Hitchens (Thomas Jefferson: Author of America, 2009, etc.) offers an engrossing account of his lives as a British Navy brat, a socialist activist and a leading essayist and intellectual of our time.
Now in his early 60s, the author grew up a bookish, self-confident, lower-middle-class boy in the British provinces. He has few memories of his father, “The Commander,” a taciturn career Navy man, but recalls with warmth and affection his mother, Yvonne, who shaped his childhood. Bright, pretty and unhappily married, she yearned for a life of smart friends and witty conversation—which Christopher would later lead—and often admonished, “The one unforgivable sin is to be boring.” She committed suicide, apologizing in a note for leaving a mess (“Oh Mummy, so like you,” writes Hitchens). She never mentioned her Jewish ancestry, which the author learned about later. In this frank, often wickedly funny account, Hitchens traces his evolution as a fiercely independent thinker and enemy of people who are convinced of their absolute certainty. He describes his budding socialist days at boarding school, where he helped create a student magazine (“Ink-stained pamphleteer! Very heaven!”); his ’60s years at Balliol College, Oxford, where he protested the Vietnam War, debated at the Oxford Union and lost his virginity; and his subsequent life as a young journalist working for both mainstream and “agitational” papers in London. Writing at length about friendships with Ted Hughes, James Fenton, Martin Amis and Ian McEwan, he seems always to have another fascinating encounter—a visit with his near-blind literary hero Jorge Luis Borges, a melancholy lunch with Chester Kallman shortly after his partner W.H. Auden's death—lurking in the next paragraph or footnote. Hitchens also details the many controversies in which he has engaged since moving to the United States in the early ’80s, including his defense of free expression in the Salman Rushdie affair and his support of the Iraq War. Once deemed a prodigious drinker, Hitchens notes that he now imbibes his Scotch whiskey carefully and produces more than 1,000 words per day.
Revealing and riveting. There's little about his brother, his two marriages or his children, but other memoirs may follow.