A nicely provocative, if disparate mix of field notes, book reviews, essays, and appreciations.
“An antique saying has it that a man’s life is incomplete unless or until he has tasted love, poverty, and war,” the author explains of his title. Polemicist Hitchens (Why Orwell Matters, 2002, etc.) admits to having been fortunate in love, hungry but never starved, and farther away from dangerous action than many journalistic colleagues. Tying together these various pieces from The Atlantic Monthly, The Times Literary Supplement, and other journals is the Orwellian—in the good sense of the word—insistence on the need for writers to stand up and speak against the received wisdoms of left and right alike. Hitchens announces, for instance, a fierce and nuanced patriotism in the wake of 9/11. “One has to be capable of knowing when something is worth fighting for,” he insists. “One has to be capable of knowing an enemy when one sees one.” There’s nothing knee-jerk about his newfound positions. A former but unrepentant socialist, he attacks with equal attentiveness Noam Chomsky on the far left, David Irving on the far right, and a host of unfortunates who lie somewhere in between but are not sufficiently committed to ideas to gain his sympathy. At turns he writes about such heady matters as the historical revisionism now surrounding Winston Churchill (who, Hitchens ventures, made it possible for the US to be a global superpower); the political paradoxes that pepper the writings of Rudyard Kipling; the willful inaccuracies of Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11; the mediocrity of contemporary politics, publishing, and media; the hamburgers of Middle America; and the sights and sounds of such uncongenial places as Pyongyang, Podgorica, and Baghdad, to say nothing of such uncongenial people as Mel Gibson and Osama bin Laden.
A well-turned collection with scarcely a false note. A pleasure for Hitchens’s many fans, and certainly no comfort for his enemies.