Aldous Huxley was the third son of Leonard Huxley, a teacher, editor, and author, and the former Julia Arnold, a schoolmistress. His paternal grandfather was the famed scientist Thomas Henry Huxley (a noted defender of the theories of Charles Darwin, and the person who coined the term "agnostic"), and a maternal great-uncle was the poet and critic Matthew Arnold. Their grandfather's mantle was taken up by Huxley's older brother Julian, who became a noted biologist. Aldous was planning on a career in medicine; he was educated at Eton and Balliol College, Oxford. When he was 14, his mother died of cancer, and three years later Huxley was stricken by an eye infection that left him blind for a year. His eyesight never recovered beyond a return of partial vision in one eye, and this led him to change his plan of studying medicine; instead he studied literature at Oxford. While he was at Oxford, his older brother Trevenen committed suicide. After completing his bachelor's degree in 1916, Huxley worked briefly as a teacher at Eton. He then moved to London and pursued a career as a literary critic and poet. In 1919 he married Maria Nys, who gave birth to their only child the next year, the same year Huxley published his first volume of stories. By 1923, Huxley had published two acclaimed novels, CHROME YELLOW and ANTIC HAY, and his reputation as one of the finest satirists of his time was established. He and Maria spent the next several years living on the Continent, and he continued to publish books, achieving great success with the novels POINT COUNTER POINT and BRAVE NEW WORLD. In 1934, upon the completion of EYELESS IN GAZA, Huxley experienced severe writer's block, along with depression and insomnia. In an effort to cure these afflictions he began practicing meditation and pursuing an interest in metaphysics. Huxley emerged from this dark period the next year, and leaving behind his famed sardonicism, embraced a more idealistic view of human potential. He and his family moved to the United States in 1937, living first at the ranch of his deceased friend D. H. Lawrence, and in 1938 settling in Southern California. Huxley worked as a screenwriter in Hollywood during the late 1930s and 1940s while continuing to write fiction and essays. His interest in metaphysics deepened over the years, and in 1953 he experimented with the hallucinogenic drug mescaline; the results of these experiments are recounted in his book THE DOORS OF PERCEPTION. In 1955, Maria Huxley died. The next year Huxley married Laura Archera, a musician, film editor, and therapist. In his final years, Huxley continued his long-established interest in travel, visiting countries around the world, often lecturing on his ideas. He published his final novel, ISLAND, in 1962, and succumbed to throat cancer the next year, on the same day John F. Kennedy was shot. Huxley is best known in the United States for BRAVE NEW WORLD, which is often assigned reading in secondary schools, but ISLAND--whose model society is much more pleasant than the one found in BRAVE NEW WORLD--also has a durable and devoted following. His early novels are fine portraits of postwar English society, and it is on these that his reputation as a literary stylist rest. The contrast between these early satires and the metaphysical and sociological concerns of his later work is stark, and readers are often fans of either his "English period" or his "American Period," but not often fans of both. No matter what works of Huxley one reads, however, one will find perceptive social observation and elegant prose. He is immortalized with a place in the jacket collage of the Beatles' SERGEANT PEPPER album.
Christopher Hitchens has been a book reviewer for the esteemed British journal the New Statesman and has written for several American magazines, including Vanity Fair and The Nation, where he has written the "Minority Report" column--in his words, "an attempt to mount a Left critique of society and politics." In his books, Hitchens has written on issues as diverse as Britain's obligation to return the Elgin Marbles to Greece, the conflicts in the Middle East, and Anglo-American relations; but Hitchens is perhaps more well-known for his scathing attacks on Princess Diana, Mother Teresa, Bill Clinton, and Henry Kissinger--whom he just about calls a war criminal. It was a surprise to many of his friends when he openly supported the war in Iraq; and his book GOD IS NOT GREAT was seen by many as a direct, and sometimes intemperate, attack on religion and believers. It infuriated those who may have never read or even heard of him before. Hitchens may have been at his best in his many public appearances and debates as well as in the media, where his erudition and rhetorical skills were on full display--to the delight if his audiences--and where he retreated not an inch from the tone and substance of his controversial writings. An Englishman by birth and upbringing, Hitchens attended Balliol College of Oxford University, where he studied PPE--Politics, Philosophy, and Economics. He came to America in the early 1980s, living first in New York City and then in Washington, D.C. In December 2011, Christopher Hitchens died from complications of esophageal cancer.