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“America’s foremost rhetorical pugilist.” —John Giuffo, The Village Voice
The death of Christopher Hitchens in December 2011 prematurely silenced a voice that was among the most admired of contemporary writers. For more than forty years, Hitchens delivered to numerous publications on both sides of the Atlantic essays that were astonishingly wide-ranging and provocative. The judges for the PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay, posthumously bestowed on Hitchens, praised him for the way he wrote “with fervor about the books and writers he loved and with unbridled venom about ideas and political figures he loathed.” He could write, the judges went on to say, with “undisguised brio, mining the resources of the language as if alert to every possibility of color and inflection.” He was, as Benjamin Schwarz, his editor at The Atlantic magazine, recalled, “slashing and lively, biting and funny—and with a nuanced sensibility and a refined ear that he kept in tune with his encyclopedic knowledge and near photographic memory of English poetry.” And as Michael Dirda, writing in the Times Literary Supplement, observed, Hitchens “was a flail and a scourge, but also a gift to readers everywhere.”
The author of five previous volumes of selected writings, including the international bestseller Arguably, Hitchens left at his death nearly 250,000 words of essays not yet published in book form. And Yet… assembles a selection that usefully adds to Hitchens’s oeuvre. It ranges from the literary to the political and is, by turns, a banquet of entertaining and instructive delights, including essays on Orwell, Lermontov, Chesterton, Fleming, Naipaul, Rushdie, Pamuk, and Dickens, among others, as well as his laugh-out-loud self-mocking “makeover.” The range and quality of Hitchens’s essays transcend the particular occasions for which they were originally written. Often prescient, always pugnacious, and formidably learned, Hitchens was a polemicist for the ages. With this posthumous volume, his reputation and his readers will continue to grow.
Christopher Hitchens was the cartographer of his own literary and political explorations. He sought assiduously to affirm—and to reaffirm—the ideas of secularism, reason, libertarianism, internationalism, and solidarity, values always under siege and ever in need of defending. Henry James once remarked, “Nothing is my last word on anything.” For Hitchens, as for James, there was always more to be said.