I was startled to learn when I read Christopher Hitchens’s new memoir, Mortality (Twelve, $22.99), that just four days before I introduced him in what would be his final appearance at Politics & Prose, when he presented his autobiography Hitch-22, he had been diagnosed with cancer of the esophagus. He knew what this diagnosis meant, and it spurred him into a period of intense introspection. Documenting those final eighteen months of his life, Mortality maintains Hitchens’s lifelong embrace of atheism, even as his reading and thinking probe ever more profoundly into matters of life and death. The poets, the humanists, the existentialists, and the naturalists lead him closer to an understanding of death that permits a kind of immortality without the existence of a god. Robert Frost’s “clarification of life” impels Hitchens to craft his own personal scaffolding of beliefs. It turns out that Hitch, as he was known to his friends, had a plucky tolerance of adversity and he left us with this generous gift, a treatise on dying.
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