It’s about that time when we begin contemplating the necessity of buying gifts for the readers in our lives. That is, if you’re one of those who plans ahead. Even if you’re not, you can just bookmark this page and return when the ZOMG-it’s-nearly-Xmas-Eve! panic sets in. Gotta love buying for readers. 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, all in time for the solstice, even if you leave it for the last possible instant.
You may be a reader whose family gets them a certificate to a bookstore online or off. Huzzah! Your shelves, virtual or real, will soon be groaning under brand-new bookage!
Only problem is, there are lotsa books. Sooo many books!
I’m here to help you pick just the right one. Or ones. 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 the book recipient’s interests and the right book.
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!
Table of Contents:
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. It’s sublime.
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.
Girl at the End of the World by Elizabeth Esther
This book is gripping from the very first sentences: “I am ready to die for Jesus. I am nine years old.” Elizabeth Esther was raised in a spiritually-abusive fundamentalist Christian environment. Her memoir gives plenty of insight into the lives of people trapped deep within apocalyptic cults. She was even a child street-preacher. (One thing you’ll learn from this book: you should totally be the little old lady yelling “Don’t be afraid to think for yourself!” at the kid shrieking Bible verses from a milk crate, even if said kid has no idea what you’re talking about at the time.) She survived her upbringing with her sense of humor intact: if you’re reading on an electronic device, please do be careful with liquids and laughter.
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…
God and the Folly of Faith by Victor Stenger.
With this book, Victor has mounted up as one of the horsepeople of the atheist apocalypse. Seriously. No quarter is given, and if you want a book that will make religion ashamed to play at science, this is the one.
Beyond Belief: The Secret Lives of Women in Extreme Religions by Susan Tive and Cami Ostman, eds.
This book is full of slices of fundamentalist life from a broad range of faiths. The editors, Susan Tive and Cami Ostman, wanted to explore the commonalities between women who found themselves sucked (or born) in to extremely restrictive religions. They weren’t intending “to refute or belittle religion.”
They didn’t have to. The religions do that quite well all by themselves.
Jesus Land: A Memoir by Julia Scheeres
This is a harrowing story of religion, racism, abuse, and brainwashing that takes us from rural Indiana to a Christian reform school in the Dominican Republic. You’re going to have all the feels, so make sure you have plenty of emergency kittens and tissues handy. This story rather makes Jesus Camp look sane – but this is happening in fundie households every day. Julia shows you what it’s like to be kids doing what they must to survive the madness, as the bond between her and her adopted African-American brother carries the narrative.
Homeschool Sex Machine: Babes, Bible Quiz, and the Clinton Years by Matthew Pierce
I downloaded Matthew Pierce’s Homeschool Sex Machine: Babes, Bible Quiz, and the Clinton Years because I needed a bit of easy-but-related-to-current-project reading at bedtime. But mostly, I did it because of the title. I mean, we’re talking about someone raised in the purity culture, folks. You cannot even imagine how jarring the idea of someone raised to be pure and virginal, not even supposed to date or kiss until marriage, being a sex machine is. Also, I’d been seeing alumni reviews here and there, which were all positive, and the thing was $2.99, and so it seemed a safe bet.
Don’t make that bet if you’re still recovering from abdominal surgery, because you’ll bust your stitches.
Now, you may have heard this of this book being blacklisted by some Christian sites. This is because they can’t stand the idea of sex, and also, there are bosoms.
Here we have books that are mostly about getting the fuck out of faith.
Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why by Greta Christina
You want the best-ever book on how to come out as an atheist, right? This is it, my darlings. The exact guide you need. Greta Christina is brilliant, as usual. Excellent advice solicited from all over the atheosphere is interspersed with coming out stories that will give you plenty of support and encouragement. This book takes into account coming out to more than just family and friends: you’ll also find tips for coming out to coworkers, conservative communities, and the even the entire internet, if you’re so inclined. There’s also plenty of help for those of us who wish to give our fellow atheists a hand (but definitely not a push!) out of the closet. And as if you needed any more encouragement: 10% of the income from Coming Out Atheist is donated to atheist charities, organizations, and projects.
Trusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light by Valerie Tarico
Valerie Tarico is a former Evangelical Christian who ended up trusting doubt. She makes the case for approaching religion as a spiritual quest rather than holding rigidly to tradition. She shows that Christianity has been a series of quests, far different from how fundamentalists treat it. The book is about the duty of the faithful to inquire rather than just follow the rules.
Valerie tells the story of how her exposure to people who practiced different sorts of Christianity allowed her to explore questions rather than quash them. Her questions got bigger. She shows us what she learned: her book explores the Bible’s history, internal contradictions, and treatment of women and minorities. She shows the conflicts between science and religion; the changing concepts of the nature of God, sin, salvation, and morals; exposes hypocrisy; and investigates the psychology of religion. Get this one into the hands of those having doubts, and those who should.
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.
Recovering Agency: Lifting the Veil of Mormon Mind Control by Luna Lindsey
This is an amazing resource for those who are leaving or thinking of leaving Mormonism. It’s also great for ex-Mormons and folks with Mormon family or friends. Luna Lindsey relentlessly, yet somehow kindly, shows how the Mormon church displays all the hallmarks of a cult. In the process, she’s created a book that’s a handy guide to how cults in general work. She points to the way out, and provides a list of resources that will help those who want to escape.
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 Happy Atheist by PZ Myers.
Despite the awful title which he didn’t choose, this is an excellent collection of PZ’s finest atheist thought, including much biology. Chapters are short (basically blog posts) and include many of his most famous essays, including The Courtier’s Reply. The majority of the book isn’t about science, but builds to the science section, and those chapters are inspiring and meaty. This book is perfect for people who need unapologetic atheism and beautiful science in bite-sized morsels.
Daylight Atheism by Adam Lee
Looking for a book that makes the case for atheism? Would you like “an unapologetic – an argument for the truth of no faith”? Here’s the book you need. Adam Lee is an excellent writer and clear thinker who pulls no punches. You’ll love watching him shoot down American Christians’ claims of persecution right outta the gate. There’s plenty of food for the non-faitheist crowd. It also makes the case for getting the hell out of the closet. This would be an excellent companion volume to our own Greta Christina’s Coming Out Atheist.
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.
Generation Atheist by Dan Reilly
This is a wonderful book that shares young atheists’ stories about their atheism and its effect on their lives. It’ll be helpful for those who need to know they’re not alone in their unbelief. It may also be a great resource for non-atheists who want to know how we get to atheism and what we’re like. The diverse range of people included will be a good introduction for ‘em. There’s an awesomesauce table of contents that include a guide to the stories by religious upbringing, which includes the major Christian denominations, as well as the Hindu, Muslim, Jain, Jewish, None, and Wiccan faiths.
Comforting Thoughts About Death That Have Nothing to Do with God by Greta Christina
Nobody likes to think of this stuff around the holidays, but it’s not just life that happens. This compassionate mini-book is for atheists coping with death and mortality: it’ll help you navigate some pretty fraught territory. Greta says, “I think there are ways to look at death, ways to experience the death of other people and to contemplate our own, that allow us to feel the value of life without denying the finality of death.” Exactly right.
Comforting Thoughts About Death includes essays like “Atheism and the Argument from Comfort” and “Humanism in a Shitstorm.” There’s also a resource guide – yes, there are resources for the godless grieving. And it’s written by one of the most compassionate, realistic, and empathetic people I know.
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 soon.