A witty, wise, biting, and completely individual meditation on what it means to think, live, and be to the contrary.
Journalist Christopher Hitchens turns out to be the more modest mentor. His nineteen letters are as engaging as Dershowitz's and more provocative. Hitchens is eloquent and savagely witty, and his approach here is theoretical, less nuts-and-bolts than Dershowitz's. In an environment of political correctness and overly polite discourse, Hitchens' appeal is in his desire to challenge and shake up the system. The author reminds us that "human beings do not, in fact, desire to live in some Disneyland of the mind, where there is an end to striving and a general feeling of contentment and bliss." While most desire harmony and peace, Hitchens argues for the usefulness of strife and debate: "In life we make progress by conflict and in mental life by argument and disputation."
For Hitchens, "a state of praise and gratitude and adoration" is analogous to a "world of hellish nullity and conformism." Hitchens is deeply skeptical of those who criticize the politics of division, "as if politics was not division by definition," he points out. Having established himself as our preeminent political bad boy for his scathing attacks on Mother Teresa, the Clintons and Henry Kissinger, Hitchens will surely offend some with his antitheism: "I not only maintain that all religions are versions of the same untruth, but I hold that the influence of churches, and the effect of religious belief, is positively harmful," writes Hitchens, for whom religion "is, and always has been, a means of control."
The author is most effective when challenging us to resist the merely familiar and popular. The contrarian, Hitchens asserts, must be bold and aggressive, must not let weak assertions andbeliefs get by. Moreover, he or she must be willing to tell people what they don't want to hear. Recall how Hitchens, in his book The Missionary Position, was highly critical of alliances that Mother Teresa, esteemed and sacred to many, had formed with politicians and businessmen. Equally valuable is Hitchens' advice about overcoming self-doubt. "I am consoled, when I suffer this very same apprehension, by the thought that the Pope and the Queen and the President all wake up every morning with a similar gnawing fear. Or that, if they do not, they deserve to be doubted and distrusted even more, if that were possible, than I doubt and distrust them now."
Hitchens' articulate and perceptive arguments have enormous appeal, as does Dershowitz's keen scrutiny of the American legal system, and their books effectively hold the reader's attention. In an age shaped by pervasive opinion polling, both writers advise us to stand alone and passionately resist what othersguided by habit, good manners or conformitytoo easily accept. Surely such a lesson is beneficial to us all.