Letters To a Young Contrarian

by Hitchens, Christopher

Letters to a Young Contrarian is Christopher Hitchens' contribution, released in 2001, to the Art of Mentoring series published by Basic Books.

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On Apr 23, 2014, Anonymous said:
. I find it a pleasure that Christopher Hitchens writes as eloquently in praise (his books on Orwell and Thomas Paine) as he does in damnation (everything else). His book LETTERS TO A YOUNG CONTRARIAN (Basic Books, 2001), with its open allusion to Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet (which passes under Hitchens’s eye with a few but relatively light scorch marks) is a discussion of the role of contrarian or, as the cynics might have it, professional nay-sayer: “A disposition for resistance, however slight, against arbitrary authority or witless mass opinion, or a thrill of recognition when you encounter some well-wrought phrase from a free intelligence….To be in opposition is not to be a nihilist. And there is no decent or charted way of making a living at it. It is something you are, not something you do.” The role has its temptations and dangers, of which Hitchens is gratifyingly aware—the book serves as an assurance, if you are thrown by consistent nay-sayers, that Hitchens writes in skeptic good faith. And it presents, in brief and effectively restrained form, Hitchens’s objections to religious thought. These are questions, if you pretend to faith, that you have to answer, but in form beside which Hitchens’s much-discussed GOD IS NOT GREAT is a slack and over-insistent piece of writing. Being Hitchens, the book is full of questions you should be answering (this is the twenty-first century, if you had not noticed) and plenty of humor; one story is offered “as part of my recommendation that one acts bloody-minded as often as the odds are favorable and even sometimes when they are not; it’s good exercise.” LETTERS is a spirited and enlivening book that delivers the bad news with a maximum of precision and zest.

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