Instead of pedigree, Hitchens sports affiliation. Once of the New Statesman, the Nation, and the New York Review of Books, he is now of Vanity Fair, the Atlantic, and Slate.
It would not be unkind to characterize this progression as a move away from readers rooted in the better sort of faculty club to an audience more mobile, more affluent, and closer to the mainstream — without, of course, the tincture of being thought too conventional.
Like any self-respecting, self-invented man (think Evelyn Waugh; consider George Orwell), Hitchens is himself the author of his own reality, his own narrative.
The product — by English standards — of negligible preparatory and secondary schools, he was graduated by one of Oxford's grander colleges, Balliol.
A Trotskyite turned Social Democrat, Hitchens predicted Margaret Thatcher's eventual rise to the premiership in the Sunday New York Times Magazine. Although he opposed her domestic policies, he supported her war in the Falklands against the neo-fascist Argentine generals, presaging his eventual support for George W. Bush's war in Iraq.
It is, I think, a mistake to consider Hitchens in purely political terms. There is something of the romantic adventurer about him, a touch of the sensitive (not the stiff-upper-lip) Kipling; a dash of St. John Philby, the Arabist father of the spy Kim; and more than a dollop of that Eton-educated Little Englander Orwell, who much to his subsequent disillusionment went off to fight for the left in the Spanish Civil War.
By far the strongest part of Hitch-22 revolves around his parents: father, a Royal Navy commander whose human decency and integrity prevented him from morphing into a blimpish stereotype; mother, a fading beauty who commits suicide along with her adulterous companion in a Greek hotel room.
In terms of tenor, Hitchens's upbringing was more redolent of Larkinesque unease than Wauvian artifice.
As anyone who has read Vanity Fair's excerpt of Hitch-22 covering his friendship with Martin Amis, James Fenton, and Ian McEwan knows, he's good — but a bit windy — on the literary lads.
Hitchens is quite moving, as well as seriously analytical, about the nobility and intellectual stringency of the Polish freedom movement, the horrors of the Argentinean and Greek juntas, and the emotionally wrenching and deadly 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington.
His account of the fatwa leveled against Salman Rushdie and the failure of the literary left — excepting Susan Sontag — to close ranks behind the condemned Rushdie, is a wonderful set piece of artfully modulated outrage.
When it comes to deconstructing his relationships with old friends with whom he parted on political principle, Noam Chomsky and Edward Said, he could do with, if not more outrage, then more muscular disillusionment.
I rather admire Hitchens's failure — or is it refusal? — to discuss in any meaningful way either of his wives or their children. He is the public one, not them. No Oprah. No The View. No Ellen.
It is rather astounding, however, that Hitchens dodges his break with journalist-turned-Clintonista Sidney Blumenthal over the Monica Lewinsky psycho drama. Was it just too painful to recount?
On a more prurient level, it was likewise disappointing to have rumors of a Hitchens–Anna Wintour romance neither confirmed nor denied.
These are indeed high standards of reticence from a man who has voluntarily had his pubic hair waxed and undergone waterboarding so that he could write about the experiences.
Still, it is hard not to feel cheated.
Peter Kadzis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.