Letters to a Young Contrarian

Letters to a Young Contrarian
Christopher Hitchens

It is with some annoyance that I see cigarettes feature so prominently on the paperback covers of this book.  Smoking is a wonderful example of the nihilistic, destructive, stupid side of contrarianism.  It does this book no justice because it is one of the most positive, constructive books I have read in a long time.

The book takes the forms of one side of a conversation with a young contrarian, with Hitchens providing advice on navigating life for such a young person.  (There are many books in this vein, starting I believe with Letters to a Young Poet in the early 20th century).

Each chapter takes on different questions and aspects of the proper way and meaning of living as a contrarian. Early on he discusses Emile Zola's part in the Dreyfuss affair, which literally made my soul resonate, as it continued to do throughout the book. The grand theme I see throughout the book is how there is something above merely getting by in life, of having your needs met. That there is an ethical stance, a sense of meaning, that is the end goal of what Socrates would call the examined life.

In the end, I think the best summary of the content of this book is the quote he gives of Kropotkin, that if only one man [sic] has the truth, that's enough.

I hope you enjoy this beautifully written and life-affirming book as much as I did