"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.