Christopher Hitchens’ last book, God Is Not Great, has sold nearly half a million copies worldwide, arguably mostly to atheists or agnostics already sympathetic to its argument. If, by the same logic, most of the people who pick up a copy of Hitch-22 are already Hitchens fans, that would be a shame, because unlike in God Is Not Great, Hitch-22’s main character is eminently likeable, funny, and humble. He might even convert a few of his detractors.
At its heart, Hitch-22 is a celebration of literature and a denunciation of idleness. Hitchens is inarguably a man of action: He pursues history as it happens, popping up at locales from Havana to Halabja, admitting “boredom has always been my besetting vice.” Simplifying his overarching political philosophy in pop-music parlance, he writes, “I vastly preferred Mick Jagger’s ‘Street Fighting Man’… to the Beatles’ more conciliatory ‘You Say You Want a Revolution.’” Thus the book charts Hitchens’ arc from a card-carrying socialist caught in the stone-throwing dustups of 1968 to the seemingly contrary position as a prominent intellectual cheerleader for the removal of Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq.
In fact, Hitch-22’s prevailing tone is its embrace (if not celebration) of contradiction. For all his polemical bark, Hitchens can be reduced to tears by a poem, and he professes that the most beautiful word in the English language is “library.” He credits his mother for his love of literature: “[I]t makes a great difference to have had, in early life, a passionate lady in one’s own corner.” His frank description of dalliances with fellow boys while he was in boarding school leads him to say “I am generally glad to not be gay.” He confesses to a complete disinterest in sports (especially “the strange cult of golf”), and admits to “a fondness for strong waters,” yet also a “real dread of clan occasions such as birthdays and Christmas and other moments of mandatory gaiety.”
On the question of God—which he welcomes and allows to follow him everywhere—he mentions he is often asked how he finds “meaning and purpose” without faith. He responds, “A life that partakes even a little of friendship, love, irony, humor, parenthood, literature, and music, and the chance to take battles for the liberation of others cannot be called ‘meaningless.’” In the effort to scrutinize both God and self, over the course of two books, Hitchens has made eloquent, enlightening, and entertaining endeavors of both.