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30 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A True Contrarian, 4 Sept. 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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