If you’re unfamiliar with Hitchens, he was a writer, lecturer, debater, atheist, and above all, a thinker. He’s also not everyone’s cup of tea–he knew what he thought and he always came ready to fight. If you sat down to debate with him, you were going to get owned, whether it changed your mind or not.
While not always agreeing with him, I’ve never looked up to anyone more in terms of pure insatiable curiosity and the love of ideas. He said many times that he never wanted to live as if he knew enough, understood enough, or that he had all the answers. So he kept looking, listening, challenging others, and honing his thoughts and opinions.
In June of 2010, while touring for his memoirs Hitch 22, Hitchens was diagnosed with esophageal cancer. He would continue writing and speaking as much as he could until his death in December of 2011.
Mortality comprises some brief writings that he composed between his diagnosis and his death. It’s a gorgeous and heart-wrenching book, all the more provocative because you’re inside the mind of an atheist as he marches towards death. Does he change his mind as his days dwindle? How does he feel about the well-wishers praying for him? Does he regret the stance he took against religion during his lifetime? What about those who rejoiced in the news that the aggressive atheist was finally getting his comeuppance and would now burn in hell for all eternity?
If you know anything about the man, you know the answers already, but you’ll also know that he examines these questions in a way that only he could.
Mortality is some of his finest writing, on the biggest possible questions.
Whatever you might think of the man, I’d encourage you to set it aside if you can, and give Mortality a chance. It’s a resounding call for curiosity, a rejection of the pack mentality, and a plea for us to leave the world better than we when we arrived.