His collection of essays, Unacknowledged Legislation, shows him to be a Hitchens is a member of that brilliant group of writers which. Christopher Hitchens. Unacknowledged Legislation: Writers in the Public Sphere. Christopher Hitchens talked about the relationship between literature and politicians.

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If for nothing else, this collection of Christopher Hitchens’s essays would be worth looking at for the most astonishing, hilarious commendation on the back hktchens Mr Gore Vidal: I have decided to name Christopher Hitchens. I think Mr Hitchens can do rather better than that, to be honest. Hitchens is a member of that brilliant group of writers which emerged in London in the mid to late s, around Salman Rushdie, Martin Amis, James Fenton and Julian Barnes.

Fashion has moved on somewhat, and they are no longer where it’s at, but the conversational, self-conscious brilliance of the group retains a considerable fascination.

In all of them, there is a polemical edge forged in the ideological battles of the last days of the Callaghan government; Fenton’s journalism, Amis’s writings on the arms race now quite wonderful period piecesRushdie’s dazzlingly vicious romp through the politics of Pakistan in Shame remain not incidental activities, but prose fantasies which are, in each case, at the heart of their imaginative creations.

Hitchens alone, however, has devoted his considerable energies solely to the ends of polemic.

Unacknowledged Legislation Writers, Mar 29 | Video |

If journalism and pamphleteering, being unavoidably ephemeral activities, will, in the end, make him seem like the Saxon Sydney-Turner of the group, at any rate he has many more claims on our attention than a mere journalist could ordinarily hope for.

This punchily authoritative and sparky collection passes a supreme legislatuon for the reader; he keeps your interest, even when you haven’t the faintest idea what he hihchens talking about. In my case, this represents quite a lot of the book, since Hitchens is deeply enmeshed in American politics and culture.


An essay on the memoirs of Norman Podhoretz, the ex-editor of a US magazine called Commentary, would normally sound to me like the sort of thing to pass over rapidly. If, like me, you don’t go to America, hardly ever read American magazines or books, and have never heard of Podhoretz, his friends, his enemies or his magazine, then it might as well be an account of a feud between Tunisian troglodytes.

But the essay is so amusingly offensive, starting from the truthful insight that ‘you can’t make old friends’, that you read it gleefully. America looms large in Hitchens’s writings, but one of the pleasures of this book is seeing its public life, which is saturated with pomposity, described by someone who is never pompous.

Very occasionally, Hitchens slides into the puffed-up phraseologies of American journalism – ‘I submit that, despite a few infelicities like “main” and “remain”, this is very finely written. Plenty of people have groaned before the dismal genre of ‘the Washington novel’; few, however, have had the wit to notice that they always have exactly the same cast and always include the British ambassador.

Hitchens has the sense to point out this mysteriously hilarious fact, and trusts the reader to mull on the implications; anyone else would have ploddingly explained the insight.

He is at his best when fixing on a small, apparently trivial detail. Presenting Orwell’s basic decency and fairness, he notices that between the proof legislatioj the final text of Animal Farm, Orwell changed one sentence about the destruction of the windmill from: Those textual details are often missed by inattentive readers and critics, and a reader who sees how important they can be is legislatikn be cherished. He loves the philosopher who ridicules Isaiah Berlin for substituting, in the second edition of Four Essays on Liberty, Thomas Hobbes for the first edition’s Thomas Aquinas, ‘as if it had to be Thomas somebody’, and draws large, fair conclusions about Berlin’s essential second-rateness from an apparently minor textual change.


They are large comments on small details, but never strike one as nitpicking.

Rather, it seems as if in the local life of texts, a small, unobserved change can reveal an author for what he is, either for good, as in Orwell, or bad, as in Berlin. Hitchens has a mildly problematic relationship with his own origins – we have it on Martin Amis’s authority that he makes it a point of honour that the late discovery of his Jewish ancestry will in no way alter his stance on the state of Israel – and the most fascinating essays here are those which bear on questions of Englishness.

There is nothing direct, but a long essay on Anthony Powell unacknowedged a circling meditation on the question. It is surely a sense of national history, for instance, that leads him to propose the war sequence in A Dance to the Music of Time as its strongest volume.

Don’t judge a book by its back cover

It will not quite do, but it makes an interesting point. Hitchens, of course, is a first-rate hater and what the book will be bought for is a collection of terrifically insulting, urbane demolitions of excessive reputations.

But what gives his writing substance is a constant sense of seriously held values.

Hitchens is having fun, but, admirably, he always means it. Topics Books The Observer. Politics books Christopher Hitchens Essays reviews.