It saddened last year when I heard the news that Christopher Hitchens had lost his battle with cancer and passed away at the age of 55. While he was an incredibly prolific writer with a career that spanned decades, sadly I discovered his body of work only recently. It was my fascination with the writings of the New Atheists that led me to his 2008 book God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. After enjoying his writing and wanting more, I went on to read his Thomas Paine’s Rights of Man: A Biography. During my frequent library visits I’d seen his memoir Hitch 22 sitting there on the shelf, practically begging me to check it out. But alas, I never yielded to its call.
A few weeks ago I stopped at the library to return a few books and take a quick look around to see what was new. After meandering aimlessly through the shelves for a while I was pleasantly surprised to find a copy of his final book Mortality. Since it’s a rather short book, I figured what the heck and grabbed it. I’m glad I did.
Written after he was diagnosed with esophageal cancer, Mortality is the author’s reflections on the ravages of cancer, and the painful and sometimes futile treatments we undergo in hopes of defeating it. It’s also him looking at his impending death from an atheist’s perspective. Along the way he admonishes–in true Hitches style–religious fundamentalists who view his illness as a form of divine judgement. And, as one would expect from Hitchens, there’s humor too.
Reading Mortality certainly makes me want to read more by the late Hitchens, especially his Hitch 22. It’s also inspired me to read a few books about cancer, specifically The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer and The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.
People always say, if possible, go out on top. If that was Hitchens’s plan when he wrote Mortality it looks like in all likelihood he probably succeeded.