Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Letters to a Young Contrarian” as Want to Read:
Letters to a Young Contrarian
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Letters to a Young Contrarian

4.12 of 5 stars 4.12  ·  rating details  ·  4,972 ratings  ·  349 reviews
In the book that he was born to write, provocateur and best-selling author Christopher Hitchens inspires future generations of radicals, gadflies, mavericks, rebels, angry young (wo)men, and dissidents. Who better to speak to that person who finds him or herself in a contrarian position than Hitchens, who has made a career of disagreeing in profound and entertaining ways.T ...more
Paperback, 141 pages
Published April 13th 2005 by Basic Books (first published 2001)
more details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Letters to a Young Contrarian, please sign up.

Popular Answered Questions

Likhesh Sharma It is because "what you think" that is things you know might change you might start believing something opposite of what you used to believe (for…moreIt is because "what you think" that is things you know might change you might start believing something opposite of what you used to believe (for example like people changed their mind about geocentrism) but that would not make you a slave if Ideas.
But how you think (or you decide what to believe) determines whether your ideas, your mind is slave a tradition, book or authority or you are--as Hitchens wants to you be--a freethinker who is skeptic and relies on logic and evidence for source of knowledge.(less)

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  rating details
Jacob J.
Death hath wrought a pernicious dent in the erudite and intellectual world; Hitchens will not be one to be soon forgotten, nor ever replaced (but emulated, definitely). Let me stop you before you roll your eyes. Yes, I am providing my belated, unasked-for, and pedantic tribute to the late Hitch, but this is as appropriate of a forum as any to do so, right? Indeed, I read this magnificent little collection of letters of advice written to no one in particular (but everyone) in modest and solemn re ...more
Petra X
Christopher Hitchens was my 5-star author hero. Everything he wrote I had to ration how much I read at a time so I could savour his writing, his pronouncements, his humour and his wisdom. This book was but a pale shadow of his others and I couldn't finish it. I may one day pick it up again.

Although Hitchens is often the star of his own books, he is able to put himself to one side to concentrate on the subject. Unfortunately in this one he is not just the star, but the elevated hero, and great as
Jul 09, 2013 Carlo rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Literally everyone
Recommended to Carlo by: Evan
It is curious to see how Hitchens ended up being with Harris, Dawkins and Dennett in one camp, at least in the public imagination. I think it is crucial to flesh out the difference between the other three figures on one hand and Hitchens on the other. While the three champion (though it is arguable how much they adhere to) empiricism, rationality and the spirit of science in general, Hitchens is in a different camp. He makes bold claims which are based on personal experience, opinion, speculatio ...more


The book I've read more times than any other. I consistently go back to it when in times of crisis or when I need a mental recharging.

The thing I love about Hitchens is the fact that no matter what you think about him, he has lived a full life. There's no stone unturned intellectually, verbally, hell- geographically. He truly has read and seen and pretty much done it all.

Nobody's going to agree with him 100%- I don't, and I'm one of his biggest fans- but what you take away from his w
M. Sarki
Through the years reading Christopher Hitchens has been hit or miss for me. Mortality was amazing, but many other works basically unaccessible to me perhaps because they are all too cerebral and the subjects fail to interest me. I remember Hitchens on a Bill Maher show on HBO where he was a guest and argued with the audience for almost the entire program. I did not appreciate that behavior then, but do so now after reading this book. I cannot more highly recommend this book to any person who wan ...more
I loved reading this book. There's probably no political commentary I enjoy reading (or watching, for that matter) more than that of Christopher Hitchens. No one is quite as good at being condescending and disagreeable and intelligent and hilarious all at once. His talent for making people look stupid is enviable.
I could extract a handful of great quotations but generally found its subtlety muddled and the italicized foreign phrases snotty and maybe he used "tautology" too often for me to really get all psyched? How many times can "extirpate" be used too? A proper contrarian wouldn't unconditionally applaud his exhortations. A little disappointed, really -- thought it'd be more fun. He's not a fan of Clinton or God or idiots or neutrality. Got it. Overall, I found his style stilted and stodgy, his refere ...more
I loved Hitch before Iraq 2. I'm coming back around to him, but I just pretend he has no opinion on the occupation.
I’m not sure why but I am on a bit of a Hitchens kick. Until this year I think it would be fair to state that I probably knew Hitchens more from his appearances on television (and subsequently on Youtube, the true source of my knowledge). I find it odd because I’ve not fallen in love with any of the books I’ve read so far but still find him so compelling. Maybe it’s because he’s so smart and unflinching, or because he’s modern muckraker, or maybe it’s just because he’s sometimes a dick.

This sli
Every once in awhile one's brain gets a kick-start and sometimes the resulting vibration opens a stubbornly closed door. Revelations ensue.

It happened many years ago when I was a college freshman, under the tutelage of philosophy 101 professor, Gary Boelkins, at Marquette University in Milwaukee, as I began to grasp the concepts of Plato. One minute I was baffled, the next minute a light bulb (or fire, so as not to be anachronistic) went on and the cave was illuminated.

Hitchens prompts this same
There are two basic ways to approach this book. First, there's reading it as an inspirational tract on living a life of contrariness and dissent and all the baggage that comes with such a life. Secondly, one could read this as a treatise on several of Christopher Hitchens' favorite topics, ranging from misspent socialist youth to his journalism days to the preview of coming anti-religious attractions phase.

In both cases, the book fails. To the first option, I'm not sure anyone will walk away fro
A witty and anecdotal window into Hitchens' propensity to take contrarian positions. I feel scarcely qualified to 'review' this work, I could only nod and marvel at the points he cited and made regarding the necessity of employing scepticism and doubt wherever applicable. To quote a few particularly pertinent and summative passages:

"John Stuart Mill said that even if all were agreed on an essential proposition it would be essential to give an ear to the one person who did not, lest people forget
Mr. Brammer
Jan 03, 2008 Mr. Brammer rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Young Contrarians
Recommended to Mr. Brammer by: Anna
Christopher Hitchens professes a great admiration for Oscar Wilde in this book - mainly for Wilde's wit, but you can see that Hitchens is also influenced by Wilde's public facade. Like Morrissey, it's hard to tell what about Hitchens is real and what is adopted persona - in "Letters to a Young Contrarian" he writes in earnest about the necessity of noconformity to the survival of modern liberal society, but he also likes to show off his breadth of knowledge, his acidity and mercilessness towards ...more
Apr 08, 2012 Gary rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: everyone
Shelves: own, philosophy, political
hitch is just great, I know, insightful review
being a christian who is passing , "through the dark night - alright - of the soul", as he hilariously concedes to the young contrarian. i totally see his side of the whole god issue. this missing element here is faith, which the bible states is a gift of god,
his position is honest, and respectful. and damn good advice.
to not just go along, with anything, to have your own mind, and to "question the obvious".

this is a quick, enjoyable, and eloquent r
I've mostly found Hitchens to be a suspect public intellectual. But he was still a welcome presence for his acerbic wit and his tendency to polemic in times that have seen intellectuals become cowardly dunces lost in the minutiae of inoffensiveness.

This book is full of beauty and of impassioned pleas for intelligence, justice, and bravery of the most important sort. It is, in short, the kind of book one wishes Hitchens wrote more often. He too often got lost in his scotch-driven ramblings for mo
Travis Kendall
This was a really inishgtful and engaging book. Despite its short length (141 pages) I found myself constantly going back over passages (this book has a ton of great quotes). Some of the advice that Hitchens gives his mock student may seem a little cliche in parts, but even there he presents it in such a witty and honest way as to still make it insightful. What I also like about Hitchens is that he uses just the right balance of high mindedness and modesty/self deprication. This book would be us ...more
A nice, short primer for Christopher Hitchens. RIP. This is one of those books I think everyone should read. Skepticism, disputation and contrarianism is underrated and underutilized.
I liked the concept of this book more than its execution. Hitchens is unable to keep his own obnoxiousness from ruining what could have been a decent book.
Walk-Minh Allen
If Letters to a Young Contrarian teaches you one thing, it is to not sit like a bump on a log and watch the world go by, without a say, without a perspective and without a care. Here are a few quotes from Hitchens' book that I'm still wrapping my mind around and letting sink in:


Alain, in Martin du Gard’s Lieutenant Colonel Maumort says that the first rule – he calls it the rule of rules – is the art of challenging what is appealing. You will notice that he describes this as an “art”: it
Todd Martin
To be a contrarian you have to be prepared to:
"Shun the “transcendent” and all who invite you to subordinate or annihilate yourself. Distrust compassion; prefer dignity for yourself and others. Don’t be afraid to be thought arrogant or selfish. Picture all experts as if they were mammals. Never be a spectator of unfairness or stupidity. Seek out argument and disputation for their own sake; the grave will supply plenty of time for silence. Suspect your own motives, and all excuses. Do not live f
Deborah Anderson
I really, really wanted to like and enjoy this book. Unfortunately, unlike God is Not Great, I found this one to be a real slog to get through. I found Hitchens' references to be quite obscure, and I found it quite difficult to follow what his actual point was from chapter to chapter. I found the format of the fictional letters to be quite disconcerting, only having one side of the fictional conversation, and it seemed quite pompous at times without good reason to be. There were some great momen ...more
William Handel
Given its focus on the importance of satire, it is a damn shame that Letters to a Young Contrarian does not readily acknowledge the supreme irony involved in its attempt to provide a standardized model for how one can be ‘different.’ This, along with the almost stifling self-congratulatory nature of the prose (the reader is battered with an unending stream of accounts of the places author Christopher Hitchens has traveled, the commendable individuals he can count as friends, and the morally supe ...more
This book underscores what I like about Christopher Hitchens: he confronts every ideology, pissing off both liberals and conservatives. If I don't always agree with him, I always admire his iconoclasm and his style of disputation.
This is a very readable series of letters by Christopher Hitchens (died 2011) the scholar, teacher and commentator best know for his anti-religious stands. This is not a real exchange of letters but the author's idea of what it would be like to mentor someone on open thinking regarding a number of issues. I read this on my Kindle, I knew better than to try to read Hitchens without an "on-board" dictionary although I only had to look up about 20 words. It is a short book of about 20 letters most ...more
One word: Hitchen-licious

A mere paragraph into the text, you can already tell what you're getting in with this book. Because of that, the book is neither a great failure nor a great success. I found it to be Hitchens being Hitchens, in all his witty-commentaries, thought-provoking ideas, and his sometimes repetitive arguments.

I realize that I've grown to think of Hitchens as a sort of chocolate flavor. Great, enjoyable, smooth on the tongue, but highly predictable. Make no mistake, he doesn't wa

Current events tell of many stories where the voices ( or votes) of the people are being hijacked by the political parties. It so happens that people who don't further inquire into the political soundbytes that are spewed, are in effect disenfranchised from the political process and unwittingly conform to misinformation.
In this book of we find Christopher Hitchens engaged in a series of letters, written in earnest prose about the necessity of nonconformity for the survival of the modern liber
Like many others dismayed at his stance on the Iraq War, his defence of the Bush administration and his bewildering pursuit of Bill Clinton's personal morality (a theme raised again in this book), I haven't always found it easy to like Christopher Hitchens. I'm sure he wouldn't have had it any other way, but what are we to make of a man whose diversity of public statements so deftly evades easy categorisation? What to do with a man who lambasts the manipulative pretensions of the Dalai Lama and ...more
This was my third Hitchens in a short span during the fall of 2011. Surprisingly, I didn’t get tired of the journalist’s prose or arguments during this impulsive reading binge, despite the 1000 plus pages in a few weeks span. After his passing, I was even glad to know that there is more Hitchens to be read. Unlike Arguably but like god is not great, Letters to a Young Contrarian is a full-length book, not a collection of independent essays, albeit one that is comprised of short thematic chapters ...more
Dan Gorman
Tremendously engaging from an intellectual perspective, this book is Hitchens's advice to young dissenters, radicals, and freethinkers (mainly of the left, but really of all traditions). Hitch's usual tropes - unabashed atheism, withering humor, and overwhelming penchant for irony - come up regularly, but this book is also different in that it combines memoir with treatise. That is to say, Hitchens mines his past and his fertile imagination to explain his rationale for studying and writing about ...more
This is a brief book about what it takes to be a good contrarian. I think in an era where either people favor being loud, obnoxious, and ill-informed (or just willfully ignorant) or the intelligent people tend to just remain quiet to avoid, as Peter from the film Office Space would say, "avoid being hassled," Hitchens gives advice on how to stand up for something. Argue. Question everything. Do so well prepared. Being well read also helps. The book is written in a style very much like Letters to ...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 99 100 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • Alien vs. Predator
  • How's Your Drink?: Cocktails, Culture, and the Art of Drinking Well
  • The Collected Poems
  • My Misspent Youth: Essays
  • Dear Diary
  • What She Saw...
  • The Collected Poems
  • How to Cook Everything: The Basics: Simple Recipes Anyone Can Cook
  • Up in the Old Hotel
  • Actual Air
  • Quicksand and Passing
  • Attack of the Theocrats!: How the Religious Right Harms Us All — and What We Can Do About It
  • I Love Dick
  • Oh the Glory of it All
  • How to Lose Friends and Alienate People
  • Lucy
  • I Don't Care About Your Band: Lessons Learned from Indie Rockers, Trust Funders, Pornographers, Felons, Faux-Sensitive Hipsters, and Other Guys I've Dated
  • Anthony Bourdain Omnibus: Kitchen Confidential and A Cook's Tour
Christopher Eric Hitchens (April 13, 1949 – December 15, 2011) was an English-born American author, journalist and literary critic. He was a contributor to Vanity Fair, The Atlantic, World Affairs, The Nation, Slate, Free Inquiry and a variety of other media outlets. Hitchens was also a political observer, whose best-selling books — the most famous being God Is Not Great — made him a staple of tal ...more
More about Christopher Hitchens...
God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything The Portable Atheist: Essential Readings for the Nonbeliever Mortality Hitch-22: A Memoir Arguably: Selected Essays

Share This Book

“Beware the irrational, however seductive. Shun the 'transcendent' and all who invite you to subordinate or annihilate yourself. Distrust compassion; prefer dignity for yourself and others. Don't be afraid to be thought arrogant or selfish. Picture all experts as if they were mammals. Never be a spectator of unfairness or stupidity. Seek out argument and disputation for their own sake; the grave will supply plenty of time for silence. Suspect your own motives, and all excuses. Do not live for others any more than you would expect others to live for you.” 651 likes
“The essence of the independent mind lies not in what it thinks, but in how it thinks.” 399 likes
More quotes…