Christopher Hitchens, the author and essayist who saw great success with his controversial 2007 book "God Is Not Great," died Thursday in Houston, where he'd been undergoing treatment for esophogeal cancer. He was 62.
Hitchens' "polemical writings on religion, politics, war and other provocations established him as one of his generation's most robust public intellectuals," writes Elaine Woo in The Times' obituary.
Erudition, a roguish sense of humor and passion for intellectual combat were hallmarks of his writing, which was prolific. In addition to Vanity Fair, he was a columnist for the online magazine Slate and contributor to Harper's, the Atlantic and a number of British publications. He wrote two dozen books, including highly regarded biographies of George Orwell, Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine, and co-wrote or edited at least eight others.
A swashbuckling opinionator, he loved few things better than a good argument — and he knew how to pick one. Once described by the New Yorker as "looking like someone who, with as much dignity as possible, has smoothed his hair and straightened his collar after knocking the helmet off a policeman," he tarred Bill Clinton as a rapist, Mother Teresa as a fraud and Henry Kissinger as a war criminal. He argued in Vanity Fair that women were less funny than men, which stoked the wrath of female comics. "I am programmed by the practice of a lifetime to take," he wrote, "a contrary position."
Hitchens' contrariness ran deep. A former Marxist, he found himself in conflict with his allies in the American left after 9/11, when he declared his support for the Bush administration's war on terror. He stepped down from his column for the liberal magazine the Nation, which he'd been writing for more than 20 years.
Many of Hitchens' essays are online. Vanity Fair remembers him and links to nine of his recent pieces for the magazine, including writing about his illness. Granta has posted excerpts from essays from 1990 and 1985. The New Yorker has posted links to a number of stories by and about Hitchens, and Christopher Buckley writes there of his friendship with the argumentative writer.
Hitchens' death was announced by his agent Steve Wasserman, former books editor of The Times.
-- Carolyn Kellogg
Photo: Christopher Hitchens, right, with author Mark Danner, signing books at the L.A. Times Festival of Books in 2004. Credit: Amanda Edwards/Getty Images