From the moment I met Hilton, he demonstrated to me just what it meant to be serious about serious things. He wasn’t dour—anything but with his constant delight in the cultural world’s follies—yet he sent a message that some altars were more worth worshipping at than others. Not for Hilton was a Monday morning discussion of the Jets game or the latest indie flick.

It was a particular treat to watch him write. He sat in his Eames chair and banged out full paragraphs at a rush on his typewriter. Then a pause and another clatter of keys as the next stage of the argument was settled. He was the classic newspaperman at work. Hilton, however, wasn’t describing some local fire or a politician’s latest platitude but wrestling with the ideas at the root of our culture—and their enemies. He saw writing as a key part of intellectual life and felt that you couldn’t know what you thought about somethin ...