A polarizing, brilliant writer, Christopher Hitchens built a reputation as a ferocious left-wing analyst and thinker, writing for the New Statesman before moving to the United States in 1981 to write...
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Born April 13, 1949 in Portsmouth, England, Christopher Eric Hitchens was the son of parents who were both serving in the Royal Navy during World War II. Determined to help her son rise as high in life as possible, his mother ensured that he received an excellent education. He graduated from the Leys School in Cambridge and then from Balliol College, Oxford. He had several homosexual experiences in boarding school as well as during his college years, of which he would later write about extensively. During the 1960s, he began to forge his philosophy, strongly rooted in leftist and Labour party ideals, but with a strong maverick streak that included interests in Trotskyist and anti-Stalinist socialism. In fact, he served as a correspondent for the magazine International Socialism. After graduating Oxford, he began work as social science editor for the Times Higher Education Supplement, but after being fired, found work with the New Statesman, where he befriended authors Martin Amis and Ian McEwan and began to cement his reputation as a ferocious left-winger, including celebrated attacks on Henry Kissinger and the Vietnam War.
In November 1973, Hitchens's mother committed suicide in Athens, and while in Greece to collect her body, he filed his first leading article for the New Statesman on the country's constitutional crisis. In 1981, he moved to the United States to write for The Nation, launching scathing critiques of Ronald Reagan, George Bush, Sr. and American foreign policy in South and Central America. For his work, Hitchens traveled the world, filing correspondent-style pieces from multiple countries. He became a contributing editor at Vanity Fair in 1992 and began writing monthly essays on books for The Atlantic as well as other literary journals. Although famed "enfant terrible" writer Gore Vidal had long endorsed Hitchens as his heir apparent, the two parted ways when the younger man's views changed, and his devastating critique on Vidal in a 2010 Vanity Fair piece effectively severed their relationship. A proud, erudite and eloquent contrarian, Hitchens was famous for eviscerating public figures in print, most notable 1999's No One Left to Lie To: The Triangulations of William Jefferson Clinton, 1995's The Missionary Position: Mother Theresa in Theory and Practice and 2001's The Trial of Henry Kissinger, as well as shorter opinion pieces, casting a cold, analytic eye on everyone from Mel Gibson to Jerry Falwell to Michael Moore.
Although he had built his career and personal views on a leftist perspective, after the fatwa issued against Salman Rushdie, Hitchens began to shift towards a more neo-conservative viewpoint, especially in terms of the Iraq War and the war on terror; his views only escalated after the events of Sept. 11, 2001, opening a divide between him and many of his colleagues. In 2002, Hitchens left The Nation after a highly publicized back-and-forth with Noam Chomsky over the nature of radical Islam, and he argued fervently for the Iraq War in a 2003 collection, A Long Short War: The Postponed Liberation of Iraq, as well as his belief that deposing Saddam Hussein was a necessity. Still, he continued his acid-tongued criticisms of George W. Bush in regards to wiretapping and U.S. governmental torture.
Most controversial were Hitchens's outspoken arguments against organized religion, specifically Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and his 2007 book God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything spurred heated debate around the world. A proud atheist, Hitchens became a leading proponent of the movement, writing candidly on his confidence in the lack of a divine being and his refusal to consider a deathbed conversion even as he faced his own mortality. As prolific a drinker and smoker as he was a writer, he faced his diagnosis of and treatment for esophageal cancer with his trademark fearlessness, and continued to file his confidently acerbic columns and essays. In 2010, he wrote Hitch-22: A Memoir, where he applied his mercilessly honest magnifying glass to his own life and contradictions.
Married twice as well as the father of three children, Hitchens also had a younger brother. Peter Hitchens was a Christian and socially conservative journalist, and the two frequently clashed, but eventually made public peace with each other. As his health worsened with little effect on his output and honesty, Hitchens saw his fame increase, and became a widely recognized cultural commentator, so much so that it made international news when, on Dec. 15, 2011, he died at age 62 in Houston, TX. A brilliant writer, incisive thinker and important international figure, Christopher Hitchens left behind a vibrant intellectual legacy that simultaneously polarized and inspired.
By Jonathan Riggs
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