The death of Christopher Hitchens at the age of 62 is hardly a surprise but is sad all the same. He was a great writer and great company. I became a fan when I was a teenager and he was on the New Statesman – but I didn’t really appreciate his brilliance until the 1980s, after he’d given up on the Statesman and decamped to the United States.
It was then that he really spread his wings, publishing some quite extraordinary essays on a wide variety of political and literary themes in a wide variety of periodicals (the best of them collected in two collections, Prepared for the Worst and For the Sake of Argument). The 1980s was also when he wrote what I think is far-and-away his best book, Blood, Class and Nostalgia, a rumination on the relationship between Britain and America.
He kept up his output through the 1990s and into the new millenium: there were articles galore, books denouncing Mother Teresa, Bill Clinton and Henry Kissinger, dozens of broadcast appearances – but what turned him into an international intellectual superhero/supervillain was his response to 9/11.
He famously declared his support for George W Bush’s war on terror and backed military intervention to remove the Taliban from Afghanistan and Saddam Hussein from Iraq, leading many of his one-time admirers to denounce him for capitulation to US imperialism. A lot of these ex-fans think that he did little worthwhile after 9/11, but even though I think he was wrong about Iraq, I disagree. His 2002 book on George Orwell, Orwell’s Victory, a pithy polemical defence of its subject, and his 2007 atheist manifesto, God Is Not Great, are both up there with his work in the 1980s and 1990s – and his occasional journalism continued to deserve attention right up to his death. He will be missed.