Mortality by Christopher Hitchens | Book review
True to form, the late polemicist is sharp-witted and sincere in his final essay collection.
This last book by Hitchens, who died of esophageal cancer in December 2011, is tragically slim. Nonetheless, these essays, many of which originally appeared in Vanity Fair, demonstrate the late master’s ability to tuck sincerity, wit and scorn into a single sentence. Not surprisingly, religion is a major target throughout. In one hilarious moment, Hitchens writes about discovering a website where people can place bets on whether or not he’ll renounce atheism. He ponders Pascal’s Gambit but comes to the conclusion that no god would honor such calculated devotion.
While the barbs are as sharp as ever—he convincingly argues that prayer implies God is flawed—this collection more potently offers Hitchens’s dispatches from what he dubs “the sick country.” The place isn’t all bad, yet, “the humor is a touch feeble and repetitive, there seems to be almost no talk of sex, and the cuisine is the worst of any destination I have ever visited.” He chronicles his time in “tumortown” not for pity but to motivate an attack on subjects like waterboarding, opponents of stem-cell research and the absurd maxim “Whatever doesn’t kill me makes me stronger.”
The last essay is unfinished. After a characteristically pithy start, it dissolves into a series of loosely connected paragraphs and sentences, revealing a bit about Hitchens’s process, while confirming that his love of humor endured until the end. Fragments like “Not even a race for a cure” and “Nose hairs gone” hint at a punch line undelivered. Hitchens went down writing—a gesture of devotion to his followers, as he aimed for each work to read as if “personally addressed” to the reader.