Letters to a Young Contrarian (Art of Mentoring (Paperback))
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“Do justice, and let the skies fall.” Christopher Hitchens borrows from Roman antiquity this touchstone for a career of confrontation, argument, and troublemaking. A part of the Art of Mentoring series, Letters to a Young Contrarian is a trim volume of about two dozen letters to an imaginary student of controversy. The letters are wonderfully engaging–Hitchens is an exceptional prose stylist–and from the outset they strike a self-reflective note. What Hitchens lionizes and illuminates in this book is not any particular disagreement, but a way of being forever at odds with the mainstream. “Humanity is very much in debt to such people,” he argues.
Hitchens’s style is incendiary and every so often flamboyant. He relishes the role of provocateur and fancies himself a gadfly to the drowsy American republic. One of his main strengths is his erudition, allowing him to range over vast landscapes of the humanities and politics in a single breath. But he is also every so often glib and self-satisfied, and his penchant for referencing everything in sight may also be distracting. Nonetheless, his arguments are forceful and morally important–and if the reader feels another way, there are few more fitting compliments to a professional dissident than dissent. –Eric de Place