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Letters to a Young Contrarian


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About the Author

Christopher Hitchens is a contributing editor to Vanity Fair. His numerous books include Letters to a Young Contrarian and Why Orwell Matters.


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. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

"Hitchens is expanding his influence, showing the next generation how to 'think independently'." - USA Today"

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" Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

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