Kai Bird, a Pulitzer-winning biographer, said that the subject of his first book, John J. McCloy, a powerful Wall Street lawyer, wrote a letter to the editor in The New York Times Book Review in 1982 advising people not to participate in the project. McCloy also took Bird’s editor, Alice Mayhew, out to lunch and tried to convince her to kill the biography, saying he could write a memoir himself. It didn’t work.
In an email, Wasserman said that he and Blue-Hitchens stood by their words. “Just because Mr. Phillips has a contract to write his book in no way entitles him to the cooperation of others,” he wrote.
Phillips, in a phone interview, said that the efforts to close off the inner circle to him could create a reporting challenge, as those closest to Hitchens may be the most inclined to respect the estate’s wishes.
“There is a tendency when a project comes under this kind of pressure for it to skew negative,” Phillips said. “The people who this would have chilling effect on are people who have nice things to say, so you wind up disproportionally with people who are ambivalent or have a negative take. I am determined to resist that.”
Phillips’s project will not be the first book written about Hitchens since his death. In 2016, Larry Alex Taunton, an evangelical writer, published “The Faith of Christopher Hitchens: The Restless Soul of the World’s Most Notorious Atheist,” in which he wrote that Hitchens was open to believing in Christianity, a claim he based primarily on conversations he had with Hitchens during two long car trips. Wasserman, Hitchens’s literary agent, disagreed vehemently with Taunton’s conclusions, saying that “unverifiable conversations” are made to “contradict everything Christopher Hitchens ever said or stood for.”
As for “Pamphleteer,” Phillips said that while the efforts to stop people from talking have created a “headwind,” his work is moving forward.
“I’m not a particularly smart person, I’m not a particularly ingenious person, all I can do is outwork people,” he said. “All I can do is send out more emails and try to speak with more people. I’m absolutely committed to this book coming out, and to that end, I just keep on keeping on.”