I came home yesterday morning to the news that the brilliant essayist Christopher Hitchens had passed from complications from throat cancer, at 62. I have spent the entire morning reading tributes and obits to him; there's a helpful Yahoo! article here that contains links to these, as well as a fine tribute all in itself.
I have not really read a lot of Hitch in recent years, but at the dawn of my political awakening (I have long since fallen back into a proud slumber, hopefully never to re-awaken), I was pretty blown away by a couple of books he had written in the late 90's--early 2000s, dealing with the ethical and moral failings of (then) President Bill Clinton and Henry Kissinger. He had an explosive way with words and was never afraid to offend either right or left. That is what I'll take away from him, rather than his proud atheism, which is heavily emphasized in the obits. It's a true gift to possess, when you can write something that polarizes everybody, and can alienate a lot of people, while those same people are still nonetheless impressed by what you are writing and find it worthwhile to read. I felt that way when he presented himself as an ardent supporter of the invasion of Iraq. While I did not agree with his position, I still looked forward to reading his views on the matter; I now remember even reading a very small book that was published, that consisted of his essays on the Iraq invasion (entitled A Long Short War: The Postponed Liberation of Iraq). That would usually be unthinkable, like a staunch leftist reading a tome by Sean Hannity or Ann Coulter, or a dyed-in-the-wool rightwinger reading something by Michael Moore, but again, Hitchens had that gift. He was such a gifted, informed writer that you needed to hear his thoughts on a particular topic, even if you came away red in the face and mumbling curses after reading it.
I'm hoping to eventually read more of his works, especially God is Not Great and Hitch-22, his autobiography.