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Love, Poverty and War: Journeys and Essays Kindle Edition
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*not that I'm agin Empire as such - I'm sure parts of it were excellent - but I'm agin Kipling as topic; he's a brilliant craftsman but no thinker
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.
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.
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.
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