Christopher Hitchens never followed the rules of polite dinner party conversation. Boisterous, argumentative, stubborn and, most frustratingly, often right, he had a way of making his views — often about politics and religion — known using the most efficient of language, never giving a damn what anybody else thought of them. Although he died this past December after a bout of esophageal cancer, his memory lives on, as do his numerous debates via YouTube and several of his books.
Unfortunately, books go out of print from time to time, and some of his most impressive works have become difficult to find. Twelve Books, a publishing company intent on releasing no more than a dozen books per year, each culturally significant, has made an effort to correct this by reprinting three of Hitchens’ most controversial works. The three books each take aim at a different well-known figure, effectively eviscerating Bill Clinton (“No One Left to Lie to,” originally published in 1999), Henry Kissinger (“The Trial of Henry Kissinger,” in 2001) and Mother Teresa (“The Missionary Position,” in 1995).
Those familiar with Hitchens’ other work will already be aware of his style, which is sharp, yet restrained. He’ll go straight for the jugular, but never let his passion for the subject get the better of him. His arguments are usually very persuasive. Although it’s difficult to sum up a person’s life in a few hundred pages, by the time a reader finishes with any of these three books, it’s likely that at the very least, he or she will reconsider their position on the given figure.
With Kissinger and Clinton, Hitchens makes it clear that they’re politicians in the worst sense of the word, caring more about self-promotion and preservation than doing what’s right, even when it resulted in the deaths of innocent people. In both cases, these figures ordered military strikes based on bad intelligence to further their political careers, rather than protecting our nation’s security or defending democracy overseas. The two of them are also, in Hitchens’ estimation, compulsive liars.
However, Hitchens really knocks it out of the park with “The Missionary Position,” the shortest of the three books here, in which he attacks Mother Teresa, accusing her of hypocrisy, corruption, narcissism, simple-mindedness and, above all else, making situations worse by refusing to offer modern medical assistance to those in need, despite having the financial means to do so. Although he’s writing a book criticizing one of the most revered figures of the 20th century, Hitchens isn’t just adopting a contrarian viewpoint to be argumentative: He has evidence to back his position up, often in the form of quotes from Teresa herself or those who worked with her directly, and he firmly believes, when judging Mother Teresa by her words and actions, she does not live up to her reputation.
All three books are genuine Hitchens, who, if he ever wrote a bad sentence, has kept it well hidden. Although they’re all fairly brief and written with a large typeface, they’re not short on content and, despite delving into some of the most horrible atrocities of recent history, are an absolute joy to read, thanks to the author’s dry wit.
Additionally, although Kissinger and Clinton are no longer in positions of power and Teresa has been dead for more than a decade, the books remain relevant. Clinton is perhaps even more lionized by the left now than when he was when in office and Teresa is in a position to be canonized by the Catholic Church. While Kissinger is perhaps not viewed as positively as the other two, he can still be brought to trial as a war criminal, which was Hitchens’ purpose for writing the book in the first place.
Although these three books are by no means even a summary of the work that Hitchens created during his prolific career, they do a fine job of representing why he was so revered. While he spent most of his life arguing against specific people and positions, it’s clear that he did so not out of bitterness, but out of a genuine belief in justice and the power of his ideals. The subject matter isn’t always pleasant. However, reading Hitchens is always inspiring, and in the context of these posthumous re-releases, somewhat bittersweet as well.