Because Christopher Hitchens’ oeuvre is both enormous in size and uneven in quality, it’s a challenge to sort his finest writing out from the bits that are merely barstool rants or contrarianism for its own sake (Like other people, I was always suspicious that when Hitchens was ripping into Mother Theresa or some other cultural icon it was as much a quest for publicity as a serious intellectual act.). I have developed my own rule for separating Hitchens’ wheat from his chaff: He is best read when he is praising someone or something rather than on the attack. I would cite as Exhibit A for my strategy this review of the work of the great Anthony Powell, whose fans include a number of RBC readers.
Hitchens quotes Powell judiciously and to great effect in his review, expertly diagnosing the author’s approach to writing and his connection to broader historical and literary trends. It’s a small classic of book reviewing, and gains from Hitchens’ warm tone throughout. Last but not least, I cannot wait to steal the line that a certain anecdote is “quite untrue but well worth repeating”.