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Dec 15 2013

Dana’s Super-Gargantuan Guide to Atheist Books Suitable for Gift-Giving (Part I)

It’s about that time when we perpetual procrastinators begin to feel each grain of sand dropping through the narrow bit of the glass, innit? If you’ve left gift-buying a bit late, never fear! Books are easy, Amazon and other online retailers are quick, the local bookstore may even be stocked, and you can get someone in your life a gift that will give them more than a moment’s pleasure.

I’m here to help you pick just the right one. Many of these, I’ve read. Some, I’ve only read bits of, but heard much about from other sources and thus feel comfortable recommending. I’ve split things into categories, so you can more quickly make a match between gift recipient’s interests and the right book. And, of course, these will also give you ideas as to how to spend those nifty gift cards you might end up with.

If I’ve reviewed the book, I provide a link to said review. If I haven’t, I’ve provided a brief synopsis to assist you. As always, feel free to add any favorites of your own in the comments – the more, the merrier!

Let’s go!

Photo of a cat lying atop books on a shelf, biting one. Caption says, "I am looking for a book I can REALLY sink my teeth into."Religion

In this section, you’ll find books on religion, wherein religion decidedly does not come out on top.

An American Fraud by Kay Burningham.

Anyone interested in Mormonism, and wanting to know if there’s a legal case for it being a big fat fraud, will love this book. You’ll also love giving it to Mormons.

Not the Impossible Faith by Richard Carrier.

I read the online version, and it was fascinating. In this book, Richard takes on and crushes the “common apologetic argument for the truth of [Christianity] that its origins were too improbable to be false.” This is a thing amongst some fundies. One of them is J.P. Holding, who pretty much recited All the Tropes having to do with this argument, thus painting Richard a maclargehuge target. By the end of this book, everyone will know why Christianity could succeed despite being utter bullshit. If fundie Christians could feel this particular type o’ shame, they’d be ashamed to try these arguments ever again. And the book not only crushes their pathetic apologetics with relentless precision, it also introduces the reader to amazing bits of ancient history, religion, society, and culture, which is an added bonus and great for history addicts.

The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins.

Suitable for gifting to those who want a no-holds-barred look at what religion really is. A book that has made many an atheist.

Breaking the Spell by Daniel Dennett.

If you need to give someone a book that gives religion no quarter, and yet doesn’t seem like one of those merciless New Atheist books, this is an excellent start, especially if the recipient likes philosophy.

The Complete Heretic’s Guide to Western Religion: the Mormons by David Fitzgerald.

An excellent introductory guide to Mormonism for those who don’t actually know that much about it.

50 Simple Questions for Every Christian by Guy P. Harrison.

Ha ha ha, simple. Also a good book to innocently slip your religious relations. Tell them you thought it would help them argue with atheists. Heh.

The Skeptics Annotated Bible by Steve Wells.

The only Bible that has ever made me want to go to church as an atheist, this is a fantastic gift for atheists and believers alike. Give one to your fundie friends and relations! They can’t complain – you are, after all, giving them a nice King James edition. With, um, some extra footnotes…

 

Leaving Religion

Here we have books that are mostly about getting the fuck out of faith.

Godless by Dan Barker.

Fascinating tome by a man who used to be a born-again evangelist who was really on fire for the Lord, and is now an atheist champion.

Why I Believed by Kenneth W. Daniels.

So this is a book by a former missionary that is extraordinary in its ability to really get to the nuts-and-bolts of believing, and then losing that belief. Suitable for gifting to friends and family members who just can’t understand your atheism in the least.

 

Atheism

Here’s the meaty atheist goodness! Not that the above wasn’t, this stuff has just got more atheism in it.

The Atheist’s Guide to Christmas edited by Robin Harvie and Stephanie Meyers.

This book is snarky as hell, and I fell in love with it instantly. That was while I read the table of contents. It’s an excellent resource for atheists at Christmas, and safe for leaving near religious grandmothers. It includes all you need to know, really: the history, philosophy, science, and how-to of Christmas. Royalties from its sales go to charity, and our own Jen McCreight is in it, so if any atheists out there need some help with the holiday, give ‘em this.

The Portable Atheist edited by Christopher Hitchens.

This is a smorgasbord of freethought readings that includes many you’d never have considered freethought. I mean, The Rubáiyát? But yes, a lot of atheism and freethinking existed even during times that were deeply religious. This book covers ancient to modern times, includes a lot of different folks, and is a great place for a new (whether New, Gnu or not) atheist to begin.

Why I Am Not a Muslim by ibn Warraq.

This is rather like what Bertrand Russell did to Christianity, only aimed squarely at Islam. It’s also harsher and more thorough. It absolutely destroys the myth of the divine origins of the Koran, explores the horrifying political implications of fundie Islam, and rather murders that “Islam loved People of the Book!” trope. There are informative and infuriating sections on Women in Islam, taboos, heretics, Islamic skeptics, and more. For those leaving Islam, those of us wanting to critique Islam without sounding like raving right-wing assholes, and those of us who are terminally curious about being apostates from a religion other than Christianity, this is a fantastic book.

The Atheist’s Bible edited by Joan Konner.

A book full o’ freethinking quotes, arranged somewhat like a bible (beginning with Genesis, even), and eminently suitable for leaving lying innocently about where a non-atheist may encounter it, such as on a coffee table or in a bathroom. Perhaps they will pick it up out of idle curiosity, horrified fascination, or sheer desperation for reading material. Two things, if the moment is just right, may happen as a result:

1. They will learn that someone they admire and respect was, quite possibly, an atheist.

2. They will be prompted to think thoughts they haven’t before thunk.

And these are outcomes greatly to be desired.

Nothing: Something to Believe In by Nica Lalli.

I love how, in the intro, Nica says that she chooses “nothing” because it cuts out the god root (theos). She’s right: nothing can stand on its own. This is a journey of discovery about what it means to be nothing in a world swimming in religion. She spent most of her life “frightened or upset by religion,” and realized that not having a religious identity meant having no ammo when the religious freaks came gunning for her soul. She eventually learned to defend her beliefs, and also learned that being despised by the majority of the country is not equal to being despised by your own family, as she discovered when faced with an uber-religious sister-in-law. But there’s comfort to be found in “nothing,” and possibly some decent coexistence, too.

Why I Am Not a Christian by Bertrand Russell.

This is one of the original New Atheist tomes, really. It’s a classic by a no-holds-barred philosopher, and while it’s a tiny little book, it contains pretty much everything you need to get started on a career of unapologetic atheism. Make sure all the new (and possibly New) atheists you know have got a copy. It wouldn’t hurt to slip one in the stockings of believers, either, should you feel the need to counter their typical religious gift schlock.

Here endeth Part I. Part II coming as soon as I can manage it.

11 comments

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  1. 1
    petemoulton

    Good list, Dana. I’ll confess to being a little disappointed to find that Robert Ingersoll didn’t make the cut, however.

  2. 2
    georgewiman

    A couple i have not read yet. Looking forward to the next list!

    May I recommend Red Neck, Blue Collar Atheist; simple thoughts about reason, gods and faith by Hank Fox. A truly delightful book, for which I have fond hopes of a Kindle edition. Hank writes about what it’s like to live inside the head of an atheist, in his usual engaging way. It is a great read and would make a good gift for relatives who insist on second-guessing your “real reason” for being an atheist.

  3. 3
    movablebooklady

    I don’t know whose kitty that is or whose books those are, but (being a non-so-secret) book nerd, I turned my computer to read the spines. And what do I espy? W.E.B. Griffin’s “The Corps.” I actually enjoyed his Corps series and his Army series, even though he’s a dyed-in-the-wool conservative. They were just good. Never mind the rest of his stuff, though.

    I really want to have both the Skeptic’s Guide to the Bible and the Heretic’s Annotated Bible, just for myself. What about Greta Christina’s book? Would that be a good gift?

  4. 4
    rq

    Nice starting list, Dana. I think there’s enough on there to keep me occupied for a few months. Unfortunately I don’t know anyone who would be pleased to receive any of those books. Intrigued is about as positive as it would get, and not in the ‘ooooh, happy surprises await!’ kind of way (anticipatory might be a better word).

  5. 5
    georgewiman

    Ooh! Ooh! (slaps forehead) Greta Christina’s Why Are You Atheists So Angry, 99 things that piss off the godless! I haz hard copy and Kindle versions. For the culture warrior on your list. Or for anyone, because Greta is awesome.

  6. 6
    One Day Soon I Shall Invent A Funny Login

    Personally I don’t care for Dennet’s Breaking the Spell for reasons I put in a review at the time. It’s entertaining if you like a long ramble in Dennett’s blathery style, but it really doesn’t accomplish what he says it does. Other people who negatively reviewed that book recommended instead Pascal Boyer’s Religion Explained: The Evolutionary Origins of Religious Thought. I’ve not read it but from the overview I’d think it accomplishes more than Dennett’s book did, in a lot fewer pages.

  7. 7
    Mobius

    Thanks for the link to Carrier’s book. I read his blog, though not religiously {chortle). I really like his video about a historical Jesus. While I am not completely convinced, I do find his arguments compelling. (I still find it plausible there was a man named Jesus that was a religious teacher, and the stories just got carried away as happened with a lot of myths.)

  8. 8
    jimbaerg

    A few months ago I read In the Shadow of the Sword which is about the origins of Islam. One of the fascinating aspects is how all the religions of that area & era kept rewriting their history.

  9. 9
    Mobius

    @jimbaerg

    A few months ago I read In the Shadow of the Sword which is about the origins of Islam. One of the fascinating aspects is how all the religions of that area & era kept rewriting their history.

    I don’t think you can restrict this to just the religions in the Middle East. It seems to me that every religion, to some degree, must rewrite its history to make its story seem more real.

  10. 10
    A Hermit

    I always have to put in a plug for The Little Book of Atheist Spirituality by Andre Comte-Sponville. I find it a refreshing change from the “angry atheist” genre. Don’t let the word ‘spirituality” scare you off; if you’ve ever looked up at the vast starry night sky and been overwhelmed by the beautiful, mysterious natural wonder of it all you’ll appreciate what Sponville has to say.

    Also Can We Be Good Without God?: Biology, Behavior, and the Need to Believe by the late great Robert Buckman, former president of the Humanist Association of Canada.

  11. 11
    aaronbaker

    I think the best attack on philosophical arguments for the existence of God remains John Mackie’s The Miracle of Theism.

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