Does Christopher Hitchens Need an Authorized Biography?

Dear family, friends, colleagues, note-takers, brothers and sisters, comrades:

We are aware that a self-proclaimed aspiring biographer, a Stephen Phillips, is tackling a book on Christopher. We read his suggestion and are dismayed by the crude and reductive approach. We have no faith in this attempt to fully attack the man. We do not cooperate and urge you to answer all requests from Mr. Phillips or his publisher W.W. to refuse. Norton.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Carol & Steve

Carol Blue-Hitchens, Executor of Christopher Hitchens’ estate
Steve Wasserman, Literary agent

W.What should we do with it?

Since, as far as I can remember, I have never met one of the clients involved – neither the deceased nor his widow, nor Steve Wasserman or the “self-proclaimed budding biographer” – my intervention here is purely as a biographer and historian.

There’s no doubt that Christopher Hitchens deserves a biography – and a good one. The historical record of the times in which he lived and which he commented on – bitter, persistent, vivacious, sometimes ruthless, written and personal, gracious or crude, but always with magical, musical, majestic knowledge of the English language – would be incomplete without one. But who can decide who should write their life?

Some subjects as diverse as Ronald Reagan and Philip Roth choose their biographers during their lifetime. (Reagan’s choice was not particularly good for either the subject or the biographer. We are still waiting for the Roth biography.) Others give their lively consent when asked, albeit with conditions. In 1981, George F. Kennan, then in his late 70s, agreed to work with John Lewis Gaddis on the condition that the biography be published after Kennan’s death, which both men assumed was on the horizon. Gaddis took on the assignment, began researching and writing in the early 1980s, and then moved on to other projects. “Poor John Gaddis,” Kennan noticed 2003 “has been postponing his company for years while waiting for me to make way.” Kennan died in 2005 at the age of 101; Gaddis’ biography wouldn’t appear until 2011, 30 years after he received Kennan’s approval.

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