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on 2 December 2012
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.
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on 17 May 2017
Pretty heavy going....but, as (nearly) always worth the effort.with Hitchens.
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on 29 September 2017
These collection of books are recommended to all young people starting out their careers, as an insight to someones career choice. This book is highly intellectual, easy read, witty book and challenges your thought process. Always question the quagmire!
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on 13 October 2017
One of the best books I have read
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on 8 March 2015
Classic Hitch.Inspiring, witty, eloquent, furious. A really brilliant little book and one that I would and will recommend to all.
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on 6 December 2014
Christopher Hitchens: a name that conjures up many images; the cultured, well spoken Englishman. The relentless debater. The politically and economically educated. A man who comes across in conversation in such a way that forces you to conclude that he has read every single book within existence.

This time he writes in a way that he never has. In this book (Letters to a young contrarian) he shares eighteen written letters addressed to his The new school in New York university student(s?) upon the subjects so broad and distinctly different as politics, economics, religion, culture, argument, rebellion, playing Devil's advocate in the sainthood trial of Mother Teresa, exposing Bill Clinton, suing Henry Kissinger for public slander, without failing to mention writers of admirable merits such as George Orwell, Emile Zola, Rosa Luxemburg, David Hume, Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson, Karl Marx, John Stuart Mill, Sir Karl Popper, Rosa Parks and countless others as the people he looks upon as fellow humanists.

Just as the 'Letters to a young' series contains many fantastic writers who give worthy advice to all ages, so does Hitchens allude to one of the greatest known: Rainer Maria Rilke's 'Letters to a young poet' where he tells a fan that in order to continue writing and write well, you must look into yourself and find out: Do I need to write? If your answer is yes, I would die if I couldn't. Then you should write. After mentioning this Hitchens (Whether unwittingly or on purpose) unleashes his most inspiring words of advice: "With much less eloquence, this is what I have been telling writing classes for years. You must feel not that you want to but that you have to. It's worth emphasising, too, because there is a relationship, inexact to be sure but a relationship, between this desire or need and the ambition to rely upon internal exile, or dissent; the decision to live at a slight acute angle to society." (p.16)

Each letter is brought to life with his characteristic literary talents: both cultured and heavily critical, but never rude without enough charm to allow your forgiveness. His sense of style within these letters never fails to amuse in each and every one of these letters. As if providing you with backed up knowledge, serious arguments and endlessly interesting anecdotes wasn't enough; his humour shines through. His anecdotes run from his childhood teacher making a statement about God's goodness in making the garden green to his later life in Journalism, being inside theocratic regimes and reporting on them. His wit and sharp silver tongue seem to have something to say about everything, and never has mockery been so amusing and sincere. This is a man who has earned the right to arrogance yet rarely indulges in it within these letters. Although when he does it merely across as modest via his cheeky English charm.

Not only does he have a habit of attacking what we take for granted as logical and 'right', he also takes time to assert how and why he thinks these things need to challenged. This comes out best when he takes the subject of confronting a friend and discussing beliefs: "One must have the nerve to assert that, while people are entitled to their illusions, they are not entitled to a limitless enjoyment of them and they are not entitled to impose them upon others. Allow a friend to believe in a bogus prospectus or a false promise and you cease, after a short while, to be a friend at all. How dare you intervene? As well ask, how dare you not?" (p.82)

Only a writer of such a well defined sense of style could pull off such a feat of literary talent. The most admirable thing about these letters are the sheer scope of each one, not for a second are you struck by a man who doesn't know what he is writing about. He is not merely happy to have you ask and question him, but to ask yourself and to seek the answer for yourself. If anyone was to be crowned with the title 'Modern Socrates', it would be Christopher Hitchens, and I see no one better to share letters among the young (and old alike). Those who find themselves unable to agree with popular opinion: Whether just for amusement or sincerity; those who are sceptical to the core, will find this book: whether in agreement with him or not; profoundly interesting and useful. For as he says himself so well "The essence of the independent mind lies not in what it thinks, but in how it thinks." (p.3)
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on 15 March 2006
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]
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on 20 August 2005
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...
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on 13 August 2015
There is much that I respect and agree with in this book. Hitchens has an incisive mind and argues trenchantly. His attack on religion seems to me both salutary and unarguable, and I admire his willingness to fly in the face of contemporary slavery to political correctness. On other areas too, he has much to say that is important.

However, I still feel rather uneasy about some of the content and the rather smug tone can be an irritant; I’d rather he had stated his views directly rather than through the medium of these letters to an imaginary disputant. With some force, Hitchens argue that divisiveness is part of the natural order of things, indeed that harmony is far from the ideal that many suppose. I appreciate where he is coming from here, but some of the implications of this line of thought are more than a little alarming. It is a large question as to whether mankind can progress morally, certainly, I suspect, only within certain limits. However, I'm probably not alone in feeling that we are able to achieve some things that are worthwhile to halt the slide towards destruction and oblivion, because without such action, as we become more and more technologically sophisticated, that is what lies ahead.

I believe that Hitchens has written better books and certainly in his passing we have lost a powerful and original intellect.
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on 20 March 2017
Excellent! Feels exactly like a correspondence with a mentor, full of knowledge and supplying endless references for further readings.
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