Christopher Hitchens, 1949-2011

Writer remembered for wit, intellectual bravery

The writer and critic Christopher Hitchens, who died Thursday from complications of esophageal cancer, was remembered as a man of intellectual bravery, uncompromising ideals, and prodigious appetites.

Hitchens’ career was a storied one. He wrote for The Nation, Harper’s, The Times Literary Supplement, and The Atlantic, among many other publications. He landed at Vanity Fair as a contributing editor in 1992. He authored 17 books.

“There will never be another like Christopher. A man of ferocious intellect, who was as vibrant on the page as he was at the bar,” wrote his friend and Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter. “Those who read him felt they knew him, and those who knew him were profoundly fortunate souls.”

James Bennet, editor of The Atlantic, recalled being impacted by Hitchens’ words during a reading at a bookstore a few years ago to mark the magazine’s 150th anniversary.

“Christopher went straight to one of the few passages that still, after several decades, had the power to shock: the scene in [Saul Bellow’s] Mr. Sammler’s Planet in which the black pickpocket pins the white Sammler into a corner, unzips his own fly, and pulls out his penis. As some listeners squirmed in their chairs, Christopher read the selection with profound relish. Joy, even. He was reminding all of us of part of what The Atlantic was really for. I’d only just started as editor, and that was the first of several such lessons he would almost incidentally, in the course of being himself, teach me.”

But Hitchens was perhaps best known for his intellectual honesty and the breadth of his interests. He admired George Orwell and skewered the Dalai Lama and Mother Teresa. He wrote extensively about his fight with cancer and being a devout atheist, which was unwavering throughout his illness.

Ben Schwarz, The Atlantic’s literary editor, wrote that Hitchens valued this honesty above all other qualities, even intelligence—even if it became personal, as it did when he agreed to write a critique of his onetime friend Edward Said.

“It's commonly said that Christopher couldn't stand stupidity. That isn't true. He couldn't tolerate stupidity married to pretentiousness or dishonesty,” Schwarz wrote.

Hitchens was also legendary for producing vast amounts of volumes of writing in nearly perfect shape, even after consuming prodigious amounts of alcohol. Carter described a meal he shared with Hitchens as such: “Pre-lunch canisters of scotch were followed by a couple of glasses of wine during the meal and a similar quantity of post-meal cognac. That was just his intake.” Later, back in the office, Carter wrote, “He produced a 1,000-word column of near perfection in under half an hour.”

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