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Look over your shoulder

Christopher Hitchens, 25 May 1995

... You can read about neo-Nazis all the time in the New York Times,’ said a sardonic acquaintance of mine the other day, ‘as long as they are in Germany.’ And indeed, the existence of an all-American underground composed of paranoid fascist mutants was until recently considered a fit topic only for those who are themselves labelled paranoid. When Costa-Gavras made a film on the subject about ten years ago (Betrayed, starring Debra Winger and Tom Berenger) he was laughed to scorn by the mainstream critics, who diagnosed a bad case of Euro-Marxist condescension towards the nightmare side of the American dream ...

Booze and Fags

Christopher Hitchens, 12 March 1992

Tobacco: A History 
by V.G. Kiernan.
Radius, 249 pp., £18.99, December 1991, 0 09 174216 1
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The Faber Book of Drink, Drinkers and Drinking 
edited by Simon Rae.
Faber, 554 pp., £15.99, November 1991, 0 571 16229 0
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... reviewed the emancipating influence of a good smoke on the writing capacities of Virginia Woolf, Christopher Isherwood, George Orwell and Compton Mackenzie, he poses the large question whether ‘with abstainers multiplying, we may soon have to ask whether literature is going to become impossible – or has already begun to be impossible.’ It’s ...

On Spanking

Christopher Hitchens, 20 October 1994

AGuide to the Correction of Young Gentlemen or, The Successful Administration of Physical Discipline to Males, by Females 
by a Lady, with illustrations by a Former Pupil.
Delectus, 140 pp., £19.95, August 1994, 1 897767 05 6
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... Sometime in the late autumn of 1977, I went to a book party that was held in the Rosebery Room of the House of Lords. Why I went I can’t think – the volume was some piece of unreadable bufferdom extruded by Lord Butler, who as ‘Rab’ had never in his life done anything to live down the Greek Street sobriquet ‘flabby-faced old coward’. He himself was vaguely present, moving about the carpet like a terrible tortoise ...

Reader, he married her

Christopher Hitchens, 10 May 1990

Tom Driberg: His Life and Indiscretions 
by Francis Wheen.
Chatto, 452 pp., £18, May 1990, 0 7011 3143 8
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... When Tom Driberg died in August 1976, the Times ran an obituary which, as people used to say, broke with convention. The deceased, bleated the former Thunderer, had been: ‘A journalist, an intellectual, a drinking man, a gossip, a high churchman, a liturgist, a homosexual ...’ There was nothing precisely objectionable about this. Tom had, after all, been indubitably the most consecrated blow-job artist ever to take his seat in either House ...

National Treasure

Christopher Hitchens, 14 November 1996

Jacqueline Bouvier: An Intimate Memoir 
by John Davis.
Wiley, 256 pp., £14.99, October 1996, 0 471 12945 3
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... The 44 Restaurant in the Royalton Hotel at 44 West 44th Street is a pretty suave and worldly Manhattan lunchery. So at any rate it seems to my provincial, country-mouse Washingtonian optic. I am sometimes taken there for a treat by my editors at Condé Nast, who use the place as a sort of staff canteen. My old friend Brian McNally, demonstrating that le patron mange ici, occasionally lets me sit at his table ...

Heart of Darkness

Christopher Hitchens, 28 June 1990

Not Many Dead: Journal of a Year in Fleet Street 
by Nicholas Garland.
Hutchinson, 299 pp., £16.95, April 1990, 0 09 174449 0
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A Slight Case of Libel: Meacher v. Trelford and Others 
by Alan Watkins.
Duckworth, 241 pp., £14.95, June 1990, 0 7156 2334 6
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... Alexander reminded me that Black once said that he was prepared to let his editors have a completely free hand except on one subject. He forbade attacks on American Presidents in general and President Reagan in particular. Entry for 18 April 1986, Not Many Dead The success of Michael Moore’s film about Roger Smith and General Motors has aroused an envious spirit of emulation in my breast ...

Who Runs Britain?

Christopher Hitchens, 8 December 1994

The Enemy Within: MI5, Maxwell and the Scargill Affair 
by Seumas Milne.
Verso, 352 pp., £18.95, November 1994, 0 86091 461 5
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... In the Thirties Wal Hannington, the Communist organiser of the National Unemployed Workers Movement, was leaving a committee meeting when an unknown comrade came up and pressed a letter ‘to be read later’ into his hand. Hannington soon removed the envelope from his pocket, opened it idly, and was astonished to find himself summoned to a secret meeting where all kinds of mayhem and sedition were on the agenda ...

Every Latest Spasm

Christopher Hitchens, 23 June 1994

A Rebel in Defence of Tradition: The Life and ‘Politics’ of Dwight Macdonald 
by Michael Wreszin.
Basic Books, 590 pp., £17.99, April 1994, 0 465 01739 8
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... To have been lampooned once by Mary McCarthy might have been considered a misfortune, but to have been ridiculed by her three times must count as some sort of carelessness. In her ‘Portrait of the Intellectual as a Yale Man’, she presented Jim Barnett, a likeable boy from a promising background who, in the devil’s decade of the Thirties, could nonetheless suit his own fancy: From the very first, Jim was an independent in politics, siding now with the Communists, now with the Lovestoneites, now with the Trotskyists, now with the group of middle-class liberals he had known at college who were trying to build a Farmer-Labour party of their own ...

In the bright autumn of my senescence

Christopher Hitchens, 6 January 1994

In the Heat of the Struggle: Twenty-Five Years of ‘Socialist Worker’ 
by Paul Foot.
Bookmarks, 288 pp., £12.50, November 1993, 0 906224 94 2
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Why You Should Join the Socialists 
by Paul Foot.
Bookmarks, 70 pp., £1.90, November 1993, 0 906224 80 2
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... If there is one term that illustrates the rapidity with which historical truth can degenerate before one’s very eyes, that term is ‘Vietnam Syndrome’. According to those who employ this smooth and evasive construction, the lesson of the Vietnam War is that the United States suffered greatly from being ‘entangled’ in a ‘quagmire’ in Indo-China, and should henceforth be extremely prudent about overseas military commitments ...

Mary, Mary

Christopher Hitchens, 8 April 1993

Official and Confidential: The Secret Life of J. Edgar Hoover 
by Anthony Summers.
Gollancz, 576 pp., £18.99, March 1993, 0 575 04236 2
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... Who can forget the moment in Chapter Six of Greenmantle when Richard Hannay penetrates the inner apartments of Colonel Ulric von Stumm and, with a thrill of horror, realises that there is something distinctly rum about the chief of Prussian Intelligence: Everywhere on little tables and in cabinets was a profusion of knick-knacks, and there was some beautiful embroidery framed on screens ...

Bravo, old sport

Christopher Hitchens, 4 April 1991

Critical Crossings: The New York Intellectuals in Post-War America 
by Neil Jumonville.
California, 291 pp., £24.95, January 1991, 0 520 06858 0
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... there was always a subliminal status-pressure at work. In a recent review in the New Republic of Christopher Ricks’s T.S. Eliot and Prejudice, Irving Howe asks himself why he and his peer-group, who were ready enough to convict Ezra Pound of racialism, hesitated to attack Eliot in spite of his very crass and blatant attacks on ‘free-thinking ...

After-Time

Christopher Hitchens, 19 October 1995

Palimpsest: A Memoir 
by Gore Vidal.
Deutsch, 432 pp., £17.99, October 1995, 0 233 98891 2
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... is set down in a terse, almost shorthand style, we learn that Forster had been cruel as a cat to Christopher Isherwood the night before, that he had sucked up to Williams in a queenly manner and that, in the opinion of ‘The Bird’ (Vidal’s usual term for Tennessee’s person of plumage and flutter), he was an old gentleman ‘with urinestained ...

Say what you will about Harold

Christopher Hitchens, 2 December 1993

Wilson: The Authorised Life 
by Philip Ziegler.
Weidenfeld, 593 pp., £20, September 1993, 0 297 81276 9
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... Since it can be properly said that nothing in Harold Wilson’s political career became him like the leaving of it, there is some justice in the fact that he is now best-remembered for one photograph and for one action. The photograph shows him next to the Duke of Grafton while assuming his stall at Windsor as a Knight of the Garter, and the action was the compiling (would that be the word?) of a resignation honours list that rewarded those who – oh, dash it, I don’t know – shall we say made money rather than earned it? Anyway, in the photograph Wilson looks like nothing so much as a grinning monkey on a stick, and in the matter of the honours list he achieved the near-impossible feat of discrediting the discredited and making a laughing-stock out of something already rather disagreeably risible ...

A Regular Bull

Christopher Hitchens, 31 July 1997

Whittaker Chambers: A Biography 
by Sam Tanenhaus.
Random House, 640 pp., $35, February 1997, 0 394 58559 3
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... I once had the luck to meet the great Saul Bellow, who in the course of the evening told me the following story. In 1945 he had been engaged as a book reviewer for Henry Luce’ Time magazine. Or he thought he had been so engaged. When he turned up for work, he was informed that Whittaker Chambers, chief Pooh-Bah of the ‘back of the book’, wished to see him ...

Why Bosnia matters

Christopher Hitchens, 10 September 1992

... The daily round in Sarajevo is one of dodging snipers, scrounging for food and water, collecting rumours, visiting morgues and blood-banks and joking heavily about near-misses. The shared experience of being, along with the city’s inhabitants, a sort of dead man on leave makes for levelling of the more joyous and democratic sort, even if foreign writers are marked off from the rest by their flak-jackets and their ability to leave, through the murderous corridor of the Airport road, more or less at will ...

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