Christopher Hitchens stands alone among 20th- and 21st-century pundits for his enthusiastic enmity and political flip-flopping, but while he makes no apologies for his beliefs, he does acknowledge their intrinsic contradictions. Critics praised Hitchens's frankness in sharing the details of his mother's suicide and of his breezy bisexuality, but they simultaneously balked at his decision to omit significant people and events (i.e., his wives, his children, and his role in Bill Clinton's impeachment). They also objected to his relentless name-dropping and some overly dense prose, and a few were appalled that Hitchens would continue to insist that Saddam Hussein did indeed possess WMDs. Despite these complaints, Hitch-22 is a sharp, rebellious, and sometimes bawdy account of the making of a modern mastermind.
*Starred Review* Hitchens, who, in his earlier books, has expressed contempt for both God and Mother Teresa (although not in that order), is often described as a contrarian. In fact, in his book Letters to a Young Contrarian (2001), he himself noted that he “can appear insufferable and annoying,” albeit without intending to. This memoir, bracing, droll, and very revealing, gives him yet another description: storyteller. He writes with a voice you can hear clearly, warmed by smoke and whiskey, and draws readers into his story, which proves as personal as it is political. As with many memoirs, it is not the public moments that are so fascinating, though there are plenty of those. Hitchens takes readers with him to Havana and Prague, Afghanistan and Iraq; tests himself by being waterboarded (he was disappointed in his early capitulation); and hobnobs with politicians and poets. He almost gets himself beaten up by defacing a poster in Iraq with a Hitler mustache. But the most intriguing stories are the personal ones, both from his early days, at home and at boarding school, and from his later life, when he learns that his mother was Jewish, which, if only technically, makes him Jewish as well. This revelation leads Hitchens on a quest to learn the story of his family, many of whom died in the Holocaust. How this new identity squares with his oft-proclaimed atheism sheds a different light on the meaning of religious identity. (He struggles mightily with his political identity as well.) Few authors can rile as easily as Hitchens does, but even his detractors might find it difficult to put down a book so witty, so piercing, so spoiling for a fight. He makes you want to be as good a reader as he is a writer. --Ilene Cooper
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