Hitchens makes rare appearance in Texas

According to Chron.com, Christopher Hitchens showed up at the Texas Freethought Convention, where he appeared in a discussion with Richard Dawkins and received the Richard Dawkins Freethinker of the Year Award:

In introducing Hitchens and presenting him with the award that bears his name, Dawkins said that the old religious line that there are “no atheists in foxholes” is disproven daily by Christopher Hitchens.  Hitchens is dying and he knows it, but stares reality in the eye without blinking, Dawkins said.

Hitchens’ speech did not disappoint. He talked about his illness and noted that over the last year, he’d been coming to Houston regularly for treatment, presumably at MD Anderson Cancer Center. He was emphatic that though his “time” is rapidly approaching, he wouldn’t stop doing his best to shed light on the fraudulent claims made by religion, a line that brought the crowd to its feet.

There seems to be no more pretense about whether Hitchens will survive his cancer, a situation that’s ineffably sad.  And he’s looking a bit gaunt.  Still, he did something really nice:

Though he was asked a variety of questions from the audience, none appeared to elicit more interest than the one asked by eight-year-old Mason Crumpacker, who wanted to know what books she should read. In response, Hitchens first asked where her mother was and the girl indicated that she was siting beside her. He then asked to see them once the presentation was over so that he could give her a list.

As the event drew to a close, Mason and her mom, Anne Crumpacker of Dallas, followed him out. Surrounded by attendees wanting a glance of the famed author, Hitchens sat on a table just outside of the ballroom and spent about 15 minutes recommending books to Mason.

Mason should treasure that list, and I’d love to see it!

h/t: Grania Spingies


  1. A Crumpacker
    Posted October 9, 2011 at 6:48 am | Permalink

    I would be happy to email you a photo of the list if I knew where to send it.

    • daveau
      Posted October 9, 2011 at 9:42 am | Permalink

      One way to find it is to know that nearly every University has a Faculty Directory online.

    • Posted October 9, 2011 at 10:45 am | Permalink

      Hi. I’ve sent you a private email with a message If you didn’t get it for some reason, just Google Jerry Coyne University of Chicago and it will take you right to my departmental web page with my email address.

  2. Posted October 9, 2011 at 6:52 am | Permalink

    I would love to see that list too.

    (I’d thought Hitchens had lost his speaking voice.)

    Yes it is ineffably sad that we’re going to lose such a brilliant one as Christopher Hitchens.

    Thanks for posting.

  3. Heber
    Posted October 9, 2011 at 8:11 am | Permalink

    I wonder if Hitchens is by now receiving some form of palliative care. Although the fact that he has no hair I think suggests that he’s still on chemo. At any rate, I admire the man too much no to be saddened by his condition. I consider him the Wilde of our times, or even better.

  4. Heintje
    Posted October 9, 2011 at 8:21 am | Permalink

    The recommended list of books and authors can be found at the bottom of the original article. Frankly, I am quite disappointed to see only one science book in it 😦

    • ChasCPeterson
      Posted October 9, 2011 at 9:42 am | Permalink

      Hitchens’ list of books and authors: Dawkins’ Magic of Reality, Greek and Roman myths, particularly those compiled by Robert Graves, anything satirical by Shakespeare, Geoffrey Chaucer, Ayaan Hirsi Ali (author of Infidel and Nomad: From Islam to America: A Personal Journey Through the Clash of Civilizations), PG Wodehouse (“for fun”), David Hume, and Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities.

      • ChasCPeterson
        Posted October 9, 2011 at 9:43 am | Permalink

        yeah, 8-year olds love Hume and Chaucer.

        • Posted October 9, 2011 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

          Hume might be a bit of a stretch for Mason today, but not, I suspect, in a few years.

          But I see no reason why a decent modern translation of the Canterbury Tales shouldn’t be most enchanting to any child. And I bet, after making it through the work in English, Mason would also get quite a kick out of reading an edition with the original and the modern side-by-side.

          If she makes it that far, there’s no doubt but that Beowulf will be next on her reading list….



          • Llwddythlw
            Posted October 9, 2011 at 6:06 pm | Permalink

            I would recommend the website http://www.earlymoderntexts.com/
            where major philosophical works appear in a form in which they’re easier to read and understand, but without any loss of detailed meaning. Hume’s Treatise and Enquiry are there, along with the Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion and other works. I used the section on Kant and Mill and found them to be immensely helpful.

      • jwthomas
        Posted October 9, 2011 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

        No Orwell?

      • Posted October 10, 2011 at 10:39 am | Permalink

        Robert Graves and PG Wodehouse. Win. I’d add Douglas Adams though, every child should get a copy of Hitch Hiker’s Guide when they turn eight.

        • Lynn Wilhelm
          Posted October 10, 2011 at 7:06 pm | Permalink

          You think 8 is good? I wasn’t sure when to give them to my daughter. Turned 8 yesterday. I gave the set to a nephew when he turned 12 or 13.

    • Filippo
      Posted October 9, 2011 at 10:28 am | Permalink

      Well, he had 15 off-the-cuff minutes. Beyond that, the young’un can watch the online repository of his videos and no doubt catch additional references.

    • Posted October 9, 2011 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

      Well, when you’re on your proverbial deathbed and the public start to care about your reading list, then you can jot it down from memory any way you’d like. And then someone, somewhere will be miffed you didn’t make it the way s/he wanted it. =P

    • Posted December 18, 2011 at 6:56 am | Permalink

      Hitchens was always a humanities guy, not a scientist.

  5. Gerard26
    Posted October 9, 2011 at 8:34 am | Permalink

    What a wonderful moment for all involved, thanks Hitch.

  6. SimBri
    Posted October 9, 2011 at 9:09 am | Permalink

    Wow, you can really see the passion in his eyes in that photo.

  7. A Crumpacker
    Posted October 9, 2011 at 9:56 am | Permalink

    Don’t dispare Mr. Hitchens’s first recommendation was a science book (Dawkin’s new book for young people). Please remember, This was a spirited conversation and he was simply trying to recommend books that this particular little girl would enjoy. I should also mention that they both liked Harry Potter (J.K. Rowlings) and the His Dark Materials (Philip Pullman). As well as knowing her history. She is eager to start reading. Our family is so appreciative to Mr. Hitchens for talking so seriously and earnestly to our little girl. It has made a deep immpression on her.
    Mason’s Mom

    • A Crumpacker
      Posted October 9, 2011 at 9:58 am | Permalink

      Drat you iPhone spell check!

    • Pete Cockerell
      Posted October 9, 2011 at 10:37 am | Permalink

      Thank you, Anne, for raising Mason so well and for exposing her to real thinkers at such a formative age.

  8. Posted October 9, 2011 at 10:19 am | Permalink

    Hitchens himself was reading heady books as a child so his omission of Dr Suess et al makes perfect sense.

  9. A Crumpacker
    Posted October 9, 2011 at 11:09 am | Permalink

    Mason just asked Richard Dawkuns, “Why did you become an atheist?”. He replied, “Thinking.”. He is still responding at this time.

  10. A Crumpacker
    Posted October 9, 2011 at 11:10 am | Permalink

    Sorry, again

    • Posted October 9, 2011 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

      I usually turn my iPhone sideways to type – the letters become a little larger that way. But I still wind up with comments or emails that read: “…mist if the time…”


  11. Carl
    Posted October 9, 2011 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

    Glad to see Hitchens still on the go. I saw him at the FFRF convention in 2007 and will always relish that moment in time.

  12. Ichthyic
    Posted October 9, 2011 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

    picturing Hitch patiently giving a small child a complete list of books she might want to read, while hundreds of others were likely clamoring for his attention.

    poignant just doesn’t describe it.

    damn near brings a tear to my eye.


  13. DonnyPrice
    Posted October 9, 2011 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

    I was in the audience when he received that award. Me and my SSA group were all in tears as he spoke – with his recognition of his ‘time’ approaching, of his wanting his children to know his tenderest life moments, and his immense humility, and the moments where he paused because he needed to cough and have a drink (but apologized as though he were inconveniencing us through his illness). I freely confess I haven’t cried so hard in a very long time… nor have I felt so sad for the death of another person outside of my family. I will miss Christopher Hitchens, and I feel like I knew him, even if he never knew me. We all know him. I am glad that I saw him at this convention, because I recognize that it might be the last.

  14. tomh
    Posted October 9, 2011 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

    There’s a nice little piece on Hitchens today in the New York Times, by Charles McGrath.

  15. thompjs
    Posted October 9, 2011 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

    I was at the conference, I met three people that flew in just to make the book signing.
    I’m a local so it was a “must” event.

    I had him sign my copy of his Thomas Jefferson biography — he was very gracious to take a moment to mention how pleased he was for me to have picked that book — he said it was a favorite of his to write.

    There was a very long line for the book signings and I was very near the end of it.
    He must have been very tired, but had a smile for everyone.

  16. Posted October 9, 2011 at 5:10 pm | Permalink

    Maybe he doesn’t feel too bad. Look at the photo. He obviously has an erection. Good for him!

    • sasqwatch
      Posted October 9, 2011 at 7:01 pm | Permalink


    • Bacopa
      Posted October 9, 2011 at 9:21 pm | Permalink

      Must just be pants wrinkle and shadows. If it is an erection, I’m jealous.

      But seriously, WTF!

  17. Bacopa
    Posted October 9, 2011 at 9:18 pm | Permalink

    Checked the print edition of the Houston Chronicle today and this story wasn’t there. May be a mention tomorrow. Saturday dead tree edition did have a long article about the Texas Freethought Convention.

    This may be Hitchins’ last public act. What a way to go!

    I suspected The Hitch would show up as local rumor is that he has been to Houston several times for cancer treatment. M.D. Anderson and Baylor keep tight lips about celebrity patients. The Hitch is probably in one of the Texas Medical Center hotels tonight for his last patient consultation tomorrow.

    Really wish I could have gone to the convention. Just got a new job after a year of unemployment and knew I couldn’t get out of working this weekend. Just got what amounts to divorced, and my car was about to die and may have just died. Probably could have swung it, but I knew like many of the 99% my one bad month could start any day and I think it may just have begun.

    • Dominic
      Posted October 10, 2011 at 3:14 am | Permalink

      Hope things improve for you now!

  18. Dominic
    Posted October 10, 2011 at 3:13 am | Permalink


    As you said, ineffably sad.

  19. Lynn Wilhelm
    Posted October 10, 2011 at 8:21 am | Permalink

    My daughter just turned 8 and I’ll definitely use the list with her. We’ve done some Shakespeare and she’s loved Greek and Roman myths.
    Great job with Mason, Anne.

    I read her Pullman’s trilogy and she’s read Rowling’s series. (In fact her b-day party yesterday had a Harry Potter theme.)

    I just got our copy of Dawkin’s new book and I’ll be reading it with her as soon as I finish reading a novel to her.

  20. Posted October 11, 2011 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

    I’m very impressed with the young lady. You are doing something right!

    Don’t worry, guys — one science book leads to another. I’d recommend any of the books of essays by Lewis Thomas, e.g. Lives of a Cell; any of Isaac Asimov’s books of science essays, if you can find them; anything by Carl Zimmer, especially Evolution; and E. T. Seton.

    And of course, the books don’t all have to be read this year… it’s partly just a reminder not to miss them in the future, when she’s 15 and ready for Chaucer.

    • Anne Crumpacker
      Posted October 11, 2011 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

      Yes, thank you. That is a point I think people may have missed. Hitchens’ suggestions were not necessarily meant for an eight-year-old. He was giving her the beginnings of a life-list.

      • Posted October 12, 2011 at 9:01 am | Permalink

        Personally, I would also recommend some of Lyall Watson’s books. He got sidetracked into pseudoscience but he also wrote some good nature books. The two I’ve read are Jacobson’s Organ and the Remarkable Nature of Smell and The Whole Hog, which describes all fifteen species of pigs and throws in some memories of a young warthog befriending him in Africa. Heaven’s Breath: A Natural History of the Wind looks OK as well. Watson is an engaging, clear writer when he’s not writing about the memories of stones and the like.

  21. Posted October 11, 2011 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

    My g’daughter doesn’t show interest in anything but vampires, but I noticed her reading The Sayings of Confucius when she thinks no one is looking.

    • Anne Crumpacker
      Posted October 11, 2011 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

      Time for Biology. How about vampire bats?

      • Posted October 11, 2011 at 3:59 pm | Permalink

        Speaking of biology…I suppose one is to assume that the book which inspired this Web site is already on Mason’s list, and that nobody else has mentioned it because they’ve all been making the same assumption I’ve been making…?


        • Anne Crumpacker
          Posted October 11, 2011 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

          Actually, you are the first to mention it. I’m hoping for an autographed copy! LOL

          In all honesty, I am new to the blog. I just found it because of postings about Mason. Dr. Coyne has been very kind to let me have an opportunity to respond to what has happened. Mason is, after all, a very real little girl. I would have been way too shy to have written here before without the events of last weekend, but I must admit it is pretty fun coming out of the closet- albeit a little scary. Nice to dust off my brain and flex my writing skills.

          I hope to watch some of Dr. Coyne’s old YouTube videos tomorrow at work.

          • Posted October 12, 2011 at 9:13 am | Permalink

            i second the motion: thank you, Dr. Coyne! Why Evolution is True is a good, clear book that lays Creationism to rest.

            I also enjoyed these books:
            * Your Inner Fish, which engagingly describes the signs of evolution in our own bodies
            * Evolution for Everyone by David Sloan Wilson, which explains how evolutionary concepts are used and useful in the non-biological world
            * Letter to a Christian Nation by Sam Harris

            They’re on my “not to be missed” list.

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