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5.0 out of 5 stars Christopher Hitchens - The final journey through "Tumortown", August 28, 2012
This review is from: Mortality (Hardcover)
It came as no surprise that one of the greatest and most remarkable troublemakers and polemicists Britain has ever produced didn't leave without having a few important things to say. The late great Christopher Hitchens used the pages of Vanity Fair during his battle against a tumor in his esophagus to partly apply the maxim of Dylan Thomas to "rage, rage against the dying of the light". That said you sense throughout the pages of "Mortality", a book collecting those special essays, that Hitchens instinctively felt that this was one argument he wasn't going to win. As such his tangle with death is a level headed but poignant dalliance with the slow degradation of a body which graphically charts the "wager" with chemotherapy taking "your taste buds, your ability to concentrate, your ability to digest and the hair on your head". He is painfully honest and reflective throughout about his predicament not least the "gnawing sense of waste" and the reality of becoming an early "finalist in the race of life". Yet it wouldn't be Hitchens if the opportunity for settling some old scores was not taken and in particular his restatement of his vociferous views on atheism despite the fact that September 20th 2010 was designated by one religious website as "Everyone pray for Hitchens day".

Others were less charitable for in some quarters at the onset of Hitchens illness produced a vicious form of schadenfreude not least amongst his many enemies in the Christian right where his strong opinions on religion had provoked and outraged those not prepared to countenance any debate. He quotes an opinion from an religious blog that viewed his throat cancer as "Gods revenge for him using his voice to blaspheme him". Undoubtedly most Christians would find such a view repugnant but in any case Hitchens would have no truck with such nonsense. In his autobiography "Hitch 22" he was candid about a lifestyle that some described as "convivial" while others though "excessive" a better term. He argued alternatively that a cigarette permanently locked in his hand and the love of a "second bottle" were as much sources of inspiration for his writing as his limited repertoire of heroes like Paine and Orwell. He knew the source of his problems but that's not the point of this book. It is in essence a slow diary of his journey through ""Tumortown" its excruciating levels of pain, the corresponding fatalism and resignation, its false hopes and eventual knock out blow. There are brilliant passages on figures as diverse as Leonard Cohen, and Nietzsche, a revisiting of the waterboarding torture which Hitchens endured to attack the Bush administration with a about with a searing polemic and finally a weariness at the offerings of possible cancer cures. `You sometimes feel that you may expire from sheer ADVICE", he exclaims in frustration

This short book concludes with a chapter of fragmentary jottings which are in every sense the most affecting part of the book. The broken phrases and quotes show a mind that thinks deeply, still questioning, still at work and debating until the very last. This is despite of "Chemo-brain. Dull, stuporous" and fears that this "lavish torture is only the prelude to a gruesome execution". Hitchens also brilliantly unearths a quote from Saul Bellow which argues with simple insight that "death is the dark backing that a mirror needs if we are able to see anything". Christopher Eric Hitchens was a man who did his fair share of seeing not least on his many travels to chart despotism and dictatorship and to rally against it with clarity not heard since George Orwell. He also always had the right words even when he was fundamentally wrong and the best of his writings are furiously brilliant, deserving the widest readership whether you agree with him or not. Hitchens died on 15th December 2011, and this the book concludes with a tender "Afterword" from his widow Carol Blue. At one point in "Mortality" the author quotes Horace Mann's observation that "Until you have done something for humanity you should be ashamed to die". In the case of the sadly lamented and much missed Christopher Hitchens there was no need to worry about this, you did more than enough.
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Showing 1-7 of 7 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Sep 10, 2012 6:17:44 AM PDT
I don't agree with his remark Horace Mann's observation that "until you have done something for humanity you should be ashamed to die". Many, many people found themselves in situations where they are not capable of "doing something for humanity". And it's not their fault. But again, I might misunderstand what he meant by "doing something for humanity".

Posted on Sep 21, 2012 9:59:55 AM PDT
Another book which I would buy on the spot if it didn't cost over $10 for the Kindle edition. I refuse to buy paper books anymore because they weigh too much, take too much space, and are a waste of trees.... but $12.99 for a Kindle book is too much. I'll wait until the price comes down. I suspect I'm not alone in this attitude. The publishers should hire an economist and a survey group to find out how much more money they could be making (since it costs nothing to make additional copies of a Kindle book) if they reduced the price slightly and as a result increased sales by more than enough to break even. Given that Atheism is a pretty hot topic and that this book is very likely to become a best seller, they can charge whatever they like for the paper editions, but would probably make considerably more money for the Kindle edition if the price were 9.99.

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 25, 2012 3:45:43 PM PDT
Sparky says:
Using tactics that the RIAA used, I doubt if book publishers will ever make the association that price affects demand. They have succeeded in closing the likes of Demonoid and Pirate Bay using our tax dollars to do so, but have yet to learn what it takes to run a profitable business... a fair price for a comparable product.

Posted on Sep 28, 2012 6:41:25 AM PDT
Thank you for this wonderfully written take on this book. By the end I had a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes. I never met the [man] but I sure miss him. I am sad to know he will never write another book or article or do another debate. Death has silenced a great man. Thank you Hitch. We are so glad you were here for a time.

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 13, 2012 1:02:19 PM PDT
you'd better have that lump in your throat checked out! Sorry, bad taste, I know, but the temptation got the better of the sense of decorum, as is usual. Personally, I admired Hitchens' talents much more when applied to such subjects as Orwell and writing, as opposed to the more contentious, snarly, polemical stuff. Excellent review, however and I've really enjoyed reading Red and Black's reviews and commentary. BK

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 24, 2012 8:39:57 AM PST
M. G. Keen says:
Trees are a renewable resource. Be more offended by the rare earth metals in your computer and the environmental damage their mining has done to our planet.

Posted on Jan 17, 2013 4:03:40 AM PST
Oh my goodness! what a brilliant review of this book and deservedly so. Christopher Hitchens was an astounding literary talent and an eloquent speaker. A communicator of extraordinary understanding who spoke on behalf of intelligence and insight. Thank you for your insight into this poignant book.
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