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Originally published Monday, June 21, 2010 at 7:00 PM

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Book review

'Hitch-22': the unvarnished, unapologetic Christopher Hitchens tells all

Christopher Hitchens' "Hitch-22" is a bawdy and unapologetic memoir by the public intellectual/activist/atheist author of "God is Not Great." Hitchens discusses his book Tuesday at Town Hall Seattle.

Special to The Seattle Times


by Christopher Hitchens

Twelve, 448 pp., $26.99


Like its author, "Hitch-22" is entertaining, thought-provoking and sometimes irritating, but with the depth to make up for the latter.

Christopher Hitchens' memoir has the same nerve and frankness that first made me admire him, despite his advocacy of invading Iraq and impeaching Bill Clinton. You may have your own greatest-hits list for this public intellectual/provocateur/activist/atheist. Mine includes his righteous post-mortem smackdown of Jerry Falwell while media hacks were erring on the side of deference.

Agree with him or not, the book — whose title refers to his apparent inconsistencies — explains well how he arrived at his positions. Hitchens, a contributing editor to Vanity Fair, is author of the best-selling atheist manifesto "God is Not Great." That same nerve was present at an early age, when he chose to be the only boy not to bow his head in prayer at school.

There are salacious bits, too, and Hitchens dishes about himself as much as he does others. He reveals youthful same-sex dalliances as a schoolboy, and the occasional relapse in later years. Yeah, shocking: Boys get it on with each other and teachers get it on with boys in English boarding schools. But Hitchens' candor on the subject is illuminating and (pardon the word) touching as he writes about the boy who was his first love. (Later, he notes that his looks had declined to the point where only women would go to bed with him.)

Hitchens found former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to be a hottie, and describes a surreal meeting in which she kept insisting he bow lower and then spanked him with a rolled-up paper, mouthing "Naughty boy!" over her shoulder as she walked away. The memoir made me laugh out loud more than once, not just for the randy exploits (see his hung-over trip to a New York brothel with pal Martin Amis) but for the blunt descriptions of public figures — the " pious, born-again creep," Jimmy Carter, the "vain, preposterous" Al Haig.

Hitchens' time with literary contemporaries from Amis to Salman Rushdie would make any younger writer envious. As for the deeper stuff, Hitchens describes his gradual transformation from a '60s Marxist idealist to Iraq hawk: he witnessed Saddam Hussein's atrocities there and found removing him a moral imperative. So what if we were lied into the war and there were no WMD (weapons of mass destruction) or 9/11 connection; Hitchens would have hit him even more ruthlessly to save civilians.

His perspective on becoming an American citizen is refreshing at a time when it's easy to become jaded about our role in the world.

Portions of the book drag — his quest for details of a relative's life, rehashed arguments with Palestinian-American professor Edward Said (especially when the deceased Said gets no rebuttal). But patience rewards what might first appear to be self-indulgent monologues — even when he seems like a gasbag, he's proved it's worth hearing him out.

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