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Arguably Essays By Christopher Hitchens

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Chris-Hitchens
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"Arguably: Essays by Christopher Hitchens" is the celebrated writer's third "greatest hits" book. And – arguably – there is no living writer more deserving of having three such volumes published in his lifetime.

If I were to compare Christopher Hitchens to one person it would undoubtedly be James Brown. Along with being a brilliant writer and polemicist, he also is the hardest working man in letters. Or maybe that should be The Hardest Working Man in Letters.

With more than a dozen books to his credit, Hitchens is a regular contributor to Vanity Fair, The Atlantic, Free Thinker and Slate (for whom he writes a weekly column). Oh, did I mention, the man has Stage 4 esophageal cancer for which, as he wryly notes often, "there is no Stage 5"? Recently, when receiving the Richard Dawkins Award at the Texas Freethought Convention, Hitchens said, "I'm not going to quit until I absolutely have to." Ladies and Gentlemen, the Godfather of the Essay, the Hardest Working Man in Letters, Christopher Hitchens!

The topics in "Arguably", which has been described as having the size of a paving stone or a great ingot, run the gamut from the international issues (North Korea, Iraq and Iran – rightfully boasting of being the only Western journalist to have visited the so-called Axis of Evil) to literary subjects (Mark Twain, Upton Sinclair, Graham Greene, et al) to social topics ("Why Women Aren't Funny") and beyond.

Over his 40 year career Hitchens has been witness to many events and conflicts around the world. He has used his writing to speak for the oppressed, bring attention to important issues and expose a few sacred cows which turn out to be not so sacred after all. And it's clear after plowing through all 788 pages of "Arguably" that no one wields the essayist's pen (keyboard?) as powerfully as Hitchens.

Some might complain that "Arguably" is merely a reissue of his essays over the last decade – "nothing new here, just move on." While the former may be technically correct, there are 107 reasons why the latter admonition should be ignored. These essays have been consolidated together and republished because Hitchens is a brilliant writer and, most importantly, the way he writes makes his work imminently re-readable. Do not move on. Stop and spend some time with this book. And the relatively short essay format – anywhere from three to 15 pages per – makes it perfect for the busy reader.

The assertion of "brilliant writer" certainly requires a bit of backing up as it's a term that is (sadly) casually bandied about nowadays. Hitchens is a brilliant writer in that he communicates his ideas intelligently and cleverly, and presents them in an interesting and surprising way. As someone who has been reading Hitch for well over a decade, that's what stands out to me – his re-readability. And it doesn't matter the topic – from "manscaping" and waterboarding to religion and fascist regimes. He stakes out a claim and then sets out to defend in a vigorous manner with some wry, clever humor thrown into the mix. Since Hitchens himself has a love for great and classic literature, it often finds its way into his work to further illuminate and add depth.

Hitchens also defies mold or form. Just because you read his arguments and opinions on one subject doesn't mean you can predict what those arguments and opinions will be on another, which is why he has been confounding journalists and pundits for the better part of three decades. He defies stereotype in a world where stereotypes, i.e. short, terse descriptions, are the norm. For decades he was the "darling" of liberals and progressives because he took aim at characters like Kissinger, Reagan and Ollie North. But then he took aim at Bill Clinton and was for the Iraq War, even advising the Bush administration to a certain degree (after all, he was one of the few Westerners who actually knew firsthand and understood the region). So he was embraced by the right-wing media and attacked – with surprising venom – by some liberals and progressives.

These supposed inconsistencies actually serve to mask the fact that Hitchens is incredibly consistent. He is an advocate for science, free thinking, freedom for and from religion and working to end regimes that subjugate portions (if not all) their constituency. And there's something else he – what I like to call his finely tuned bullshit meter. Seen through that light, it shouldn't surprise anyone when the targets of his attacks don't follow a strict ideology pattern. That's why he can go after both Clinton and Kissinger (and Reagan and Kennedy). That's why he can support the liberation of Iraq while harshly criticizing the Bush administration on nearly every front.

Deep down though, I think of Christopher Hitchens as a people person. Seriously. He's visited nearly every state in the U.S., reported from dozens of countries, covered revolutions first-hand, traveled to third-world countries many reporters wouldn't dream of visiting and he allows his home address and phone number to be public information. The man has seen a lot in his life and has never been one to back down from a good fight.

Even on those rare occasions where I don't necessarily agree with Hitchens, it's the unique and – it bears repeating – interesting way he writes that keeps me (and millions of others around the world) coming back. I catch myself re-reading sentences or whole paragraphs not always because of the point he is making but because of the way it's been made. It's something unique. It's something rare. It's something – Hitchian.

"Arguably Essays"
By Christopher Hitchens
816 pg. Twelve
$18.75

Hitch Bits (Here's just a sprinkling of what we are calling our favorite "Hitch Bits")
"...the UN secretary general, that scintillating figure known in song and story as Ban Ki-moon..."
"Probably no two words in our language are now more calculated to shrivel the sensitive nostril than 'socialist realism'."
"Even as I was grazing on the easy slopes of this book..."
"...I had sent Terrorist windmilling across the room in a spasm of boredom and annoyance..." re: Gore Vidal's novel Terrorist
"...this Grassy Knoll enterprise..." re: 9/11 conspiracy theories
"...the Potomosexual genre..." re: novels about Washington DC
"...[his] lamentable inability to write about sex, along with his insistence on trying to do so." re: novelist Evelyn Waugh

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