Book review: Letters to a Young Contrarian by Christopher Hitchens

Letters to a Young Contrarian by Christopher Hitchens(Basic Books)
Who better to speak to that person who finds him or herself in a contrarian position than Hitchens, who has made a career of disagreeing in profound and entertaining ways. This book explores the entire range of "contrary positions"-from noble dissident to gratuitous pain in the butt.

In an age of overly polite debate bending over backward to reach a happy consensus within an increasingly centrist political dialogue, Hitchens pointedly pitches himself in contrast. He bemoans the loss of the skills of dialectical thinking evident in contemporary society.

He understands the importance of disagreement-to personal integrity, to informed discussion, to true progress-heck, to democracy itself. Epigrammatic, spunky, witty, in your face, timeless and timely, this book is everything you would expect from a mentoring contrarian.

Ranging broadly in subject matter, these brief, intellectual primers to life are a stimulating read for anyone who wants to experience the insights, wisdom and advice of today's leading minds.

This book is a must read for young people, even if you don’t agree with Hitchens who had very strong views and was not afraid to voice them, it is an important book. The book is structured as a letter to “Dear X” directly speaking to the reader, Hitchens first talks about how he became who he was and how it was important to him to voice his opinion.

I found this book entertaining, however the beginning was a bit of a struggle for me as Hitchens talks a lot about how he became and continued to be a contrarian in his lifetime. I think this book will become even more important for young people to read as we live in a society where we are told to hush up and not mention our own opinions for fear of offending other people.

An important point Hitchens makes is that not only is the opinion of young people important, but that it sometimes morally correct to voice your opinion about a certain matter.

Coming from an English South African home this book really did enlighten me to the fact that even though I have been told (especially in the all-girls high school I attended) that you cannot just speak your mind, as you might offend someone.

Don’t voice your opinion on politics or religion too loudly for fear that someone who might be listening could take offense.

That is an important point Hitchens makes is that offense is taken, and one should not “respect” others opinions for fear that they might get their feelings hurt.

I find this even more important living in South Africa at this current time, where the ruling party is so quick to dish out criticism but when they are criticised it is called “racism” and Apartheid is blamed.

The SACP even wants a law that will prevent people from saying nasty things about the president, why should we not be able to voice our opinions? I did not vote for him, I can criticise him if I want to, we have freedom of speech protected by the constitution.

This is the point Hitchens makes, one must not fear to be a contrarian and it is sometimes morally right to challenge others. Take Nkandla for example, should South Africans keep quiet while our tax money is used for a private residence for the president?

I don’t think so, it is morally wrong that our money gets used for the lavish lifestyle of a politician (in fact many politicians) when there are families that do not even having running water or basic sanitation.

Keep in mind that Hitchens might offend you, don’t read this if you are someone who takes offense easily.

Hitchens was also an anti-theist so if you are offended about your religion easily, Hitchens does not hold back. But this is why he is probably the only person who could write a book like this as he was the ultimate contrarian.

Follow Women24 on Twitter and like us on Facebook

Keen on reading this book? Buy your copy now.

Read this book yet? Tell us what you thought of the book in the comment box below.

Sign up for Women24 book club newsletter and stand a chance to win our top ten books from

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For 14 free days, you can have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today. Thereafter you will be billed R75 per month. You can cancel anytime and if you cancel within 14 days you won't be billed. 
Subscribe to News24
Show Comments ()
Editorial feedback and complaints

Contact the public editor with feedback for our journalists, complaints, queries or suggestions about articles on News24.