It is the beginning of 2021. The last four years have been full of terrors and torments—and that’s just from the 20500 ZIP code. One of my greatest sorrows is that Christopher Hitchens has not been here to chronicle our sorrowfully chaotic time, which would surely have inspired a grand stream of writing about a political culture in death-spiral mode and an entertainingly furious flow of learned invective about its principal players. (Imagine the two Stephens, Miller and Bannon, in his hands.)

Hitchens left us nine years ago, felled at 62 by the cigarettes he inhaled by the carton while talking, arguing, writing. He hasn’t been much heard about since, apart from the odd release here and there, such as the narrowly pre-posthumous collection of essays called Arguably and its decidedly posthumous companion And Yet…. But now, his old friend Martin Amis’ “autobiographical novel” Inside Story has appeared to remind us of a man whose days were full of expensive meals and top-shelf drink, who never seemed to break a sweat but still turned in impeccable work until the very end.

Amis’ book reminds us at many turns of just why Hitchens should be missed: No one commanded his range of references, his wide travels to uncomfortable places, his willingness to side with unpopular causes—the Iraq War, say—while remaining true to his roots, a blend of anarcho-syndicalism and Fourth International socialism with occasional hints of old-school Toryism. In that hard-to-pin-down politics he was much like his hero, George Orwell, though he layered on a militant atheism as well: “Religious belief is not merely false but also actually harmful,” he told me in a 2006 interview for these pages concerning his book God Is Not Great. Like Orwell, he was ever nostalgic for what Hannah Arendt called “the lost treasure of revolution.” Like Orwell, he was right about the big issues: imperialism, communism, capitalism.

Hitchens was unsparing of everyone and everything, quick to spot a logical flaw or a bit of cant and eviscerate his poor opponents, leaving them to read the entrails. He was no less sparing of himself, writing in the posthumous Mortality, for instance, of the foibles that had led him to what he called Tumortown. Yet, behind an elegant fierceness that made Gore Vidal seem mild-mannered, one can always hear a gentle chuckle, the wry acknowledgment that we are all flawed and that, as he wrote, “Real history is more pitiless even than you had been told it was.”

When the outgoing occupant of the White House entered office, I read three books back to back: Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America, Orwell’s Inside the Whale, and Hitchens’ knife-sharp memoir, Hitch–22. They helped prepare me for the four years that followed without diminishing their awfulness a bit. Five years earlier, Hitchens, the most helpful of the three, had forecast his own demise and the glowing obituaries that, “etiquette being what it is,” were certain to follow. He added, “Just typical that will be the edition I miss.” Edition after edition, we miss him, too.

Gregory McNamee is a contributing editor.