Did he often infuriate us? Oh, hell yeah.
But Christopher Hitchens wrote with great power, enormous intelligence, delicious wit, more than occasional meanness, but always, always with a grace that took your breath away and, in the end, maybe that grace trumped everything—even when you tried not to let it, even when you disagreed with him, bigtime.
The loss of his voice is profound.
If you read nothing else on Hitchens, read Christopher Buckley’s essay on his friend in the New Yorker.
UPDATE: There are, of course, a number of eloquent stories and essays about Hitchens,—among them, this essay by LA Times book critic David Ulin.
Here’s a clip:
….Among his role models? Thomas Paine, whom he described in 2007 as “part of the arsenal on which we shall need to depend.”
There’s something telling about such an image, with its notion of Paine — or, more accurately, Paine’s belief in “human rights, and … their concomitant in democracy” — as a weapon, one that is as necessary to the future as he was to the past. It suggests that Hitchens didn’t take anything for granted, that he knew vigilance is the best, perhaps the only, defense we have.
This is why he revered George Orwell also, for “his commitment to language as the partner of truth.” In his 2002 book “Why Orwell Matters,” Hitchens makes that idea explicit, rejecting a view of the author as a sanitized icon in favor of something more complex and profound. “I sometimes feel as if … Orwell requires extricating from a pile of saccharine tablets and moist hankies,” he wrote, “an object of sickly veneration and sentimental overpraise, employed to stultify schoolchildren with his insufferable rightness and purity.”
No one would have characterized Hitchens as “an object of sickly veneration and sentimental overpraise”; he could be a bully, and it sometimes seemed as if he’d rather shout down those with whom he disagreed than engage in conversation. But he was as committed to telling the truth as any of his great heroes, and nowhere as movingly as when he wrote about the illness that would take his life…..