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Writing Worth Reading

Tony Benn: Wicked Or Merely Stupid? (1981)

From the archives. Profile of Tony Benn (who died this week) from 1981 when Benn was the champion of socialism, Britain was in turmoil, and Mrs Thatcher was beginning her revolution. “There is war in Ireland; the cities are on fire; the pound sterling has become a joke: productivity is at prewar levels. In a country like this it is not surprising, and may even be necessary, that the leader of the Left is a member of the aristocracy” (5,200 words)

Wine Drinkers Of The World, Unite

Reprint of classic column from 2008. Waiters should not pour your wine. “The vile practice of butting in and pouring wine without being asked is the very height of the second kind of bad manners. Not only is it a breathtaking act of rudeness in itself, but it conveys a none-too-subtle and mercenary message: Hurry up and order another bottle. Imagine this same tactic being applied to the food” (925 words)

The Importance Of Being Orwell

Hitchens introduces Orwell’s collected diaries: “By his determination to seek elusive but verifiable truth, he showed how much can be accomplished by an individual who unites the qualities of intellectual honesty and moral courage”

Charles Dickens’s Inner Child

Hitchens, in his final essay for Vanity Fair, discusses great British novelist. “Dickens was able to mine the huge resource of London life, becoming its conductor and chronicler like nobody since Shakespeare himself”

Best Of 2011: Unspoken Truths

Advancing cancer attacks his vocal cords. “My voice suddenly rose to a piping squeak. It began to register all over the place, from a gruff and husky whisper to a papery, plaintive bleat. Now it threatens daily to disappear”

I Fought The Law

Glorious paragraph opens this piece in which Hitchens goes on a one-man crime spree around New York to protest about petty laws and ordinances. Takes his feet off his bike pedals, feeds pigeons, sits around on milk crates and so on

The Road To West Egg

Hitchens on The Great Gatsby. “Fitzgerald’s work captures the evaporating memory of the American Eden while connecting it to the advent of the New World of smartness and thuggery and corruption”

Trial Of The Will

Powerful piece of writing on dealing with disease, pain, death. From one of the great essayists. Does “whatever doesn’t kill me makes me stronger” hold true? Not when the very medicine that sustains you, weakens you

The New Libya’s First Mistake

Gaddafi squatted like a toad on the lives of the Libyan people. His obscene regime showed that it would rather destroy society and the state than surrender power. But his killing was a squalid lynching. Better he went to the Hague

Pakistan Is The Enemy

The point of an essay or an op-ed should be to provoke thought, and not necessarily stroke your prejudices. And it should deploy the full armoury of language to do so. Enter the master essayist, the Hitch

Simply Evil

“Responsibility, somehow, never lay squarely with the perpetrators.” Hitchens reflects on a decade since 9/11: “There turned out to be many millions of Arabs who have heretically and robustly preferred life over death”

The Crimes Of Colonel Qaddafi

Short piece of satisfyingly trenchant criticism. “In the nightmare state so cherished by such fantasy rulers, mere acquiescence or subjection is not enough. You must become a full participant in your own oppression”

The Real Mahatma Gandhi

Inevitable, really. Prompted by Joseph Lelyveld’s biography, Hitchens gets his claws into Gandhi, whose backward-looking philosophy “has more in common with Wahhabism than with the figures of Mandela, King, or other moral heroes”

The Last Of The Scholar Warriors

On Paddy Leigh Fermor. Until recently “he was still able to drink anybody senseless, still capable of hiking the wildest parts of Greece, still producing the most limpidly written accounts of his solitary, scholarly expeditions”

Chomsky’s Follies

Chomsky fires (provocatively). Hitchens returns. “Guru of the left” is in “9/11 denial”. He writes as if mass of evidence against Bin Laden has never been presented. And is he seriously suggesting that the US deserved the attack?

Philip Larkin, Impossible Man

A fine poet but a petty and squalid person, addicted to pornography. “We should wonder how and why poetry manages to transmute the dross of existence into magic or gold, and the contrast in Larkin’s case is a specially acute one”

Message To American Atheists

Beautifully turned letter of apology for absence. “Nothing would have kept me from joining you except the loss of my voice (at least my speaking voice) which in turn is due to a long argument I am having with the specter of death”

Beware The In-Laws

Entertaining republican rant from Christopher Hitchens. The Queen gets off lightly compared with lesser royals. A refreshing reminder of the fallibility of royalty and its trappings. But does he have a soft spot for Kate?

Blair Hitch Project

On debating Tony Blair in Toronto. “The high-wattage grin was still there, framed in a lined face with cropped and graying hair that still gave the ephemeral impression of youth. I asked him in private what it was like to be hated”

How To Make A Decent Cup Of Tea

“It is already virtually impossible in the United States, unless you undertake the job yourself, to get a cup or pot of tea that tastes remotely as it ought to.” Hitchens channels Orwell. And yes, if you’re wondering: Milk in last

Believe me it’s torture

Hitchens volunteers to try for himself if waterboarding is as innocent as George Bush Jr would have us believe. It isn’t. It’s torture. There’s even a video to dispel any stubborn doubts

Israel’s “Shabbos Goy”

Powerful denunciation of US offer to Israel on settlements. “Why does America acquiesce so wretchedly in its own disgrace, tearing up international law, UN resolutions, election promises? We will regret this craven deal”

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