Reviews provided by Syndetics
Library Journal Review
Born on April 13, 1949, in Portsmouth, England, best-selling author Hitchens (contributing editor, Vanity Fair; God Is Not Great) was past 40 when he learned of his Jewish blood through his matrilineal line; his mother's secret, unknown to his father. After university, Hitchens started to write articles, leading to a four-decade career at well-known magazines. Add to that books, essays, and pamphlets all written with an unerring eye for issues that raised his ire or his support. Hitchens casts a cold eye on such notables as Henry Kissinger, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush; puts under fire the Roman Catholic Church and the Vietnam War; and writes with affection about fellow literary peers. His coverage of Salman Rushdie's situation is an exercise in logic and idealism, while his views of British public education enlightens, as well as dismays. Of particular interest are his chapters on his mother and father, which are modestly deprecating and loving. VERDICT Not only is the writing original and flowing, but this memoir is brimming with political and cultural insights. A reader may disagree with Hitchens's take on the world, but his writing wins the day. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 2/1/10; 13-city tour.]-Robert Kelly, Fort Wayne Community Schs., IN (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
*Starred Review* Hitchens, who, in his earlier books, has expressed contempt for both God and Mother Teresa (although not in that order), is often described as a contrarian. In fact, in his book Letters to a Young Contrarian (2001), he himself noted that he can appear insufferable and annoying, albeit without intending to. This memoir, bracing, droll, and very revealing, gives him yet another description: storyteller. He writes with a voice you can hear clearly, warmed by smoke and whiskey, and draws readers into his story, which proves as personal as it is political. As with many memoirs, it is not the public moments that are so fascinating, though there are plenty of those. Hitchens takes readers with him to Havana and Prague, Afghanistan and Iraq; tests himself by being waterboarded (he was disappointed in his early capitulation); and hobnobs with politicians and poets. He almost gets himself beaten up by defacing a poster in Iraq with a Hitler mustache. But the most intriguing stories are the personal ones, both from his early days, at home and at boarding school, and from his later life, when he learns that his mother was Jewish, which, if only technically, makes him Jewish as well. This revelation leads Hitchens on a quest to learn the story of his family, many of whom died in the Holocaust. How this new identity squares with his oft-proclaimed atheism sheds a different light on the meaning of religious identity. (He struggles mightily with his political identity as well.) Few authors can rile as easily as Hitchens does, but even his detractors might find it difficult to put down a book so witty, so piercing, so spoiling for a fight. He makes you want to be as good a reader as he is a writer.--Cooper, Ilene Copyright 2010 Booklist
Kirkus Book Review
Hitchens (Thomas Jefferson: Author of America, 2009, etc.) offers an engrossing account of his lives as a British Navy brat, a socialist activist and a leading essayist and intellectual of our time.Now in his early 60s, the author grew up a bookish, self-confident, lower-middle-class boy in the British provinces. He has few memories of his father, "The Commander," a taciturn career Navy man, but recalls with warmth and affection his mother, Yvonne, who shaped his childhood. Bright, pretty and unhappily married, she yearned for a life of smart friends and witty conversationwhich Christopher would later leadand often admonished, "The one unforgivable sin is to be boring." She committed suicide, apologizing in a note for leaving a mess ("Oh Mummy, so like you," writes Hitchens). She never mentioned her Jewish ancestry, which the author learned about later. In this frank, often wickedly funny account, Hitchens traces his evolution as a fiercely independent thinker and enemy of people who are convinced of their absolute certainty. He describes his budding socialist days at boarding school, where he helped create a student magazine ("Ink-stained pamphleteer! Very heaven!"); his '60s years at Balliol College, Oxford, where he protested the Vietnam War, debated at the Oxford Union and lost his virginity; and his subsequent life as a young journalist working for both mainstream and "agitational" papers in London. Writing at length about friendships with Ted Hughes, James Fenton, Martin Amis and Ian McEwan, he seems always to have another fascinating encountera visit with his near-blind literary hero Jorge Luis Borges, a melancholy lunch with Chester Kallman shortly after his partner W.H. Auden's deathlurking in the next paragraph or footnote. Hitchens also details the many controversies in which he has engaged since moving to the United States in the early '80s, including his defense of free expression in the Salman Rushdie affair and his support of the Iraq War. Once deemed a prodigious drinker, Hitchens notes that he now imbibes his Scotch whiskey carefully and produces more than 1,000 words per day.Revealing and riveting. There's little about his brother, his two marriages or his children, but other memoirs may follow.]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.