More reviews of Hitch-22

June 2, 2010 • 6:15 am

A few more reviews of Christopher Hitchens’s new memoir, Hitch-22, which comes out in the U.S. today:

The New York Times

“An autobiography is only to be trusted when it reveals something disgraceful,” George Orwell, one of Mr. Hitchens’s literary touchstones, wrote. “A man who gives a good account of himself is probably lying, since any life when viewed from the inside is simply a series of defeats.” Mr. Hitchens passes this test, if only by a nose. “Hitch-22” has its share of words like “embarrassing” and “shame” and “misgiving.” He is bitter about the way the Iraq war was actually conducted. And he ruefully admits he has been a less than stellar father to his own children.

“Hitch-22” is far from downbeat, however. It is packed with people — everyone from William Styron, Jessica Mitford and Isaiah Berlin to Nora Ephron, Keith McNally and Hunter S. Thompson, all of whom arrive attached to good anecdotes. A generous friend, Mr. Hitchens gives most of his book’s good lines (and there are many, a good deal of them unprintable here) to the people he loves.

Those good lines including this one, from Clive James, who began a review of a Leonid Brezhnev memoir this way: “Here is a book so dull that a whirling dervish could read himself to sleep with it…. If it were read in the open air, birds would fall stunned from the sky.”

Whatever the opposite of that book is, Mr. Hitchens has written it.


God — if Hitchens will excuse my use of the term — knows that we always need a good, hard-bitten contrarian, but something has become skewed in Hitchens’ vision since 9/11 shifted him to the right. In an article in October 2009 for the Atlantic, Hitchens feigned surprise at discovering that Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert and Al Franken were … liberal. “Bush’s brain or IQ,” he observes, “is enough to ignite peals of mirth from those in Stewart’s studio crowd, who just know they are smarter than he.” Of course, they are smarter than Bush, and Hitchens surely knows this. He does himself and his readers no service by pretending, even for a moment, that this isn’t true, and he pretends it for more than 400 pages in “Hitch-22.”

Barnes and Nobel Review

Hitch-22 goes some distance toward answering the central mystery about Hitchens: how, over forty years of writing and constant on-air yakking, he has managed to continue to find issues that excite him, and that indeed regularly summon the intensity that a normal writer might reserve for only the most hotly contested elections, or perhaps a particularly recriminating suicide note. He is a man of uncommonly strong opinions about everything. The source of that energy appears to be in those radical student days, to which the most interesting portions of his memoir are devoted, and where he learned not only his ideology but the rhetorical techniques that provide his livelihood, and more. “I made a minor discovery,” he says: “If you can give a decent speech in public or cut any sort of figure on a podium, then you need never dine or sleep alone.” Those days appear, in his telling, to have been an atmosphere of intense and seductive confidence. We see the young Hitchens actively seeking out rivals to heckle in local political meetings, hunting for censored comrades to republish and distribute, and training in Cuba—providing a glimpse of the future of that island when uttering counterrevolutionary thoughts of his own.

New Statesman (review, called “Oedipus Wrecked,” by Terry Eagleton)

Hitchens is foolishly proud of having been thwacked on the bum by Margaret Thatcher, a tale he cannot stop recounting, but then hastily notes that he could hardly believe it was happening. He is almost as eager to report that the “blind Yorkshire socialist and proletarian David Blunkett” (three of the descriptive terms are accurate) observed how a brilliant lecture by Hitchens reduced a Tribune meeting to absolute silence, but adds in a touchingly self-effacing manner that he doesn’t remember the silence “being quite so absolute”. He feels, he tells us, “absurdly honoured” to be grouped in the public mind with such great scholars as Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett. “Absurdly” because such parity is absurd, or “absurdly” because it is no more than his due? . . .

If one can swallow one’s vomit at some of this, there is much in the book to enjoy. Hitchens writes with admirable seriousness and passion about the 11 September 2001 attacks, Poland, Cuba, Iraq and a good deal more. The old bellicose champion of human liberties and decencies is still alive and well. There is a vastly entertaining account of London literary life, and a chapter on the Rushdie affair that magnificently displays all the finest qualities of a long-standing critic of autocracy and injustice.

If you want a taste of the book, The Times of London has printed aan extract here.

7 thoughts on “More reviews of Hitch-22

  1. I have to admit, it’s creepy being confronted with the lecherous escapades of his narcissism-drenched youth. With that I could have done without.

    1. Agreed. I suspect I will love part of this book and hate part of this book. That could be his intention. I will know in a few weeks.

  2. Only in America: it takes a brit to show US glamour commentators how to be ‘witty”-in the british way, of course. Mr Hitchens became sort of a hero for many chileans, including me( I was born in Chile) when he published “The trial of H. Kissinger” in 2001, a fatal disclosure of US involvement in Chiles’ military coup. Pinochet had been detained in England in 1998, an initiative of judge Baltazar Garzon, the real hero in this story. As many remember, Pinochets’ coup and regime was happily endorsed by the progressive forces of american politics from Nixon to Bush N.1; support that left a trail of cadavers. We considered Mr Hitchens commentary, a welcome and needed support for worldwide freedom and fight against fundamentalism. Then, sept 11 happened. Tragically, the same day, the chilean family of general Schneider, assassinated in 1970, filed a suit against Kissinger for his participation in the Generals’ death. I dont know if it went anywhere: I doubt it though. After sept 11, in a rather surprising manouever, Mr Hitchens supported US “interventions” in the middle East, the invasion of Irak-limping from the lack of WMD, and the war against terrorism and homicidal fundamentalism. Then, he became a “new atheist” denouncing religion as the pervasive evil: the “mother of all human suffering”. In April 2010, he published the “new commandents” in Vanity Fair-very hilarious for the most part-where he makes the outrageous claim that : …”The international Communist movement got its start by proclaiming a strike for an eight-hour day on May 1, 1886, against Christian employers who used child labor seven days a week…”. Im curious to know why he lied so blatantly in the VF piece. Maybe the answer is in his choice of “Hitch 22″-very unapologetic- as a title for his memoir.In the words of J. Heller: ” I think the whole society is nuts, and the question is: What does a sane man do in an insane society?” The answer is, according to R M. Young writing abot Catch 22: “For the most part, what they try to do is survive in any way they can.” If you cant make your case without lying you become your own Catch 22. I meant your own Hitch 22. Too bad.

    1. I have tried to contact Mr Hitchens via mail but I am assuming his agents dont tell him. I wish he would explain his VF thing.

  3. Hitchens sort of lost me with his slavish devotion to Bush’s idiotic foreign policies. Maybe the booze got to him.

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