Christopher Hitchens Essay - Critical Essays

Hitchens, Christopher


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.

Biographical Information

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.

Major Works

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.

Critical Reception

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.

Principal Works

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)...

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P. J. Vatikiotis (review date 8 October 1984)

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.


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Noel Malcolm (review date 1 August 1987)

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...

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Jules Lubbock (review date 7 August 1987)

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...

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Tom Bethell (review date 7 April 1989)

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...

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John Grigg (review date 6 May 1989)

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...

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Jasper Griffin (review date 20 July 1989)

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...

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James Gardner (review date 27 October 1989)

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...

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David Reynolds (review date 17 June 1990)

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...

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William Keach (review date summer 1990)

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...

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Alan Ryan (review date 9–16 July 1990)

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...

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Alexander Chancellor (review date 14 July 1990)

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...

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Hugh Brogan (review date 20 July 1990)

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...

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Peter Brimelow (review date 6 August 1990)

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...

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Paul Smith (review date 10 August 1990)

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...

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R. W. Johnson (review date 16 August 1990)

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...

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Paul Allen Miller (review date fall 1990)

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,...

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Esmond Wright (review date March 1991)

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...

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Dennis Perrin (essay date May–June 1991)

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:...

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William Phillips (essay date summer 1991)

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...

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Stuart Anderson (review date September 1991)

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...

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Anthony Howard (review date 5 June 1993)

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...

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Matthew D'Ancona (review date 25 June 1993)

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...

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Amit Chaudhuri (review date 4 January 1994)

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,...

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Michael O. Garvey (review date 14 January 1994)

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...

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Ross McKibbin (review date 24 February 1994)

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...

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Peter Mandler (review date spring 1994)

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...

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Robert Kee (review date 10 November 1995)

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...

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Nigel Spivey (review date 11 November 1995)

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...

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Marci McDonald (essay date 25 December 1995–1 January 1996)

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...

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Mary Loudon (review date 6 January 1996)

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...

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Murray Kempton (review date 11 July 1996)

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...

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Parnab Mukherjee (essay date 21 September 1996)

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.


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Christopher Hitchens and Matt Cherry (interview date fall 1996)

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...

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Christopher Hitchens and Sasha Abramsky (interview date February 1997)

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...

(The entire section is 4933 words.)

Mary Beard (review date 12 June 1998)

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...

(The entire section is 684 words.)

John B. Judis (essay date 8 March 1999)

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...

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Raymond Seitz (review date 1 May 1999)

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...

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Elizabeth Drew (review date 9 May 1999)

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...

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Albert Scardino (review date 10 May 1999)

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...

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Tim Hames (review date 4 June 1999)

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,...

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Christopher Hitchens and Michael Rust (interview date 28 June 1999)

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...

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Martin Jay (review date 29 July 1999)

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...

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Charlotte Raven (essay date 25 October 1999)

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...

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John O'Sullivan (essay date 19 February 2001)

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...

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Geoffrey Wheatcroft (review date 3 March 2001)

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...

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Karl Miller (review date 16 March 2001)

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...

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Frances Stonor Saunders (review date 14 May 2001)

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...

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Alfred P. Rubin (review date 20 July 2001)

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...

(The entire section is 1147 words.)

Further Reading


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...

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