Christopher Hitchens 1949-
(Full name Christopher Eric Hitchens) English journalist, essayist, and nonfiction writer.
The following entry presents an overview of Hitchens's career through 2001.
A contentious journalist, editorial columnist, and media figure, Hitchens has attracted both respect and contempt for his scathing assaults on an array of contemporary political subjects and personalities. Unabashedly aligned with the ideology of the far Left, Hitchens is noted for the sharp wit and wicked humor of his polemical writings, as well as his idiosyncratic perspective, which is largely unburdened by any single political or professional loyalty. He has written incisively about the politics of Central America and the Middle East, as well what he characterizes as the “special relationship” between England and the United States. Hitchens disdains the ignorance of political leaders and the media in his writings, and has made a reputation by exposing what he sees as the hypocrisy and moral shortcomings of prominent figures, notably U.S. President Bill Clinton, former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, and Mother Teresa. A popular guest on television programs and at public debates, Hitchens is well known for his “Minority Report” column in The Nation and his several collections of essays, book reviews, and editorials.
Born in Portsmouth, England, Hitchens is the eldest of two sons born to Eric Ernest Hitchens, a career naval officer, and Yvonne Hickman. Hitchens's younger brother, Peter, is a noted right-wing critic and author, who has entered into several public debates with his older brother. The Hitchens family moved frequently due to their father's military duties. Though an avowed atheist, Hitchens was raised as a Christian and attended a Methodist private school in Cambridge. He was surprised to learn in the late 1980s of his maternal Jewish ancestry, which his mother had concealed from the family. In 1970 Hitchens graduated from Balliol College at Oxford University with honors in philosophy, politics, and economics. While at Oxford, he joined the International Socialist Party and was an active participant in the anti-war movement against American involvement in Vietnam. After graduating, he worked as the social science correspondent for the Times Higher Education Supplement in London. From 1973 to 1981, and since 1987, Hitchens has served as a staff writer for the New Statesman. His first book, Callaghan (1976), a study of British Labour leader James Callaghan, was a collaborative effort with Peter Kellner, and his second book, Inequalities in Zimbabwe (1981), was co-authored with David Stephens. In 1980 Hitchens relocated to the United States, and in 1981 he began writing the “Minority Report” column for The Nation. He has since interspersed book writing with work as a journalist for various periodicals in both England and the United States. In 1982, he began to contribute regular columns to the Spectator and the Times Literary Supplement, and later Vanity Fair. Hitchens has taught at the University of California, Berkeley, the University of Pittsburgh, and the New School for Social Research (now New School University) in New York City. He received the American Friends of Cyprus annual award in 1985 for Cyprus (1984), and the Lannan Literary Award for Nonfiction in 1991. During the 1998 scandal involving U.S. President Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky, Hitchens emerged as a unexpected witness, providing testimony to the House impeachment managers that proved damaging to the Clinton defense. Hitchens has married twice, first to Eleni Meleagrou, a press officer, and then to writer Carol Blue. He has three children and resides in Washington, D.C.
Hitchens's shrewd analysis of controversial political subjects is evident in Cyprus, in which he chronicles twenty years of British, U.S., Greek, and Turkish intervention in Cyprus' internal affairs. Hitchens contends that the division of Cyprus in 1974 was orchestrated by Britain and the U.S. in order to prevent communist sympathizers from coming to power. In The Elgin Marbles (1987), Hitchens weighed in on the emotionally-charged debate surrounding the appropriation of ancient Greek sculptures by Lord Elgin, the British envoy to the Ottoman Empire from 1799 to 1803. During this time, Lord Elgin used his position to gain permission from the Ottoman government to remove more than half of the remaining marble statues and friezes from the Parthenon in Athens, Greece. The marble statues were shipped to England and eventually sold by Lord Elgin to the British Museum, where they remain one of the most prized and popular attractions at that institution. In his book, Hitchens records the arguments for and against repatriation of the works of art and argues in favor of returning the marbles to Greece. In Blaming the Victims (1988), co-edited with Edward Said, Hitchens reiterates his long-standing advocacy for the Palestinian cause and addresses what he sees as the falsehoods perpetuated by the Western media on behalf of Israeli interests. Hitchens's discovery of his Jewish ancestry has not swayed his passionate support for the Palestinians. Instead, he believes that his Jewishness merely added new credence to his anti-Zionist position. Prepared for the Worst (1988) is comprised of essays that originally appeared in periodicals ranging from Mother Jones to the Nation. Among these pieces are compelling articles that focus on the harmful consequences of U.S. support for various right-wing regimes in Central America and the machinations behind the Iran-Contra scandal during U.S. President Ronald Reagan's administration, a favorite recurring target of Hitchens's scorn. A second collection of journalistic pieces, For the Sake of Argument (1990), consists of essays on various political and literary topics, including a lengthy defense of controversial author Salman Rushdie, as well as denunciations of numerous public figures such as U.S. President Richard Nixon, Henry Kissinger, author P. J. O'Rourke, and other neo-conservatives. In Blood, Class, and Nostalgia (1990), Hitchens argues that the so-called “special relationship” between England and the United States represents nothing less than a transfer of empire from the older nation to the newer one. He examines the roots of the American affinity for English culture and the insinuation of British interests in American foreign policy, illuminated by the writings of U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt, author Rudyard Kipling, and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, among others. In The Missionary Position (1995), which was subsequently adapted into the television special Hell's Angels, Hitchens decries what he believes to be hypocrisy and dubious motivations of Mother Teresa, the revered Catholic nun whose charitable work on behalf of the destitute in Calcutta, India, has received millions of dollars of support, money that Hitchens argues is largely unaccounted for. Hitchens contends that Mother Teresa's Hospital for the Dying, despite its generous funding, offers no real medical treatment for its patients—and that prayers and aspirin are prescribed even for the most severe cases and no physicians are in attendance. Furthermore, Hitchens suggests that Mother Teresa's neglectful treatment of desperately ill Indians conflicts with her personal use of well-known Western medical facilities. Hitchens also notes Mother Teresa's willingness to accept donations from questionable contributors such as the Duvaliers of Haiti and Charles Keating, who was implicated in the collapse of several U.S. savings and loans in the mid-1980s. In No One Left to Lie To (1999), Hitchens condemns Bill Clinton for political opportunism and abuse of presidential power. In particular, Hitchens charges that Clinton willingly executed a mentally-retarded Arkansas inmate to support his presidential aspirations and that Clinton used military actions to divert public attention from his sexual transgressions. Hitchens argues that Clinton used a “triangulation” strategy of espousing liberal causes while paving the way toward the enactment of conservative legislation, all the while gauging public opinion as the only measure of his actions. Hitchens believes that this sounded a death knell for progressive politics in the United States for years to come. Moreover, Hitchens argues that Clinton's prevarication assured that for the remainder of his term as president, he would be essentially powerless, a dangerous situation for the nation and the world. As much as Hitchens disapproves of Clinton, he reserves special ire for Henry Kissinger, whom he asserts should be convicted as a war criminal. In The Trial of Henry Kissinger (2001), Hitchens maintains that Kissinger's manipulative politics and complicity prolonged the Vietnam War, that Kissinger oversaw the assassination of Salvador Allende in Chile, and that Kissinger supported the overthrow of Archbishop Makarios in Cyprus. Unacknowledged Legislation (2001) is a collection of critical essays written in the last decade of the twentieth century, all concerned with authors who were either overtly political or who encountered politics in some way. Hitchens examines the works of several twentieth-century writers such as Dorothy Parker, Tom Wolfe, George Orwell, George Eliot, and Philip Larkin. In Letters to a Young Contrarian (2001), a manifesto written to an imaginary person, Hitchens portrays himself as a mentor figure who provides advice on how to live apart from the consensus and how to avoid the enemies of free will.
As a staunch independent thinker and provocateur, Hitchens has made numerous enemies on both sides of the political spectrum. His trademark label pin, which reads “All the Right Enemies,” has attested to his combative self-sufficiency. Many critics have admired—and feared—his distinctive talent for using eloquent invective and ironic insinuation in his debates; even those who have opposed his leftist politics have admitted to deriving a certain enjoyment from his clever denunciations and ad hominem attacks. Nevertheless, Hitchens has been criticized for his tendency to provoke rather than to offer sustained analysis of any single problem. Several critics have noted that his rather brief volumes lack well-developed or coherent themes and are undermined by the omission of documentary evidence to support his claims. Some commentators have also accused Hitchens of obscuring or simply ignoring inconvenient facts that weaken his argument, while others have cited Hitchens's lack of historical perspective and analytical rigor as a significant flaw in his interpretation of past events. Though often praised for his confident posture, Hitchens has also gained notoriety for being ruthless in the eyes of some critics who feel that he has attacked innocent targets in his works, such as Mother Teresa. As an accomplished journalist, however, Hitchens has been respected for his determination to subvert media stereotypes and to expose the ironies and inconsistencies of Western government and foreign policy.
Callaghan: The Road to Number Ten [with Peter Kellner] (nonfiction) 1976
Inequalities in Zimbabwe [with David Stephens] (nonfiction) 1981
Cyprus (nonfiction) 1984; revised as Hostage to History: Cyprus from the Ottomans to Kissinger, 1989
The Elgin Marbles: Should They Be Returned to Greece? (nonfiction) 1987; also published as Imperial Spoils: The Curious Case of the Elgin Marbles, 1988
Blaming the Victims: Spurious Scholarship and the Palestinian Question [editor; with Edward W. Said] (nonfiction) 1988
Prepared for the Worst: Selected Essays and Minority Reports (essays) 1988
Blood, Class, and Nostalgia: Anglo-American Ironies (nonfiction) 1990
For the Sake of Argument: Essays and Minority Reports (nonfiction) 1990
The Monarchy: A Critique of Britain's Favourite Fetish (nonfiction) 1990
The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice (nonfiction) 1995
No One Left to Lie To: The Triangulations of William Jefferson Clinton (nonfiction) 1999
Letters to a Young Contrarian (nonfiction) 2001
The Trial of Henry Kissinger (nonfiction) 2001
Unacknowledged Legislation: Writers in the Public Sphere...
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SOURCE: Vatikiotis, P. J. “An Island Divided.” New Republic (8 October 1984): 32–34.
[In the following review, Vatikiotis offers a generally favorable assessment of Cyprus, though disputes some of Hitchens's political and historical interpretations.]
On the tenth anniversary of the Turkish invasion of northern Cyprus, Christopher Hitchens writes about the complexities and consequences of that episode with intense emotion [in Cyprus]. He also writes in anger about the undoing, or at least the partition, of the island republic. On the whole, he writes cogently and convincingly, albeit in parts with some exaggeration and over simplification.
Unlike Nancy Crawshaw's detailed study of “the Cyprus revolt,” published in 1978, Hitchens's book is a political essay, a somewhat personal and polemical tract. It sets out the author's reaction not only to the events on the island since 1955, but also to the policies of Greece, Turkey, Britain, and the United States, especially after 1964. His contention is straightforward: that the Colonels' regime in Athens (1967–74), in collusion with the United States, was determined to overthrow Archbishop Makarios as a prelude to the partition of Cyprus between Greece and Turkey.
A corollary contention of the author is that Britain, one of the three guarantor powers of Cyprus's independence, with a presence on Cyprus...
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SOURCE: Malcolm, Noel. “Sacrilege in the Temple of Clio.” Spectator (1 August 1987): 32–33.
[In the following review, Malcolm offers a negative assessment of The Elgin Marbles.]
In the stamping-grounds of historical controversy, it is always a pleasure to come across a book which investigates impartially a wide range of evidence and draws its conclusions without bias or prejudice. So I recommend William St Clair's Lord Elgin and the Marbles (Oxford, 1967). Christopher Hitchens has, I fancy, also read St Clair's book, but I can find no mention of the fact [in The Elgin Marbles] among his acknowledgements, where numerous Greek officials are thanked for their help. Here is St Clair's description of the state of the Acropolis under Turkish rule in 1800:
The Erechtheum was a gunpowder magazine, the Theseum was a church, the Tower of the Winds was the headquarters of the Whirling Dervishes, and the Monument of Lysicrates was a storeroom for a French Capuchin Convent … Inside the Parthenon was a small mosque, and the spaces between the pillars of the Propylaea were half bricked up to provide a kind of castellation for the guns … Slabs of crisp-cut marble were built into the rude modern walls …
And here is Hitchens's account:
The Parthenon contained a mosque …, the Erechtheion...
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SOURCE: Lubbock, Jules. “Come and Get 'em.” New Statesman (7 August 1987): 30.
[In the following review of The Elgin Marbles, Lubbock discusses the long-standing controversy and public debate surrounding the return of the Elgin Marbles, and other cultural artifacts, to their country of origin.]
Of all the lost causes for which the liberal left and this journal have ever provided a home, the campaign to return the Elgin Marbles to Athens must seem the ultimate as well the most forlorn. The launch of [The Elgin Marbles] at St James's Piccadilly was attended by two former editors and many present and former writers for the New Statesman including Christopher Hitchens himself, several eminent professors, some with and some without snowy white beards, and Eric Heffer MP—all of them burning with the injustice of the situation.
The book itself explains and argues their case with impeccable clarity and all the information one might desire. It is this: Lord Elgin, while British Ambassador to the Ottoman court after the Battle of the Nile, organised the removal, between 1801 and 1803, of many of the sculptured friezes and figures from the already severely damaged Parthenon, shipped them back to England and sold them to the British Museum in 1816 for £35,000 (about £1 million in today's money). The sculptures formed part of sequences and groups that possessed ‘a...
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SOURCE: Bethell, Tom. “The Foe in Plain View.” National Review (7 April 1989): 49–51.
[In the following review, Bethell offers a generally negative assessment of Prepared for the Worst.]
I met Christopher Hitchens a year ago at Stanford University, strolling across the campus with a glass of red wine in his hand, en route to a terrorism conference. Unusually even for Stanford, everyone present seemed to be pro-terrorism, and from Hitchens the subject received a particularly witty defense. (The word itself “carries a conservative freight,” has “no meaning and no definition,” and so on. How the assembled professoriate gurgled with delight! This was before the Ayatollah put his foot in it by terrorizing Hitchens's left-wing friend Salman Rushdie.) Later that afternoon Hitchens told me he had recently discovered that he was a Jew. In England, his 92-year-old maternal grandmother (née Blumenthal) had told him about his family background in nineteenth-century Breslau. His recently deceased father, a commander in the Royal Navy, apparently was never told.
“On hearing the news,” Hitchens writes in the final and most interesting piece in this collection of his journalism [Prepared for the Worst], “I was pleased to find that I was pleased … My initial reaction, apart from pleasure and interest, was the faint but definite feeling that I had somehow known all...
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SOURCE: Grigg, John. “Still Playing Happy Families.” Spectator (6 May 1989): 27–28.
[In the following review, Grigg offers a mixed assessment of Prepared for the Worst.]
There are few journalists whose work can bear reprinting, but Christopher Hitchens is one of them. The collection [Prepared for the Worst] now published includes pieces of varying length, which first appeared in British or American journals within the past decade or so (the earliest in 1977). Some will be familiar to readers of the Spectator: for instance, his account of a meeting with Jorge Luis Borges, and a number of pieces castigating the Reagan régime. Mr Hitchens is a formidable arguer and a very sharp observer, writing with wit and force from the point of view of an unrepentant man of the Left. Though he lives in the United States, he rejects the prevailing ethos of American life and continues to proclaim the gospel of socialism.
One can only admire his refusal to join the mass-movement of Left-wing intellectuals to the opposite quarter of the political firmament, which has been so marked a feature of our time. Yet it has to be said that his socialism now seems somewhat vague and attenuated, at any rate on the positive side. His philosophy is more clearly defined in what he hates in the existing order of things than in the form he believes a new order should take.
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SOURCE: Griffin, Jasper. “Precious Stones.” New York Review of Books (20 July 1989): 14–15.
[In the following review, Griffin discusses the history of the Elgin Marbles and offers a positive assessment of Imperial Spoils.]
High on the educated tourist's list of sights to see in Europe stands the British Museum. Its colossal treasure includes everything from Egyptian mummies to Renaissance clocks, Roman silver and Magna Carta, and harps from Ur of the Chaldees and King George V's stamp collection. But pride of place, perhaps, and the most costly galleries, go to a large collection of more or less broken marble carvings from Athens: the celebrated and controversial Elgin Marbles. Their history raises a number of moral and political questions.
In the years immediately after 450 BC the people of Athens were persuaded by Pericles, the great aristocratic leader of the democracy, to embark on a spectacular program of public building. They spent for the purpose the accumulated income that had been paid, ever since the defeat of Xerxes' invasion of Greece in 480 BC, by a large number of independent Greek city-states all around the Aegean. This money was originally pledged as a common fund for the defense of Greek cities against the might of Persia. With the passage of time the enthusiasm of the first years faded away, the Persian menace seemed less immediate, and some cities tried to...
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SOURCE: Gardner, James. “On Losing One's Marbles.” National Review (27 October 1989): 53–55.
[In the following review, Gardner offers a negative assessment of Imperial Spoils.]
Given that Christopher Hitchens does not seem especially interested in the subject of his most recent book, it is natural to wonder why he wrote it in the first place. Imperial Spoils is a slightly oversized pamphlet advocating the restitution to Greece of those sculptures that Lord Elgin removed from the Athenian Acropolis and sold to the British nation early in the nineteenth century. Even to those of us who have enjoyed Hitchens's splenetic outbursts in The Nation, in which he attacks everyone to the political right of himself (which is to say, nearly everyone), it is not self-evident why he should now feel moved to agitate for the return of several tons of ancient stone to a small country on the Mediterranean.
Although it may be that Hitchens merely feels he is “lending his prestige” to a worthy cause, he would have us believe that he has been spurred into print by the beauty of the Elgin Marbles and by his outrage at their ongoing captivity in the bowels of the British Museum. And yet, when it comes to explaining why anyone should actually want the marbles, Hitchens has little to say. Aside from several ennobling sentimentalities on the glories of nationalism, his aesthetic commentary...
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SOURCE: Reynolds, David. “How England Taught Us Imperialism.” Los Angeles Times Book Review (17 June 1990): 1, 7.
[In the following review, Reynolds praises Blood, Class, and Nostalgia as “an entertaining and provocative read,” but notes that Hitchens's analysis is undermined by its polemical rhetoric and inadequate reductions of complex historical developments.]
I discovered that Prince Charles was going to marry Lady Diana Spencer while I was sitting in a diner in the middle of Kansas. The local newspaper had featured wire reports of London gossip on its front page. Why, I wondered as I chewed on my spare ribs, was a high-society English wedding of such interest in the cornfields of mid-America?
Across the Atlantic, the British preoccupation with things American focuses on power rather than culture. Most British leaders since Winston Churchill have tried to cling to Uncle Sam's coattails by invoking a “special relationship” with Washington. Margaret Thatcher made Ronald Reagan the centerpiece of her foreign policy.
Christopher Hitchens explores these bonds of culture and power in a book [Blood, Class, and Nostalgia] that, unlike many about Anglo-American relations, is aimed at the U.S. reader. A British journalist and writer, now resident in Washington, he starts off with cultural Anglophilia—the Red Lion pub off Wilshire Boulevard, the...
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SOURCE: Keach, William. “How Bad Will It Get?” Raritan 10, no. 1 (summer 1990): 139–52.
[In the following review of Prepared for the Worst, Keach commends Hitchens's coverage of the Middle East and Central America, but notes flaws in his analysis of other writers and his own “radical” socialist stance.]
Minority report is what Christopher Hitchens calls his regular column in the Nation. These days the title seems especially, depressingly, apt. Along with his fellow Nation columnist Alexander Cockburn, Hitchens is one of the few socialist journalists based in this country with real national and international visibility: the pieces collected in Prepared for the Worst come from the New York Times and the Washington Post, from Harper's and the London Review of Books, as well as from the Nation and the New Statesman. Yet despite this range of circulation, Hitchens seems to be constituting more often than reporting on or for a minority. This has partly to do with his tone and journalistic persona, partly with the demise of American magazines on or near the left. We're in an era when Martin Peretz of the New Republic celebrates Ivan Boesky in a 1985 editorial titled “Productive Predators” (Peretz's family had ＄8.3 million in Boesky's crooked investment fund); when Partisan Review has to be persuaded by its...
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SOURCE: Ryan, Alan. “Drool Britannia.” New Republic (9–16 July 1990): 46–49.
[In the following review of Blood, Class, and Nostalgia, Ryan commends Hitchens's engaging observations and wit, but concludes that the collection as a whole lacks a cohesive theme and adequate historical perspective.]
Winston Churchill—one of the tragic heroes of Christopher Hitchens's tale—dismissed a dessert from the dinner table with the curt command, “Remove this pudding, it has no theme.” Hitchens is too lively and opinionated to produce a pudding, but he is an author in need of a theme. His brief history of the cooperative and competitive imperialisms of Britain and the United States over the past hundred years or so is a nice entertainment. It skips agreeably from the ghastly piety with which “Masterpiece Theatre” surrounds perfectly ordinary imports from British television to the curious and undernoticed fact that Kipling's poem “The White Man's Burden” is aimed not at the British, but at the American conquerors of the Philippines, and skips again to the peculiar ways in which Britain dragged the United States into two world wars and thereby contrived to defeat her military enemies while losing out to her savior and ally. As to how all this fits together, one may read Hitchens several times over and remain none the wiser.
If he doesn't have a theme, he has a target. The...
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SOURCE: Chancellor, Alexander. “A Very Ironic Relationship.” Spectator (14 July 1990): 26.
[In the following review, Chancellor offers a generally positive assessment of Blood, Class, and Nostalgia, though he objects to Hitchens's preoccupation with ironies.]
The trouble with looking for ironies (which is what Christopher Hitchens is busy doing throughout this entertaining book [Blood, Class, and Nostalgia] on the history of the Anglo-American ‘special relationship’) is that the habit can become addictive. Worse still, it can be infectious. So, I find myself asking: Is it not ironic that The Spectator, a reputedly conservative journal, once hired Christopher Hitchens, a socialist, to report for it from the United States, and that I, the person who hired him, am now reviewing this book, and that I am doing so in The Spectator, which now belongs to Conrad Black, who, according to a recent article by Hitchens in the London Review of Books, absolutely hates his guts and is out to destroy his career, and that the reason why Black allegedly wants to ‘exterminate’ him (Hitchens apparently believes this is literally his aim) is above all because of a heartless article written by Hitchens for The Spectator about President Reagan's colon cancer in 1985, and is it not ironic that Hitchens happened to be in London last week to launch his book and was thus able to...
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SOURCE: Brogan, Hugh. “A Myth for a Myth.” New Statesman & Society (20 July 1990): 41–42.
[In the following review, Brogan offers a negative assessment of Blood, Class, and Nostalgia.]
This latest tract [Blood, Class, and Nostalgia] by Christopher Hitchens is both interesting and infuriating; unfortunately the interesting passages (roughly, the second half of the book) are not fresh enough to make up for the rest.
Hitchens, with good reason, dislikes the mythology of the “special relationship” between Britain and the United States, and picks over the history of its absurdities with malevolent glee. He thinks it has brought out the worst in both countries, is indeed largely identical with the worst in both countries, and exposes its history as that of a distasteful sham. He has worked hard, reading extensively (if not extensively enough) and is fairly convincing in the links he makes between the America of Reagan and Bush and the glamour which the likes of Kipling, Churchill and the royal family have cast over some very mundane realities. Students of international relations will find little to surprise them, but newcomers to the subject will be entertained. As a tract, the book may be of some help in speeding the process of disarmament in Britain or America or both.
These are not tiny merits, but they are bound to be eclipsed, at any rate in the...
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SOURCE: Brimelow, Peter. “Sins and Omissions.” National Review (6 August 1990): 41–42.
[In the following review, Brimelow offers an unfavorable assessment of Blood, Class, and Nostalgia.]
Christopher Hitchens is perhaps the most notable contemporary specimen of what has been called the Bollinger Bolshevik. An English leftist now immigrated to Washington, D.C., he nevertheless has his work published in the most fashionable American glossies, and his new survey of the Anglo-American relationship sports a dust-jacket biography (invariably author-supplied) carefully pointing out that he was educated not merely at Oxford but at Balliol, perhaps the most patrician college there. As with Alexander Cockburn, this combination of socialism and snobbery—backed, it must be said, by talent and a Protestant work ethic both would affect to despise—has quickly established him at the top of American liberaldom.
Much of the peculiar structure of this book [Blood, Class, and Nostalgia] appears to be the result of a determination to recycle freelance articles. One such recycling provides a poignant example of Hitchens's sociopolitical androgyny, his ambivalent relationship to establishments. He visits the USS Iowa, a World War II battleship recommissioned by the Reagan Administration and just returned from a tour of duty in the Middle East. He ingratiates himself with the...
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SOURCE: Smith, Paul. “Sustaining the Atlantic Provinces.” Times Literary Supplement (10 August 1990): 845.
[In the following review, Smith offers a generally positive assessment of Blood, Class, and Nostalgia.]
Georgetown University, Christopher Hitchens tells us, supplies its Rhodes Scholars with free tuxedos to grease their assimilation into Oxford life (as if anything other than their dollars were needed). The point, you might think, is that made by Václav Havel's well-televised uncertainties: new-found power has to learn what to do with its hands. Britain, having lost an empire, has found a role in civilizing her supplanters. But the simple-minded “Greeks in the Roman empire” formula is precisely what Hitchens derides in [Blood, Class, and Nostalgia, a] quizzical and entertaining probing of the Anglo-American relationship. It looks to him more like a case of the old Romans tagging at the heels of the new, peddling such wrinkles and passing on such style as they can still be said to possess, in return for the occasional handout and the semblance of privileged participation in an imperial lifestyle which they can no longer finance but cannot completely forget. The Gulf crisis emphasizes that their services continue to be useful. The USS Britannia may not be the smartest strike-carrier in the American fleet, but the captain knows it counts when a Gadaffi or a Saddam Hussein has to...
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SOURCE: Johnson, R. W. “Further Left.” London Review of Books (16 August 1990): 3, 5–6.
[In the following review of Prepared for the Worst and Blood, Class, and Nostalgia, Johnson praises Hitchens's provocative writing, but criticizes his preference for acerbic personal attacks on “soft targets” and his resort to irony as a principal mode of critique.]
Many years ago it was the habit of the PPE tutors in Magdalen College, Oxford to hold a discussion group for their undergraduates. At one such meeting we were somewhat disconcerted to find we had been gatecrashed by an extremely loud and talkative outsider of Marxist bent who laid down the law about everything, referred to the dons as ‘comrade’—he did not know my name, so I was ‘the red-headed comrade’—and rather capsized the whole evening. Not long after, the discussion group was disbanded. The gatecrasher's name, we learnt, was Christopher Hitchens, and he apparently did this sort of thing rather often, being famous for a sort of pyrotechnic brashness. Looking back, one realises that these were entirely apposite qualities for the successful journalist, which is very much what Hitchens has become.
Both these books are essentially the product of his residence in Washington, a transplantation which has served him very well and not merely because brashness is a necessary virtue there. He writes well, is...
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SOURCE: Miller, Paul Allen. Review of Prepared for the Worst, by Christopher Hitchens. Southern Humanities Review 24, no. 4 (fall 1990): 371–73.
[In the following review of Prepared for the Worst, Miller commends Hitchens's journalistic skill, but faults his one-dimensional rationality and tendency to conjure conspiracy theories.]
Christopher Hitchens, in his new collection of essays, is, as always, a fine prose stylist. His sharp, analytical wit cuts through the absurdities and double-speak of so much contemporary journalism and takes a principled stand for “secularism, libertarianism, internationalism, and solidarity.” His anticlerical, irreverent, and rational approach recalls the intellectual criticism of the Enlightenment, and this recollection is consciously, if subtly, cultivated throughout the entire book. It is no accident, then, that Prepared for the Worst opens with an essay on “Thomas Paine: The Actuarial Radical,” nor that the book jacket quotes Oliver Stone saying “a breath of Tom Paine for our time.” For, like Paine, Hitchens prefers the critical vantage point of “common sense.” Indeed, he sums up both his own and Paine's literary virtues when he writes, “Everything [Paine] wrote was plain, obvious, and within the mental compass of the average. In that lay his genius.” For Hitchens, then, like the eighteenth century, reason is transparent....
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SOURCE: Wright, Esmond. “The Special Relationship.” Contemporary Review 258, no. 1502 (March 1991): 161–62.
[In the following excerpt, Wright offers a positive assessment of Blood, Class, and Nostalgia.]
Christopher Hitchens's study [Blood, Class, and Nostalgia] can be seen as a good example of that élite branch of the higher journalism to which some British-born and British-educated newspapermen are recruited: it is no doubt a feature of the relationship that many American editors are called from Oxbridge and what was once Fleet Street. His chapter titles suggest the shape and style: ‘Greece to their Rome’—though by this time it's not clear which of the modern states is identified with which classical republic or imperium—‘Bard of Empires,’ (for Kipling's Anglo-America), ‘Blood Relations’ (for the Edwardian era), ‘the Churchill cult,’ ‘Brit Kitsch,’ and the ‘Imperial Receivership.’ Hitchens writes with irony and sparkle, and he exercises a journalist's self-appointed right to make often savage fun of his characters (notably Ambassador Annenberg). Given that role, Hitchens is stronger on the story since Kipling, and draws heavily on printed sources, on clubland gossip and on the Georgetown world. His thesis, however, is disturbingly relevant: that at Suez in 1956, heralded by the Truman Doctrine of a decade before, the US took up the white man's burden,...
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SOURCE: Perrin, Dennis. “Hitchens Rehabilitated?” Mother Jones 16, no. 3 (May–June 1991): 12.
[In the following essay, Perrin discusses Hitchens's controversial position on abortion and defense of misogynist rap lyrics.]
Is Christopher Hitchens a feminist's enemy? From his pulpit in The Nation, Hitchens has issued columns on abortion and sexist rap lyrics, which drew a storm of repudiation from women's-rights advocates. Hitchens, who writes for Harper's and women's magazines and recently hilariously humbled pro-war Charlton Heston in a CNN debate, has never directly responded to feminist critics. Until now.
In April 1989, he wrote: “I have always been convinced that the term ‘unborn child’ is a genuine description of material reality. Obviously, the fetus is alive. …” So Hitchens suggested a “historic compromise” with right-to-lifers, which would make free contraception available, promote adoption, and provide free abortions to rape or incest victims, or women whose health is threatened. He made no mention of making abortion available under other circumstances, winding up: “It is a pity that instead of taking this course, the majority of feminists and their allies have stuck to the dead ground of ‘Me Decade’ possessive individualism. …”
Now he tells Mother Jones:
On the question of...
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SOURCE: Phillips, William. “Hitchens's Trotskyists.” Partisan Review 58, no. 3 (summer 1991): 426–27.
[In the following essay, Phillips objects to Hitchens's misrepresentation of Trotskyist New York intellectuals in Hitchens's book review of Critical Crossings by Neil Jumonville.]
Christopher Hitchens is not only a slick journalist but also a slick thinker. He should be a valuable contributor to the popular magazines, but, unfortunately, The New York Times, The Times Literary Supplement, and The London Review of Books utilize his talents. He is also a regular columnist for The Nation, where he lends a spark to the old-fashioned radicalism that persists after it has been pronounced dead.
Fortunately for Hitchens, he has a fund of doctrines that he can draw on from the politically correct arena. One of his recent efforts appears in The London Review of Books, where he ostensibly reviews yet another in the long line of books about the New York intellectuals—this one titled Critical Crossings by Neil Jumonville (University of California Press). This latest account is not as ideological as most of its predecessors. But it assigns different roles to the main actors, inflating some, diminishing others, thus creating a somewhat skewed picture of the period and its spokesmen.
But Hitchens uses the book to push his own...
(The entire section is 569 words.)
SOURCE: Anderson, Stuart. Review of Blood, Class, and Nostalgia, by Christopher Hitchens. Journal of American History 78, no. 2 (September 1991): 699–700.
[In the following review, Anderson offers a negative assessment of Blood, Class, and Nostalgia.]
The theme of this mystifyingly titled book [Blood, Class, and Nostalgia] is the so-called special relationship between Great Britain and the United States and how that relationship has developed from the end of the nineteenth century to the present day. Christopher Hitchens's major thesis is that, at various crucial moments in the history of United States foreign policy since the time of the Spanish-American War, the British ruling class has used pressure and cajolery to seduce Americans into following policies that may have been in the British interest but were probably not in the long-range interest of the United States itself. Thus Hitchens strongly implies, where he does not straightforwardly assert, that without the British connection and the machinations of British agents and officials, the United States might not have embraced an overseas empire at the end of the nineteenth century, or entered the two world wars, or developed nuclear weapons, or waged the Cold War, or assumed the role of meddlesome superpower in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia. Hitchens believes that Britain decisively influenced American policy making in all of...
(The entire section is 541 words.)
SOURCE: Howard, Anthony. “The Slaying of a Hypothesis by an Ugly Fact.” Spectator (5 June 1993): 35.
[In the following review of For the Sake of Argument, Howard commends Hitchens's “gift for studied invective,” but finds fault in his disregard for inconvenient facts.]
Of all contemporary transatlantic commentators Christopher Hitchens tends to provoke the strongest reactions. To his admirers, he is someone who tells it how it is—beholden to nobody, frightened of no one and with a fine instinct for the jugular, especially when it is contained in a fleshily prosperous neck.
His critics, on the other hand, claim to detect a poseur—a man who is far more at home with café society than any left-winger ought to be, a writer who aspires, above all, to be the glass of fashion, a pundit who, while strong on all questions of opinion, has always been curiously weak on matters of fact.
The attraction of this combative book [For the Sake of Argument]—his second published collection of journalistic pieces (not bad for someone only just over 40)—is that it impartially provides ammunition for both sides. The various essays are never anything but spirited; what they lack in knowledge they compensate for by a carefully cultivated air of knowingness, and they display the author's own special gift for studied invective, not to say vulgar abuse, to...
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SOURCE: D'Ancona, Matthew. “A Dandy Defender of Freedom.” Times Literary Supplement (25 June 1993): 26–27.
[In the following review, D'Ancona offers a generally favorable assessment of For the Sake of Argument.]
Although the fly-leaf of this new collection of essays [For the Sake of Argument] describes Christopher Hitchens variously as a “lazy Balliol dandy,” “the most compelling foreign correspondent we have,” and “the nearest thing to a journalistic one-man band since I. F. Stone,” my favourite image (not included in this book) is of the cub reporter, recently down from Oxford and longing for action, who instead found himself bored out of his mind working on the polytechnics desk of the Times Higher Education Supplement. According to colleagues of the time, the Higher and Hitchens gained in almost equal measure from their decision to part company.
I mention this not out of malice but fellow feeling, since, as another former education correspondent, I know what it is like to wrestle with a report on polytechnic funding on a slow Sunday. But the image of the Balliol dandy as jobbing apprentice is worth conjuring up for another reason. Though it is true that Hitchens goes out of his way to court conservative ire and may make more enemies than friends by republishing these essays and articles—many of which will be unfamiliar to British readers—it...
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SOURCE: Chaudhuri, Amit. “Why Calcutta?” London Review of Books (4 January 1994): 3, 5.
[In the following review, Chaudhuri offers a generally positive assessment of The Missionary Position, noting that Hitchens's unflattering portrayal of Mother Teresa risks reducing her complex personality to “one-dimensionality.”]
Among the welter of images and mythologies that constitute the middle-class Bengali's consciousness—P3 and Ganesh underwear, the Communist hammer and sickle, Lenin's face, fish and vegetable chops outside the Academy, wedding and funeral invitation cards, the films of Satyajit Ray, the loud horns of speeding state transport buses, Murshidabadi and Tangail sarees, the daily Ananda Bazar Patrika, the songs of Tagore, the destitute outside Grand Hotel, Boroline Antiseptic cream, Madhyamik school examinations (to name just a few of the constituents)—Mother Teresa, too, is present. Not only is she undeniably a part of the contemporary history of Calcutta, but she is, to the ordinary middle-class Bengali, only a segment in a reality that is complex and constantly changing, and is composed impartially of the trivial and the profound. In contrast, to the average middle-class European or American Mother Teresa is Calcutta, or certainly its most life-affirming face. The rest of Calcutta is impossibly ‘other,’ romantically destitute and silent; the ‘black hole,’...
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SOURCE: Garvey, Michael O. “Vanity Fair's Anarchist.” Commonweal (14 January 1994): 39–40.
[In the following review, Garvey offers a positive assessment of For the Sake of Argument, though he objects to Hitchens's writings on Mother Teresa.]
Christopher Hitchens writes prolifically for the Nation and Vanity Fair, two very different journals which bore and depress me respectively, so his work was fairly new to me when I began reading this series of essays [For the Sake of Argument]. In some corner of what's left of the Catholic ghetto—our kitchen, maybe—I'd heard about Hitchens's denunciation of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, so I turned to that essay first. And there, sure enough, that little old Albanian nun familiar to most of us for her uncompromising devotion to the poor, sick, dying, and despised is described as “a dangerous and sinister person” who whores after power, stolen money, and the affections of the powerful; whose “ostensible work of charity” is really “propaganda for the Vatican's heinous policy of compelling the faithful to breed,” etc., etc., etc.
Now, admitting that for any writer who wants to addlepate the bourgeoisie, a saint who is also a global television celebrity presents a nearly irresistible target, this piece is as good an illustration as you're likely to find of the observation (which Peter Viereck made in...
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SOURCE: McKibbin, Ross. “Against It.” London Review of Books (24 February 1994): 18.
[In the following review, McKibbin offers a generally positive assessment of For the Sake of Argument, however, he cites limitations in Hitchens's “oppositional” stance.]
Christopher Hitchens may not be ‘the nearest thing to a one-man band since I. F. Stone laid down his pen,’ but he comes close. For the Sake of Argument records a life of action, of being in the right place at the right time. Thomas Mann could never find the revolution: Hitchens cannot help tripping over it. This is, no doubt, the privilege of the foreign correspondent, but some are clearly more privileged than others. He turns up in Central America, in Central Europe, in Eastern Europe, in the Middle East, always at the crucial historical moment: he can extract from these moments a tragic episode or a comic anecdote which illuminates the whole. He really has heard—as most of us would like to hear—a neo-conservative speaker say (in English) ‘that it was no accident that the Russian language contained no word for détente.’ The life of action can also be used to subvert discreetly the academic couch-potato—the sort of person who might be expected to review this book. Of a visit to Prague in the last days of Communism, a visit which ended in his arrest, he writes that he has ‘seldom been arrested by such pitiable...
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SOURCE: Mandler, Peter. “A Greek in Rome.” Dissent 41, no. 2 (spring 1994): 294–96.
[In the following review, Mandler offers a positive assessment of Blood, Class, and Nostalgia and For the Sake of Argument, though finds shortcomings in Hitchens's relentless skepticism and disdain for American democracy.]
After Thatcher, after Reagan, after the cold war, what remains of the “special relationship” between Britain and America? There has always been less there than meets the eye. In the nineteenth century, a special feeling for the English was nurtured primarily by WASPs of good birth for whom it represented not only “blood” and “class” but the dirty secret of residual toryism, an Un-American Activity of the right wing never prosecuted by Congress. In contrast, most Americans had good reasons to hate the English, chiefly Irish reasons (at a time when the Irish were America's most vocal ethnic minority), republican reasons, and anti-imperial reasons.
In our own century, changes on both sides of the Atlantic have undermined the foundations of Anglophobia. Both WASPs and the Irish play a diminishing role in American public life. America is less militantly republican, Britain less imperial. But only in this last respect did sagging Anglophobia make way for a resurgent Anglophilia. Over the fifty years between the Spanish-American and Second World Wars, the...
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SOURCE: Kee, Robert. “Gentle Arrogance.” Times Literary Supplement (10 November 1995): 25.
[In the following review of Hitchens's The Missionary Position and Mother Teresa's A Simple Path, Kee offers a mixed assessment of Hitchens's “brief and one-sided indictment” of Mother Teresa.]
A health warning seems required. The order in which these two books are read can seriously affect the way each is judged. The sequence above is recommended. Anyone starting with Christopher Hitchens's scalpel-job on the eighty-five-year-old Albanian nun Agnes Gouxha Bojaxhiu might well simply dismiss it as over-characteristic; and, if not particularly solicitous for the balm of Mother Teresa's “saintliness,” take no trouble to read the other book. This would be unfair to the author of The Missionary Position. Nothing could indicate more clearly what he is up against than the simple path here laid down under the copyrights of Lucinda Vardey and Mother Teresa.
A sense of unself-questioning, though hardly unselfconscious, purity of being pervades the pages of A Simple Path from the start. “I'm only a little wire; God is the power,” says Mother Teresa. “Her faith and her clarity of purpose give us powerful lessons in the ways of loving,” writes Lucinda Vardey. A sense of waffle sets in early.
Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Christ (there are now...
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SOURCE: Spivey, Nigel. “All Made of Faith and Service.” Spectator (11 November 1995): 52–53.
[In the following review of Hitchens's The Missionary Position and Mother Teresa's A Simple Path, Spivey commends Hitchens's audacity, but concludes that his demand for a “rational critique” of Mother Teresa is futile.]
Saints take opprobrium. It is a sort of dietary supplement which helps them to thrive. So there is no harm in repeating the current charges against Mother Teresa, imminently of the company. Which are that she is a pernicious bigot; that she has pledged the propagation of a faith whose tenets descend from the worst excesses of the Counter Reformation; that she has garnered large amounts of global cash from her base in Calcutta, most of which has gone to extend and sustain the worldwide diffusion of a fundamentalist cult; and that in furtherance of this aggressive mission, she has happily laundered the proceeds of thieves, and furnished despots with her blessing. Hers is one of the great religious frauds of the century, if not the millennium. Impeccably celibate, she has endeared herself to the world as simply ‘Mother.’
Her canonisation is assured.
‘Who would be so base as to pick on a wizened, shrivelled old lady, well stricken in years, who has consecrated her entire life to the needy and destitute?’ In his opening lines [of...
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SOURCE: McDonald, Marci. “The Messianic Atheist.” Maclean's (25 December 1995–1 January 1996): 76.
[In the following essay, McDonald discusses Hitchens's career, his attack on Mother Teresa in The Missionary Position, and his religious background.]
In the smoking section of a Toronto bistro, Christopher Hitchens settles over a double gin, a button in his blazer lapel boasting “All the right enemies.” For Hitchens, 46, it is no idle claim. Even before he launched his provocative one-man crusade against Mother Teresa as “an abject phony” and “the ghoul of Calcutta”—not to mention the epithets he hurls at her in his new book, The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice—he had already won notoriety as the bad boy of transatlantic journalism for tackling cant and conventional wisdom in high places, usually those of a right-wing persuasion.
A onetime regular in the London weekly The Spectator, he ran afoul of conservative press lord Conrad Black 10 years ago with an unkind critique of former U.S. president Ronald Reagan. So bitter did their mutual invective become that Hitchens was stunned last month when another of Black's publications, Saturday Night, attacked Mother Teresa's defender, Lucinda Vardey, almost as vigorously as it did his “caustic substance” and “cutely winking sarcasm.” Marvelled Hitchens: “It's the...
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SOURCE: Loudon, Mary. Review of The Missionary Position, by Christopher Hitchens. British Medical Journal (6 January 1996): 64–65.
[In the following review, Loudon offers a favorable assessment of The Missionary Position.]
“Who would be so base,” asks Christopher Hitchens, “as to pick on a wizened, shrivelled old lady, well stricken in years, who has consecrated her whole life to the needy and destitute?”
The answer is Hitchens himself, in this provocative study [The Missionary Position] of the life of Mother Teresa of Calcutta. He presents a marvellous case, debunking the myth of Mother Teresa as simply as one might peel layers from an onion, producing some old and quite a lot of new evidence to suggest that Mother Teresa, the global icon of sainthood, needs fresh examination in a light unclouded by sentiment.
Mother Teresa's shining reputation, argues Hitchens, has been foist upon her by the millions who need to feel that someone somewhere, is doing the things that they are not to help the poor. She feeds on it, has come to accept and expect it. Now it walks immediately before her, is as recognisable as the blue and white striped sari and veil of her order: no one, least of all Mother Teresa herself, can see past it.
Hitchens has set out to reverse the process of critical assessment, “judging Mother Teresa's reputation by...
(The entire section is 765 words.)
SOURCE: Kempton, Murray. “The Shadow Saint.” New York Review of Books (11 July 1996): 4–5.
[In the following review of The Missionary Position, Kempton agrees with Hitchens's negative criticism of Mother Teresa.]
Eric Partridge has informed us that “the missionary position” is an expression of South Sea islander coinage. If Christopher Hitchens did not share the widespread misapprehension of blasphemous intent in his grand remonstrance against Mother Teresa, he could scarcely have chosen to present it under a rubric so resounding with echoes of pagan disdain for piety's disabling effect upon investigative curiosity.
Hitchens would have little cause to boast or blush if he were indeed the blasphemer that he mistakes himself to be. It is by no means a certainty that blasphemy is a trespass that much disesteemed by the Maker of Heaven and Earth. His complaints to Isaiah against the stiflings of His nostrils by incense powerfully suggest zests for the combat mode that would much prefer contending with Athalia's heartful Baalist conviction to coughing with the smoke of Saul's unfelt oblations.
But Hitchens's stirrings are so far from blasphemous as almost to resonate with the severities of orthodoxy. He came to scoff, but the murmurings that recurrently rise from his place in the pew unmistakably imply the man who has remained to pray. Mockeries suffuse his...
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SOURCE: Mukherjee, Parnab. “Two Names Worried a Stricken Saint.” Spectator (21 September 1996): 27–28.
[In the following excerpt, Mukherjee discusses Mother Teresa's deteriorating health and Hitchens's criticism of the ailing nun in The Missionary Position.]
Christopher Hitchens lives in the United States and writes for Vanity Fair. He calls her ‘an elderly virgin whose chief claim to reverence is that she ministers to the inevitable losers in the lottery.’ He also calls her ‘fanatical’ and ‘a fund-raising icon for clerical nationalists in the Balkans.’ He wrote a book about her under the title The Missionary Position.
Tariq Ali lives in London. Hitchens helped him make a television documentary about her called Hell's Angel, shown on Channel 4 in the autumn of 1994. The ‘elderly virgin’ whom Hitchens describes as someone ‘who rushed for PR-type cover’ and indulges in ‘metaphysical caresses’ is more popularly known here as ‘Mother.’ She is Mother Teresa, the living saint of Calcutta.
Yet, when she recently found that she needed cardiac treatment, Christopher Hitchens and Tariq Ali were on her mind. Because of them, and people who think like them, she at first refused to be admitted to this city's Woodlands nursing home. A senior cardiologist, Dr A. K. Bardhan—pioneer of the intensive cardiac care unit in Woodlands...
(The entire section is 944 words.)
SOURCE: Hitchens, Christopher, and Matt Cherry. “An Interview with Christopher Hitchens on Mother Teresa.” Free Inquiry 16, no. 4 (fall 1996): 53–58.
[In the following interview, Hitchens discusses his controversial criticism of Mother Theresa in The Missionary Position, his documentary film Hell's Angel, and his contempt for Christianity and American religious sentiment.]
Below, Matt Cherry, executive director of the Council for Secular Humanism, interviews Christopher Hitchens about his book The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice and his television program, which strongly criticized Mother Teresa. The interview recapitulates the most devastating critiques of Mother Teresa ever made. It also gives a very telling account by a leading journalist into the U.S. media's great reluctance to criticize religion and religious leaders.
As Free Inquiry was going to press, we heard that Mother Teresa was suffering from heart trouble and malaria and there was concern about her chances of survival. It was, therefore, suggested to the editors that it would be inappropriate to print an interview that contains criticism of Mother Teresa's work and influence. However, in view of the media's general failure to investigate the work of Mother Teresa or to publish critical comments about her, the editors felt it important to proceed with the...
(The entire section is 6016 words.)
SOURCE: Hitchens, Christopher, and Sasha Abramsky. “Christopher Hitchens.” Progressive 61, no. 2 (February 1997): 32–36.
[In the following interview, Hitchens discusses his education, formative experiences, his socialist perspective, contemporary political issues, his position on abortion, and his encounters with various notable people.]
Christopher Hitchens is a columnist for The Nation and Vanity Fair and a freelance contributor to numerous other publications in both Britain and the United States. He is the author of a dozen books, covering issues as diverse as Britain's plundering of the Parthenon, the conflicts in the Middle East, Anglo-American relations, and the unsaintly qualities of Mother Teresa.
An Englishman by birth and upbringing, Hitchens came to America in the early 1980s, living first in New York City and then in Washington, D.C. In 1994, I was Hitchens's intern at The Nation. I discovered that we both went to the same college at Oxford—Balliol—and studied the same course: Politics, Philosophy, and Economics. Now, aged forty-seven, Hitchens lives with his wife, Carol Blue, and their three-year-old daughter, Antonia, in a spacious apartment in the Adams-Morgan district of Washington, D.C.
I talked with Hitchens in his apartment. He was chain-smoking cigarettes, and we both drank generous glasses of whiskey. As with so many...
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SOURCE: Beard, Mary. “Plunder Blunder.” Times Literary Supplement (12 June 1998): 5–6.
[In the following excerpt, Beard offers a negative assessment of the reissue of The Elgin Marbles.]
In April 1811, Lord Byron was in Athens looking for a lift back to England. Ostentatious philhellene and vicious satirist of Lord Elgin (“Noseless himself he brings here noseless blocks / To show what time has done and what the pox” ran one famous jibe, probably invented by Byron, likening Elgin's syphilitic nose to the mangled marbles), he eventually found a cabin on a boat bound for Malta. His travelling companions were a very mixed bunch: C. R. Cockerell joined him for a few hours of farewell drinking as they crossed the Saronic Gulf (Cockerell was on his way to strip the Temple of Aphaia on Aegina of its sculptures); sharing the whole voyage was Byron's new fifteen-year-old boyfriend, chaperoned by his brother-in-law, G. B. Lusieri, Lord Elgin's draughtsman and agent. But the most precious passengers were in the hold: the final consignment of the Elgin Marbles on their way, eventually, to London, “the last poor plunder from a bleeding land,” as Byron was to call them in Childe Harold. It's a party which neatly symbolizes that distinctive mixture of sheer coincidence, telling irony and gross opportunism that underlies the whole story of the Elgin Marbles and the long campaign for their return to...
(The entire section is 684 words.)
SOURCE: Judis, John B. “Washington Diarist—Sid Unvicious.” New Republic (8 March 1999): 46.
[In the following essay, Judis defends White House aide Sidney Blumenthal against the accusations made by Hitchens during the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal.]
I initially resolved not to write anything about the quarrel between White House aide Sidney Blumenthal and author Christopher Hitchens. I've been friends with Sid for 20 years and used to be friendly with Hitchens until about a decade ago, when he abused my trust. But, after having had my opinions taken out of context in the press, I have decided to weigh in on this unpleasant controversy.
I first met Sid when he was writing about politics for the left-wing weekly In These Times and I was editing his copy. Covering the 1980 campaign together, we shared a foreboding that the Democrats would lose big. Since then, we've talked regularly. He has been a loyal friend and, to the best of my knowledge, a conscientious father and faithful husband. He hasn't fired anyone without cause or made merry with the Council of Conservative Citizens. These would be superfluous observations except that they're needed to counter the vilification to which he has been subjected in the press. This reached its reductio ad absurdum in The Washington Post's review of Rushmore: “Schwartzman, the self-confident son of Rocky's Talia Shire,...
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SOURCE: Seitz, Raymond. “Bungled Assassinations with a Verbal Blunderbuss.” Spectator (1 May 1999): 35.
[In the following review, Seitz offers a negative assessment of No One Left to Lie To.]
If the journalistic equivalent of the Richter Scale were applied to political commentary, it would probably start with ‘analysis’ and ‘opinion’ at the bottom of the scale, then graduate through degrees of ‘criticism’ and ‘polemic,’ and finally peak in the red zone of ‘diatribe’ and ‘convulsive rant.’ Christopher Hitchens's venomous little tract on President Clinton fairly quivers at the top end of the scale. [No One Left to Lie To] resembles one of those manic 18th-century pamphlets that used to circulate in the muddy streets of London and New York, and it should have been entitled ‘No One Left to Lie To: Being an Alarming Dissertation on the Venalitie, Hypocrisie, Perfidie, Larcenie and Other Diseases of the President of the United States and How He hath Caused the Ruination of Women-folk and the Nation and Got Away with It.’
As an entertaining and engaging journalist, Hitchens cheerfully admits that his bite-size tome amounts to little more than ‘an attack on a crooked president and a corrupt and reactionary administration.’ For him, everything in the land of Clintonia is a vast no-wing conspiracy which can be understood only by appreciating that the...
(The entire section is 936 words.)
SOURCE: Drew, Elizabeth. “Humpty-Dumpty.” Los Angeles Times Book Review (9 May 1999): 3–4.
[In the following excerpt, Drew offers a positive assessment of No One Left to Lie To.]
On a cold, wet day in mid-March of this year, President William Jefferson Clinton tried to rekindle the myth of “the man from Hope.” Only a couple of hundred people turned out for the dedication of Clinton's childhood home in the small town in southwest Arkansas. His family wasn't with him. (The home was called his birthplace but, actually, Clinton was born in a hospital.) The propaganda film shown at the 1992 Democratic Convention notwithstanding, it wasn't long into Clinton's presidency before we came to understand that Clinton was more Hot Springs than Hope (where he had lived only until he was four).
Hot Springs was racy, a gambling town, a place where people (including Clinton's mother) lived fast and took chances. Georgetown University, Oxford and Yale gave him polish but didn't change his essential nature. When I was reporting for a book on the first year of the Clinton administration, a longtime friend and supporter of Clinton said to me, after the story about Arkansas troopers supplying him with women broke in December 1993, “Bill has always been someone who has lived on the edge.” This person added, “I don't think he thinks he's vulnerable.”
(The entire section is 1713 words.)
SOURCE: Scardino, Albert. “Hubristic Hitch.” New Statesman (10 May 1999): 46–47.
[In the following review, Scardino offers a negative assessment of No One Left to Lie To.]
As Washington has evolved into the Galapagos of global public life, separated from the development of all other life forms, so Christopher Hitchens has captured the niche of the Darwinian finch that shits everywhere, then rolls in his own excrement. He wears his flecks of turd as jewels and imagines his stench to be the perfume of power. For entertainment, he ushers guests to the scenes of his earlier droppings, fondly recalling the moment his sphincter opened.
Hitchens offers this Little Book of Poison [No One Left to Lie To] as an essay on the Clinton presidency, the lies, the corrupt indulgences, the gleeful destruction of whatever remained of prewar liberal democracy. He blames Clinton's success on Dick Morris, the political consultant and presidential confidante, who coined the amoral, destructive strategy known as “triangulation” that has kept Clinton's poll ratings high. This, like many other styles of political propaganda, employs sophisticated public opinion surveys and focus groups to develop the coded language to appeal to multiple constituencies—without ever implementing the policies the language promises. Morris didn't develop the idea. It came from Republican campaign consultants 15...
(The entire section is 1017 words.)
SOURCE: Hames, Tim. “The Sinner's Tail.” Times Literary Supplement (4 June 1999): 12.
[In the following excerpt, Hames commends No One Left to Lie To for its “uncompromising” approach, but notes shortcomings in Hitchens's “exaggerated” argument.]
Lord knows what future historians will make of the Year of Monica. Whatever conclusions they reach may inevitably be shaped by their wider perspectives on the Clinton presidency, and what might by then have become established trends in American social life. It may be that they will come to view the whole story as a bizarre form of witch-hunt, precisely the form of contemporary Salem that Arthur Miller, Arthur Schlesinger Jr and numerous other defenders of the President have postulated. If so, it will be argued that this extraordinary incident was simply a melodramatic reflection of a society torn between coming economic modernity and doomed moral certainty; a 1990s version of the 1925 trial in which John Scopes was condemned by his peers (but cheered by elites) for his willingness to teach the theory of evolution in a Tennessee school.
It is, however, equally likely that a very different conclusion will be reached. Once the economic miracle that has coincided with the Clinton years (but which has been inspired by his Secretary of the Treasury and the Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board) has been placed in context,...
(The entire section is 816 words.)
SOURCE: Hitchens, Christopher, and Michael Rust. “Clinton's Lies Stopped at Hitchens' Door.” Insight on the News (28 June 1999): 21.
[In the following interview, Hitchens discusses the war in Bosnia, his socialist perspective, and his opinions on President Bill Clinton,]
This self-proclaimed limn of the left, who studied at Oxford while Bill Clinton was there, saw the handwriting on the wall concerning the future chief executive as early as 1992.
Earlier this year, journalist and author Christopher Hitchens got caught up in the final throes of the Senate impeachment trial of President Clinton when he signed an affidavit attesting that Sidney Blumenthal, his longtime friend and Clinton acolyte, had spread the lie on behalf of the president that former intern Monica Lewinsky was a “stalker.”
When approached by House of Representatives investigators, Hitchens did not follow the lead of the occupant of the Oval Office. Instead of dissembling or overtly lying, Hitchens told the investigators that he and his wife, Carol Blue, had lunched with Blumenthal at an expensive restaurant a couple of blocks from the Executive Mansion where the White House aide told them the man whom Lewinsky jovially referred to as “the Big Creep” actually was the “victim of a predatory and unstable sexually demanding young woman.”
According to Hitchens, they weren't...
(The entire section is 1575 words.)
SOURCE: Jay, Martin. “Mendacious Flowers.” London Review of Books (29 July 1999): 16–17.
[In the following excerpt, Jay offers a negative assessment of No One Left to Lie To.]
‘The crude commercialism of America, its materialising spirit, its indifference to the poetical side of things, and its lack of imagination and of high unattainable ideals are entirely due to that country having adopted for its national hero a man who, according to his own confession, was incapable of telling a lie, and it is not too much to say that the story of George Washington and the cherry tree has done more harm, and in a shorter space of time, than any other moral tale in the whole of literature.’ It is safe to assume that the Oscar Wilde of ‘The Decay of Lying’ would feel far more at home in the America of William Jefferson Clinton than in that of its most esteemed founding father. For whatever else may be accused of falling into decay these days, public mendacity has surely enjoyed a robust revival. The most memorable quotations from our national leaders are no longer the inspirational homilies of a Roosevelt or a Kennedy—‘You have nothing to fear, but fear itself’ or ‘Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country’—but the exposed whoppers of Richard ‘I am not a crook’ Nixon, George ‘Read my lips: no new taxes’ Bush, and Bill ‘I did not have sexual...
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SOURCE: Raven, Charlotte. “How Central Heating Made Us Bad.” New Statesman (25 October 1999): 12.
[In the following essay, Raven discusses the confrontation of the political left and right in a public debate between Christopher Hitchens and his brother, Peter.]
Hurrah for Prospect. I take it all back. Far from being the stuffy old stick-in-the-muds portrayed in a previous article of mine, the magazine and its editors have proved, in the past two weeks, an unending source of delight. First there was David Goodhart's world-beating oxymoron, overheard at a London Review of Books party: “I believe in the end of history.” Pure gold, as my father would say.
Then, the following week, the long-awaited Hitchens v Hitchens debate, organised and sponsored by Prospect. However, Goodhart fans were disappointed to learn that the debate was to be chaired by John Humphrys. Our hero, it seems, was too modest to share the lime-light—even though this event was the once-in-a-lifetime chance he had been training for in all those dank refectories. Goodhart, boma yé (Goodhart, kill him), we would have shouted.
As Humphrys called the meeting to order and introduced us to the Hitchens brothers—Christopher (“Hitch”) is the prolific left-wing journalist, author and wit; Peter (“Bonkers,” to everyone except his wife) is the...
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SOURCE: O'Sullivan, John. “One Man's War Criminal.” National Review (19 February 2001): 24–26.
[In the following essay, O'Sullivan refutes Hitchens's contention—put forth in a Harper's magazine article—that Henry Kissinger should be indicted as a war criminal.]
Last weekend in New York, it was all but impossible to buy the latest issue of Harper's. The magazine contained the first half of Christopher Hitchens's vast “indictment” of Henry Kissinger as a war criminal, for carrying out a foreign policy of which Hitchens disapproves; and it had sold out in the first 15 or so places I checked. A second installment is forthcoming in the March issue, but having read the first, I predict that the next issue will not sell out. Hitchens writes gracefully, as always, but his organization of the complicated material is rambling, tortuous, and confused.
Not without reason, however—for clarity would be fatal to his argument. Insofar as his thesis can be briefly summed up, it is that Kissinger can and should be prosecuted for carrying out policies that are now recognized under the “Pinochet precedent” as war crimes or crimes against humanity. His indictment has several weaknesses: In some cases, the actions denounced by Hitchens are not war crimes; in others, Kissinger did not commit them; in still others, both.
A wonderful example of this last was...
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SOURCE: Wheatcroft, Geoffrey. “Comrades, Leave Me Here a Little.” Spectator (3 March 2001): 40–42.
[In the following review of Unacknowledged Legislation, Wheatcroft praises Hitchens as “an outstanding critic,” but finds shortcomings in his “overbearing” style and tendentious claims.]
When Humbert III sold his principality of the Dauphiné to Philip of Valois in 1349, he made a condition that the eldest son of the king of France should henceforth be known as the Dauphin. Not many people knew that—and nor did Humbert know where it would all end. On the back of the jacket of this book (around the corner from a snapshot of the author even older than the one I use) we read this from Gore Vidal: ‘I have been asked whether I wish to nominate a successor, an inheritor, a dauphin or delfino. I have decided to name Christopher Hitchens.’ That whole glorious utterance is unimprovable, but ‘or delfino’ is a masterstroke. Any eager youngster who wonders, How can I too become a dauphin, or delfino? must turn to the text. After the epigraph (from Zola: ‘Allons travailler’; oh dear) and dedication (‘For Salman. As ever’; oh well), the contents page lists a first section called, with no exaggeration, ‘In Praise of. …’ Two of these psalms of praise are devoted to none other than ‘our most eminent literary émigré … intelligent …...
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SOURCE: Miller, Karl. “Not Letting the Cup Pass.” Times Literary Supplement (16 March 2001): 30.
[In the following review, Miller offers a generally positive assessment of Unacknowledged Legislation.]
“First to the communion rail was Claus von Bulow,” wrote Christopher Hitchens once, of a fashionable charity occasion in St Patrick's Cathedral, New York, attended by a man who had been indicted for trying to murder his wife. Hitchens is a memorious writer, as one might say, or as Borges might have said; he has an eye for the record, and for the occasion, and a flair for descriptions which are occasions in themselves. He quotes and alludes continually. And he has given his readers plenty to remember.
He is a loose cannon, a sharp wit, an ironist, a polemicist of exceptional talent, an editor's dream. “Pamphleteer” is a word of honour, he understandably believes, long as the list is of dishonourable pamphlets, and these essays, gathered from the last decade of the last century, consist of pamphleteering reviews, in which the authors reviewed, as distinct from their subjects, are at times almost invisible. His best polemical writings are about politics, as witness the current instalments, soon to be a book, of his arraignment, or citizen's arrest, of Henry Kissinger. His ambition, he says, is Orwell's—to make an art of political writing—and even his enemies might agree that...
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SOURCE: Sanders, Frances Stonor. “Show Us the Papers, Hitchens.” New Statesman (14 May 2001): 50–52.
[In the following review of The Trial of Henry Kissinger, Saunders agrees with Hitchens's damning charges against Kissinger, but criticizes Hitchens's failure to cite documentary evidence.]
My natural orbit doesn't usually swing me into close proximity to people like Henry Kissinger and Christopher Hitchens. I suppose I should be grateful, as meeting them both (though not, you will appreciate, at the same time) has not been an undiluted pleasure. Both men have mighty egos, so in order to avoid unnecessary offence, I call chronology to my aid. I met Kissinger first.
It was a Monday morning of normal Ibsen-grey in London. I hadn't slept, so tormented was I by the thought of appearing on Start the Week alongside Dr Kissinger. First, I was going to get nailed by Jeremy Paxman, then I would be dumped on by the carpet-bomber. Arriving at Broadcasting House, I was led to a little dump of a room next to the studio. And there, sitting on a tatty old chair, was a little man stuffed too tightly into an expensive woollen suit and looking, to my astonishment, more nervous than I was. As he conferred with his publicist, he appeared to be reconsidering his decision to appear on the programme (he had been threatening to withdraw for the past week). But the silken tongue (which...
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SOURCE: Rubin, Alfred P. “Only Obeying Orders.” Times Literary Supplement (20 July 2001): 5.
[In the following review of The Trial of Henry Kissinger, Rubin commends Hitchens's criticism of Kissinger's egregious failures, but notes that Hitchens fails to acknowledge Kissinger's limited authority and shared complicity as a product of American democracy.]
There isn't much point to muckraking unless there is muck to be raked. In the actions of Henry Kissinger as American National Security Adviser and then Secretary of State, there is much muck to be raked, and Christopher Hitchens has set to work with a will. He has taken the two articles on Kissinger's tenure that he wrote for Harper's Magazine (he calls them “the core of this book”) and expanded them into a small book. The Trial of Henry Kissinger sets forth in some detail the inconsistencies and short-sighted policies of the Kissinger years as if they were the entire tale, and proposes legal action to discourage similar activities by others in the future.
There is much to the tale. Beginning with Kissinger's role in delaying a settlement in Vietnam in 1968, ostensibly to help Richard Nixon win election and himself to win high office in the Nixon White House, Hitchens relates and documents details of Kissinger's policies, resulting in violations of the treaty-based and customary laws of war in Indo-China; his...
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Blume, Harvey. Review of The Trial of Henry Kissinger, by Christopher Hitchens. American Prospect (30 July 2001): 37.
Blume argues that the case Hitchens asserts against Kissinger is valid, but that his presentation in The Trial of Henry Kissinger is flawed.
Bruce, Leigh. “The Dividing of Cyprus: Why Other Nations Share the Blame.” Christian Science Monitor (20 August 1984): 24.
Bruce offers a positive assessment of Cyprus.
Bushkoff, Leonard. “Illusions of Collusion.” Christian Science Monitor (15 August 1990): 13.
Bushkoff offers a negative assessment of Blood, Class, and Nostalgia.
Cassidy, John. “Ink.” New Yorker (15 March 1999): 30–31.
Cassidy reports the proceedings at a contentious meeting involving Hitchens and other Nation staffers following Hitchens's controversial betrayal of White House aide Sidney Blumenthal during the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal.
“Rome, DC.” Economist (28 July 1990): 71–72.
The critic offers a mixed assessment of Blood, Class, and Nostalgia.
Gates, David. “Trashing Mother Teresa.” Newsweek (13 November 1995): 84.
Gates offers an unfavorable assessment of The Missionary...
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