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Letters to a Young Contrarian

4.13  ·  Rating details ·  10,881 ratings  ·  720 reviews
From bestselling author and provocateur Christopher Hitchens, the classic guide to the art of principled dissent and disagreement

In Letters to a Young Contrarian, bestselling author and world-class provocateur Christopher Hitchens inspires the radicals, gadflies, mavericks, rebels, and angry young (wo)men of tomorrow. Exploring the entire range of "contrary positions"—from
Paperback, 141 pages
Published April 13th 2005 by Basic Books (first published 2001)
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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 exam…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)

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May 22, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: formative
Have you ever conceived of a lean epistolary work on the pugnacious pursuit of truth and the importance of descaling your cherished ideals as often as possible in an effort to avoid gestating a stilted intellect that ossifies with time like sun baked avian offal? That was very prescient of you, as the late master of melee most mouthful produced one such work, and now reaches out across time to steady you by your tender morsels, and shotgun, past your trembling lips, the hot second hand vapors of ...more
Petra kissed a prince and he turned into a frog
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
Jakob 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
Dec 18, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Literally everyone
Recommended to Karl-O 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 probably 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 wor
Herein, Hitchens composes a series of 'letters' to those of us who would seek his advice and counsel. Inspired by his students in New York, and by hundreds of others on campuses where he spoke and lectured, 'Letters to a Young Contrarian' reads like a commencement address to a graduating class at Berkley or NYU. This could have easily been titled 'So You Want To Be A Dissident?' or 'Roadmap To Radical,' or maybe 'The Hitch-Liker's Guide To The Galaxy.'

Like every Hitchens book I've ever read (thi
M. Sarki
Aug 12, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 5-star-wonders
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
Oct 13, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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. ...more
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
Jul 21, 2009 rated it it was ok
Shelves: history-politics
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
Tommye (The Fantasy Review)
"...there is something idiotic about those who believe that consensus (to give the hydra-headed beast just one of its names) is the highest good."

For a great many people, this may not be the book they were expected. It certainly was not for me. The epistolary style is wonderful as it inspires and links to the reader's own desire for individual thought. Hitchens creates an environment in which all might free themselves from whatever chains that have held them back from coming to their own conclus
Lee Klein
Jul 21, 2014 rated it liked it
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
Jul 16, 2007 rated it it was amazing
I loved Hitch before Iraq 2. I'm coming back around to him, but I just pretend he has no opinion on the occupation. ...more
Chaunceton Bird
Apr 09, 2017 rated it really liked it
I miss Christopher Hitchens. Never has the world needed him more, and never has his absence been so palpable. This book provides a sliver of light into the massive mind of Mr. Hitchens and reminds us all that "contrarian" is a label reserved for those who dare to think. ...more
Jess the Shelf-Declared Bibliophile
Hitchens makes some great points, however his flowery wording made it hard to keep my concentration. I felt like I was studying for school instead of actually enjoying what I was reading.
A mammoth of a thinker with a need to write like he needs to breathe attempts to service advice to any young person wishing to live his/her life with a spine of their own instead of a borrowed one, and succeeds (at least with me) in instilling a sense of pride in trying to question every single thing life throws at us, and even look inside to question the questioner itself.

The one thing I have to say about this book is that it contains the only almost - Decalogue (short of one rule) that I'd li
Jan 22, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Almost annoyingly well-written.
May 03, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One needs to revisit this book everytime they feel lost. I am glad I discovered Hitchens. This is a great intellectual stimulation. I wish I could say that I am able to grasp a fraction of his brilliance.
Feb 19, 2013 rated it liked it
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
Feb 23, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: everyone
Shelves: own, political, philosophy
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
Jul 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Christopher Hitchens is one of my favorite people, period. Anything of his is a good read.
Todd Martin
Dec 30, 2011 rated it liked it
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
Jul 08, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: politics, philosophy
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
Jonathan Brammer
Dec 19, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Young Contrarians
Recommended to Jonathan 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
Travis Kendall
Aug 06, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Elizabeth Paige
Jul 25, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Read it two times...still gives me chills.
Jan 15, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: aere-perennius, 2012
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.
Andrei Vasilachi
Jan 05, 2021 rated it really liked it
4 .5 / 5

“For the moment, do bear in mind that the cynics have a point, of a sort, when they speak of the ‘professional nay-sayer.’ To be in opposition is not to be a nihilist. And there is no decent or charted way of making a living at it. It is something you are, and not something you do” (p. 12).

It is not easy to be against the current and you should not expect praise or appreciation. Being against the current is more about an internal call, a deep, unconscious need to assert yourself, to unde
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
Apr 28, 2007 rated it really liked it
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. ...more
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Christopher Eric Hitchens 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 talk shows and lecture circuits. He was ...more

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277 likes · 265 comments
“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.” 1037 likes
“The essence of the independent mind lies not in what it thinks, but in how it thinks.” 797 likes
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