, both as writer and orator. He travelled widely as a tourist, war correspondent, lecturer and pundit and must have been the very best dinner party raconteur and name-dropper. He remains by far the most amusing of the `New Atheists'.
When he did his research and felt a passionate commitment to his cause his writing was unsurpassed. In his personal life he was mostly heterosexual with occasional bisexual moments and in his politics mostly liberal-left with occasional flirtations with the might of American militarism. America's military power, a force he abhorred and railed against as a young man, came to be hugely impressive to him after he became an American citizen, as the last chapter in this compendium of his `Atlantic', `Vanity Fair' and `The Nation' articles shows.
In 2003 he visited Abu Ghraib prison in the desert outside Baghdad shortly after Saddam's final defeat. He visited the "stinking little cells into which prisoners were packed like vermin" and he "badly wanted to leave". It is profoundly ironic that this same place became an American-run centre for abuse of Iraqi prisoners within a year of this article being published in Vanity Fair. Would Hitchens have rediscovered his `internationalist' sympathies had he lived longer?
The best writing here is in the early chapters. He can be witty and profound in the same paragraph. While there are moments of exaggeration and narcissism the bulk of his tales seem credible. But it is this first section, about his literary and political influences: Greene, Kipling, Kingsley Amis, Joyce, Proust, Byron and Trotsky that is the purest delight. His fine writing is matched by a great sensitivity and real affection for these, sometimes flawed, literary giants. These first reviews are perfectly balanced, they aim to inspire without adoration, to chide without rancour.
The next section on "Americana" is well observed, funny and astute. His attempt to drive a red Corvette down the old "Route 66", a road which no longer exists, allows him to stray into some of the stranger places and weirder mindsets of the least visited parts of the US. The famous song, `Route 66', urges him "Don't forget Winona". (He cannot find Winona as he drives through it and misses it when he turns back to check). Other reviewers here have mentioned the chapter on `Sunset' as a `must-read' but so too are his thoughts on Bob Dylan and Saul Bellow's masterpiece, Augie March.
Part two of this collection is called `Poverty'. It brings together his articles on the themes of material want, inequality and intellectual impoverishment. So America's creaking health care system and the ideology of the ersatz pseudo-radical, Michael Moore, both endure justifiable dissection and exposure.
Unfortunately, the chapter on David Irving is self-serving and incomplete. Hitchens's Los Angeles Times article of May 20, 2001, which is reproduced in this book, was written over a year after the famous British court case in which David Irving lost his libel claim against Deborah Lipstadt and Penguin Books for publishing her book "Lying about the Holocaust". This book had accused Irving of `Holocaust denial'.
Hitchens once stated that Irving's historical arguments should be taken seriously and that Irving was "not just a fascist historian but a great historian of fascism". Rather than simply admitting his mistake, Hitchens tries to cobble together some semblance of a `free speech' defence for Irving. This gets Hitchens into an awful pickle. Hitchens concedes that Irving is unsavoury but only after an incident at the Hitchens' Washington house during which Irving makes a racist comment about Hitchens's daughter's "Aryan" (p261) features. His wife bans Irving from their home, so Hitch's next meeting with Irving had to be "in a neutral restaurant". Why he wanted another meeting is hard to understand. This article is atypical of Hitchens's work as it makes him seem muddled and slow to confront the truth. After all, the truth about Irving's `history' was clearly set out in Deborah Lipstadt's 1993 book published eight years before Hitchens's Los Angeles Times piece. So why is Hitchens here unable even to acknowledge the work of Deborah Lipstadt, the very author who defeated Irving in a British court? Hitchens is left scraping the bottom of his barrel. As proof of his services to anti-fascism he claims:
"..Irving had been associated with the British fascist movement led by Sir Oswald Moseley. In my hot youth I had protested at some of the meetings of this outfit...(p260)".
(Moseley's BUF lost the Battle of Cable Street in 1936. After exile in Ireland Moseley tried to return to politics in 1959 but never won another UK parliamentary seat. Christopher was born in 1949. Moseley had long been a spent force by the time Hitchens found his political voice.) The claimed active opposition between the two figures, used to underpin this assertion of anti-fascism, seems slightly contrived for someone who invites a known Holocaust-denier around to his house "for cocktails".
The third and final section deals with war, in particular the first Gulf war, 9/11 and its aftermath. While it does contain a good article on the plight of the Kurds, this is the weakest section of the book. By the time Hitchens wrote these later pieces he had become an American citizen by adoption, and like many new immigrants perhaps he wished to be seen as loyal to the mores of his new hosts. These articles, especially those reprinted from `The Nation', are rather uncritically gungho. Perhaps many of us were like that back then, but articles praising Paul Bremer and the genius "intellectual" US General John Abizied (..."violence from the other side can be a sign of progress"..) seem strange and very dated, given the way things have panned-out in Iraq and Afghanistan. Most of these collected articles are at least eight years old. Hitch clearly had a misplaced optimism that `new nation building' was proceeding apace.
George Galloway MP, another great orator, who debated with Hitchens several times, claims that Christopher Hitchens had the writing skills of "an angel" but had abandoned his old radicalism for a naïve populism. There is some truth in this charge as Hitchens did indeed change from a Trotskyite to a `Bushite' during his political metamorphosis. Readers must judge the consistency of Hitch's `born again' political logic for themselves.
A measure of Hitch's influence can be gleaned from the vast number of glowing and affectionate obituaries that appeared in the days after his death. Some are by long-standing friends and colleagues who really knew him well. But there are many more from minor celebrities, claiming to have become firm friends and trusted confidants of Hitchens after what seems the most fleeting acquantaince. Hitch would have had great fun publicly un-hitching such shamelessly attached band wagons from his well-earned reputation.
He was a great writer with a fine intellect, we shall miss him. But he was a flawed genius and a flawed gem, however highly polished, does not fully deserve five stars. I'll give him four.
on 18 September 2010
An excellent book indeed covering the whole vista of humanity and inhumanity.
I personally found some of the chapters in the "Love" part a little hard going as some of the writers didn't mean that much to me.
But parts 2 and 3 were brilliant and more than made up for that. His writings on the Northern Korean farce, Kashmir, the Iraq war and the foolish Michael Moore were especially entertaining and more accessible.
I am really becoming a fan of Mr Hitchens. He is so truthful. And yes the truth hurts , especially those who try and hide it, or hide from it.
Best writer of our time. Certainly the most truthful, backed up with reams of evidence and reason.
on 11 December 2010
An excellent insight into the minds and motivations of other thinkers and writers. Marvellous that a brain such as Hitchens provides this. Does the guy ever sleep?
on 30 June 2005
This is Hitch's best collection so far, the usual broad range of subjects from the sublime Proust to the crass Michael Moore. The most moving sections are at the end with his first emotional responses to the September 11 atrocities and hardening into a humanitarian case for the war on terror and the liberation of Iraq.
on 26 December 2013
I highly recommend this if you are a hitchens fan or just looking for essays on americana, the middle east/american relationship, 911 and post 911 atmosphere (according to a british-turned-american journalist). I own a few hitchens books and this is a solid, stronger collection of his writing than to be found in 'Arguably'.
on 27 June 2015
'The Hitch' uncovers some uncomfortable truths, but then, he always did!