Christopher Hitchens, Allen & Unwin

Christopher Hitchens is a man of strong opinions and he seems to inspire them in others when his name is mentioned. I have watched rage contort the features of the mild mannered when his name is dropped, sneers cross the visage of the meek and ferocity erupt from the previously serene.

He has been variously described as an intellectual giant, a sexist, an ideological turncoat and some names too salty for a Christian publication.

Like most interesting people at his best he is magnificent and at his worst he is downright deplorable. Arguably is a collection of his essays for Vanity Fair, the Atlantic and Slate over the past decade and both sides of his nature are captured within its pages. This is his fifth large collection of essays so if nothing else the man is prolific (as a side note, consider buying the e-book — these essays are heavy).

The essays are grouped thematically and are wide ranging. Perhaps this is what sticks out most about Hitchens — his bigness of thought and insatiable intellectual hunger is compelling. His language is clear and powerfully employed. Many critics have noted his similarities to his idol, George Orwell, and the comparison stands. Both men knew how to ruthlessly argue their point.

Christopher Hitchens has strong opinions, some of which are stupid. That doesn’t detract from his contribution to journalism, public debate and thinking big ideas in an age when so many thoughts are reduced to 140 characters or less.

He effortlessly ranges from discussion of the founding fathers, literary giants, and devastating attacks on the arguments of his peers. Hitchens’ battle with cancer has been well publicised (along with his resolute refusal to undergo any variety of deathbed “conversion”). While he faces his death bravely and thoughtfully, there is no one in popular culture who can take his place as the implacable, indomitable, irascible thinker of big ideas. We will be the poorer for his loss.

Amy Goodhew


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