- Hardcover: 128 pages
- Publisher: Twelve; 1 edition (September 4, 2012)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1455502758
- ISBN-13: 978-1455502752
- Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.8 x 7.9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 606 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #67,891 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Mortality Hardcover – September 4, 2012
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Amazon Best Books of the Month, September 2012: Curious and prolific to the end, combative writer Christopher Hitchens leaves us with a posthumously published analysis of his dying days. Mortality is the anti–Last Lecture: Stripping away semantics and sentimentality, Hitchens treats his cancer as he would any other topic--with dogged inquisitiveness and brutal honesty. Which makes it all the more poignant when he begins losing his voice, his "freedom of speech," and sinks deeper into his "year of living dyingly." Funny, smart, irreverent, and surprisingly moving, this lucid, unflinching end-of-life journey through "Tumorville" is brave and powerful stuff. The unfinished jottings that comprise the final pages are a heartbreaking display of a mind that never stopped till the very end. --Neal Thompson
Mortality is an odd little book, neither fully a cancer memoir nor a meditation on the meanings we attribute to the disease . . . More honestly ironic, more like the Hitchens of old, before the religion wars and the war on terror and the gonzo grandstanding. It is Mortality at its most generous and most human: just another man dying, making a joke and telling a story. —Jeff Sharlet
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In them, while Hitchens remains politically sharp and critical of religion, there is also a deeper reflection that is not possible except when writing on the only subject that really matters: life itself. He describes what it was like being diagnosed with esophageal cancer (the same type that killed his father) that had metastasized before it was even discovered. Soon, he begins chemotherapy and in the process loses his hair, body mass, ability for physical intimacy, and strength. It is made most real in those moments he discusses losing even the ability to grow five o'clock shadow. The worst deprivation, however, is the intermittent loss of his voice. While he admits it is occasionally hard to think while a needle pumps strong poison into one's arm, he fortunately never lost his ability to write.
In total, there are seven previously published essays. Besides the first one announcing the cancer's early stages, the best essay in the collection is his one on Friedrich Nietzsche. It also happens to be the last one he published before he died. After that, the book includes some final, random jottings; little bits of fleece he shed here and there that were collected into a fine coat. The last writing in the book comes from Carol Blue, his wife of many years, and she reveals a side of him that many did not get to see.
I cannot say this is a book I enjoyed reading because it was born from the death of a very fine man. It is, however, the best tombstone a man of his talents could offer.
Books about dying are hardly upbeat, but Hitchens kept his humor throughout the ordeal and never lost his famous ability for clarity and engaging the reader. A good read on a hard subject.
If you're familiar with Hitchens' writings, you'll certainly recognize the trenchant approach here to becoming a resident of "tumortown." In this brief book, composed of essays he wrote for Vanity Fair, Hitchens explains what it feels like to be dying, yet doesn't feel sorry for himself or for his lifestyle that may have contributed to his cancer. (His father died of the same cancer as well, so part may be genetic.)
You'll read this book in an hour or two, but you'll also want to come back to it from time to time. While the chapters are composed - these are articles, not journal entries - there is a spontaneity throughout them, as his condition worsens, and as hope seems to recede.
Hitchens again shows with his words that cut like scalpels that he was one of the finest voices of his generation, and we're not likely to see another like him for a very long time.