Book Review: Mortality by Christopher Hitchens


For those of you uninitiated people yet to be acquainted with Christopher Hitchens, I’d like to introduce you to my personal hero who inspired me to declare myself atheist publicly and who is the most erudite, relentless warrior against ignorance and injustice – speaking and writing in attacks against issues that I also care deeply about.

I got to know about Hitchens through an acquaintance some time ago and after watching his Intelligence Squared debates on YouTube and other platforms as well as reading his works like “god is not great” and other online publications, I became a fan. Knowing about Hitchens being stricken by “the ‘C’ word” saddened me, and the end came too soon for my personal hero.

Hitchen’s last book is Mortality which went on sale in September. After waiting for it to be available on my regular online bookstore, I ordered it without hesitation (ahead of the other books in my wishlist) and devoured it in just about less than 2 days, mostly during my commutes. The last few pages of jottings that Hitchens wrote brought tears to my eyes, because he described what my late cousin was also going through in the last weeks of her young life battling cancer – much like Hitchens – only he had the will to still continue his life work and record it in the way he knew best.

The writing is classic Hitch – poignant, honest, and even includes advice on how to write well, which is to write like the way you speak. The catch is, as he asked his writing class after dispensing the earlier advice, who can speak, like, really speak? A master orator like Hitch is unparalleled, I dare say. And to speak (and therefore write) like him is a lofty ambition to most, if not all of us.

I guess to be an accomplished writer, one must first be an accomplished reader. Opinions become more relevant and persuasive when the author of them are knowledgeable enough to form sufficiently objective ones. I shudder at the thought of the day the printed book is a thing of the past, what with mobile technology, e-books and online subscriptions becoming more common. In fact, the very topic of the fate of the printed book was my topic of choice during my A Level General paper examination, in which I expressed strong affinity for the book, and still do today. I strongly believe that a printed book that you can hold in your hand and open up to smell the freshly printed pages is the only way to inspire people to tune out from your beeping smart phones and other mobile devices, and just immerse in the world that the author has created for you.

But I have digressed. Back to Mortality – this is one of the smallest works by Hitchens and won’t take up too much time to finish. The many last words of Hitch will always be remembered, not least of which being “If I convert (to a religion), it’s because it’s better that a believer dies than that an atheist does.”

And now I will continue to do some serious catching up on the earlier works of Hitch, starting with “Arguably” – his 2011 bestselling omnibus of selected essays, all of about 741 pages thick. 🙂

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