Web Letters | The Nation

Changing Places > Letters

Intellectual brilliance, maddening opportunism

I've read a lot of reviews—on the left, right and center—of Christopher Hitchens's fascinating and horrifying autobiography. Don Guttenplan's brilliantly insightful deconstruction of Hitchens's intellectual and moral lives is, far and away, the most insightful. Deploying Hitchens's own notion of "doubleness" to skewer CH's maddening opportunism, Guttenplan captures his sheer intellectual brilliance while never losing sight of his almost pathological gift for currying favor with Washington's reactionary elites.

I met Hitchens only once, when I was helping Victor Navasky organize a memorial service at the Ethical Culture Society for the revered historian Edward Thompson in 1993. I had to recruit Hitchens to speak at the event, which he was more than willing to do and, in fact, did brilliantly. We ran into each other several times over the intervening years at the CUNY Graduate Center, where I work, and he was always cordial and willing to re-establish our shared reverence for Edward's brand of historical writing. He was also, on each of those occasions, "in his cups," as Brits like to say. I share with Guttenplan a profound sense of loss for the left as well as regret at the squandering of such unique intellectual and political talents.

Steve Brier

New York, NY

Aug 26 2010 - 6:04am

In cold blood

D.D. Guttenplan's description of the decline and fall of Christopher Hitchens is by no means original, insightful or truthful. Rather, such a take is typical and ordinary, based on the smattering of discerning reviews that have emerged, both of Hitch-22 and the man himself, ever since the liberation of Iraq. It is evident that the conclusions Guttenplan elects to draw are neither objective nor fair—Hitchens's writings are as lucid and erudite as ever. His article is in reality the verbal equivalent of a drive-by shooting: a blind-sided slaughtering of his political evolution, grounded in dogma, as is shown by his staunch defence of Edward Said and Gore Vidal, and snide jabs at members of the Bush administration who supported the war. His article suffers all the more for it.

Liam Hoare

Horsham, UK

Aug 1 2010 - 12:35pm

Before commenting, please read our Community Guidelines.