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Mortality Paperback – May 13, 2014
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About the Author
- Publisher : Twelve; Reprint edition (May 13, 2014)
- Language: : English
- Paperback : 128 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1455502766
- ISBN-13 : 978-1455502769
- Item Weight : 3.52 ounces
- Dimensions : 5 x 0.5 x 7.5 inches
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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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.
This book bleakly depicts his swift acquiesce to the disease. Painfully, it points out his loss of speech, ability to form a collective thought, and eventual loss of ability to write altogether. He sees the irony in this: "the blasphemous atheist stricken with throat cancer," etc, etc. But what I found most compelling about this book was the very last chapter. The last chapter is filled with his notes on how the book came to be. An idea scribbled between agonizing treatments or glad-handed meetings. Seeds planted in an ailing mind. No paragraph is longer than two sentences. Having been a first hand spectator to cancer, I can attest to the 'wide eyed' energy that comes to the patient in short waves. To me, it was an easy reminder of my own humanity to read these notes, and see their cohesiveness slip as time progressed.
Hitchens, who died peacefully at a hospice facility on 12/15/2011 (my 26th birthday) argued that atheism gave us a sense of urgency. Our actions do not, in fact echo in eternity; so it is always up to us to be fair minded, philanthropic, and always skeptical citizens in a world that tries to make us anything but. Nothing is guaranteed, so do the most you can with what you have, while you can. Hitchens never apologized for the lifestyle that likely led to his cancer, nor does he blame any deity for it's heredity (his father died of the same malady.)
One review called this book a "crash course in humanity." I call it a rare glimpse into a person that really dives into their fate, and unflinchingly tries to convey appreciation for the beauty of living a fully cognizant life.
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Some find it strange that at the end Hitchens was like the rest of us, hoping to be spared, as if this in some way makes him loose his credibility. Why? I fail to understand. Hitchens never claimed he was not afraid of death and for him to write after he realized that he was dying that he was not scared would have been nothing but an act of madness. Hitchens was an atheist and atheists do not have any hope for an afterlife, for them this life is all we have and so it is preposterous to expect an atheist not being afraid of death. And there is nothing wrong with it, what is absurd and ridiculous is seeing the believers wanting to keep on living when having similar illnesses, them praying to be cured and asking others to pray for them, why do they want to live one may ask? Why go through the pain of treatment and cling to life even when it is hard to breath? Shouldn’t they welcome the chance to leave for the land of milk and honey promised to them?
Yes, Hitchens is not afraid to show his fear and anger at dying and about the fact that there is nothing he can do about it, although to be honest he seems to be more afraid of losing his voice and ability to write than death itself.
The book was also something personal to me. My late father who like Hitchens was in his 60 when he passed away due to lymphoma was no writer or intellectual but I could see many personality traits they both shared. The bewilderment, sense of being helpless, acceptance and yet hope for a miracle cure and through it all a stoic sense of humor is clearly seen in the writings of Hitchens and my personal observance of my father while he struggled with cancer (as Hitchens suggests I would not use fought with cancer since no one fights with cancer). My father never claimed to be an atheist yet I never saw him praying to God on his knees asking to be cured, I never saw him asking others to pray for him, not even those who were going on pilgrimage to Mecca. And as Hitchens widow Carol Blue writes in the epilogue to the book the end when it came was unexpected just like my father for he was fine days before he died.
In the end I guess we need to see things in perspective for there is a good chance that unless we drop dead suddenly we will face the possibility of what Hitchens calls the period of dying. Rich or poor, famous or unknown hardly makes a difference at such a time for all share the wish to live a little longer and fear the thought of not seeing those they love anymore. Even among believers I doubt anyone except a fanatic dies anticipating the eternal life that awaits them. The best we can hope for is to be able to die with dignity. To quote Faiz:
Jis dhaj se koi maqtal mein gaya, woh shan salamat rahti hai,,,,
Yeh jan to aani jani hai, is jan ki koi baat nahi.
The grace with one faces death is what lives after us
Life itself is fleeting and cannot be relied upon
It's tough to rate it as a book, as it's really a collection of Hitch's writings and jottings that he did before he died, and which didn't make it into anything else. Much of it is, of course, musings on the nature of mortality, and the indiscriminate nature of the beast that took this genius from us too early.
There are bits where you can see where he may have polished his words later, but as he explains at one point, he rarely does much polishing - the words flow, he writes them down, then moves onto the next thing. So the quality is significantly higher than much "journalism" we see today.
R.I.P. Hitch. You are missed. I would have loved to see your responses to the world in 2018!
But... I dunno, it's harrowing. It was written because, obviously, Christopher was diagnosed with terminal esophageal cancer and knew from the offset he was going to die. And that feeling, even when not written down, actually penetrates the writing.
I would even go as far as to say he descends into madness towards the end, as his own visitation from the reaper looms ever closer. The final few chapters see Christopher's mind wander off on many tangents of philosophy. You can't help but wonder what one's own mind might imagine given a similar situation.
Heartbreaking, and also utterly compelling. I commend to you both the man and the book.
"Mortality" is his last book (though I'm sure further anthologies of unpublished material will appear in the years ahead) detailing his fatal encounter with esophageal cancer, from discovering it while on a book tour promoting his memoir "Hitch 22", to the final pages which are scraps of notes for future (and now forever unwritten) writings.
But it's not a sad book. Hitchens was ruthless in his approach to subjects and he is no less so when dealing with himself and "the alien" (which is how he characterises his cancer) - no sentimentality or feeling sorry for himself is allowed on the page.
He is informative, funny, and stubborn all at once when writing on the reaction among religious groups when news of his cancer was reported with some Christians instigating a "Pray for Hitch" day - a day he encourages everyone to ignore. He also reinforces his atheist position, almost aggressively, writing "What if I pulled through and the pious faction contentedly claimed that their prayers had been answered? That would somehow be irritating." As if he wanted to die to once more further his argument that there is no God! If this book shows anything it is that death and the prospect of death does not change the person, and that Hitchens remained dignified and his own person right to the end.
There are essays on coping with the cancer treatment which is almost as bad as the cancer, and a fantastic piece on Nietzsche and the etymology of the phrase "whatever doesn't kill me makes me stronger". The book is full of rich writing displaying a luminous and inquisitive mind, questioning death, the mundanity of illness, and moving from issues of existence to anecdotes of past columns such as the time he underwent waterboarding to experience how bad a torture it is (very bad as it turns out, traumatising in fact).
Also included is a foreword by Hitchen's editor at Vanity Fair Graydon Carter and a moving afterword by his wife Carol Blue. Our culture lost a brilliant mind on December 15, 2011, and "Mortality" is a fine coda to a man who lived life fearlessly and wrote some of the best reportage of the last 50 years. Christopher Hitchens remains an essential writer to read.