Outspoken and outrageous: Christopher Hitchens

Steve Kroft profiles the columnist, author and public figure, for whom nothing seems to be off-limits

At Oxford, Hitchens says he kept two sets of books: by day he was an international socialist pamphleteer, and his nights were spent sipping whiskey and fine wine with the Oxford elite.

"Any exercise of hedonism on my part was actually a rebellion against conservatism. It might not have been for everybody, but it was for me," Hitchens told Kroft.

"You were somewhat famous or infamous at Oxford, I take it?" Kroft asked.

"Notorious would do. Yes, I was," Hitchens said.

Asked if people at Oxford knew who he was, Hitchens told Kroft, "I've always been able to give a speech in public. And '68 was a good year if you could just get up on a truck or an upturned barrel and make a speech through a megaphone or without or, in the more parliamentary style, which I had been trained for by debating society, speak at the Oxford Union against members of the government. I mean, cabinet ministers would come on the train. It was only an hour from London. And you could meet them when you were 18 and debate with them on level terms."

Within a few years of graduation, he was one of the most famous journalists in Britain, covering wars abroad and creating mischief at home. Margaret Thatcher once spanked him on the rump and called him a naughty boy. But he soon found England small and confining.

"Dr. Samuel Johnson used to say - famously said - 'If a man is tired of London he's tired of life.' And I was tired of London by the time I was 30 and I decided England was too small. I wanted to leave. I never get bored here," Hitchens said.

"Here" is Washington, D.C., where Hitchens has lived for the last 20 years with his wife, Carol Blue, and the youngest of his three children.

They have not gotten around to actually hanging pictures in their apartment, but Hitchens seems to know the exact location of every book in his vast library from Byron and Spinoza to Gray's Anatomy. He has read them all over to cover, and can still quote lengthy passages.

Hitchens pointed out a shelf full of religious books to Kroft, quipping, "And here's a collection of holy books, if ever I want to look for loopholes."

For years he hosted a famous party for Vanity Fair at his home, rubbing shoulders with Supreme Court justices, senators, Hollywood royalty and network news anchors, providing ammunition to rivals who call him a shameless namedropper and social climber. The apartment is currently being expanded with the proceeds of his recent best seller, God is not Great.

"You've elevated your career by picking on bigger and bigger targets. It's kind of gone from being, Hitchens against Kissinger, Hitchens against Clinton, Hitchens against Mother Teresa, Hitchens against God," Kroft pointed out.

"Ah, well. In a way, of course, it has to end with the belief in the divine, yes, because that is the origin of all dictatorship," Hitchens replied.