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Showing 1-10 of 215 reviews(Verified Purchases). See all 273 reviews
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.
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on March 26, 2017
A masterful collection. Here is Hitchens as dream dinner party guest, slightly sloshed, louche but animated still, a couple of buttons down on the shirt, perspiring, smiling. His hands move as he makes his point. You have forgotten already about dessert. This Hitchens is still alive and well on the many "Hitch-slapped" compilations put up on YouTube.

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.
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on October 3, 2011
Here is America's man of letters, wielding his peculiar brand of wisdom, wit, and acerbic humor at its best and at the highest levels available in his adopted homeland: Taking no prisoners, and leaving no trace of blood on the killing floors as he pulls the stiletto from his victims, one-by-one.

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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on August 24, 2013
Frankly, this book is best read on a kindle or Nook. Why? Because you can put your finger on a word and the definition pops up. Interesting to see all the yellow highlights I put on the words I called up. I can usually figure out the definition by context but it is fun to see how a superior wordsmith like Hitchens puts words to use. Some come up listed "British" or "archaic" so you will feel a bit better, not quite so dumb. This long book of essays is a bit of a mixed bag but easy to read in small bites as a break from other material. Some of it is boring as he plows through reviews of long dead authors and history that does not seem particularly relevant. The problem is, one doesn't know until well into into the essay whether it will be that or some fascinating bit of arcania, well observed and well presented. Jump in. This is a brilliant guy who covers an amazing diversity of topics in a great analytic and well argued style. I was not a big fan of "Hitch 22" but did find "God is Not Great" to be extremely well done. He will be missed.
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on December 23, 2011
I have read every one of these essays, especially those on Lincoln, Jefferson, and John Brown, with tremendous profit. Hichens was a luminous writer and public figure, and we are poorer for his passing. I will miss him very much, and will treasure the fact that I own these essays and can return to them frequently when I need to be challenged and made to think. Hitch says, in one of his book reviews published in this collection, that it is refreshing to know that he will be treated as an adult by the writer. His writing always treated us like adults, and presumed an ability to understand language, logic, and history. He also did not pander to those with whom he disagreed by softening his every argument out of a need to avoid giving offense, but made solid and cogent arguments, and invited debate and disagreement. An absolutist with passion is dangerous, and Hitch's work had an aura of danger, as if one were undertaking an adventure when picking up a volume with his name on it. As he himself noted in Letters to a Young Contrarian (Art of Mentoring) (to my mind the ESSENTIAL book by Hitchens) we often hear the saying that argument "throws more heat than light." Nonsense Hitch replies. We who know physics know that heat is the only source of light. A cold sun does not exist.

Requiescat in Pace, Mr. Hitchens.
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Christopher Hitchens' death silenced one of the century's most engaging critics, gadflies, and bon vivants. Fortunately he left behind a vast catalogue of work, from which some of the best of his essays have been selected for this collection. Few 750 page long essay collections are uniformly excellent, but in Arguably we have the most enjoyable of exceptions.

The selections included here run from book reviews, travel stories, historical and biographical essays, and various unclassifiable but still engaging efforts. Together they demonstrate Hitchens' shrewdness, blindness, bullheadedness, and general overall love of life. If you have been a faithful reader of The Atlantic, Slate, and Vanity Fair over the last couple of decades you've probably run into many of these before, but a Hitchens essay is never dull and always worth rereading.

Hitchens will baffle you at times, irritate and enrage you at others, and more often than not make you laugh. But he will always illuminate, even at his most annoying.
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on March 4, 2016
First of all, a word quibble of mine. The title of this book consists if one word: "arguably." And this is a word that should be shunned by every careful writer. Nothing weakens a sentence more than this meaningless qualifier. The word has become so overused that it takes on the meaning of "rather," as in “It’s a rather nice day, isn’t it?” (It’s arguably a nice day. Of course, it’s arguable. Almost everything is arguable.) It has become as meaningless as the word "actually," as in “Actually, it’s a beautiful day!” Probably, Hitchens is using arguably in its original sense, as in “It can be argued.” End of this quibble.

This is a collection of essays that have been previously published in print or online magazines like Vanity Fair, Slate, The Atlantic, and Times Literary Supplement. They are grouped into the following sections: All American; Eclectic Affinities; Amusements, Annoyances, and Disappointments; Offshore Accounts; Legacies of Totalitarianism; and Words’ Worth. Some of these groupings are no more intelligible than a section titled Grab Bag. This is not to say that the contents of these sections are without value. Far from it. Just that Hitchens had a hard time coming up with ways of grouping this diverse range of essays.

Hitchens was an erudite man and an entertaining writer...most of the time. I don’t know if he was much of a speaker, because he writes like a writer, not a speaker. He writes with the certainty that his words will be seen in print, not heard by ears. You can tell this by his use of words like "former" and "latter," in referring to ideas or persons mentioned a sentence of two ago. These words always signal to me a print-oriented person, because the writer assumes that the reader will have the previous sentences available to glance back at. A listener cannot easily do this without taking his attention from the speaker’s next words. Why do writers take this awful shortcut? Another annoying Hitchens trait is the long parenthetical interruption. This is especially fatal when it appears in the middle of a sentence, separating a subject from its verb, or when it is very long, in some cases a paragraph long! When you finally get to the closing parenthesis and find the main predicate of the sentence, you have to go back and track down its subject. I don’t mind the between-sentence parentheticals so much, unless they are very long. If they are that important, then get rid of the parentheses!

I enjoyed reading some of Hitchens’ more passionate essays, such as “She’s No Fundamentalist” (originally published in Slate, March 5, 2007). Here he defends the author Hirsi Ali from charges that she is an Islamophobe. Hirsi Ali grew up in Islam and later moved to the Netherlands and rejected the religion of her childhood. Her books detail some of the harsh realities of fundamentalist forms of Islam and have come under criticism by some. Hitchens offers a vigorous defense of the author.

Many of the later essays in Arguably were written for online publication only. They are less tightly crafted than those that appear in the first half of the book. Most of those earlier essays are book reviews. (I skipped some of these that were about people I have not heard of. Maybe that’s my loss!) The book reviews are where Hitchens’ erudition is on full display. He brings a lifetime of learning to each of these reviews, and he really makes you want to read these books. He must have insisted on reviewing only books he really liked.

This book is handy to have by one’s bedside to reach for when one cannot get to sleep. That sounds like a slam, but I don’t mean it that way. I would not have a book I dislike by my bedside. What I mean is that you can pick any essay in the book and start reading. You can skip around as much as you like. There is no need to read the essays in any particular sequence. If you find one not to your liking, skip it and go on to another essay. Each of these essays can be read easily in one sitting...even while sitting up in bed.
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on December 31, 2014
As I posted on Goodreads some time ago, "Christopher Hitchens (RIP) is one of the rare people who you might meet in life--if you are very, very fortunate--who infuriate you, bedazzle you and frustrate you (because you can't be him). Of course, I never met him (and I have met very few people who have had the effect on me as he has had), but I have been bedazzled since I first read God is Not Great at the public library in Newnan, Georgia (of all places) while visiting my grandchildren. It was bizarre to be in the middle of the Bible Belt and enjoying the iconoclastic brilliance of this idiosyncratic humanist. I read Arguably on my Kindle while waiting for meetings, sitting on planes or cars, or just killing time. Invariably these were times that killed me! I normally lead a tranquil, unperturbed (and intellectually unchallenged) life. I remember many years ago sitting in a sauna (my daily life) and then plunging into an ice cold pool (reading Hitchens) and then returning to the warmth of a steam room invigorated. That's the effect that many of the essays in this book had on me.
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on June 3, 2016
People hailed Christopher Hitchens as the greatest polemicist of our time -- I don't think that quite captures the essence of his writing. To borrow a quote from Tommy Boy, the man could sell a ketchup popsicle to a woman in white gloves, yes. He had vast knowledge, yes. He could wow you with his vocabulary, yes. But, the truly astonishing thing in his writing was his masterful use of imagery. Read his essay (in this book) on why women aren't funny -- the subtle imagery, even the sounds of the words he chooses to convey his meanings are cloaked in eroticism; a man subtly (and sometimes not so subtly) physically admiring women, under the pretext of insulting them. What an incredible writer! Even if you don't agree with him -- *especially* if you don't agree with him -- you should at least respect the works of someone who uses the language so well on so many different levels.
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on July 22, 2014
Best mind of our time! These book reviews, essays, written by Christopher Hitchens are easily the most complex (keep your electronic dictionary close at hand..) and insightful I have ever read. And I thought that William F. Buckley was tough to read and understand!
Incredible mind and definitely speaks his mind...very blunt...nothing politically "correct" from Mr. Hitchens...which makes him wonderful to read.
Mr. Hitchens may be known by Youtube watchers as "that atheist." But there is so much more to him...much more. All I kept thinking was "My---how does he know all these authors, books, treatises?! I just want to read more.

I keep this book by my nightstand and will peruse an essay from time to time. Being a woman he can be tough to read as he can be downright angry about how specious women's conversations can be. But that's Hitchens!

He died way too young and I shall miss him...but this book shows how far-ranging and deep his thinking is. What a loss! I'm glad they published so many of his essays in one place.
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