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Hitch 22 by Christopher Hitchens

Hitch 22 (original 2010; edition 2010)

by Christopher Hitchens

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1,234346,440 (3.92)70
Title:Hitch 22
Authors:Christopher Hitchens
Info:Atlantic Books (2010), Hardcover, 352 pages
Collections:Your library

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Hitch-22 by Christopher Hitchens (2010)


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Great Memoir of a Genius Critic. One is encouraged to read literature and think critically in all situations. I loved his connections made between the classics read and the book he led. If you are a reader than this book will be your cup of tea, or stick of dynamite (TNT). ( )
  Gregorio_Roth | Dec 5, 2014 |
Great Memoir of a Genius Critic. One is encouraged to read literature and think critically in all situations. I loved his connections made between the classics read and the book he led. If you are a reader than this book will be your cup of tea, or stick of dynamite (TNT). ( )
  Gregorio_Roth | Dec 5, 2014 |
Brilliant start, but then lapses into chest-thumping. Needs a good editor. ( )
  Faradaydon | Dec 17, 2013 |
This is a memoir first published in 2010. My copy is the 2011 edition that includes a forward by Hitchens having earlier that same year been diagnosed with oesophageal cancer. He died in December 2011.
Christopher Hitchens was an author, journalist, essayist, pamphleteer and superb orator. His debating skills, honed at Oxford, were sharp, insightful and could leave his opponent feeling like they had undergone ten rounds with Cassius Clay.
To my utter shame I didn’t start taking an interest in Christopher Hitchens and his writings until around 2005. My introduction to Hitchens was through my love of the works of George Orwell. I stumbled upon Christopher Hitchens biographical essay ‘Orwell’s Victory ’, (known as ‘Why Orwell Matters’ in the USA), in a second hand bookshop. Not only was ‘Orwell’s Victory’ a superb piece of literature and a cracking read but it had the effect of wanting to know more about Mr. Hitchens.
Hitch 22 details his relationship with his parents, loving, beautiful but distant mother and uncommunicative, stoic but heroic father. Names are dropped within the book like so many autumn leaves; Salman Rushdie, James Fenton, Richard Dawkins, Martin Amis etc etc. But, this is not an attempt by Christopher Hitchens to show off or communicate to the outside world about his highly influential friends. Each name is ‘dropped’ to illustrate a point or to help frame a chapter and give it context.
There have been many superlatives used to describe Christopher Hitchens, erudite, witty, passionate and rhetorically astute. It is not only hard to think of new ones but it is difficult to disagree with any of them.
Hitch 22 is 422 pages of the English language in perfect harmony. His writing style is the language equivalent of the Taj Mahal or the Potala Palace in Tibet: beautifully constructed with no superfluous building materials. ( )
  Kitscot | Sep 26, 2013 |
May 2013
I don't know if I'm ever going to finish this - I read most of it last August and still keep picking it up every now and again, reading 5 pages or so and deciding something else would be more interesting. So, half-way through the book, I'm going to write a response to it anyway (and general reflection and rant about related issues).

In many ways I agree with my friend Patrick's review. After the first few chapters, this isn't the side of Hitchens I find interesting: for the most part he isn't extemporising on issues I care about; he's just telling anecdotes about crowds I'm not very interested in. (I could never just dismiss it as name-dropping, because I love that stuff when it's about scenes I like.)

And as I said in one of these page-updates last year, the book frequently reminds me why I became so bored of studying Politics at university. (I really wish now that I had done French as my second subject instead.) Aside from a) issues I feel strongly about and b) the entertaining personalities of twentieth-century British politics (especially 1945-97) I have little love for the subject in general - though I'm still familiar enough with terms like "bicameral" to fool people that I know and care more than I do, should I want to. And - as I've found having some friends and relatives who are highly political animals - I really don't like all the behind-the-scenes chuntering about minutiae that goes on at party and activist-group social gatherings. Though I can see it's a necessary part of the process, part of me is always thinking "why don't you actually do something?"... such illogical irritation being a sure sign of a thing simply being 'not for me'.

Something that has become clearer to me since I read most of Hitch-22 (a period during which I watched c.450 films) is that for the most part, I really don't like American culture. This is stronger as regards books and films than with music (though, still, in the past few years I'd liked less American music made in my own lifetime). I still get disappointed how many people who are into serious films and books spend huge chunks of their time on American stuff ... it's something I see even more on here than I did on the film site Letterboxd, where making an effort to explore other cultures through the medium was one of the more "intellectualised" aspects of it.

I'm always glad not to have been American, for so many reasons, and to just indirectly benefit from some of the country's more positive contributions to world culture, and to be able to ignore at least some of the dross. Hitchens, of course, loved America so much he put a great deal of effort into becoming a citizen. I can see what his arguments were - and reading some of them I cannot but frown.
They remind me of Tony Benn's - to my mind absurd - continued passionate adherence to the Labour Party as an idea even in the days of Blair: much of it based on founding ideals and a more radical past rather than what was really happening at the time. And given the increasing paranoia and right-wing restrictions in, and elsewhere inspired by, the US since 2001, reading Hitchens' 1980's reflections now seems even more ridiculous - it's not as if these developments weren't based on pre-existing tendencies. (But then that's something I tend to think about a lot, just as the Blair government's more Big Brotherish proposals seemed quite predictable from the "Millbank tendency" and the concept of "on message" that made me not vote for them in 1997.)

I've been finding this autobiography less interesting because so much of it is about the public political stage and because much of it is not personal enough. Yet whilst that may be making it a less enjoyable read for some - despite the author's reliably relentless wit - I can't help but respect this because he reveals very little personal information about others, potentially embarrassing ex-partners or friends - and he still created a decent memoir regardless (albeit one that's perhaps most entertaining to the politics geek).

November 2014
Finished. Found his chapters of personal reflection most interesting ('Something of Myself' - a sort of riff on a meme-like questionnaire; 'Thinking Thrice About the Jewish Question' - in which he discovers his Breslau-Jewish ancestry - and the closing chapter). Though there was still something to take away from the rest, especially as it stopped feeling like a dry politics lecture: the horrors of Saddam Hussein’s regime; the fact that Olivia Newton John was granddaughter of a Nobel physicist and daughter of an Enigma codebreaker; Edward Said as a gifted fashion stylist (perhaps stranger because I always get images of him and E. de Bono mixed up).

Having a whole chapter about Said was a bit much though - it was like hearing someone offload about the pros and cons of their friend you barely know: better in private than on the printed page. (It's a shame Hitchens didn't take a little more of his style advice; several of the 90s / 2000s photos look as if he turned up to important symposia in old pyjama shirts, detracting somewhat from his presence.)

I got the impression that Hitchens regarded the Iraq war, equally with intervention in conflicts such as Bosnia and Rwanda, as a paternalist project compatible with the left. He found himself as part of the right because that's who his views on Iraq aligned with - but personally didn't affiliate with one side or another wholeheartedly as he got older.

The certainty with which he speaks and writes seems ridiculously audacious thinking of the contemporary internet. Even in the 3-4 years since his illness and death, things have changes considerably and the famous appear to be constantly answerable to the Twitter mob, apologising, modifying, hesitating. (And it's not a form of feedback that encourages careful thought. There are inconsistencies based on personal feeling in his thought (e.g. issues on which he trusted gut instinct rather than "Hitchens' razor" and was later - sometimes years later - proven right); it would just be nice to have seen him have a bit more self-awareness on that. Which doesn't mean becoming Mr. Spock - the emotional dimension to his arguments made him more appealing than Dawkins. Seeing himself as one of the Four Horsemen of Atheism, alongside such ultra-rationalist scientism, made him neglect this side - which seems to hold such potential for greater understanding of others. Whilst he has a way with words, and did some important campaigning journalism, his lack of self-scrutiny at that level means I can't consider him quite as great a thinker as some did (including himself).

A couple of things I am left wondering about.
As when I read a book on Morrissey mostly because of someone who was a great fan - do people choose heroes who share some of their faults and traits? And/ or do they perhaps foreground those faults and traits more than they otherwise may have done, being inspired by and feeling connection with said heroes.
Very interesting to hear an account by someone with concealed Jewish ancestry who found out about it relatively late in life - having good reason to wonder this myself. The sense of its having being a curious absence when growing up, of simply not having being told anything about Judaism, a lacuna or elision that paradoxically stands out, quite differently from negativity, is there. (Especially when you've heard strong opinions on every other people of Eastern Europe.)
Oh, and I couldn't work out why he wasn't vegetarian, given the way he talked of farm animals.

I'd read something in the last few weeks saying that Hitchens didn't value the opinions of women - yet in these chapters he did cite a number of women, not only Susan Sontag, and his wife's opinion on political issues evidently mattered. He mentioned he wasn't keen on drunk women, but I don't see the point making a fuss about occasional dinosauring from older people. (Conversely, I can't see Hitch having different standards for someone of 60 and someone of 30 - he was definitely interested in imposing opinions more than observing the great variety of people in a semi-anthropological way.)

Interesting to see that he (and his brother) also had a defining moment when a parent stood up for, and with, them against censorship of a children's book. I found it powerful enough as it was, simply confronting the school and winning - they corresponded with a publisher.

At times - even though this book can be dry - it still has that stirring tone of his which can fire a similar forthrightness regardless of whether you agree with him on everything or not. And as far as Hitchens is concerned, it would be missing the point to agree with absolutely everything he said. He didn't want to inspire parrots. I feel like giving Hitch 22 four stars now, but can't really given that some of the middle chapters were a slog. ( )
  antonomasia | Aug 15, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 34 (next | show all)
Christopher Hitchens became dazzled by his “friendships” with the rich and powerful and turned into an apologist for war on Iraq. Terry Eagleton reads his new memoir –– and finds a man in conflict with every one of his own instincts.

Oedipus wrecked

The Oedipal children of the establishment have always proved useful to the left. Such ruling-class renegades have the grit, chutzpah, inside knowledge, effortless self-assurance, stylishness, fair conscience and bloody-mindedness of their social background, but can turn these patrician virtues to radical ends. The only trouble is that they tend to revert to type as they grow older, not least when political times are lean. The Paul Foots and Perry Andersons of this world are a rare breed. Men and women who began by bellowing "Out, out, out!" end up humiliating waiters and overrating Evelyn Waugh. Those who, like Christopher Hitchens, detest a cliché turn into one of the dreariest types of them all: the revolutionary hothead who learns how to stop worrying about imperialism and love Paul Wolfowitz.

That Hitchens represents a grievous loss to the left is beyond doubt. He is a superb writer, superior in wit and elegance to his hero George Orwell, and an unstanchably eloquent speaker. He has an insatiable curiosity about the modern world and an encyclopaedic knowledge of it, as well as an unflagging fascination with himself. Through getting to know all the right people, an instinct as inbuilt as his pancreas, he could tell you without missing a beat whom best to consult in Rabat about education policy in the Atlas Mountains. The same instinct leads to chummy lunches with Bill Deedes and Peregrine Worsthorne. In his younger days, he was not averse to dining with repulsive fat cats while giving them a piece of his political mind. Nowadays, one imagines, he just dines with repulsive fat cats. . . .

Hitchens acknowledges many people for their help, but interestingly no specific editor for this particular book. This is unfortunate: a good editor might have cut out 100 pages, pruned the moments of self-indulgence, reminded Hitchens that abuse is not equivalent to analysis and asked for a little more introspection. Read Christopher Hitchens, certainly, but not necessarily Hitch-22.
added by Shortride | editThe Monthly, Dennis Altman (May 1, 2010)
A generous friend, Mr. Hitchens gives most of his book’s good lines (and there are many, a good deal of them unprintable here) to the people he loves. Those good lines including this one, from Clive James, who began a review of a Leonid Brezhnev memoir this way: “Here is a book so dull that a whirling dervish could read himself to sleep with it.... If it were read in the open air, birds would fall stunned from the sky." Whatever the opposite of that book is, Mr. Hitchens has written it.
Our protagonist is a bit of a disembodied brain, highly capable of poignancy but not exactly introspection or, as is welcome in memoirs, overwhelming indiscretion. (Would it be primitive to say that he seems so English in this way, though he’s become an American citizen?) When he shares a tender memory, his preference is to quickly convert it into a larger political observation; for him, politics remains the most crucial sphere of moral and intellectual life.
When previously surveying his writerly recycling, I wrote, “I did not compile these examples to suggest that Hitchens has dined out on the same material for decades,” but Hitch-22 made me start to wonder.
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The desires of the heart are as crooked as corkscrews,

Not to be born is the best for man;

The second-best is a formal order,

The dance’s pattern; dance while you can.

Dance, dance for the figure is easy,

The tune is catching and will not stop;

Dance till the stars come down from the rafters;

Dance, dance, dance till you drop.

W. H. Auden’s “Death’s Echo.”
For James Fenton
First words
"A map of the world that did not show Utopia," said Oscar Wilde, "would not be worth consulting." I used to adore that phrase, but now reflect more upon the shipwrecks and prison islands to which the quest has lead. p.420
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0446540331, Hardcover)

Over the course of his 60 years, Christopher Hitchens has been a citizen of both the United States and the United Kingdom. He has been both a socialist opposed to the war in Vietnam and a supporter of the U.S. war against Islamic extremism in Iraq. He has been both a foreign correspondent in some of the world's most dangerous places and a legendary bon vivant with an unquenchable thirst for alcohol and literature. He is a fervent atheist, raised as a Christian, by a mother whose Jewish heritage was not revealed to him until her suicide.

In other words, Christopher Hitchens contains multitudes. He sees all sides of an argument. And he believes the personal is political.

This is the story of his life, lived large.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 14:01:50 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

"The life story of one of the most admired and controversial public intellectuals of our time"--Provided by publisher.

(summary from another edition)

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