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Tuesday, June 12th, 2007

Time Event
6:32p
That's more like it ...
As noted repeatedly, I had been, over the past month or so, sort of "beating myself over the head" with various new age tomes intended to improve my attitude about stuff and perhaps set me on the road towards "attracting" prosperity. While those about me have noticed a certain attitude adjustment, we are still waiting on the Big Cash Payoff part of this. While we are, to borrow a joke from the Dalai Lama, "Waiting for Lotto" (or that fabulous new job that will pay well and not be a soul-crushing grind), I'm going back to reading books that don't make me roll my eyes and mimic retching sounds.

Fortunately, Christopher Hitchens' Letters to a Young Contrarian is a breath of bracing fresh air compared to the patchouli sludge I've been figuratively exposed to of late. Somewhat patterned on Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet, this is Hitchens' meeting the challenge made to him of creating some sort of a mentoring guide (indeed, this is part of the "Art of Mentoring" series of books) for being something of a gadfly, activist, etc. In a score of "letters", Hitchens skips around from topic to topic, but never veering too far from his central tenet of developing and studiously protecting a certain level of intellectual honesty.

Hitchens is a bit of an odd fellow, in that he does seem to practice what he preaches along these lines. While author of a good many titles, at least half of them are, like this one (coming in at 141 pages), more in the tradition of philosophical or political pamphlets or tracts than "books" per se. Until just recently he had only shown up on my radar with his similarly brief savaging of the Clintons, No One Left To Lie To ... needless to say, I found that a stalwart of the Left taking apart Bubba and Hitlery was quite a sight to behold, and he certainly got points from me for that effort. Of course, many will find it odd that I can be as much of a fan of Hitchens as I am of Ann Coulter, but both of them bring to the table a level of clarity that I respect (and a poison prose that I admire), while carrying baggage (his Leftism, her Xtianity) that I'm willing to ignore.

As Letters to a Young Contrarian is "all over the map" subject-wise, I thought I'd share some quotes that I found particularly arch to provide a sense of the general thrust of Hitchens' writing:

Discussing the atmosphere of the mid-1950's:
"... a time when existential anomie was trading at an inflated price."

From a section on how "public opinion" is variously manipulated for the benefit of those in power:
"... the forces of piety have always and everywhere been the sworn enemy of the open mind and the open book."

And, in his closing admonitions:
"Seek out argument and disputation for their own sake; the grave will provide plenty of time for silence."
The whole book is beautifully written, with well-crafted words wrapping up cutting barbs aimed at assorted hypocrisies. Of course, Mr. Hitchens is currently the "boogie man du jour" for the rabid Xtian crowd, and he does not disappoint in his animosity towards blind belief. In fact, I think that this may be the only place I've actually encountered the term "antitheist" outside of the antitheism community here (which is also where I initially found this book recommended), a term he uses (differentiating from agnosticism or atheism) to define his stance that all faiths are essentially built on lies and that religion is in and of itself harmful.

He references many authors that I have not yet read, and I've been able to put together quite a weighty "wish list" while reading this. As a particular lagniappe, he also introduced me (sitting in for his purported correspondent) to the rather delightful Microcosmographia Academica, a satiric 1908 guide to the internal politics of the University, which seems to be as pointed today as it was a century ago!

Needless to say, I highly recommend Letters to a Young Contrarian. It is currently in print, so should be available via your local brick-and-mortar vendor, but is also on Amazon for a couple of bucks off of cover price. You could save a bit going with the new/used vendors, but due to the low retail (befitting a book under 150 pages!), you probably won't be getting a "steal" (especially when shipping on those deals is already 31% of the full price). Anyway ... no matter the distribution channel you chose, get this book! It really is that good.


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