Hitchens was born in Portsmouth, Hampshire, the elder of two boys; his younger brother Peter Hitchens is a Christian and socially conservative Journalist. His parents, Eric Ernest Hitchens (1909–1987) and Yvonne Jean Hitchens (née Hickman; 1921–1973), met in Scotland when both were serving in the Royal Navy during World War II. Christopher often referred to Eric as simply the 'commander'. Eric was deployed on HMS Jamaica which took part in the sinking of the German battleship Scharnhorst in the Battle of the North Cape on 26 December 1943. Christopher would pay tribute to his father's contribution to the war: "Sending a Nazi convoy raider to the bottom is a better day's work than any I have ever done." He also stated that "the remark that most summed him [his father] up was the flat statement that the war of 1939 to 1945 had been 'the only time when I really felt I knew what I was doing'." His mother was a "Wren" (a member of the Women's Royal Naval Service).
In response to the comments, Writers Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy published an article in Time Magazine in which, among other things, they refuted Hitchens's suggestion that Graham went into ministry to make money. They argued that during his career Graham 'turn[ed] down million-dollar television and Hollywood offers'. They also pointed out that having established the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association in 1950, Graham drew a straight salary, comparable to that of a senior minister, irrespective of the money raised by his meetings.
His father's naval career required the family to move a number of times from base to base throughout Britain and its dependencies, including in Malta, where Christopher's brother Peter was born in Sliema in 1951.
In the 1960s, Hitchens joined the political left, drawn by disagreement over the Vietnam War, nuclear weapons, racism, and oligarchy, including that of "the unaccountable corporation." He expressed affinity with the politically charged countercultural and protest movements of the 1960s and 1970s. He avoided the recreational drug use of the time, saying "in my cohort we were slightly anti-hedonistic...it made it very much easier for police provocation to occur, because the planting of drugs was something that happened to almost everyone one knew." Hitchens was inspired to become a Journalist after reading a piece by James Cameron.
Hitchens joined the Labour Party in 1965, but along with the majority of the Labour students' organisation was expelled in 1967, because of what Hitchens called "Prime Minister Harold Wilson's contemptible support for the war in Vietnam". Under the influence of Peter Sedgwick, who translated the writings of Russian revolutionary and Soviet dissident Victor Serge, Hitchens forged an ideological interest in Trotskyism and anti-Stalinist socialism. Shortly after he joined "a small but growing post-Trotskyist Luxemburgist sect".
Hitchens attended Mount House School (now known as Mount Kelly) in Tavistock in Devon from the age of eight, followed by the independent Leys School in Cambridge. Hitchens then attended Balliol College, Oxford, where he was tutored by Steven Lukes and Anthony Kenny and read Philosophy, Politics and Economics, graduating in 1970 with a third-class degree. Hitchens was "bowled over" in his adolescence by Richard Llewellyn's How Green Was My Valley, Arthur Koestler's Darkness at Noon, Fyodor Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment, R. H. Tawney's critique on Religion and the Rise of Capitalism, and the works of George Orwell. In 1968, he took part in the TV quiz show University Challenge.
In 1971 Hitchens went to work at the Times Higher Education Supplement where he served as a social science correspondent. Hitchens admitted that he hated the position, and was fired after six months in the job. Next he was a researcher for ITV's Weekend World. In 1973 he went to work for the New Statesman, where his colleagues included the authors Martin Amis, whom he had briefly met at Oxford, Julian Barnes and James Fenton, with whom he had shared a house in Oxford. Around that time, the Friday lunches began, which were attended by Writers including Clive James, Ian McEwan, Kingsley Amis, Terence Kilmartin, Robert Conquest, Al Alvarez, Peter Porter, Russell Davies and Mark Boxer. At the New Statesman Hitchens acquired a reputation as a left-winger, reporting internationally from areas of conflict such as Northern Ireland, Libya, and Iraq.
In November 1973, Hitchens's mother committed suicide in Athens in a pact with her lover, a defrocked clergyman named Timothy Bryan. The pair overdosed on sleeping pills in adjoining hotel rooms, and Bryan slashed his wrists in the bathtub. Hitchens flew alone to Athens to recover his mother's body, initially under the impression that his mother had been murdered. Both her children were then independent adults. While in Greece, Hitchens reported on the constitutional crisis of the military junta. It became his first leading article for the New Statesman. In December 1977, Hitchens interviewed Argentine dictator Jorge Rafael Videla, a conversation he later described as "horrifying". In 1977, unhappy at the New Statesman, Hitchens defected to the Daily Express where he became a foreign correspondent. He returned to the New Statesman in 1979 where he became foreign Editor.
Hitchens was married twice, first to Eleni Meleagrou, a Greek Cypriot in 1981; the couple had a son, Alexander, and a daughter, Sophia. In 1991, Hitchens married his second and last wife, Carol Blue, an American Screenwriter, in a ceremony held at the apartment of Victor Navasky, Editor of The Nation. They had a daughter together, Antonia.
Hitchens spent part of his early career in journalism as a foreign correspondent in Cyprus. Through his work there he met his first wife Eleni Meleagrou, a Greek Cypriot, with whom he had two children, Alexander and Sophia. His son, Alexander Meleagrou-Hitchens, born in 1984, has worked as a policy researcher in London. Hitchens continued writing essay-style correspondence pieces from a variety of locales, including Chad, Uganda and the Darfur region of Sudan. In 1991, he received a Lannan Literary Award for Nonfiction.
Hitchens met Carol Blue in Los Angeles in 1989 and they married in 1991. Hitchens called it love at first sight. In 1999, as harsh critics of Clinton, Hitchens and Carol Blue submitted an affidavit to the trial managers of the Republican Party in the impeachment of Bill Clinton. Therein they swore that their then-friend, Sidney Blumenthal, had described Monica Lewinsky as a stalker. This allegation contradicted Blumenthal's own sworn deposition in the trial, and it resulted in a hostile exchange of opinion in the public sphere between Hitchens and Blumenthal. Following the publication of Blumenthal's The Clinton Wars, Hitchens wrote several pieces in which he accused Blumenthal of manipulating the facts. The incident ended their friendship and sparked a personal crisis for Hitchens who was stridently criticised by friends for what they saw as a cynical and ultimately politically futile act.
Having long described himself as a social democrat, a Marxist and an anti-totalitarian, he began to break with the established political left after what he called the "tepid reaction" of the Western left to the Satanic Verses controversy, followed by the left's embrace of Bill Clinton and the antiwar movement's opposition to NATO intervention in Bosnia and Herzegovina in the 1990s. His support of the Iraq War separated him further. His writings include critiques of public figures such as Bill Clinton, Henry Kissinger, Mother Teresa and Diana, Princess of Wales. He was the elder brother of the conservative Journalist and author Peter Hitchens. He also advocated for the separation of church and state.
God Is Not Great affirmed Hitchens's position in the "New Atheism" movement. Hitchens was made an Honorary Associate of the Rationalist International and the National Secular Society shortly after its release and he was later named to the Honorary Board of distinguished achievers of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. He also joined the advisory board of the Secular Coalition for America, a group of atheists and humanists. Hitchens said he would accept an invitation from any religious leader who wished to debate with him. On 30 September 2007, Richard Dawkins, Hitchens, Sam Harris, and Daniel Dennett met at Hitchens's residence for a private, unmoderated discussion that lasted two hours. The event was videotaped and titled "The Four Horsemen". In it, Hitchens stated at one point that he considered the Maccabean Revolt the most unfortunate event in human history due to the reversion from Hellenistic thought and philosophy to messianism and fundamentalism that its success constituted.
Hitchens wrote a monthly essay in The Atlantic and occasionally contributed to other literary journals. One of his books, Unacknowledged Legislation: Writers in the Public Sphere, collected these works. In Why Orwell Matters, he defends Orwell's writings against modern critics as relevant today and progressive for his time. In the 2008 book Christopher Hitchens and His Critics: Terror, Iraq, and the Left, many literary critiques are included of essays and other books of Writers, such as David Horowitz and Edward Said.
That year, Hitchens began a series of written debates on the question "Is Christianity Good for the World?" with Christian theologian and pastor Douglas Wilson, published in Christianity Today magazine. This exchange eventually became a book by the same title in 2008. During their promotional tour of the book, they were accompanied by the Producer Darren Doane's film crew. Doane produced the film Collision: Is Christianity GOOD for the World?, which was released on 27 October 2009. On 4 April 2009 Hitchens debated william Lane Craig on the existence of God at Biola University. On 19 October 2009, Intelligence Squared explored the question "Is the Catholic Church a force for good in the world". John Onaiyekan and Ann Widdecombe argued that it was while Hitchens joined Stephen Fry in arguing that it was not. The latter side won the debate according to an audience poll. On 26 November 2010, Hitchens appeared in Toronto, Ontario at the Munk Debates, where he debated religion with former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, a convert to Roman Catholicism. Blair argued religion is a force for good, while Hitchens was against it.
In June 2010, Hitchens was on tour in New York promoting his memoirs Hitch-22 when he was taken into emergency care suffering from a severe pericardial effusion and then announced he was postponing his tour to undergo treatment for esophageal cancer. He announced that he was undergoing treatment in a Vanity Fair piece titled "Topic of Cancer". Hitchens said that he recognised the long-term prognosis was far from positive, and that he would be a "very lucky person to live another five years". A heavy smoker and drinker since his teenage years, Hitchens acknowledged that these habits likely contributed to his illness. During his illness, Hitchens was under the care of Francis Collins and was the subject of Collins' new cancer treatment, which maps out the human genome and selectively targets damaged DNA.
Hitchens died on 15 December 2011 at the age of 62 in the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Houston. In accordance with his wishes, his body was donated to medical research. Hitchens wrote a book-length work about his last illness, based on his Vanity Fair columns. Mortality was published in September 2012.
American theoretical Physicist and cosmologist Lawrence Krauss said, "Christopher was a beacon of knowledge and light in a world that constantly threatens to extinguish both. He had the courage to accept the world for just what it is and not what he wanted it to be. That's the highest praise, I believe, one can give to any intellect. He understood that the universe doesn't care about our existence or welfare and he epitomized the realization that our lives have meaning only to the extent that we give them meaning." Bill Maher paid tribute to Hitchens on his show Real Time with Bill Maher, saying, "We lost a hero of mine, a friend, and one of the great talk show guests of all time." Salman Rushdie and English Comedian Stephen Fry paid tribute at the Christopher Hitchens Vanity Fair Memorial 2012. Three weeks before Hitchens's death, George Eaton of the New Statesman wrote, "He is determined to ensure that he is not remembered simply as a 'lefty who turned right' or as a contrarian and provocateur. Throughout his career, he has retained a commitment to the Enlightenment values of reason, secularism and pluralism. His targets—Mother Teresa, Bill Clinton, Henry Kissinger, God—are chosen not at random, but rather because they have offended one or more of these principles. The tragedy of Hitchens' illness is that it came at a time when he enjoyed a larger audience than ever. The great polemicist is certain to be remembered, but, as he is increasingly aware, perhaps not as he would like." The Chronicle of Higher Education asked if Hitchens was the last public intellectual.
While Hitchens supported Israel's right to exist, he was critical of the Israeli government's handling of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. Having long described himself as a socialist and a Marxist, Hitchens began his break from the established political left after what he called the "tepid reaction" of the Western left to the controversy over The Satanic Verses, followed by the left's embrace of Bill Clinton, and the antiwar movement's opposition to NATO intervention in Bosnia and Herzegovina in the 1990s. He later became a liberal hawk and supported the War on Terror, but he had some reservation, such as his characterization of waterboarding as torture after voluntarily undergoing the procedure. In January 2006, he joined with four other individuals and four organizations, including the ACLU and Greenpeace, as plaintiffs in a lawsuit, ACLU v. NSA, challenging Bush's NSA warrantless surveillance; the lawsuit was filed by the ACLU.
He became known for his critiques of public contemporary figures including Mother Teresa, Bill Clinton and Henry Kissinger— the subjects of three separate full length texts, The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice, No One Left to Lie To: The Triangulations of william Jefferson Clinton, and The Trial of Henry Kissinger.
In 2015, an annual prize of $50,000 was established in his honour for "an author or Journalist whose work reflects a commitment to free expression and inquiry, a range and depth of intellect, and a willingness to pursue the truth without regard to personal or professional consequence."
Other of Hitchens's critiques took the form of opinion pieces or lengthy lectures, including his critiques of Jerry Falwell, George Galloway, Slobodan Milošević, Mel Gibson, the 14th Dalai Lama, Michael Moore, Daniel Pipes, Ronald Reagan, Jesse Helms, and Cindy Sheehan.