- Paperback: 816 pages
- Publisher: Twelve; Reprint edition (September 4, 2012)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1455502782
- ISBN-13: 978-1455502783
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.5 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 289 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #34,386 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Arguably: Essays by Christopher Hitchens Paperback – September 4, 2012
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"Anyone who occasionally opens one of our more serious periodicals has learned that the byline of Christopher Hitchens is an opportunity to be delighted or maddened-possibly both-but in any case not to be missed....His range is extraordinary, both in breadth and altitude. He is as self-confident on the politics of Lebanon as on the ontology of the Harry Potter books....I still find Hitchens one of the most stimulating thinkers and entertaining we have, even when-perhaps especially when-he provokes."―Bill Keller, New York Times Book Review
"The essays in 'Arguably' remind us of other dimensions to this singular writer and thinker that are sometimes overshadowed by the range of his political commentary. Though there are plenty of essays on politics to be found here, the book also treats us to other arrows in Hitchens' proverbial quiver, including his bracing, exhilarating approach to important literary figures...Its value is clear and needs no justification. And since his diagnosis of esophageal cancer last year, opportunities to hear him, understandably, have been fewer. Which is another thing 'Arguably' inadvertently addresses - for in reading this collection of his thoughts, immersing yourself in the particular turns of phrase and associations of Hitchens' wit, you suddenly realize something else: You're hearing his voice again."―Nick Owchar, Los Angeles Times
"Christopher Hitchens's selected essays are Arguably (Twelve) his finest to date."―Vanity Fair
"One reads him [Hitchens] despite his reputation as someone who wants to drink, argue, and tear the ornaments off the tree, because he is, first and last, a writer, an always exciting, often exacting, furious polemicist. This fact, the most salient thing about him, often gets neglected in the public jousting. Arguably, Hitchens's new collection, forcefully proves this point. Consisting of three kinds of writing - literary journalism, political commentary, and cultural complaint - Arguably offers a panoramic if somewhat jaundiced view of the last decade or so of cultural and political history."―The Boston Globe
"Opinions are to Christopher Hitchens what oil is to Saudi Arabia. This collection, featuring his liveliest, funniest and most infamous essays....There is a time for the balanced, even-handed and sober approach - but why bother with any of that when you could be reading someone as provocative and impish as Hitchens?"―The New York Post
About the Author
Christopher Hitchens, a contributing editor to Vanity Fair, Slate, and The Atlantic, is the author of numerous books, including works on Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, and George Orwell. He is also the author of the international bestsellers god Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything and Hitch-22: A Memoir.
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A large book, to be dipped into when, as Durant said of Nietzsche, you need "a bracing wind across a courtyard after a long and stuffy service in Church". Here is Hitchens on the Kennedy's:
"A new volume by Ed Klein, portentously titled "The Kennedy Curse", revealed the brief marriage of John Kennedy Jr. to Carolyn Bessemer to have been a cauldron of low-level misery, infidelity and addiction": JFK: In Sickness and By Stealth, Times Literary Supplement 2003. . It's the "low-level" that twists the knife here.
The essay on JFK, a review of JFK: An Unfinished Life ("a title portentous and platitudinous at the same time") by Robert Dallek, is undoubtedly the standout star of Part 1 All American, which slightly bizarrely has Hitchens, an Oxbridge educated English privileged public schoolboy and former champagne socialist, writing on historical American figures such as Jefferson, Franklin and Lincoln.
Part 2 has Hitchens on more local ground writing on early and later 20th century English literary figures such as PG Wodehouse, Anthony Powell, Philip Larkin and Evelyn Waugh. Amusingly it's titled "Eclectic", presumably because the editor decided that the American reader might have little idea or care who those people were. The final review here is actually of the final Harry Potter book, where Hitchens, whilst generally kind and acknowledging that these books get young people to read, still skewers Rowling:
"The repeated tactic of deus ex machina has a deplorable effect on both plot and dialogue".
Part 3 contains perhaps the most controversial (bizarrely) of all the writings "Why women aren't funny", written for an unimaginative, publicity seeking editor of Vanity Fair. Still managing to quote an interesting Kipling poem this disappointing rushed hack piece feels authored by a less talented Hitchens ghostwriter from GQ magazine. Definitely not disappointing in this section is Hitchens on Prince Charles:
"A hereditary head of state, as Thomas Paine so crisply phrased it, is as absurd a proposition as a hereditary physician. To this innate absurdity, Prince Charles manages to bring fatuities that are entirely his own".
Charles, Prince of Piffle. Slate, June 14, 2010.
Part 4 is Offshore Accounts. Disraeli said in Tancred "the East is a career" and Hitchens partly took this to heart, writing extensively on politics, Islamism and Orientalism in the Middle East. It is on religion that Hitchens has shown much of his intellectual rigor and bravery. The reader may find in his review of Orientalism and It's Discontents by Robert Irwin in The Atlantic, March 2007 a description of a certain key religious figure as "a sex-craved brigand whose preachments were either plagiarized or falsified".
This reader does not quite share the same fascination with this area of the world but one of the best essays in the book is here, a review of Edward Said's Orientalism, from the Atlantic, September 2003 - a book that was de rigor to be on your bookshelf when I was an MSc student in the late 1990s. Hitchens is quite fair to Said, although still slices him open with his accusation of membership of the "post-Foucault academy".
Part 5, Legacies of Totalitarianism, ups the intellectual and moral ante. It is worth remembering that Hitchens was once a committed socialist, as documented in his entertaining memoir Hitch 22. Heavy reviews here include Churchill, Hitler and Unnecessary War by Pat Buchanan - a book I have reviewed on Amazon - Human Smoke by Nicholson Baker, and Klemperer's I Will Bear Witness (Klemperer was a Jew married to an Aryan who survived the war. This is sobering stuff and a reminder of the madness that could be inflicted on the world again by extremism and total war. Hitchens' quote from Sebald on the aftermath of the fire bombings of Dresden by the 'good guys' says it all:
"In the altmarket in Dresden, where 6,865 corpses were burned on pyres in February 1945 by an SS detachment which had gained its experience in Treblinka". On the Natural History of Destruction by W.G. Sebald.
Not only does he define "what we are confronting" as a society, but he also sharpens the lens through which we see it. Clarity of thought and clarity of opinion through ruthlessly uncompromising honesty and English is what Hitch trades in. In short, the author digs deep, always coming up with the "goods:" a fresh but often missed interpretation that careens off of, and replaces the commonplace, settling it in a new home on a higher plane of logic and common sense, one that invariably rebuilds the context of historical facts setting them upright again.
A perfect case in point is the first essay on Thomas Jefferson (TJ a person Hitch could not admire more). Yet, he rushes right pass the nonsense about "whether or nor TJ screwed Sally Hemmings or not, to set the record straight with a dose of common sense that so nuanced that it shows that any other conclusions than that TJ was little more than a "dirty old confused, lonely, overly sexed man" would be just plain silly. In one bold stroke he remakes an American legend, stripping him of his fake knighthood and rebuilding him as just another ordinary, but full human being.
This is a veritable feast of Christopher Hitchens' essays.
At first I was inclined to skip about instead of reading the essays serially and straight through from the beginning of the book to end. However, after discovering newfound treasures in reading what I thought would be an obscure (easy to skip) essay on TJ and the "Barbary Wars." I changed my strategy and decided not to skip any of them. For it turns out rather surprisingly that TJ's excursion to Tripoli and this little war, also sharpened the contrasts and the contradictions of the meanings America had to put to itself.
The Barbary Wars were the second time (the U.S. Constitution being the first) that the U.S. would get to look itself in the mirror on the issue of slavery. White Americans had been captured at sea by Arab pirates (the terrorists of that day) and turned into slaves as well as hostages that were ransomed for a bounty in American dollars?
Here, Hitch turns this obscure incident into an object lesson in America's misfired democracy, as he points out unerringly, that again, for the second time, the founders, including TJ, pretended not to see the parallel or the irony between America's stealing of black men from the coast of Africa, and Arabs stealing white men from ships on the sea? At the same time that TJ sent American sailors to war in order to rescue white men from Arab slavery, America was engaged in the wholesale Atlantic slave trade?
Where else but in Hitch's careful reading of American history would we find object lessons in Americanism at every turn of the page -- essays that go to the core of the meaning of America and to its consciousness as well? Enough said. Five stars
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Thought-provoking and insightful, Hitchens enables one to view our world in a critical, yet objective, light.