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2007 National Book Award Nonfiction Finalist Interview with Christopher Hitchens
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Photo © Christian Witkin
Christopher Hitchens
God Is Not Great:
How Religion Poisons Everything

Twelve/Hachette Book Group USA

Interview conducted by Jennifer Gonnerman.

JG: What was the hardest part of your book to write – and why was it so challenging?

CH: The most difficult sections of the book to write were those concerned with science: most especially physics and biology. These are not areas where I have a strong background, and I tend to argue in any event that the case against religion was complete before Darwin and Einstein revolutionized our knowledge. However, the ground of contestation at present is very much pitched as a battlefield between science and faith, so I had to earn myself a better understanding of things like (say) the evolution of the eye. In this, and in other related efforts, I was hugely helped by the work of Michael Shermer, Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, who have become (I am proud to say) my colleagues and friends in this argument. I would therefore like to include them, and their pathbreaking work, as my answer to question (2) as well.

JG: What’s the greatest personal debt you incurred while writing this book?

CH: I'd need to expand this answer by one more name, which is that of my friend Ian McEwan, to whom my book is dedicated. It has been conversations with him, on the crucial difference between the numinous and the transcendent and the supernatural, that have informed and guided me for several years while this book was, so to speak, in utero.

JG: How long did you work on this book for – and how much do you think you ended up earning per hour?

CH: When Whistler sued Ruskin for an attack on his paintings, he was asked by Ruskin's counsel how long it had taken him to finish one painting and replied: six hours. He was then asked how much he'd been paid for it and replied: ten thousand pounds. "Ten thousand pounds for six hours work, Mr Whistler?" "No sir: ten thousand pounds for a lifetime of experience". I have been thinking about this book, and amassing a library of other books on the subject, and making notes for it, for almost twenty years but while writing other books and doing my various day-jobs.. When I actually decided to sit down and write it straight out, it took me most of the first six months of 2006. So I simply can't compute how much I made per hour, except that whichever method one might employ to make the calculation, it would come out as more than I had hoped.

JG: What are three of your favorite non-fiction books of all time?

CH: George Dangerfield's prose-poem history The Strange Death of Liberal England. Paul Fussell's The Great War and Modern Memory. The third volume of Isaac Deutscher's Trotsky trilogy The Prophet Outcast.

JG: Of all that transpired after your book was published, what was your favorite moment?

CH: I think the best moment was the publication of Mother Teresa's correspondence, showing that she had effectively lost her faith many years before her death, and the invitation to me from Newsweek to write the essay on this disclosure. I never thought that the old lady and I would turn out to have unbelief in common.

JG: At your lowest moment, how many times a day did you check your Amazon rating? (Be honest!)

CH: I can honestly say that I never did it more than twice a day (and switched to waiting eagerly for the weekly report from "Bookscan") but this may be attributable partly to my technological incompetence with anything in the online world.


Jennifer Gonnerman is a contributing editor at New York Magazine. She was a finalist for the 2004 National Book Award for Life on the Outside: The Prison Odyssey of Elaine Bartlett (Farrar, Straus and Giroux).


Photo © Nina Subin

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