by Christopher Hitchens
It is with great pride that I can finally announce my completion of Arguably. Given the extreme length of the excursion into such a lofty book, this review will be slightly longer than my usual ones to grant the author the respect he deserves, God bless his beautiful soul.
I think the comment that properly hit the nail on the head was that Hitchens’ breadth and depth of knowledge are truly inspiring. He made me care deeply for many different topics, ranging from US history to famous people he may or may not have met, to literature and word usage, all the way up to infamous totalitarian regimes. I often felt compelled to rush out and purchase any book that received notable praise from Hitchens in one of his reviews. (I joked that book stores should give Arguably away free of charge, due to the author’s ability to trigger this deep-seated book-buying compulsion.) I don’t think that it just has to do with my deep respect for the author’s opinion on so many matters, although I’m sure that does play a part. No, further consideration causes me to arrive at a conclusion that it has more to do with Hitchens’ mastery of the language, and his great ability to convey how superb something is when he likes it, and how utterly distasteful and horrid something he looks down upon will be.
And a mastery of the language is what Hitchens truly possessed. Upon starting the book, the author’s oftentimes very, very difficult vocabulary came across as somewhat pompous, but something changed as I read further: I began to understand nuances of the language, and began to see that Hitchens had such a grasp on his diction that led to many subtleties in description. He often employed words with very similar meanings to much simpler ones, but ones that also add other dimensions when understanding different meanings and contexts in which words are used. A criticism is not simply “hurtful,” it is “mordant”: biting, sarcastic, and corrosive. “Sanguinary” may come across as more pompous than “bloody,” but it evokes so much more when you realize it can also mean “bloodthirsty.” And I love the delicious connotations that come along with the idea of “mincing” words. I could go on and on, but the main point is that Hitchens was able to convey many, many layers of description without the need for verbosity.
I learned a lot in my half year adventure that was reading through Arguably. I think I can safely say that, where Kurt Vonnegut taught me how to tell a story, Christopher Hitchens taught me how to utilize the language to its fullest potential. As such, I don’t think I can stress this strongly enough: Everyone, everyone, everyone should go through the large undertaking of reading this rich and dense tome at least once in his lifetime, even if it is a long and arduous process. However, don’t take my descriptor of “challenging vocabulary” lightly; come armed with a dictionary.