One thing can be said for Christopher Hitchens: He will never cease to be a polarizing figure. People admire him or loathe him, but by contrast to the endless stream of politicians who blather incessantly on the television, or the news media that pervades every aspect of life, or even the actors who plead with you to take up some cause or effort they support, very few of them approach the level of thought, wit and passion that Hitchens puts into the pieces that he has written down in his collection, ARGUABLY. No, you may not agree with him, and you certainly won't agree with him on everything, but you cannot dismiss the depth of his opinion or argument, or even ignore the genuine substance of his belief in his argument. This is not a collection of meaningless sound bites.
"Hitchens has lived an extraordinary life. He'll tell you all about it and challenge your perceptions. He might even infuriate you. In the end, however, it's one heck of a ride."
ARGUABLY draws from a wealth of previously printed work from among such publications as The Atlantic, Vanity Fair, The Guardian, Newsweek, The Wall Street Journal and Slate, to name but a few. The targets in his sights are many, ranging from standard US policy fare to analyses of totalitarian regimes the world over, or books and writers. Tipping the scales at close to 750 pages, ARGUABLY is still not an unwieldy behemoth. In fact, the essays included are quick, three- to four- page explosions of opinion that make their consumption relatively easy.
In these pages, Hitchens lowers the boom on Graham Greene, Gore Vidal and Princess Diana, lauds George Orwell, William Tyndale and Thomas Paine, and expresses an inability to understand the phenomenon of Harry Potter fandom. But these opinionated pieces share time side by side with actual pieces of investigative reporting, such as when he exposes life in North Korea after smuggling himself in the country, the lasting effects of Agent Orange use in Vietnam, and his own experience of submitting himself to waterboarding --- which he readily then stated was, without question, torture.
As one would expect, his writing is spectacular. It is equal parts bombastic, harrowing and humorous. His words can cut like a scalpel, such as when he eviscerates John Updike, or touch you, as in the final essay in which he espouses his love for books and his inability to rid himself of any of them. That he possesses a keen mind is unarguable, and from essay to essay, no matter what the topic, boredom is never present.
ARGUABLY is dedicated to three martyrs, and Hitchens takes time to explain about them, the honorable act of self-sacrifice, and how that has been "utterly degraded by the wolfish image of Mohammed Atta." This is particularly poignant when you consider that Hitchens is suffering from esophageal cancer and, by his own admission, would be "lucky to live another five years." Hardly portraying himself as a martyr, he does begin the book with a quote from Lambert Strether: "Live all you can: It's a mistake not to." Based on the work herein, Hitchens has lived an extraordinary life. He'll tell you all about it and challenge your perceptions. He might even infuriate you. In the end, however, it's one heck of a ride.
Reviewed by Stephen Hubbard on October 6, 2011