Essays are not really my genre since I was terrorized by Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau in my teens, but I’ll give this a try.
Love, Poverty, and War is a collection of articles written by Christopher Hitchens between 1998 and 2005. It is a mixed bag containing book reviews, biographical opinion pieces, travelogues, and political polemics. I have read that he has said or written something to irritate everyone. I found him scarily intelligent and well-informed, although he has also been accused of picking his facts and disregarding those that don’t agree with his beliefs. He has a strong opinion about everything, it seems.
Hitchens’s book reviews are difficult for me to assess because I had not read a single one of the books (although I had read the authors) except Brave New World, which I read about 1970. I thought it was curious that most of the literature he reviews was written before the 1960s. Those reviews are included in the section called “Love,” so I suppose they are some of his favorite classic authors, but his selections made me wonder how he picked the essays to include in this book (if he did). I loved his review of a book by some academic that compared Bob Dylan’s songs to religious poetry by counting how many words the pieces had in common. His comments on this methodology are hilarious.
His portrait of Churchill was startling and shocking to me, as it was almost entirely negative. But then I started wondering about why it is included in the section called “Love” along with essays about Kipling, Kingsley Amis, and Orwell. I decided that he is fascinated by people of contradictions, although certainly he does not appreciate hypocrites.
I regret to say that I am not familiar enough with the details of events he discusses under “War.” For example, he repeatedly brings up the U.S. bombing of a Sudanese chemical plant, which I don’t recollect at all. He has been criticized for a shift from leftist to rightist politics because of his opinions about the U.S. handling (or lack thereof) of Salman Rushdie’s situation when he was under fatwa and then his reaction to 9/11 and the attacks following. I noticed that between essays he certainly shifted his position on the Sudanese bombing, maintaining at first that the factory produced aspirin and later that there were strong indications that it was used to produce WMD.
I didn’t see this as a political shift as much as the result of his knowledge of the situations in Iraq and Afghanistan and an honest abhorrence of some of the left-wing apologists after 9/11. Unfortunately, it seems that some of his optimism about the interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan was a bit premature.
Hitchens is sharp and witty. I laughed out loud frequently even if I didn’t agree with him. However, if you are not very familiar with the events he discusses, he is sometimes hard to follow. And since these are essays, he does not cite his sources. Sometimes he states things as facts that make me wonder where he got his information.