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Letters to a Young Contrarian (Art of Mentoring (Paperback)) Paperback – April 13, 2005
"Warlight" by Michael Ondaatje
A dramatic coming-of-age story set in the decade after World War II, "Warlight" is the mesmerizing new novel from the best-selling author of "The English Patient." Pre-order today
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"A few years ago, I decided in my own mind that the then-president [Bill Clinton] was even more of a crook and a liar than his most dogmatic ideological opponents had claimed."
"Some people can't bear solitude, let alone the idea that the heavens are empty and that we do not even succeed in troubling their deafness with our bootless cries [...] the concept of loneliness and exile and self-sufficiency continually bucks me up."
The two examples above show why he was truly a contrarian: Hitchens went after the cultural elite (Left) as well as the religious (Right). Thus, everyone listened to him, and everyone disagreed with him on something. I miss the guy's writing terribly, and love to go back to this book and read his eloquence and humor. These days, we all have our own little bubbles in which we reside, be that the ivory tower or talk radio, but Hitchens (1949-2011) was everywhere, ready to debate. Always ready.
In "Letters to a Young Contrarian," the author forms an intimate bond with the reader, discussing life in the most entertaining and substantive way. What a charming, intelligent writer. I recommend this book for anyone, regardless of their age.
His vocabulary is audacious. For those looking to expand their own vocabulary and writing skills Hitchens' offers the reader a wonderful opportunity to have a real dictionary in hand and discover the joy of exposition.
Thank you to my nephew, Shane who has shared his fondness for reading with me.
As other reviewers have noted, the best thing we can do is to live "as if." To my mind, this is the most important message of this very fine book. We need to live "as if" repression did not exit. We need to live "as if" the thought of us saying "no" to something, or telling the truth and not lying, or actually being honest about our feelings, did not terrify us.
Almost as important as the above is this: if we care about civility and irenic discourse, then we darn well better also be comfortable with "combativity" and argument. The center is mealy mouthed more often than not, and if we are afraid to wade in and make a strong argument and defend it, then the center will be defined without our input, and the world may well be a poorer place for it. Of course, the danger here is we make our argument incompetently and look the fool. Therefore, it is also incredibly important to be extremely well read, have one's position clearly thought out, and be able to articulate it clearly. Hitchens, even drunk, seemed to have a preternatural ability to have virtually every text he had ever read at his fingertips, and he wasn't afraid to let you know what he thought no matter the consequences, and his position seems to emerge, whole, thought out, and defensible, without any effort. In this sense he was almost a journalistic version of Mozart.
And we can also not be afraid, even as we live "as if," to change our minds if presented with new information that requires us to. As the bumper sticker says: "if you can't change your mind, are you sure you still have one?" Hitch's transformation from full out critic of George W. Bush and everything he stood for to supporter of much of what President Bush was doing speaks to the ability to change one's mind, and to be a cogent thinker. "A foolish consistency is a hobgoblin of little minds..." or something like that. Hitch did not have a little mind.
I love Hitchens because he was one of the few modern thinkers who was not a mealy mouthed relativist. This man (unlike his colleague Dawkins) was philosophically and historically highly literate, and reading him was much more challenging as a result. Hitch was an absolutist, and a historian, and a journalist, and this made him very formidable and impressive. That, and he had great humanity made him downright lovable. He was luminous, and we are all poorer for the fact that he no longer walks on our earth.
Of course, his work is still with us. Hitchens had the writing and thinking ability of a G.K. Chesterton, or more appropriately, a George Bernard Shaw, and he will be remembered as long and as fondly by many.
This is a wonderful book, that should be read widely. Many would profit from the wisdom contained in these pages.
And of course, Christopher leaves no stone unturned. From disempowering the words the Dalai Lama to revealing the disgusting, revolting truths of Bill Clinton, you will learn that skepticism is your strongest ally and how patience is not always a virtue. His years of journalistic experience shine through his immense vocabulary and eloquence of words. He warns us of own dangerous ways of thinking and his arguments allow us to invoke and channel rage whenever situations of indignation arise. Don't deal with injustice - don't simply observe a wrongdoing; act. He continues to represent his well-known reputation as a literary erudite and an infamous demagogue. No matter how old I get, I will always recognize Christopher as a Hitch to my development as a contrarian.
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