Cover image for Letters to a young contrarian
Letters to a young contrarian
Hitchens, Christopher.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
[New York] : Basic Books, [2001]

Physical Description:
xii, 141 pages ; 21 cm
Reading Level:
1230 Lexile.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
HM1246 .H57 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
HM1246 .H57 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



"Art of Mentoring" seriesIn the book that he was born to write, provocateur and best-selling author Christopher Hitchens inspires future generations of radicals, gadflies, mavericks, rebels, angry young (wo)men, and dissidents. Who better to speak to that person who finds him or herself in a contrarian position than Hitchens, who has made a career of disagreeing in profound and entertaining ways.This book explores the entire range of "contrary positions"-from noble dissident to gratuitous pain in the butt. In an age of overly polite debate bending over backward to reach a happy consensus within an increasingly centrist political dialogue, Hitchens pointedly pitches himself in contrast. He bemoans the loss of the skills of dialectical thinking evident in contemporary society. He understands the importance of disagreement-to personal integrity, to informed discussion, to true progress-heck, to democracy itself. Epigrammatic, spunky, witty, in your face, timeless and timely, this book is everything you would expect from a mentoring contrarian.

Author Notes

Christopher Hitchens was born in Portsmouth, England on April 13, 1949. He was a contributing editor to Vanity Fair and wrote for numerous other publications throughout his lifetime. He was the author of numerous books including No One Left to Lie To, For the Sake of Argument, Prepared for the Worst, God Is Not Great, Hitch-22: A Memoir, and Arguably. He died due to complication from esophageal cancer on December 15, 2011 at the age of 62.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

It's difficult to think of a political writer who fits the description "contrarian" better than Hitchens; his advice to aspirants, patterned after Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet (a popular source--see also Alan Dershowitz's version on p.267) is instructive. To his credit, Hitchens recognizes he has no "lock" on wisdom and that he "can appear insufferable and annoying without intending to do so." His letters urge his young friend to read widely, and his suggestions include Zola, Freud, Marx, Orwell, Forster, Vaclav Havel, Martin Amis, F. M. Cornford's Microcosmographia Academica, and Joseph Heller's Catch-22, among others. Hitchens is anticonsensus, even antitheist, as his critical study of Mother Teresa made clear. He is, however, broadly educated and a graceful writer, which suggests that even readers who disagree with him on many subjects will enjoy this commentary on the demands of "oppositionism." --Mary Carroll

Publisher's Weekly Review

Hitchens, a columnist for the Nation and Vanity Fair, and author, most recently, of The Trial of Henry Kissinger, has made a career of disagreement and dissent, of being the thorn in search of a side. "Only an open conflict of ideas and principles can produce any clarity," he observes. Hitchens's views, also part of the Art of Mentoring series (see Dershowitz, above), unfold in the form of an ongoing correspondence with an imaginary mentee whom he advises on modes of thought, argument and self-determination, on how to "live at an angle to the safety and mediocrity of consensus." The threats to free will are many, some predictable: establishment powers, the media, religious edicts, the manipulation of language, polls, labels, people with answers. Less obvious corrosives: the Dalai Lama, harmony, the New York Times claim to publish "all the news that's fit to print" ("conceited" and "censorious"). Indeed, the supply of enemies to rail against seems endless. Over a short span, Hitchens sounds off on a variety of topics irony, radicalism, anarchy, socialism, solitude, faith and humor, to name a few propelling readers through both time and space, from the Bible to Bosnia. At times, the argumentative positions seem offered up for their own sake which the author argues is justified and may inadvertently raise the question of how far we can define ourselves by what we are not. But this mini-manifesto, despite the somewhat mountainous terrain, should provide readers interested in current events and anti-establishment philosophy with a clearer view into one of today's more restless and provocative minds. (Oct.) Forecast: Basic figures there are as many budding contrarians out there as there are budding lawyers. The house is launching the new Art of Mentoring series with a 75,000-copy first printing of both books. With good media coverage (both authors will tour), Dershowitz's name and Hitchens's prickly reputation, both books should do well. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Perhaps best known for his indictment of ex-President Clinton in No One Left To Lie To, Hitchens, a columnist for Vanity Fair and the Nation, is usually thought of as an irritable, irreverent, sarcastic, witty, and intelligent champion of the Left with a penchant for transcending the party line. In this sense, his latest offering is surprising, not so much because of the content his sympathies are still decidedly leftist, even though he is critical of the Left's past failures but in tone and style. Debuting a book series modeled upon Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet, he offers advice and encouragement to any young person who feels compelled to lead a life of nonconformity and dissent. Instead of offering trenchant political criticism, he contemplates the implications of not blindly joining the herd, methods of argument and persuasion, and the need for disagreement in intellectual development. He is occasionally dismissive of ideologies that differ from his own (mainly religious), and he is unabashedly partisan an emphasis on such leftist ideals as universal equality and respect for human rights pervades the text. But, overall, his advice is thankfully nonpartisan, and his passionate call to embrace dialectic thinking and contentious debate is convincing and, well, correct. For undergraduate and larger public libraries. Heath Madom, "Library Journal" (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Prefacep. vii
Introductionp. xi

p. 1


p. 13


p. 19


p. 27


p. 35


p. 41


p. 47


p. 53


p. 55


p. 61


p. 69


p. 79


p. 85


p. 95


p. 105


p. 115


p. 123


p. 127

Envoip. 139