Mortality [NOOK Book]

Overview

On June 8, 2010, while on a book tour for his bestselling memoir, Hitch-22, Christopher Hitchens was stricken in his New York hotel room with excruciating pain in his chest and thorax. As he would later write in the first of a series of award-winning columns for Vanity Fair, he suddenly found himself being deported "from the country of the well across the stark frontier that marks off the land of malady." Over the next eighteen months, until his death in Houston on December 15, 2011, he wrote constantly and ...
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Mortality

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Overview

On June 8, 2010, while on a book tour for his bestselling memoir, Hitch-22, Christopher Hitchens was stricken in his New York hotel room with excruciating pain in his chest and thorax. As he would later write in the first of a series of award-winning columns for Vanity Fair, he suddenly found himself being deported "from the country of the well across the stark frontier that marks off the land of malady." Over the next eighteen months, until his death in Houston on December 15, 2011, he wrote constantly and brilliantly on politics and culture, astonishing readers with his capacity for superior work even in extremis.
Throughout the course of his ordeal battling esophageal cancer, Hitchens adamantly and bravely refused the solace of religion, preferring to confront death with both eyes open. In this riveting account of his affliction, Hitchens poignantly describes the torments of illness, discusses its taboos, and explores how disease transforms experience and changes our relationship to the world around us. By turns personal and philosophical, Hitchens embraces the full panoply of human emotions as cancer invades his body and compels him to grapple with the enigma of death.
MORTALITY is the exemplary story of one man's refusal to cower in the face of the unknown, as well as a searching look at the human predicament. Crisp and vivid, veined throughout with penetrating intelligence, Hitchens's testament is a courageous and lucid work of literature, an affirmation of the dignity and worth of man.
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

"In whatever 'race' life may be, I have very abruptly become a finalist." Thus, in the artful cadences and the searing honesty which we have come to expect, Christopher Hitchens announced his approaching demise to Vanity Fair readers. With typical persistence, he documented his year and a half struggle with esophageal cancer until the death in December 2011. This collection of those writings stands as one of the most lucid and candid reflections of a passage that we all will someday take. Now in trade paperback and NOOK Book. Editor's recommendation. (P.S. Reviewing Mortality for the New York Times, Christopher Buckley Hitchens called writing in this book "diamond-hard and brilliant.")

The New York Times Book Review
The first seven chapters are, like virtually everything [Hitchens] wrote over his long, distinguished career, diamond-hard and brilliant. An eighth and final chapter consists…of unfinished "fragmentary jottings" that he wrote in his terminal days in the critical-care unit of the M. D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. They're vivid, heart-wrenching and haunting—messages in a bottle tossed from the deck of a sinking ship as its captain, reeling in agony and fighting through the fog of morphine, struggles to keep his engines going…Being in Christopher's company was rarely sobering, but always exhilarating. It is, however, sobering and grief-inducing to read this brave and harrowing account of his "year of living dyingly" in the grip of the alien that succeeded where none of his debate opponents had in bringing him down.
—Christopher Buckley
Publishers Weekly
Diagnosed with the esophageal cancer to which he eventually succumbed in December 2011, cultural critic Hitchens found himself a finalist in the race of life, and in his typically unflinching and bold manner, he candidly shares his thoughts about his suffering, the etiquette of illness and wellness, and religion in this stark and powerful memoir. Commenting on the persistent metaphor of battle that doctors and friends use to describe his life with cancer (most of this book was published in Vanity Fair), Hitchens mightily challenges this image, for “when you sit in a room... and kindly people bring a huge transparent bag of poison and plug it into your arm, and you either read or don’t read a book while the venom sack gradually empties itself into your system, the image of the ardent soldier is the very last one that will occur to you.” As a result of his various treatments, Hitchens begins to lose his voice, which, given his life as public gadfly through writing and speeches, devastates him. “What do I hope for? If not a cure, then a remission. And what do I want back? In the most beautiful apposition of two of the simplest words in our language: the freedom of speech.” Hitchens’s powerful voice compels us to consider carefully the small measures by which we live every day and to cherish them. (Sept.)
Katie Roiphe
Remarkable . . . The book's power lies in its simplicity, in its straightforward, intelligent documenting, its startling refusal of showiness or melodrama or grandeur....The great polemicist, essayist, conversationalist, provocateur, arguer, has done something extraordinary in this book. He has created yet another style, another mode, another way of being and thinking and dreaming, on his death bed; he has written in many ways an un-Hitchens-like book, eluding proclamations, resolutions, mastery, wit, at-easeness with opinion, in favor of unnerving directness, of harrowing documentation. He has allowed his dismantled confidence, his undoing to breathe, and to live in the pages, in a way that is startling and new and an achievement unlike his others, different in kind, yet equally ambitious and relentlessly honest.
Slate.com
Christopher Buckley
Like virtually everything he wrote over his long, distinguished career, diamond-hard and brilliant . . .vivid, heart-wrenching and haunting - messages in a bottle tossed from the deck of a sinking ship as its captain, reeling in agony and fighting through the fog of morphine, struggles to keep his engines going . . . a final, defiant, and well-reasoned defense of his non-God-fearingness . . . It is, however, sobering and grief-inducing to read this brave and harrowing account of his 'year of living dyingly' in the grip of an alien that succeeded where none of his debate opponents had in bringing him down.
New York Times Book Review
NPR.org
"This trenchant, sassy, tragically posthumous little black book earns a proud spot on the end-of-life shelf, along with Julian Barnes' Nothing to Be Frightened Of, Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking, Leo Tolstoy's The Death of Ivan Ilyich, Joan Wickersham's The Suicide Index, Saul Bellow's Ravelstein, and Philip Roth's Everyman and Exit Ghost, to name just a few."
Newsday
"A book driven by his desire to look death squarely in the face and provoked by detractors who were certain he would turn to religion when confronted with it. He did not... [MORTALITY is] full of humility, a humility worthy of kings."
The New York Daily News
"The melancholy irony of 'Mortality' is that it gave our best essayist - I can't think of someone who comes even close - the chance to grapple with the most intractable subject, to wrestle with the angel of death in a battle we will all have to lose at one time or another.....The voice is gone. The words remain."
Bookpage
"These essays are brave and fitting final words from a writer at the end of his journey."
Wall Street Journal
"There are no clever pitches to diminish the horror vacui of oblivion. He offers no self-pity or special pleading. The book is tough-minded . . . poignant, but the poignancy is ours, not his."
Salon
"Mortality is a crash course in lived philosophy....bracing."
Boston Globe
"Unsparingly blunt, rhetorically suave . . . It's rare that someone so powerfully writes of such deep connections between the death of intellectual ability and the decay of the body."
San Francisco Chronicle
"To the end, he produces sentences of startling beauty and precision . . . One of our best is gone, yet "Mortality" is a powerful and moving final utterance."
Huffington Post
"Mortality is not just for Hitchens' fans, but for all.... With almost unimaginable clarity, grace and wit, even for the master wordsmith we had grown used to. We see here a very warm and thoughtful human being. Poignant and deeply personal thoughts on the art of writing and the heartbreak of losing his unmistakable speaking voice during the course of treatment....The furthest thing from grim, Mortality is a gift. Not just from Christopher, but from Carol as well. Do pick it up."
PopMatters.com
"Reading and responding to the Hitch is ceaselessly inspiring and seldom less than exhilarating. More, it is an instigatory experience: it compels you to get involved more deeply with the world around and inside you. Reading any worthwhile writer is an act of celebration, a shared reaction to the act of creation. More, it is an exercise in how to write, read, think and live."
Sharon Waxman
"Nothing sharpened Christopher Hitchens' mind like Cancer. He wrote the best, most piercing, most clarifying prose of his career as he faced down the specter of his own demise. As he dealt with fatigue and nausea, with the anger, disgust and frustration that must accompany what he knew was a death sentence, Hitch poured it all into words as painfully honest as they were hilarious."
Kathleen Parker
"Among the many things that made Hitchens unique was his precision of thought and expression. What made him rare were his courage and tenacity. He was fearless in the field and relentless in his defense of the defenseless with that mightiest of swords--his pen. Judging from his final essays, he was also fearless in the fact of death."
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
"I have no doubt that Christopher Hitchens will have an afterlife. As one of the most original and provocative writers of his generation, his words will continue to mesmerize, incite, confound, and entertain."
Ian McEwan
"His unworldly fluency never deserted him, his commitment was passionate, and he never deserted his trade. He was the consummate writer, the brilliant friend. In Walter Pater's famous phrase, he burned 'with this hard gem-like flame.'Right the the end."
Robert Scheer
"A seeker of truth to the end, and a deservedly legendary witness against the hypocrisy of the ever-sactimonious establishment. What zeal this man had to eviscerate the conceits of the powerful, whether their authority derived from wealth, the state, or a claim to the ear of the divine."
USA Today
"Mortality, the final book by Christopher Hitchens, the Anglo-American essayist, reporter, devout atheist and all-around intellectual troublemaker, won't be shelved in the travel section. But in a sense that's where it belongs, along with the best of the literary travel writers. Think George Orwell, one of Hitchens' heroes....Few writers wrote sharper sentences or treated words with more respect."
Christopher Buckley - New York Times Book Review
"Like virtually everything he wrote over his long, distinguished career, diamond-hard and brilliant . . .vivid, heart-wrenching and haunting - messages in a bottle tossed from the deck of a sinking ship as its captain, reeling in agony and fighting through the fog of morphine, struggles to keep his engines going . . . a final, defiant, and well-reasoned defense of his non-God-fearingness . . . It is, however, sobering and grief-inducing to read this brave and harrowing account of his 'year of living dyingly' in the grip of an alien that succeeded where none of his debate opponents had in bringing him down."
Katie Roiphe - Slate.com
"Remarkable . . . The book's power lies in its simplicity, in its straightforward, intelligent documenting, its startling refusal of showiness or melodrama or grandeur....The great polemicist, essayist, conversationalist, provocateur, arguer, has done something extraordinary in this book. He has created yet another style, another mode, another way of being and thinking and dreaming, on his death bed; he has written in many ways an un-Hitchens-like book, eluding proclamations, resolutions, mastery, wit, at-easeness with opinion, in favor of unnerving directness, of harrowing documentation. He has allowed his dismantled confidence, his undoing to breathe, and to live in the pages, in a way that is startling and new and an achievement unlike his others, different in kind, yet equally ambitious and relentlessly honest."
4-star review People
"Dealing unflinchingly with bodily ravagement, reflecting on life's beauty and remaining rakish about his ideological foes, Hitchens proves that great writers are truly immortal."
From the Publisher
"Nothing sharpened Christopher Hitchens' mind like Cancer. He wrote the best, most piercing, most clarifying prose of his career as he faced down the specter of his own demise. As he dealt with fatigue and nausea, with the anger, disgust and frustration that must accompany what he knew was a death sentence, Hitch poured it all into words as painfully honest as they were hilarious."—Sharon Waxman, TheWrap.com

"Among the many things that made Hitchens unique was his precision of thought and expression. What made him rare were his courage and tenacity. He was fearless in the field and relentless in his defense of the defenseless with that mightiest of swords—his pen. Judging from his final essays, he was also fearless in the fact of death."—Kathleen Parker, The Washington Post

"I have no doubt that Christopher Hitchens will have an afterlife. As one of the most original and provocative writers of his generation, his words will continue to mesmerize, incite, confound, and entertain."—Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, FoxNews.com

"His unworldly fluency never deserted him, his commitment was passionate, and he never deserted his trade. He was the consummate writer, the brilliant friend. In Walter Pater's famous phrase, he burned 'with this hard gem-like flame.'Right the the end."—Ian McEwan

"A seeker of truth to the end, and a deservedly legendary witness against the hypocrisy of the ever-sactimonious establishment. What zeal this man had to eviscerate the conceits of the powerful, whether their authority derived from wealth, the state, or a claim to the ear of the divine."—Robert Scheer, TruthDig

"Reading and responding to the Hitch is ceaselessly inspiring and seldom less than exhilarating. More, it is an instigatory experience: it compels you to get involved more deeply with the world around and inside you. Reading any worthwhile writer is an act of celebration, a shared reaction to the act of creation. More, it is an exercise in how to write, read, think and live."—PopMatters.com

Kirkus Reviews
A jovially combative riposte to anyone who thought that death would silence master controversialist Hitchens (Hitch-22, 2010, etc.). Even as he lay--or sat or paced--dying in the unfamiliar confines of a hospital last year, the author had plenty to say about matters of life and death. Here, in pieces published in Vanity Fair to which are added rough notes and apothegms left behind in manuscript, Hitchens gives the strongest possible sense of his exhausting battle against the aggressive cancer spreading through his body. He waged that battle with customary sardonic good humor, calling the medical-industrial world into which he had been thrust "Tumortown." More arrestingly, Hitchens conceived of the move from life to death as a sudden relocation, even a deportation, into another land: "The country has a language of its own--a lingua franca that manages to be both dull and difficult and that contains names like ondansetron, for anti-nausea medication--as well as some unsettling gestures that require a bit of getting used to." One such gesture was the physician's plunging of fingers into the neck to gauge whether a cancer had spread into the lymph nodes, but others were more subtle, including the hushed tones and reverences that came with the business. Hitchens, famously an atheist, visited the question of whether he should take Pascal's wager and bet on God, concluding in the negative even as good God-fearing citizens filled his inbox with assurances that God was punishing him for his blasphemies with throat cancer. A reasonable thought, Hitchens concludes, though since he's a writer, wouldn't such a God have afflicted his hands first? Certainly, Hitchens died too soon. May this moving little visit to his hospital room not be the last word from him.
The Barnes & Noble Review

Anyone looking for a stately, meditative rumination on what it is like to die — provided such happy-go-lucky folks exist — would certainly find a haymaker-in- waiting with this collection of essays from Christopher Hitchens entitled Mortality. Felled by cancer around Christmastime, 2011 — after being diagnosed in June 2010 — the irascible Hitchens decided to chronicle his life at the exit stage phase over the course of number of pieces for Vanity Fair, with those pieces now comprising the chapters of this book, a lesson in sidling up to the Reaper and learning something, despite the prickly company.

Thanatos-heavy works of literature — and this is one grim prose docudrama, despite Hitchens's admirable curiosity and defiance — don't exactly make for winning beach companions, something to pull out of the tote bag as the sun hangs overhead. But they can allow for moments of the most pungent black comedy, as any reader of the final installments of Tristram Shandy — with Laurence Sterne jokingly wondering if he'll be alive to pen the next chapter — would grant. "I feel upsettingly denatured," Hitchens declares, upon having his chest shaved, a man at once bemused and capable of irony, even as he accepts — grudgingly — that the particular life lessons on display are going to have to be picked up at an accelerated rate. Naturally, plenty of people step forward to try and forestall this book's hulking inevitable, that figure of not now, maybe, but soon, very soon. A professor gets in touch to suggest that Hitchens have his entire corpus cryonically frozen, so that he can be unthawed someday, when a cure has been worked out. Break out the chuckles. "When I failed to reply to this, I got a second missive, suggesting that I freeze at least my brain so that its cortex could be appreciated by posterity. Well, I mean to say, gosh, thanks awfully."

If Hitchens isn't always convivial — and really, who could be, in such a situation — he's perpetually dialogic, bounding from one conversation with himself to another, in search of answers — more so, one has the sense, for himself, than us. We're here to pick up on any that he happens to come upon, for when, of course, it's our turn to be on the examining table, or in the ICU, or poked and prodded by a couple dozen doctors who can only shake their heads, commiserate, and shake their heads some more.

Having said that, this isn't something akin to Sherwin Nuland's bestselling (remarkably? depressingly?) How We Die, a step-by-step walk-through on what you'll experience as you meet your end, which is most likely to be through something clinical, although there's also a chapter covering what it'd be like to be crushed by a car. And while Hitchens isn't crushed by anything, really, in Mortality one does pick up on the oppressive strain of, simply, not knowing. What comes next, what the final few seconds will feel like, whether anything continues (Hitchens refused to renounce his atheism, which pleased his fans, and inspired a number of Christians to heckle him about the devil, hell's fires, and various demon-devised punishments), and whether, in the end, it's the mind or the body that prevails.

Hitchens can get a bit wordy as he chronicles his ordeal, yielding the sense that he's determined to chase down that one perfect metaphor that had eluded him — just — to date, and which he hopes to capture, eleventh-hour style. But even when clichés start to filter in, lucidity remains: "So far, I have decided to take whatever my disease can throw at me, and to stay combative even while taking the measure of my inevitable decline. I repeat, this is no more than what a healthy person has to do in slower motion."

Mortality concludes with its best, and most inchoate, chapter: a series of jottings, aphorisms, half thoughts, and notes that have a Pascal-esque poetry to them. "Paperwork the curse of Tumortown." "Brave? Hah! Save it for a fight you can't run away from." "People say — I'm in town on Friday: will you be around? WHAT A QUESTION!" Indeed. But Mortality is a work where questions beget questions — to say nothing of fears, doubts, crises — along with answers of a defiantly personal variety, even if those answers are incapable of counterattacking the flow of inquiries. Not that there'd be any point to that, as a born question asker like Hitchens surely knew.

Colin Fleming writes for The Atlantic, Slate, Rolling Stone, and The New York Times Book Review and publishes fiction with The Iowa Review, The Massachusetts Review, Boulevard, and Black Clock. His first book, Between Cloud and Horizon: A Relationship Casebook in Stories, is forthcoming, and he is at work on a novel about a piano prodigy, called The Freeze Tag Sessions.

Reviewer: Colin Fleming

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781455517824
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
  • Publication date: 9/4/2012
  • Sold by: Hachette Digital, Inc.
  • Format: eBook
  • Sales rank: 48,106
  • File size: 345 KB

Meet the Author

Christopher Hitchens
Christopher Hitchens was a contributing editor to Vanity Fair, Slate, and The Atlantic, and the author of numerous books, including works on Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, and George Orwell. He also wrote the international bestsellers god Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, Hitch-22: A Memoir, and Arguably. He died in 2011.
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Read an Excerpt

Mortality


By Christopher Hitchens

Twelve

Copyright © 2012 Christopher Hitchens
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9781455502752

I

I HAVE MORE THAN ONCE IN MY TIME WOKEN UP feeling like death. But nothing prepared me for the early morning in June when I came to consciousness feeling as if I were actually shackled to my own corpse. The whole cave of my chest and thorax seemed to have been hollowed out and then refilled with slow-drying cement. I could faintly hear myself breathe but could not manage to inflate my lungs. My heart was beating either much too much or much too little. Any movement, however slight, required forethought and planning. It took strenuous effort for me to cross the room of my New York hotel and summon the emergency services. They arrived with great dispatch and behaved with immense courtesy and professionalism. I had the time to wonder why they needed so many boots and helmets and so much heavy backup equipment, but now that I view the scene in retrospect I see it as a very gentle and firm deportation, taking me from the country of the well across the stark frontier that marks off the land of malady. Within a few hours, having had to do quite a lot of emergency work on my heart and my lungs, the physicians at this sad border post had shown me a few other postcards from the interior and told me that my immediate next stop would have to be with an oncologist. Some kind of shadow was throwing itself across the negatives.

The previous evening, I had been launching my latest book at a successful event in New Haven. The night of the terrible morning, I was supposed to go on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and then appear at a sold-out event at the 92nd Street Y, on the Upper East Side, in conversation with Salman Rushdie. My very short-lived campaign of denial took this form: I would not cancel these appearances or let down my friends or miss the chance of selling a stack of books. I managed to pull off both gigs without anyone noticing anything amiss, though I did vomit two times, with an extraordinary combination of accuracy, neatness, violence, and profusion, just before each show. This is what citizens of the sick country do while they are still hopelessly clinging to their old domicile.

The new land is quite welcoming in its way. Everybody smiles encouragingly and there appears to be absolutely no racism. A generally egalitarian spirit prevails, and those who run the place have obviously got where they are on merit and hard work. As against that, the humor is a touch feeble and repetitive, there seems to be almost no talk of sex, and the cuisine is the worst of any destination I have ever visited. The country has a language of its own—a lingua franca that manages to be both dull and difficult and that contains names like ondansetron, for anti-nausea medication—as well as some unsettling gestures that require a bit of getting used to. For example, an official met for the first time may abruptly sink his fingers into your neck. That’s how I discovered that my cancer had spread to my lymph nodes, and that one of these deformed beauties—located on my right clavicle, or collarbone—was big enough to be seen and felt. It’s not at all good when your cancer is “palpable” from the outside. Especially when, as at this stage, they didn’t even know where the primary source was. Carcinoma works cunningly from the inside out. Detection and treatment often work more slowly and gropingly, from the outside in. Many needles were sunk into my clavicle area—“Tissue is the issue” being a hot slogan in the local Tumorville tongue—and I was told the biopsy results might take a week.

Working back from the cancer-ridden squamous cells that these first results disclosed, it took rather longer than that to discover the disagreeable truth. The word “metastasized” was the one in the report that first caught my eye, and ear. The alien had colonized a bit of my lung as well as quite a bit of my lymph node. And its original base of operations was located—had been located for quite some time—in my esophagus. My father had died, and very swiftly, too, of cancer of the esophagus. He was seventy-nine. I am sixty-one. In whatever kind of a “race” life may be, I have very abruptly become a finalist.

The notorious stage theory of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, whereby one progresses from denial to rage through bargaining to depression and the eventual bliss of “acceptance,” hasn’t so far had much application to my case. In one way, I suppose, I have been “in denial” for some time, knowingly burning the candle at both ends and finding that it often gives a lovely light. But for precisely that reason, I can’t see myself smiting my brow with shock or hear myself whining about how it’s all so unfair: I have been taunting the Reaper into taking a free scythe in my direction and have now succumbed to something so predictable and banal that it bores even me. Rage would be beside the point for the same reason. Instead, I am badly oppressed by the gnawing sense of waste. I had real plans for my next decade and felt I’d worked hard enough to earn it. Will I really not live to see my children married? To watch the World Trade Center rise again? To read—if not indeed to write—the obituaries of elderly villains like Henry Kissinger and Joseph Ratzinger? But I understand this sort of non-thinking for what it is: sentimentality and self-pity. Of course my book hit the bestseller list on the day that I received the grimmest of news bulletins, and for that matter the last flight I took as a healthy-feeling person (to a fine, big audience at the Chicago Book Fair) was the one that made me a million-miler on United Airlines, with a lifetime of free upgrades to look forward to. But irony is my business and I just can’t see any ironies here: Would it be less poignant to get cancer on the day that my memoirs were remaindered as a box-office turkey, or that I was bounced from a coach-class flight and left on the tarmac? To the dumb question “Why me?” the cosmos barely bothers to return the reply: Why not?

The bargaining stage, though. Maybe there’s a loophole here. The oncology bargain is that, in return for at least the chance of a few more useful years, you agree to submit to chemotherapy and then, if you are lucky with that, to radiation or even surgery. So here’s the wager: You stick around for a bit, but in return we are going to need some things from you. These things may include your taste buds, your ability to concentrate, your ability to digest, and the hair on your head. This certainly appears to be a reasonable trade. Unfortunately, it also involves confronting one of the most appealing clichés in our language. You’ve heard it all right. People don’t have cancer: They are reported to be battling cancer. No well-wisher omits the combative image: You can beat this. It’s even in obituaries for cancer losers, as if one might reasonably say of someone that they died after a long and brave struggle with mortality. You don’t hear it about long-term sufferers from heart disease or kidney failure.

Myself, I love the imagery of struggle. I sometimes wish I were suffering in a good cause, or risking my life for the good of others, instead of just being a gravely endangered patient. Allow me to inform you, though, that when you sit in a room with a set of other finalists, and kindly people bring a huge transparent bag of poison and plug it into your arm, and you either read or don’t read a book while the venom sack gradually empties itself into your system, the image of the ardent soldier or revolutionary is the very last one that will occur to you. You feel swamped with passivity and impotence: dissolving in powerlessness like a sugar lump in water.

It’s quite something, this chemo-poison. It has caused me to lose about fourteen pounds, though without making me feel any lighter. It has cleared up a vicious rash on my shins that no doctor could ever name, let alone cure. (Some venom, to get rid of those furious red dots without a struggle.) Let it please be this mean and ruthless with the alien and its spreading dead-zone colonies. But as against that, the death-dealing stuff and life-preserving stuff have also made me strangely neuter. I was fairly reconciled to the loss of my hair, which began to come out in the shower in the first two weeks of treatment, and which I saved in a plastic bag so that it could help fill a floating dam in the Gulf of Mexico. But I wasn’t quite prepared for the way that my razor blade would suddenly go slipping pointlessly down my face, meeting no stubble. Or for the way that my newly smooth upper lip would begin to look as if it had undergone electrolysis, causing me to look a bit too much like somebody’s maiden auntie. (The chest hair that was once the toast of two continents hasn’t yet wilted, but so much of it was shaved off for various hospital incisions that it’s a rather patchy affair.) I feel upsettingly denatured. If Penélope Cruz were one of my nurses, I wouldn’t even notice. In the war against Thanatos, if we must term it a war, the immediate loss of Eros is a huge initial sacrifice.

These are my first raw reactions to being stricken. I am quietly resolved to resist bodily as best I can, even if only passively, and to seek the most advanced advice. My heart and blood pressure and many other registers are now strong again: Indeed, it occurs to me that if I didn’t have such a stout constitution I might have led a much healthier life thus far. Against me is the blind, emotionless alien, cheered on by some who have long wished me ill. But on the side of my continued life is a group of brilliant and selfless physicians plus an astonishing number of prayer groups. On both of these I hope to write next time if—as my father invariably said—I am spared.

II

WHEN I DESCRIBED THE TUMOR IN MY ESOPHAGUS as a “blind, emotionless alien,” I suppose that even I couldn’t help awarding it some of the qualities of a living thing. This at least I know to be a mistake: an instance of the pathetic fallacy (angry cloud, proud mountain, presumptuous little Beaujolais) by which we ascribe animate qualities to inanimate phenomena. To exist, a cancer needs a living organism, but it cannot ever become a living organism. Its whole malice—there I go again—lies in the fact that the “best” it can do is to die with its host. Either that or its host will find the measures with which to extirpate and outlive it.

But, as I knew before I became ill, there are some people for whom this explanation is unsatisfying. To them, a rodent carcinoma really is a dedicated, conscious agent—a slow-acting suicide-murderer—on a consecrated mission from heaven. You haven’t lived, if I can put it like this, until you have read contributions such as this on the websites of the faithful:

Who else feels Christopher Hitchens getting terminal throat cancer [sic] was God’s revenge for him using his voice to blaspheme him? Atheists like to ignore FACTS. They like to act like everything is a “coincidence.” Really? It’s just a “coincidence” [that] out of any part of his body, Christopher Hitchens got cancer in the one part of his body he used for blasphemy? Yeah, keep believing that, Atheists. He’s going to writhe in agony and pain and wither away to nothing and then die a horrible agonizing death, and THEN comes the real fun, when he’s sent to HELLFIRE forever to be tortured and set afire.

There are numerous passages in holy scripture and religious tradition that for centuries made this kind of gloating into a mainstream belief. Long before it concerned me particularly I had understood the obvious objections. First, which mere primate is so damn sure that he can know the mind of god? Second, would this anonymous author want his views to be read by my unoffending children, who are also being given a hard time in their way, and by the same god? Third, why not a thunderbolt for yours truly, or something similarly awe-inspiring? The vengeful deity has a sadly depleted arsenal if all he can think of is exactly the cancer that my age and former “lifestyle” would suggest that I got. Fourth, why cancer at all? Almost all men get cancer of the prostate if they live long enough: It’s an undignified thing but quite evenly distributed among saints and sinners, believers and unbelievers. If you maintain that god awards the appropriate cancers, you must also account for the numbers of infants who contract leukemia. Devout persons have died young and in pain. Betrand Russell and Voltaire, by contrast, remained spry until the end, as many psychopathic criminals and tyrants have also done. These visitations, then, seem awfully random. My so far uncancerous throat, let me rush to assure my Christian correspondent above, is not at all the only organ with which I have blasphemed. And even if my voice goes before I do, I shall continue to write polemics against religious delusions, at least until it’s hello darkness my old friend. In which case, why not cancer of the brain? As a terrified, half-aware imbecile, I might even scream for a priest at the close of business, though I hereby state while I am still lucid that the entity thus humiliating itself would not in fact be “me.” (Bear this in mind, in case of any later rumors or fabrications.)

The absorbing fact about being mortally sick is that you spend a good deal of time preparing yourself to die with some modicum of stoicism (and provision for loved ones), while being simultaneously and highly interested in the business of survival. This is a distinctly bizarre way of “living”—lawyers in the morning and doctors in the afternoon—and means that one has to exist even more than usual in a double frame of mind. The same is true, it seems, of those who pray for me. And most of these are just as “religious” as the chap who wants me to be tortured in the here and now—which I will be even if I eventually recover—and then tortured forever into the bargain if I don’t recover or, presumably and ultimately, even if I do.

Of the astonishing and flattering number of people who wrote to me when I fell so ill, very few failed to say one of two things. Either they assured me that they wouldn’t offend me by offering prayers or they tenderly insisted that they would pray anyway. Devotional websites consecrated special space to the question. (If you should read this in time, by all means keep in mind that September 20, 2010, has already been designated “Everybody Pray for Hitchens Day.”) Pat Archbold, at the National Catholic Register, and Deacon Greg Kandra were among the Roman Catholics who thought me a worthy object of prayer. Rabbi David Wolpe, author of Why Faith Matters and the leader of a major congregation in Los Angeles, said the same. He has been a debating partner of mine, as have several Protestant evangelical conservatives like Pastor Douglas Wilson of the New Saint Andrews College and Larry Taunton of the Fixed Point Foundation in Birmingham, Alabama. Both wrote to say that their assemblies were praying for me. And it was to them that it first occurred to me to write back, asking: Praying for what?

As with many of the Catholics who essentially pray for me to see the light as much as to get better, they were very honest. Salvation was the main point. “We are, to be sure, concerned for your health, too, but that is a very secondary consideration. ‘For what shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his own soul?’ [Matthew 16:26].” That was Larry Taunton. Pastor Wilson responded that when he heard the news he prayed for three things: that I would fight off the disease, that I would make myself right with eternity, and that the process would bring the two of us back into contact. He couldn’t resist adding rather puckishly that the third prayer had already been answered…

So there are some quite reputable Catholics, Jews, and Protestants who think that I might in some sense of the word be worth saving. The Muslim faction has been quieter. An Iranian friend has asked for a prayer to be said for me at the grave of Omar Khayyam, supreme poet of Persian freethinkers. The YouTube video announcing the day of intercession for me is accompanied by the song “I Think I See the Light,” performed by the same Cat Stevens who as “Yusuf Islam” once endorsed the hysterical Iranian theocratic call to murder my friend Salman Rushdie. (The banal lyrics of his pseudo-uplifting song, by the way, appear to be addressed to a chick.) And this apparent ecumenism has other contradictions, too. If I were to announce that I had suddenly converted to Catholicism, I know that Larry Taunton and Douglas Wilson would feel I had fallen into grievous error. On the other hand, if I were to join either of their Protestant evangelical groups, the followers of Rome would not think my soul was much safer than it is now, while a late-in-life decision to adhere to Judaism or Islam would inevitably lose me many prayers from both factions. I sympathize afresh with the mighty Voltaire, who, when badgered on his deathbed and urged to renounce the devil, murmured that this was no time to be making enemies.

The Danish physicist and Nobelist Niels Bohr once hung a horseshoe over his doorway. Appalled friends exclaimed that surely he didn’t put any trust in such pathetic superstition. “No, I don’t,” he replied with composure, “but apparently it works whether you believe in it or not.” That might be the safest conclusion. The most comprehensive investigation of the subject ever conducted—the “Study of the Therapeutic Effects of Intercessory Prayer,” of 2006, could find no correlation at all between the number and regularity of prayers offered and the likelihood that the person being prayed for would have improved chances. But it did find a small but interesting negative correlation, in that some patients suffered slight additional woe when they failed to manifest any improvement. They felt that they had disappointed their devoted supporters. And morale is another unquantifiable factor in survival. I now understand this better than I did when I first read it. An enormous number of secular and atheist friends have told me encouraging and flattering things like, “If anyone can beat this, you can”; “Cancer has no chance against someone like you”; “We know you can vanquish this.” On bad days, and even on better ones, such exhortations can have a vaguely depressing effect. If I check out, I’ll be letting all these comrades down. A different secular problem also occurs to me: What if I pulled through and the pious faction contentedly claimed that their prayers had been answered? That would somehow be irritating.

I have saved the best of the faithful until the last. Dr. Francis Collins is one of the greatest living Americans. He is the man who brought the Human Genome Project to completion, ahead of time and under budget, and who now directs the National Institutes of Health. In his work on the genetic origins of disorder, he helped decode the “misprints” that cause such calamities as cystic fibrosis and Huntington’s disease. He is working now on the amazing healing properties that are latent in stem cells and in “targeted” gene-based treatments. This great humanitarian is also a devotee of the work of C. S. Lewis and in his book The Language of God has set out the case for making science compatible with faith. (This small volume contains an admirably terse chapter informing fundamentalists that the argument about evolution is over, mainly because there is no argument.) I know Francis, too, from various public and private debates over religion. He has been kind enough to visit me in his own time and to discuss all sorts of novel treatments, only recently even imaginable, that might apply to my case. And let me put it this way: He hasn’t suggested prayer, and I in turn haven’t teased him about The Screwtape Letters. So those who want me to die in agony are really praying that the efforts of our most selfless Christian physician be thwarted. Who is Dr. Collins to interfere with the divine design? By a similar twist, those who want me to burn in hell are also mocking those kind religious folk who do not find me unsalvageably evil. I leave these paradoxes to those, friends and enemies, who still venerate the supernatural.



Continues...

Excerpted from Mortality by Christopher Hitchens Copyright © 2012 by Christopher Hitchens. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 36 Customer Reviews
  • Posted September 4, 2012

    I was ecstatic when I went to the bookstore this morning and saw

    I was ecstatic when I went to the bookstore this morning and saw that Barnes and Noble had Mortality all laid out for my arrival, even though the 'official' publication date is tomorrow. I bought it without a second thought and dove right in to the articles chronicling Hitchens's bout of esophageal cancer, which led to his death last December.

    The book is, admittedly, short because of the untimely demise of its brilliant author, but that does not in any way detract from its own brilliance. Hitchens writes with his typical blend of clarity, charm, and, even in the face of death, dry humor. This is different from earlier works of his because of how intensely personal the work becomes as he discusses the ups and the downs of his "year of living dyingly".

    As if that wasn't enough, the Foreword by Graydon Carter and the Afterword by Carol Blue (Hitchens's wife at the time of his passing) are both moving and heartwarming pieces of work in and of themselves that show Christopher as seen by those that knew -- and loved -- him best.

    If you, like Carter and Blue, loved Hitchens or hated him, supported his stand against organized religion and tyranny the world over or were one of the many who despised him, you owe it to yourself to spend the $15-20 and read this final work. It is, to my mind, one of the greatest swan songs ever created -- even if the composer had to leave before the masterpiece could be completed.

    That was always the beauty of Hitchens, though; no matter how much he gave in his writing, his speeches, or what have you, you were always left wanting a little more. It seems almost fitting that, even at the end, all you can do is want a little more.

    38 out of 45 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 11, 2012

    Mortality

    Christopher Hitchens Mortality is a terse text, but one with imense gravity. I have followed the Hitch's work for two years (discovered who he was on my eighteenth birthday) and each time I get done with one of his books, invariably one feels an irritating fuse of envy and admiration at the man's erudition and wit and ability to make a clever joke. Those who have read Hitch-22, God is Not Great, and his introduction to The Portable Athiest, will know precisely what I mean. Learning about Hitch's malady, I pathetically though how unfair--that the one person who could, and did, say to everyone, essentially, "athiests should not feel that they are a freakishly small minority, there are more like them than they think. We have a duty to combat the foes of science, reason, progess, liberalism and equality--foes who are all allied with religion."(My quote). His final work ,Mortality, expands on many of the latter topics with exemplary stoicism. Mortality is a book that should be a prerequisite for all mortally ill persons who want to die disillusioned and with a lucid mind and with dignity. In the few last pages of the book there many jottings that were left undone due to his illness--alas: I can't even begin to ponder what the following words may have been. Mortality is testament that even on his death bed Hitch could write unrivaled. A scribbler to be reckoned with. We will never hear his commanding throat clearing and following voice again; Never again will we see him wield his pen like a katana. But, we do have his written words and the internet which is replete with Hitchslaps. We'll have to make due with them--which are than enough. His admireers will have to continue his work in their own way. And a reminder about the book: it's available at fine bookstores every where.

    16 out of 20 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 22, 2012

    A life well led, an outlook courageous and admirable, intelligen

    A life well led, an outlook courageous and admirable, intelligence of the highest order. Unless he got it wrong about God, in which case CH's life was worse than wasted, his outlook puerile, and his pride in his own intelligence unwarranted in the extreme. To me it's looking more and more like his views on God were no more intelligent than his views on smoking and drinking.

    11 out of 65 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 23, 2012

    That's it???

    The free sample is the first 11 pages of the book starting with the title page and is over at the end of the Foreward. Really would have perfered to read some of the first chapter.

    10 out of 38 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 18, 2012

    Brilliant mind

    Inspiring and sad. An honest look into the hitch's fin season of pain and fear. He had so much more to give, damn it

    5 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 5, 2012

    Highly Recommended... Made me cry at the loss of a great man

    What a great loss to Humanity, when Christopher Hitchens died last year. He wrote this book from his hospital bed, knowing the end was near. As usual when reading his books, I felt as though he was talking directly to me. 'MORTALITY' was the very first book that I bought on my new NOOK..... In fact it was the driving force behind the purchase of my NOOK. As always, and as with all of Christopher's books.... Mortality leaves a lasting impression

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 20, 2012

    Highly recommend!

    This book, written for the most part by Christopher Hitchens while he was dying from cancer is a very recommended book. He holds nothing back, so this book is not for the faint of heart. Whether you were a fan of his or not, you can find something to admire in the way he describes his struggles, and you'll find yourself rooting for him to recover, get well, and give us all hell again.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 19, 2012

    Amazing points delivered right to the end

    A quick and insightful glimpse into the final days of a great journalist and debater. His voice and his pen will be missed, I am just glad he left behind a wonderful collection of his thoughts and his stories behind for us to enjoy till we reach our ends.

    It is everything you would expect from Hitch; a no holds barred account of slowly dying from cancer. Very poignant insight into life during cancer treatment and all the raw painful experiences to be found in "Tumorville".

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 22, 2012

    Worthwhile!

    Hitchens at his best and last. True to his self right up until the bitter end. I thought his courage and insight into his terminal condition was admirable. He remained steadfast in his beliefs and while he did write the book when he was dying, it wasn't a sad book. I enjoyed it very much and would recommend the book to anyone who is a fan of "Hitch".

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 22, 2012

    So So

    I think the author spent alot of time coming up with words to show off his skills instead of trying to communicate.

    3 out of 20 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 12, 2012

    Yes -But

    What was written was insightful and meaningful but it really wasn't a true book. It was brief and I wish his wife or those close to him elaborated more...esp. info about his relationship with his children.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 12, 2012

    VERY INTERESTING!

    A great review of Hitchens fight with cancer and with pending death. Very good insight into how he spent his last days, knowing in his mind, that they actually were his last days.
    He had quite a responsibility to bravely face death while knowing it was the end.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 20, 2013

    I have to admit that I had never heard of Christopher Hitchens b

    I have to admit that I had never heard of Christopher Hitchens before, but the title of the book and some of the views made me want to read it. I have to say I have read it three times and the third time I was able to fully appreciate it. He wanted to live up to the end and was extraordinarily brave to let the world know of the pain and indignity of the "Big C". He kept his wonderful sense of humor and intelligence right up to the end. I loved the poetry that he mixed in with his prose. What a wonderful time his family must have had at those all night parties with all those intellectual thinkers. My sympathy goes out to his wife and children as his presence would be irreplaceable. This book is a "keeper" and I will probably be reading it for the fourth time again soon.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 18, 2013

    You Hear His Voice And You Want More...

    The shortness of the "book" is of course because of his death. At times this was difficult emotionally to read since my wife has succesfully gone through "battling" early stage breast cancer twice over past four years and presently her septuagenarian mother is "battling" an unusual form of esophageal cancer so the writing hits close to home. At one point shortly into it I was not sure I wanted to read any more. I'm glad that I did and if you are an admirer of Hitchens you should read it, but like me you may likely find yourself wistfully wanting more.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 6, 2014

    StormHeart

    In search of a mate, perferably a kind mortherly shecat.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 5, 2014

    Willowfur

    Could I meet Smokefang?

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 18, 2013

    Hey

    guys in books are better;)

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted November 25, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    In a scene from my all time favourite film, Woody Allen¿s Manhat

    In a scene from my all time favourite film, Woody Allen’s Manhattan, Woody starts to recount those things that make life worth living. I have played this game with friends many times over the years. My list of things that make life worth living is; (family and friends are a given), Woody Allen of course, the film Manhattan, Virginia Woolf’s ‘Mrs Dalloway, Salvador Dali’s ‘Christ of St John on the Cross’, Charleston Farmhouse in Sussex, Monty Python’s ‘Life of Brian’, Morecambe and Wise, Peacock Butterflies, David Hockney’s ‘A Bigger Splash’, Hitchcock’s ‘Rear Window’, The Edinburgh Book Festival, David Sylvian, Philip Glass etc. Over the years there have been a few additions. Christopher Hitchens became one of those additions. 
    I have been putting off the reading of Mortality for sometime knowing full well the subject matter contained within its pages; not only the last words of a superlative orator and writer but details of his horrendous illness, oesophageal cancer. My cowardice probably also stems from the knowledge that I am less than ten years away from the age that Christopher Hitchens died, 62. 
    As to be expected the writing is not self-piteous, there is no element of self-aggrandizement in any of its 106 pages. Mr Hitchens style of writing makes one want to go around pulping every pencil, drain every pen and smash ones keyboard knowing that you will probably never write as well as he did. However, I am sure Christopher Hitchens would want you to buy new pencils, refill those pens and repair that keyboard and attempt to equal or better his writing. 
    In ‘Mortality’, as to be expected, religion rears its ugly head in the form of monotheists letting Mr Hitchens know that he deserves to die, that God has struck him down in vengeance. Christopher Hitchens in his usual pithy and direct manner surmised that God was rather mundane and routine in his vengeance to give him oesophageal cancer which was highly likely to occur anyway due to his heavy smoking.
    My honorific review can never fully convey the extent of how wonderful the book is without falling into the quicksand of cliché. So, I will simply end this review with a direct and succinct command: READ THIS BOOK!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 22, 2013

    Excellent

    ?

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 25, 2013

    Not one off my favorites

    I did not find this book interesting. Found myself wanting to skip over pages. I would not recommend this book to anyone.

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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