Christopher Hitchens never shied away from telling the truth – at least the truth as he saw it – and when he was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer in June, 2010, he started “living dyingly,” writing about his experiences with the illness. The stoicism with which he wrote, and the lucidity in the face of immanent death (“there is no stage 5”), go very well with the way Hitchens faced the rest of his life. Having only recently completed a memoir, Hitch 22, and on his book tour when he had symptoms which led to his diagnosis, Hitchens realized that he needed to tell the story of this cancer as he had just told the story of his life.
If you’re familiar with Hitchens’ writings, you’ll certainly recognize the trenchant approach here to becoming a resident of “tumortown.” In this brief book, composed of essays he wrote for Vanity Fair, Hitchens explains what it feels like to be dying, yet doesn’t feel sorry for himself or for his lifestyle that may have contributed to his cancer. (His father died of the same cancer as well, so part may be genetic.)
You’ll read this book in an hour or two, but you’ll also want to come back to it from time to time. While the chapters are composed – these are articles, not journal entries – there is a spontaneity throughout them, as his condition worsens, and as hope seems to recede.
Hitchens again shows with his words that cut like scalpels that he was one of the finest voices of his generation, and we’re not likely to see another like him for a very long time.