Jim's Reviews > Hitch-22: A Memoir

Hitch-22 by Christopher Hitchens
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's review
Feb 02, 13

it was amazing
bookshelves: expatriates, non-fiction, politics-and-society, this-sceptred-isle, biography-and-memoir
Read in March, 2011

A memoir and extended essay on the main themes of his writing life, this is a good reminder of just how important Christopher Hitchens was to intellectual life, both in the States and in Britain. I first read this shortly prior to the author's death and re-read it after. It only improved on the second reading.

As much as anything else, this is a story of Hitchens's ideological development: the role his parents' lives played in it, the experience of the Trotskyist Left of the 1960s, the influence of the various Amises (Martin, Kingsley), Robert Conquest's anti-Stalinism, and so on. Although a man of the Left, Hitchens doesn't fit comfortably in with some of his ideological peers. He supported both Thatcher's Falklands war and the second Bush administration's invasion of Iraq, which made him anathema to some of his erstwhile friends. However, one can argue that these positions were taken in absolute consistency with his principles. In both cases he was supporting conflicts against brutal military dictatorships. Although his insistence on the WMD rationale for the Iraqi war is a little cringeworthy, his support of Kurdish rights is commendable.

Hitchens was disturbed by the reflexively anti-Western stance prevalent within the post-1960s Left. He championed the Western literary and artistic canons, though not uncritically, as can be seen in his writings on the King James Bible. Hitchens extolled the King James translation for its literary merit, even as he argued that "religion ruins everything."

Strangely (but perhaps not unsurprisingly in the context of George W. Bush's "with us or agin' us" America), Hitchens was cast as a conservative. He was certainly proud of his US citizenship and saw America as an expression of Western ideals, to the point that he advocated a sort of American exceptionalism. That said, Hitchens was not an uncritical apologist. Though he supported Bush's toppling of Saddam Hussein, he accused the Bush administration of criminal incompetence. He excoriated the US role in overthrowing the democratic socialist Allende government and advocated that Henry Kissinger be indicted for war crimes.

One of the photos included in the book shows a smiling Hitchens at the tomb of Karl Marx, "the great man." So much for Hitchens the conservative. All of this labeling and mislabeling speaks to the looseness over terms in American political discourse, where liberalism and socialism are conflated and everything is subjected to Nazi analogies. Hitchens was an antidote to this sloppiness. Through his writings and in his life, Hitchens stood as an example of conceptual complexity and intellectual nuance. What's more, the man who emerges from this book is one of good humor and human compassion.
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