Top positive review
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A brilliant intro for new fans, and a fantastic "Best Of" for old ones
on August 24, 2011
I should begin by admitting that I just received this book today; however, as a longtime fan of Hitch's work, I've already read the majority of these essays, so I feel confident in writing this review now.
I pre-ordered this book months ago, but until today I didn't know which of his essays would be included. I'm absolutely thrilled by the final product. To begin with, it's massive - at nearly 800 pages, it's larger than "god Is Not Great" and "Hitch-22" combined. The essays are sorted into 6 sections, and I'll cover each of them in some detail below.
"All American" focuses on the history, policies, and distinguished figures of the United States. It appears to be sorted chronologically; beginning with essays on Jefferson and Franklin, continuing through subjects like John Brown and Lincoln, JFK, John Updike, and Gore Vidal, and then closing with essays on modern issues like capital punishment and atheism in the modern military.
"Eclectic Affinities" includes Hitchens' best essays on notable literary figures. There are about 30 essays here, covering everything from Karl Marx, to Graham Greene, to George Orwell, to JK Rowling.
"Amusements, Annoyances, and Disappointments" is relatively short, with only 8 essays. However, these are some of Hitch's most famous and controversial personal remarks, including the infamous "Why Women Aren't Funny" and his charming "New Commandments".
"Offshore Accounts" primarily deals with modern political conflicts. It includes his experience with waterboarding, his admiration for Kurdistan, and his encyclopedic knowledge of current politics. This is probably the most notable section of the book, and also one of the longest.
"Legacies of Totalitarianism" takes us back to earlier conflicts, focusing especially on the first half of the last century. The essays here are mostly based on specific people, and the legacies that endured long after they did.
"Words' Worth" covers Hitchens' essays on language and culture. The earlier sections focused on Hitch as a political essayist, but this section closes the book with Hitch as a charming raconteur. More than the other sections, it allows Hitch to be more personal and candid, and that allows his inimitable writing style and witty humor to take center stage.
Over the past several years, Hitchens has been famous primarily for his antitheism. But as powerful and important as that is, I think it tends to downplay just how broad his career has been. I actually consider this book a great companion piece to his memoirs. As you look over the comprehensive nature of the combined essays, you can't help but admire the life Hitchens has led. As he puts it, he "burned the candle at both ends, and it gave a lovely light." This book, almost as much as "Hitch-22", is evidence of that.
My one small disappointment is that the book focuses almost exclusively on essays written relatively recently. I'm guessing this has a lot to do with copyright entanglements, but I would like to have seen more of his older works. His recent essays are all easily available online, and I was hoping for a bit more from past archives. Having said that, I can also see the benefit of relying on the recent works, as they give a very fresh, updated look at the world. In fact, this book has instantly become my "go to" recommendation for people saying they want to be more involved in current events. It's long enough to be comprehensive, but the essay format allows it to be concise as well. And even though most of this material is available free online, it's definitely worth owning this archive of his most notable short works. I love the structure and layout of the essays, and the index is marvelous. It's a wonderful book for any fan of Christopher Hitchens, as well as anyone interested in politics, history, and culture.