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Letters to a Young Contrarian (Art of Mentoring) Kindle Edition

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Length: 160 pages Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

"Do justice, and let the skies fall." Christopher Hitchens borrows from Roman antiquity this touchstone for a career of confrontation, argument, and troublemaking. Part of the Art of Mentoring series, Letters to a Young Contrarian is a trim volume of about two dozen letters to an imaginary student of controversy. The letters are wonderfully engaging--Hitchens is an exceptional prose stylist--and from the outset they strike a self-reflective note. What Hitchens lionizes and illuminates in this book is not any particular disagreement, but a way of being perpetually at odds with the mainstream. "Humanity is very much in debt to such people," he argues.

Hitchens's style is incendiary and sometimes flamboyant. He relishes the role of provocateur and fancies himself a gadfly to the drowsy American republic. One of his main strengths is his erudition, allowing him to range over vast landscapes of the humanities and politics in a single breath. But he is also sometimes glib and self-satisfied, and his penchant for referencing everything in sight can be distracting. Nonetheless, his arguments are forceful and morally important--and if the reader feels otherwise, there are few more fitting compliments to a professional dissident than dissent. --Eric de Place

From Publishers Weekly

Hitchens, a columnist for the Nation and Vanity Fair, and author, most recently, of The Trial of Henry Kissinger, has made a career of disagreement and dissent, of being the thorn in search of a side. "Only an open conflict of ideas and principles can produce any clarity," he observes. Hitchens's views, also part of the Art of Mentoring series (see Dershowitz, above), unfold in the form of an ongoing correspondence with an imaginary mentee whom he advises on modes of thought, argument and self-determination, on how to "live at an angle to the safety and mediocrity of consensus." The threats to free will are many, some predictable: establishment powers, the media, religious edicts, the manipulation of language, polls, labels, people with answers. Less obvious corrosives: the Dalai Lama, harmony, the New York Times claim to publish "all the news that's fit to print" ("conceited" and "censorious"). Indeed, the supply of enemies to rail against seems endless. Over a short span, Hitchens sounds off on a variety of topics irony, radicalism, anarchy, socialism, solitude, faith and humor, to name a few propelling readers through both time and space, from the Bible to Bosnia. At times, the argumentative positions seem offered up for their own sake which the author argues is justified and may inadvertently raise the question of how far we can define ourselves by what we are not. But this mini-manifesto, despite the somewhat mountainous terrain, should provide readers interested in current events and anti-establishment philosophy with a clearer view into one of today's more restless and provocative minds. (Oct.) Forecast: Basic figures there are as many budding contrarians out there as there are budding lawyers. The house is launching the new Art of Mentoring series with a 75,000-copy first printing of both books. With good media coverage (both authors will tour), Dershowitz's name and Hitchens's prickly reputation, both books should do well.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.


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More About the Author

Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011) was the author of Letters to a Young Contrarian, and the bestseller No One Left to Lie To: The Values of the Worst Family. A regular contributor to Vanity Fair, The Atlantic Monthly and Slate, Hitchens also wrote for The Weekly Standard, The National Review, and The Independent, and appeared on The Daily Show, Charlie Rose, The Chris Matthew's Show, Real Time with Bill Maher, and C-Span's Washington Journal. He was named one of the world's "Top 100 Public Intellectuals" by Foreign Policy and Britain's Prospect.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

123 of 126 people found the following review helpful By Bernard Chapin on April 16, 2005
Format: Hardcover
It's easy to forget sometimes, based on the flair and panache he exudes on the television screen, just how educated Christopher Hitchens actually is. In this book, you'll be treated to a lifetime's worth of insight and scholarship as he provides the reader with some of the best citations you'll ever come across, including, "Here I stand I can do no other" by Martin Luther.

Hitchens is a contrarian but these Letters will appeal to anyone as they are the celebration of the mind via reason. When he first heard "the personal is political," he knew it was poison and he rails against the emotional approach to deciding issues in these pages. I am very glad he did. I couldn't help but think what I've thought about him so many times, "This is such a brave man."

Regardless of what one believes regarding his arguments and positions, the author always puts forth sound rationale for why he thinks the way he does. His critique of conformists is absolutely precious and I would be only too happy to give this book to any young person. It's an education in itself.
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90 of 95 people found the following review helpful By Christian J. Bechtel on March 5, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Two criticisms of this book have been 1. it does not address practical topics of todays politics and 2. Hitchens has a large ego and wants to be Gore Vidal. What is truly inspiring about this book is that it is not an argument on current affairs. You can get this from a newspaper. I find Hitchens fascinating because he is one of the few writers who courageously tries to change how you think and not just your opinion on an issue. In fact Hitchens states that "how" and not "what" you think is what is truly important.
As for point number 2 regarding Gore Vidal and the authors ego I have no idea where this comment comes from in fact the Hitchens is self-deprecating in several parts of the book.
I have read the book three times now and to me it is a concise and powerful argument for why we need people who are what Hitchens calls "apart" (think differently). In fact my favorite part of the book is a discussion around the folly in trying to create consensus. You always need a cadre of strong viewpoints to reach a good decision.
When reading some reviews I wonder if readers have read the book or have simply pigeonholed Hitchen's work and want to discredit him. I would highly recommend this book who sincerely wants to change how they think but people like this are few. As Hitchens points out many of our institutions, particularly religious institutions actually ask that you "check your intellect at the door" and listen to the wise person or book of wisdom. This subtle imposed ignorance keeps the masses in a haze but sufficienty free to do the bidding of its leaders, however, harmful they may be.
I see a great service that Hitchens offers us which is the constant questioning of the existence of any large institution in the world whether it be government, religous, or business.
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65 of 69 people found the following review helpful By Stephen Williams on January 29, 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a simple and elegant series of letters written to a hypothetical student. Only a cynical could fail to admire and value Christopher Hitchens' "Letters to a Young Contrarian". This short book contains all the advice a student of twenty first century society should want or need. We get a marvelously unadulterated dose of the author's hortative aesthetics. Every letter is marked with a characteristic polish that creates a pedagogical elegance.

The book is written as a series of letters which are timely and timeless.

I bought this book as a gift for a young writer and journalist. I read it before giving it as a gift. I am very pleased with it as a gift and hope that the advice falls on fertile soil. I am also very pleased with the book as advice for my own personal causes.

These letters continue to be a priceless source of insight and wisdom as the student continues to evolve as an activist. We can all see ourselves in these wonderful words and we can witness what we aspire to be.

These letters fill the reader with hope. There is hope that society can evolve to a rational enlightenment. Hope is alive and we are not doomed to repeat all the follies of history.

What impressed me so much was the incredible precision and care in each of the letters. The commitment to explore the unconventional and contrary positions is a commitment to personal integrity. This commitment is a social contract that is a prerequisite to democracy and to civilization.

The author's choice of examples and counter examples clearly illustrate his intention to inspire the next generation of social thinkers.

I highly recommend this book to every person who wants to become an agent of change.
Read more ›
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30 of 33 people found the following review helpful By Stephen Williams on November 19, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a simple and elegant series of letters written to a hypothetical student. Only a cynical could fail to admire and value Christopher Hitchens' "Letters to a Young Contrarian". This short book contains all the advice a student of twenty first century society should want or need. We get a marvelously unadulterated dose of the author's hortative aesthetics. Every letter is marked with a characteristic polish that creates a pedagogical elegance.

The book is written as a series of letters which are timely and timeless.

I bought this book as a gift for a young writer and journalist. I read it before giving it as a gift. I am very pleased with it as a gift and hope that the advice falls on fertile soil. I am also very pleased with the book as advice for my own personal causes.

These letters continue to be a priceless source of insight and wisdom as the student continues to evolve as an activist. We can all see ourselves in these wonderful words and we can witness what we aspire to be.

These letters fill the reader with hope. There is hope that society can evolve to a rational enlightenment. Hope is alive and we are not doomed to repeat all the follies of history.

What impressed me so much was the incredible precision and care in each of the letters. The commitment to explore the unconventional and contrary positions is a commitment to personal integrity. This commitment is a social contract that is prerequisite to democracy and to civilization.

The author's choice of examples and counter examples clearly illustrate his intention to inspire the next generation of social thinkers.

I highly recommend this book to every person who wants to become an agent of change.
Read more ›
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