Arguably : essays by Christopher Hitchens

by Christopher Hitchens

Hardcover, 2011




New York, NY : Twelve, 2011.


Essayist Christopher Hitchens ruminates on why Charles Dickens was among the best of writers and the worst of men, the haunting science fiction of J.G. Ballard, the enduring legacies of Thomas Jefferson and George Orwell, the persistent agonies of anti-Semitism and jihad, the enduring relevance of Karl Marx, and how politics justifies itself by culture--and how the latter prompts the former.

Media reviews

So, having paid my dues to critical candor, I still find Hitchens one of the most stimulating thinkers and entertaining writers we have, even when — perhaps especially when — he provokes. And while he clearly wants to win you over, you always sense that he is playing in part to the jury of history, which is why so much of what he might, in a rare self-deprecating moment, refer to as hackwork stands up so well to ­anthologizing.
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Hitchens is, and has been for many years, the mightiest knocker-down in argumentative journalism in the Anglophone world. This vast volume, containing ten years of argufying, is every bit as pugilistic, as unanswerable, as toughly rationalist, as unstoppable, as strenuously lived, as its many predecessors from his hand.

User reviews

LibraryThing member JeffV
Christopher Hitchens is a man on borrowed time. Diagnosed with terminal cancer, he has so far exceeded the most optimistic prognosis. In a gesture of gratitude, his acknowledgments at the end gave props to his doctors in DC and Houston. And to them, I thank you as well, since your efforts resulted in more incredible content from this remarkable intellect.

Arguably is a collection of essays, most from his is recent outlets: Vanity Fair, Atlantic, and Slate. Many of these essays are book reviews -- but reviews unlike any I've read before. They are essays based upon the book, and not a traditional critique. Hitchens is able to interject his own knowledge on a variety of subjects ranging from the ancient to the modern. His Slate pieces tend to be more op-ed in nature, dealing with modern issues (often of political or philosophic/religious nature), drawing both upon research and first-hand experience as a gonzo journalist in some of the world's political hot spots/hell holes dating back to the late 60's.

Hitchens is at his best when attacking the duplicity of religious fundamentalism or it's insidious relative, political misdirection. He is most amusing when discussing modern idioms in an almost Andy Rooney-like manner (I think he'd make a great replacement for Rooney if his health permitted). And, of course, there are always things I don't care about despite his best efforts: 20th century English lit notables such as Graeme Greene and Evelyn Waugh, among others. With the exception of aging standby such as Ralph Ellison's The Invisible Man or Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird, my fiction reading rarely extends to socially significant literature.

My favorite essays in this book were some of his historical book reviews. In particular, several that talk about our Founding Fathers and Thomas Jefferson in particular. Hitchens, a Socialist-turned-Republican, ruthlessly attacks the revisionist history his party has been spouting lately regarding the separation of church and state. Yes, they did mean what they said; there was no underlying intent that we become a Christian state. The United States was always meant to be a secular haven for people of all religion, and the government is to play no active role in promoting any religious ideology in particular.

The Republican Party needs candidates with Hitchens' wherewithal. While Hitchens also does not hold back in his criticism of Democratic party ideals, the mere fact that the Republican Party is misrepresenting history (as well as embracing ignorance and eschewing scientific findings) remains an insurmountable obstacle that keeps me firmly on the left today. Given his social and religious views, his choice of parties still seems rather perplexing.
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LibraryThing member maneekuhi
Arguably is a 750 +- page collection of approximately 100 essays, book reviews, and articles originally published mostly in Vanity Fair, Atlantic Monthly, and Slate. Subjects include 19 and 20th century writers (Waugh, Wodehouse, Greene, etc.), early Americans and politics (Jefferson, Franklin, John Brown,Lincoln), hotspots (Iran, Iraq, Tunisia, Algeria). Also lots of history with a focus on Germany, WWll, Hitler, Churchill. Overall, I was disappointed. Hitchens is obviously a brilliant guy but that doesn't make him a good writer. Essays on 20th century authors for example made comparisons with dozens of others of the period which is fine if you've read each and everyone and all of their works which is a not too subtle way of broadcasting the author's depth of knowledge and superior intellect but also makes for a rather dull book. Won't read more of Christopher Hitchens.… (more)
LibraryThing member ScoutJ
A collection of book reviews and articles (both online and print), Arguably covers almost every conceivable topic. The book reviews cover 18c to the present and most geographic areas of the world-Persian poetry to Harry Potter. His articles likewise explore the depth and breadth of the globe. Well worth the listen.
LibraryThing member JonArnold
It’s a testament to Hitchens’ fecund mind that a collection covering the last decade or so of his life runs to well over 700 pages. It’s equal testament to his consistent excellence that at no point does the quality drop off. His always immaculate style is present, as is his impeccable research and willingness to follow a trail of thought to its logical conclusion. Polemicist he may have been but rarely, if ever, does Hitchens fudge facts to arrive at predetermined conclusions.

As a collection it’s an excellent introduction to Hitchens, his style and his favoured subjects. The opening section’s dedicated to his fascination with America, the second to literature, others to international politics and the English language and one more to his more provocative pieces – in this last section, alongside rages at the annoyances of modern life and the British Royal family there’s his infamous piece on Why Women Aren’t Funny. It’s admittedly chauvinistic but also clearly tongue in cheek at times. And as ever, you can’t help but be impressed by his style, the breadth of reference and willingness to investigate the more dangerous areas of the world to see if the picture we’re drawing from afar is accurate – in here are pieces about Afghanistan and the modern use of torture as practised by the US.

There’s the usual downside with Hitchens that he can often come across as arrogant and condescending, with attitudes very much shaped by the English public school system. It’s always backed up by the application of hard thought though and willingness to follow a line of argument, no matter how unappealing the logical conclusions. At no point does the cancer which ended his life impinge on his work, neither in subject nor in the evident vitality of his writing (though this is dealt with in the short collection Mortality). A beautifully selected collection which sums up a writer cut down in what still appeared to be his prime. It’s a great shame that the conversations with Hitchens will now always be one way now.
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LibraryThing member Daniel.Estes
Christopher Hitchens had a way with words. If at some point in my life I achieve half the literary depth and eloquence Hitch exhibited, then I will consider my efforts a success.

As a collection of essays, this compendium is way too long. That's the only strike against Arguably.
LibraryThing member yeremenko
Too often you read reviews of great writing. But, Hitchings truly was a great writer. This book shows off his skill and first class logical, principled mind.
LibraryThing member EricKibler
Ah, these politically polarized days we live in. We are constantly fed the idea that we must accept one of two predigested slates of beliefs. If you're a "conservative", you must be pro-gun rights and anti-abortion. If you're "liberal", you must be critical of Christianity, but "culturally sensitive" enough to be tolerant of the worst excesses of Islam. No matter that the belief system you've been handed is often internally inconsistent. Just believe! No thought required! Pick up one of these signs we've prepared for you and stand in front of the court house! Yell your slogan really loudly so you can't hear what the other side is saying!

One complaint people had about Christopher Hitchens was that he was inconsistent in that he didn't jump with both feet into one of those camps. He was an atheist and a neocon. He thought George W. Bush was an over-privileged ninny. He was not "culturally sensitive" enough to suffer Islamic extremists gladly. He was a man of the left who often sided with the right. Was he inconsistent? No. He was a rigorous thinker. He was an Englishman who, late in life, became an American citizen and who was a scholar of the Founding Fathers.

You know, in these days of shorthand thinking, everyone should go out and buy this man's books and read them. Not quickly, as you read a thriller, but slowly, closely, and intently. Parse his sentences. Grok him in fulness. As a result, you may be inspired not to take what you're handed at face value. Do your own investigations. Make up your own mind based on the best available information. Read and learn constantly. Be willing to admit you were wrong when it becomes apparent that you are.

LISTEN! READ! INVESTIGATE! OBSERVE! THINK! LEARN TO FORMULATE AND ARTICULATE COMPLEX IDEAS! We seem to be losing the power to do all these things, and Hitchens sets a great example. Don't let people simplify him as an atheist or as a neocon. He was so much more than either of these things.

And sometimes he will make you laugh. Deep, rich belly laughs of absurdity and irony.

I must read more.
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LibraryThing member KurtK
A first-class intellect, slashing his way through the phony crap of the politically correct culture.
LibraryThing member HadriantheBlind
This is a delightful book, a wide sampling of Hitchens' thought. Although he is most renowned for his antitheism and fierce condemnation of all organized religion, he reveals himself to be a very entertaining and extremely well-read thinker.

Comes in a bit short at a page shy of 750. I'd love to talk more with this man, fiery and funny as he may be.… (more)
LibraryThing member Devil_llama
The final book of the late, great polymath has a lot to inspire, and a lot to annoy, much like the life of the larger-than-life man himself. From his views on the Iraq war and why women aren't funny to his take downs of pretension in literature, politics, and religion, he spans the gamut from A to beyond Z, and he does it with a wit and erudition that few can match. He refuses to dumb down his vocabulary, insisting instead that we reach higher to meet him in the thesaurus, if need be. He challenges us to think, dares us to disagree with him - and when we do, the arguments that we marshal will be stronger, more forceful, and better thought out than if we'd never bumped up against him. He takes no prisoners, and we have to be quick of wit if we want to avoid falling prey to one of his lucid, seemingly incontrovertible arguments that in the end we must face if we are to maintain our own reason in the face of teh onslaught. One other thing I noticed about this particular work: I usually find collections of literary criticism dreary and uninspiring, even when by my favorite authors. Many of them are erudite and interesting when first penned, but over the years, they become stale and uninteresting. That is not the case here. As Hitches wanders through literary greats and near-greats, you find yourself filing away little tidbits of information for later, and enjoying the subtle way he spproaches the subject. A must read - but be careful not to throw this particular book across the room. You might accidentally knock out a retaining wall.… (more)
LibraryThing member soylentgreen23
Christopher Hitchens concludes his memoir, 'Hitch-22', by noting of his shift in ideology that finally he had learnt to think for himself. A longtime erstwhile Communist he nonetheless had no time for the totalitarian regimes that fly the Communist flag; he did, however, enormously respect Karl Marx, who on top of everything else was also a fine journalist.

In 'Arguably' Hitchens proves inarguably to have been one of the greatest journalists and writers that the modern world has produced. Each and every one of these articles is worth the time it takes to read them. Another reviewer has complained of the breadth and depth of Hitchens's quotations, that to read one book review one must first have read half of the last century's literature, but this raises two points: why would one not want to have read the best that civilisation has produced? and; does it really get in the way when Hitchens quote Auden or Orwell to make his point clearer?

To the first question, I would say that answering it is getting expensive: I kept a notepad and pen at my side as I read, noting down useful new items of vocabulary (unctuous, synecdoche, esurient) and also the names of the writers he mentions. I did the same with 'Hitch-22' and it has come close to bankrupting me, but I did it happily and feel enriched. I only wish I could get a closer look at the books on his bookshelves, sadly soft-focussed on the cover of this beautiful volume.

As for the second question; well, for the next six months of my still nascent writing career I imagine I will do everything I can to emulate - nay, copy - Hitchens's writing style, trying along the way to draw together a million different influences and facts and factoids to make a more compelling narrative. Well, one has to start from somewhere, and at least I already sign my name 'Christopher'.
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LibraryThing member kellifrobinson
This was not my first foray into the work of Hitchens. I read God is Not Great as well as several Vanity Fair articles prior to this set of essays. This book, however, illuminated the huge gap in intellect between Hitchens and myself. Not a surprising discovery but rather humbling. Fortunately, Hitchens himself made some progress in closing that gap as I progressed through his 100+ essays from start to finish. Because nearly all of the literary references in the first third of the book were lost on me, it almost felt like I was reading a book written in a different language but that slowly dissipated as I moved along. For the casual reader of Hitchens, be prepared for a literary challenge but don't let that challenge stop you from getting to know this prolific writer and his thought-provoking opinions on literature, politics and religion.… (more)
LibraryThing member Chris469
I would certainly recommend this book for fans of the late Christopher Hitchens. It captures his cleverness and his passions very well, and covers wide and varied ground in literary criticism, current events, and history. I always find his writing pleasurable to read (or listen to on an audio-book). Like the few really good columnists and essayists, he can “get away with” not being an expert in any one subject matter because of his audacious sharp-wittedness and by virtue of his own voluminous reading – as a result he sounds like he knows what he’s talking about. That said, in company with most other op-ed columnists and essayists, it’s not like he’s an academic who has devoted years of research to whatever subject he is writing about, nor is he a credentialed professional such as a physician, attorney, architect, engineer, who has mastered a set of knowledge, skills and aptitudes and thus can speak authoritatively about a matter. He is that thing called “a public intellectual.” If you like reading such stuff, read “Arguably.”… (more)
LibraryThing member Gregorio_Roth
This is one I would like to buy. I have listened to every essay though.
LibraryThing member everfresh1
I don't always agree with Christopher Hitchens - probably very few people do due to his very independent and original no-hole-barred and no-cow is-sacred approach. However the man was brilliant and his writings were outstanding. It is always interesting to read or listen to him. This book is a collection of his various essays of last years before his death. It covers many subjects and I found myself fascinated even when reading about something I wouldn't normally be interested in. Most of those subjects though are very interesting and relevant and will be relevant - sometimes unfortunately - for years to come.… (more)
LibraryThing member MSarki
I couldn't read the whole thing. Actually I couldn't read hardly any of it. I like to listen to Hitchens but I don't like reading him. He is interesting to watch on TV, to hear him argue his point so vehemently. But I am not at all interested in what he thinks on a wide range of topics. He is actually a bore to me. I am sorry he is sick. But when I saw how thick his book was I immediately thought he was making a statement about his illness and virility. A book simply not for me.… (more)
LibraryThing member adam.currey
Although I'm a fan of Hitchens, his writing style can be a bit intimidating and I couldn't face the 800-odd pages of this tome. This thing is so big, it's even physically difficult to read - it really should be two volumes. On the plus side, the content is broken up into separate essays, making it easy to flick around reading just bits and pieces, if you wish.… (more)
LibraryThing member k6gst
This fat collection of essays allowed me to confirm my General Theory of Christopher Hitchens: Reliably correct on literature; highly unreliable on politics; reliably wrong on religion. But always fun to read.

As much as I enjoy him, I’m extremely wary of his fans, who make me very nervous. He’s perhaps the author I’m least likely to read outside of my home, for fear that someone will see the cover and want to talk about it. No thank you.… (more)
LibraryThing member mbmackay
A top book. Full of information and insight and the trigger of much independent research.
This is the first book of Hitchens that I have read and I was amazed by his breadth of knowledge and his capacity for clear succinct writing. Not simple writing - I don't think any other book has sent me to the dictionary so often.
I expected more polemic, but he is very reasoned and doesn't take too many extreme positions. Of course, you get to know his world view, and you are free to disagree, but I wouldn't have wanted to ever enter into a battle of wits with this master.
Read Jan/Feb 2017.
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LibraryThing member MikeBiever
When a person abounds in a talent for writing, they enlighten and provide insight that give reason to the power of words. There are few who did this better than Christopher Hitchens. Commentary and review aside, Christopher's ability to use words is similar to a magicians slight of hand. The words are quick, entertaining and -- in the end -- you wonder how he did it. Hitchens does it with intelligence and fortitude. Words accumulate in the writing with what seems little effort. But, as we know, the effort is displayed with abundance. Hitchens was a straight-forward, logical thinker and backed his opinions in writing. His unfailing support of Saldam Rushdie and his abiding disregard for religious arrogance are tantamount to his character. I can only guess at the number of books Christopher read during his life. Books and writing were, of course, a passion he surely enjoyed. Taken from page 748, "Prisoner of Shelves", Hitchens writes " ... I live in a fairly spacious apartment ... but for some reason the available shelf space, which is considerable, continues to be outrun by the appearance of new books." What a glorious sight!… (more)
LibraryThing member jobinsonlis
Christopher Hitchens was a very gifted essayist and was extremely knowledgeable about a wide variety of topics, such as literature, history, and, yes, of course, religion. However this last collection of essays from him was at times an almost unbearable slog to get through. The high number of essays grouped together by content meant that I had to read several that seemed almost identical to one another and after a while my eyes just started to glaze over in an attempt to get me to go do something else more productive. I didn't really dislike any of the essays except for one bizarre piece rehashing why women aren't as funny as men (an argument I thought had been put to bed when everybody in the world realized that they personally knew lots of funny women so this couldn't possibly be true). However none of the essays really stuck out for me. For a gifted and controversial figure like Hitchens this seems almost worse than just not liking them. I'm happy that I read this for the book recommendations I picked up but I'm more happy that I'm finally done with this doorstopper.… (more)
LibraryThing member BenjaminHahn
A very thick collection of essays by Christopher Hitchens. Most of the essays are book reviews from magazines like Harpers, the Atlantic, Slate, or Vanity Fair. Reading through these is very helpful in a getting a peripheral view of Hitchens' literary diet from his childhood on. The transformation from a young Marxist intellectual into a more seasoned sceptic of politics and religion is fascinating. Probably one of the best critical minds or our age. I look forward to plowing through some of his other collections. Hopefully there won't be too much repeat.… (more)
LibraryThing member Michael_Rose
Hitchens is never terse in his essays, and his wit is both fair and acerbic. You can read all of this, or most of it at any rate, outside of the book. It's just a collection, but a fun to read collection.
LibraryThing member Gregorio_Roth
This is one I would like to buy. I have listened to every essay though.
LibraryThing member jphamilton
Hitchens had a staggeringly encyclopedic mind, one that brought obscure references to all manner of history, culture, beast, or man. As he so clearly shows with the range of topics in this hefty collection of essays, he could carry on about most anything and always surprise you with facts and outspoken opinions. At times, when I was reading an essay on a topic that had never interested me before, he could give it a twist, and keep me turning the pages to see what was coming around the next bend. When our opinions clashed (always inevitable with Hitchens, he could piss anyone off) it was fun to see where he was taking the reader, and many time it was up and over the top. He loved to get a rise out of people. His ego knew no bounds within these covers. This man was one fascinating piece of work.… (more)



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