Reading list for atheists

I hear that Matt claimed on the last episode that I had made a blog post with a “top ten” book list for atheists. Actually, I only sent somebody an email with my list, but there was no blog post, so I thought I should make one.

This is not an exhaustive list by any means, and I’m sure the comments will fill up with others I’ve missed. I put this together recently by polling my Facebook page with this question: If you met a new atheist who was trying to get a basic handle on the intellectual foundation of atheism, what books would you recommend? These are the books I chose:

  1. Dan Barker, Godless: How an Evangelical Preacher Became One of America’s Leading Atheists (2008)
  2. Dale McGowan, Atheism for Dummies (2013)
  3. Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (2006)
  4. George Smith, Atheism: The Case Against God (1974)
  5. Christopher Hitchens, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything (2009)
  6. Sam Harris, The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason (2005)
  7. A.C. Grayling, The God Argument: The Case Against Religion and for Humanism (2013)
  8. Guy P. Harrison, 50 Reasons People Give for Believing in a God (2008)
  9. Victor J. Stenger, The New Atheism: Taking a Stand for Science and Reason (2009)
  10. Bertrand Russell, Why I Am Not a Christian: And Other Essays on Religion and Related Subjects (1967)

Additionally, for many new atheists I don’t recommend they jump into these books until they have read some foundational works about critical thinking. I consider both of these essential reading:

  1. Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark (1997)
  2. John Allen Paulos, Innumeracy: Mathematical Illiteracy and Its Consequences (2001)



  1. unfogged says

    Looks like my summer reading list just grew a bit… I read Innumeracy recently and agree that it is an excellent choice but I found The Demon Haunted World to be a major disappointment. Sagan was certainly a brilliant mind but something about his style is just grating for me and I can’t easily sit through any of his stuff. I’d still recommend it because the content is certainly valuable.
    My list would include
    The God Virus: How Religion Infects Our Lives and Culture by Darrel Ray
    Atheist Universe: The Thinking Person’s Answer to Christian Fundementalism by David Mills
    In The Beginning…: Science Faces God in the Book of Genesis by Isaac Asimov

  2. arensb says

    I sometimes think of Richard Feynman’s You Must Be Joking, Mr. Feynman (and perhaps to a lesser extent Who Cares What Other People Think?) as a stealth intro-to-critical-thinking book. For the most part, it ‘s just a fun romp of a memoir, the kind that makes you stay up too late reading and giggling and preventing your SO from sleeping.

    But there are parts that introduce important aspects of critical thinking, such as the one about his father trying to relate things to the real world (like measuring the window to see if a T-rex head would fit in it), or his observations on the poor state of education in Brazil at the time, and the resulting talk Cargo Cult Science.

  3. arensb says

    Weird. Why does <cite> make its contents appear flush-right? And did the CSS designer define it as a block element? At any rate, sorry for making things hard to read.

  4. says

    Surely Greta’s, “Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off the Godless”! Read it on holiday recently, it was very well written.

  5. says

    Come to think of it I read Sikivu Hutchinsons book “Moral Combat: Black Atheists, Gender Politics, and the Values Wars” shortly before Greta’s … Highly recommended for a different perspective on barriers into atheism.

  6. Lord Narf says

    Is Greta Christina’s book anything about the argument for atheism? I thought it was more social commentary. It’s definitely on my list of books to pick up, but I wouldn’t think it would be the sort of book for this list.

  7. says

    Definitely its a call to theists to be angry about the things that piss off us atheists, thinly veiled as you should be angry too! Very clearly written and hard to argue that atheist anger with things done in religion’s name is not justified. Doesn’t go into deep philosophical or scientific arguments but then that doesn’t convince a lot of people, anger about social inequity at the hands of religion does.

  8. petemoulton says

    I’d add Daniel Dennett’s Breaking the Spell and Adam Lee’s Daylight Atheism.

  9. says

    My Recommended Reading List for Skeptics

    I believe that if someone is taught logic, reason, and critical thinking then this will naturally progress to the formation of accurate beliefs and effective behaviours. I am a big fan, therefore, of books addressing the faults and limitations in our perception of stimulus and processing of information. Rather than teaching people that ‘this belief system’ is the one and only ‘True’ belief system, give people the epistemic tools to vet claims and form their own ontology weighted on the evidence.

    In this vein, some books I would recommend are:

    Pinker, Steven. How The Mind Works, c1997
    Pinker, Steven. Blank Slate, The, c2002
    Gilbert, Daniel Todd. Stumbling on Happiness, c2006
    Ariely, Dan. Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces that Shape Our Decisions, c2008
    Marcus, Gary Fred. Kluge: The Haphazard Construction of The Human Mind, c2008
    Brafman, Ori & Brafman, Rom. Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior, c2008
    Lehrer, Jonah. How We Decide, c2009
    Kahneman, Daniel. Thinking, Fast and Slow, c2011

    Many of the above authors have one or more TED Talks, which serves as a good introduction to their ideas.

    A few other books and videos that really helped strengthen my ontology and epistemology are:

    Bryson, Bill. A Short History of Nearly Everything, c2003
    Schwartz, Barry. Paradox Of Choice, The: Why More Is Less, c2004
    Sweeney, Julia. Letting Go Of God, c2006
    Kenrick, Douglas T. Sex, Murder, and The Meaning of Life: A Psychologist Investigates How Evolution, Cognition, and Complexity are Revolutionizing Our View of Human Nature, c2011
    Novella, Steven [of the SGU], Your Deceptive Mind: A Scientific Guide to Critical Thinking Skills, c2012

    Respectfully yours,
    Andrew Antaro!
    From the recently flooded city of Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

  10. Lord Narf says

    It sucks, but when you talk about the classics, the atheism movement has been dominated by white men. We haven’t seen many alternative voices until maybe 4 or 5 years ago. Greta Christina is the only one I might put on a top ten list, and she’s only got one atheism book. If the books just aren’t there, you can’t force it, without falling into tokenism.

    Help us out here, then. Which books would you put on the list, which aren’t written by white men?

  11. Lord Narf says

    Hmm, emotional arguments are definitely fair game. Those can work on theists better than logical arguments, sometimes, and work well enough to break them out of the mindset, to the point that they’ll listen to the logical arguments and view them without their theistic presuppositions.

  12. John Nugent says

    Oops. Meant to put this over here, but I posted it in the other thread. Reposting here.

    What is your opinion of Israel Finkelstein’s “The Bible Unearthed,” which seeks to prove, if I recall, the OT as a 6th Cent. BC political document, designed to combine the gods of Israel and Judea into one, in order to easily combine the nations into one.

  13. John Kruger says

    Very true.

    I think in no small measure those who could afford to question religion earliest were also the most privileged, culturally and economically. Even now there are more male atheists than female ones. All the more reason to concentrate on equality and social justice. The unintended racism and sexism of the early atheist movement is just a failure we have to own and actively correct going forward.

    To my own shame, I cannot come up with a non white male atheist author besides Greta Christina. It is pretty disgraceful.

    Interestingly the countries that have some of the highest percentages of atheists (Japan, Germany, South Korea) have no authors about books on atheism that I am aware of. I suppose I am English speaking biased as well.

  14. John Nugent says

    But here is my list. Lots of overlap, here.

    1) Paine, Thomas – The Age of Reason
    2) Ingersoll, Robert – Lectures
    3) Baron d’Holbach – The System of Nature
    4) ANYTHING by the “Four Horsemen + Krauss.” (If nothing else, they’re great writers.)
    5) Finklestein, Israel – The Bible Unearthed
    6) Mencken, HL – Any work, regarding Religion
    7) Loftus – The Christian Delusion
    8) McGowan, Dale – Atheism for Dummies (Nice overview)
    9) Carrier, Richard – Any book on the Historicity issue
    10) Hittell, John – Evidences Against Christianity

    I would also recommend reading various “Holy Books” (My favorites are still the Eddas LOL)

  15. Lord Narf says

    I’ve heard bits and pieces of the information in it, from various sources. I really need to read it, at some point. It sounds fascinating.

  16. John Nugent says

    Of course, I forgot another favorite in Bertrand Russell! Thank goodness, it’s in Russell’s list!

  17. John Kruger says

    To be fair, Russel’s list is not exactly one of just classics. Two of them are from this year.

  18. cnc917 says

    This is an interesting response. I was interested in the OP because I haven’t read many atheist books, but would like to. I scroll down to the comments and see that someone made the same observation I did, and the response is, “They don’t exist, and go find them yourself.” Which is fairly useless for someone looking for book recommendations.

    However, I did notice that Dan Barker has a book at the top of the list. Since I know he’s Annie Laurie Gaylor’s husband, I checked her Wikipedia page, and she has written several books. Are none of those worth recommending? I don’t know, because as I said, I haven’t read many atheist books.

  19. Lord Narf says

    That still only slightly improves things, though. How many of the atheism books out this year were written by women? We’ve got a hell of a lot more active atheist women, these days, but not many of them are writing books. Most of the people writing books are still the old-school sorts.

  20. Lord Narf says

    “They don’t exist, and go find them yourself.” Which is fairly useless for someone looking for book recommendations.

    More like “Okay, I’m drawing a blank, besides Greta Christina’s book. What have you got?”

    Do you know anything about Annie Laurie Gaylor’s books? I know that she’s written books, but I’ve never heard a single person ever say anything about them. What has she written about?

  21. Dustin says

    For those who can stomach VERY sciencey reading without getting bored and confused, I also can not recommend highly enough Lawrence Krauss’ “A Universe From Nothing”. I thought I knew a fair bit about the ideas being thrown around with regard to the origin of the universe (and related topics) but reading that book showed me what a lamen I really was. Definitely worth a read.

  22. embraceyourinnercrone says

    Two on my top ten list:

    Godless Americana: Race and Religious Rebels by Sikivu Hutchinson

    Moral Combat: Black Atheists, Gender Politics, and the Values Wars by Sikivu Hutchinson

  23. cnc917 says

    No, I don’t. As I explained, I haven’t read many atheist books. But you explained away the lack of books written by women on Russell’s list by saying they didn’t exist, because women don’t write books on atheism. Which seemed more like an assumption on your part, rather than actual fact, because I know how women’s work tends to be disregarded. And like I explained in my previous post, I looked up Annie Laurie Gaylor because her husband merited a mention on this list, and indeed she has written books. You can look at her Wikipedia page, and you will have all the same information that I have about the content of her books.

    So what should I make of the fact that no one talks about her books or recommends them? Should I take that to mean that they’re not worthy of recommendation? Or do I blame this on the general tendency to overlook women’s work?

    This is not limited to just her, of course. Oh, I see Ophelia Benson has written books on atheism, too. No good, either?

  24. says

    I fucking hate when people do this.

    Please make your own suggestions if you find Russell’s list incomplete. He already acknowledged that others would make good suggestions in addition to his.

  25. jacobfromlost says

    What? No Dan Dennett?

    Of the ones already listed, I’ve read most of them and they are solid lists.

  26. says

    Well then, I might add Doubt by Jennifer Michael Hecht and The Age of American Unreason by Susan Jacoby. Though these books are more on critical thinking and intellectualism in a historical context than atheism per se. It is true that non-white and female writers in the skeptical literary world are a recent phenomenon, so there’s no reason to imply, as your comment strongly does, that a list of classic books dominated by white male writers is de facto racist and sexist.

  27. says

    Gotta side with Martin in that one. I am probably one of a handful of black and/or female animators at any convention, so if someone made up a list of indie animators that didn’t include women or black folks I would know that this was due to the lack thereof…I do think though, as the “movement” grows, that we will see more of both–heck–maybe I need to write a book called SASSY BLACK SOUTHERN ATHEISM….ROFLMAO…

  28. says

    I was about to say that…when I enquired about black atheisst of note, I was turned on to the FABULOUS Neil Degrassey (sp?) by some really kewl folks..all one has to do is ask…

  29. Lord Narf says

    I’ve read Does God Hate Women? because I’m a feminist, but it doesn’t really fit as a mainstream atheism book. It’s more niche. I should read Why Truth Matters, but I haven’t, yet. I don’t know whether or not I would recommend it for a Top 10 list.

    She does a hell of a lot of writing, but she hasn’t written very many books.

    Annie Laurie Gaylor’s books seem to be primarily feminist, atheist secondary. They’re the sort of books I would very much enjoy, I imagine, but I wouldn’t put any of them on a Top 10 list of books about atheism.

    And you’re missing the point, I think deliberately. Certainly, there are female and other minority atheists out there, writing books, but what percentage of the atheism books do they write? That percentage should roughly mirror the percentage of books written by minorities, in the Top 10 list, unless you want to engage in tokenism.

    In some situations, you can justify over-representing women, say on the Supreme Court. I think we should have about 50/50 on the Supreme Court, because they shouldn’t just be representative of the male/female split that we see in justices around the country. Plus, there’s the fact that the women who work their way up in a male-dominated field are likely to be far more formidable and deserving, on average, than the men in that field.

    This isn’t one of those situations. Like I said earlier, I might put Greta Christina’s book on the list, depending upon the purpose of the list. That would give us a representative percentage right there, if you care about that sort of thing. I could see not putting it on the list, though, if you’re putting together a list of books that make a more structured case for atheism. There’s a good deal of arbitrariness, in any list like this.

  30. Lord Narf says

    Yeah, she’s definitely impressive as hell. I haven’t gotten to her actual books yet, though.

    You seem to have read those two. Are they sufficiently mainstream that they would belong on a list like this? It seems like her books might be another case of atheism-second books, like Annie Laurie Gaylor’s.

    Hell, then again, since reaching out to the African American community is such an important goal, at present, perhaps one of hers would fit, even if it is leaning heavily in that direction. I don’t know how to guess on these, since I don’t have enough specific information about them.

  31. Pen says

    I’d recommend a book on ethics from a secular point of view. I had a French-Canadian college textbook which was very good, but its exact details probably don’t matter. It went into the different ways people form moral judgements then looked at specific types of issues.

  32. Lord Narf says

    Uhhhhhhhhhh, has Neil deGrasse Tyson even written any books about religion? He specifically refuses the atheist label, despite being one, and he doesn’t seem at all interested in engaging on religious issues, except for combating religious, anti-science crap.

    Personally, I’m fine with that. It makes him less scary to the religious sorts, identifying himself as agnostic, in his advocacy of science. He has his primary focus, and if taking on a second focus will interfere with the goals of his primary focus … fuck it; just go with it.

  33. says

    Nah, don’t think mah man has written any atheist specific books, but his ideas support atheistic arguments. I don’t think Atheist reading should be limited to the philosophy per se, but to ideas and figures that strengthen the cause a bit–yah know. for me, because I am silly by nature, if I did write a book on atheism it would be a humorist view, largely because the intellectual pontifications have been done by far smarter folks than I, like Sagan for example. Besides, most people think we are a humorless, eggheaded lot, but I beg to differ–ain’t nothing funnier than watching humanity from a skeptical lens.

  34. Lord Narf says

    Yeah, he avoids the subject, except when his atheistic fans start asking all sorts of probing questions, at his various talks and interviews. It’s very obvious that he’s an atheist, by any useful definition of the word.

  35. says

    You an Ed Narf? I must drive you insane then, but I am horribly lazy outside of professional realms. According to Stephen King I am in good company; he admitted to getting back 2nd and 3rd drafts with red ink all over it…lol Yah know, I was joking but now I am thinking–I could write it from the POV of what it is liketo be a black female atheist in the south. It is holy Cow Hilarious. Yes, yes, with that silly ass perspective of mine. It would be an accessible, every man kind of work…would have to sandwiched it between animation and corporate assignments.

  36. Tyrant says

    Lord Narf,

    You operate under the false impression that there can be decision and action purely on logical grounds. This is naive. Decisions to act can be reached via logic, the axioms if you will, some fundamental goal, is always bayond rationality. Youare wrong to place Gretas List of things that should provoke an emotional basis for action in a somehow intellectually lower or iffy category as opposed to the superficially “clean skeptical” works.

  37. says

    Then I know who to hit up the next time I need a proofreader :-)–you would be paid for your time of course…

  38. Lord Narf says

    What’s a good e-mail address for you, the contact link at

  39. culuriel says

    1- Atheists’ Bible by Joan Konner- a collection of inspiring quotes by a huge, diverse set of atheists. Thought provoking and clever
    2- Infidel by Ayann Hirsi Ali- her memoir showing her deconversion from Islam. A great new perspective, as I think most of us here at FTB come out of Christianity.
    *NOT A BOOK* 3- Letting Go of God by Julia Sweeney- can be bought in movie or audiobook form. From her one-woman stage play, her journey from content Catholic to public atheist. Funny to boot!

  40. Lord Narf says

    I haven’t read all of Greta’s book. I’ve just read chunks. It might make more logical arguments than what I’ve seen of it. If you’ve read the whole thing, we’ll go with your opinion of it.

    Heh, I don’t mean that we have some ultimate, pristine rationality, like a Vulcan or something. You’ve always got to have some arbitrary goals. Fortunately, most humans agree upon those, because of our nature as a social species. There’s usually some perversion that goes on, between the objectives and the solution, which causes the problem.

  41. says

    I have to agree, man is an emotional creature and while emotions can make things rather messy they can also make life rather fun, enjoyable and allow us to create connections with one another. We tend to poo-poo the emotional aspects of human nature in many ways ( or over romanticize them) but when it comes to Sci fi I tend to lean towards Orwell, Niven and Pournelle more than Asmimov or Heinlien; both latter authors can be technical and dry reads. I want my logical discourse peppered with emotion. Like it not, we are saddled with our wild natures, might as well explore them and find out how best to express them. I mean, think, it is passion and curiosity that often fuels exploration…

  42. says

    I think we need to add books that also show the HUMAN aspect of the atheistic world, which is why writing a book from the black bi-female lifestyle perspective is starting to appeal to me. Most of us are placed in the category of egg heads who think we know it all. They come at us like combatants–evil ones at that. It’s when people l ecognize that atheist are your sons and daughters, your neighbors that they may be more apt to listen. As even this thread can attest–atheists can be rather emotional as well, espeically on subjects outside the realm of our shared ideal about the non existence of gods. That just makes us human too, a state we all have in common. Dawkins may feel like a hard read to some but an atheist inidividual simply going over the ins and outs of their belief system and the “every days” of it, can reach more minds IMHO than exhaustive convo against Kalam’s Cosmological argument.

  43. says

    I wasn’t making a comment about Neil in regards to adding to the list but rathre to point out that if someone were to ask a questiosn rgearding a minority group or sex, that atheists will more than likely point you in a direction to answer your questions. In other words, exclusion is more than likely an oversight, not purposeful.. I will add however, that the person who told me DeGrasse was a black atheist was mistaken in light of new evidence …

  44. says

    I’d also like to raise my hand to include some humorist and personal perspectives and philosphies on atheism, we are, after all, a multitiered society of thinkers. Science alone doens’t have to underscore our ideals, satire also underlines the ridiculous. Or not–it is after all, your list 🙂

  45. Matt Gerrans says

    Specifically for “If you met a new atheist who was trying to get a basic handle on the intellectual foundation of atheism,” of the formerly Christian bent, I would recommend these, because they are both short books, easy to read quickly and pack a lot of logical punch:

    Why I Am Not a Christian: Four Conclusive Reasons to Reject the Faith, by Richard Carrier

    Letter to a Christian Nation by Sam Harris

    Richard’s very compelling four points are easy to remember and provide a nice systematic summary of why the god hypothesis (Christian or other, really) is not plausible. Sam’s writing is, as always, brilliant and clear.

  46. says

    He seems focused on science education, which is important. I think if he became an atheist spokesperson as well it would turn off the majority of people who most need to understand science better. A good move on his part, if you ask me.

  47. says

    ROFLMAO!!! Will do my friend — too bad I can’t figure out a way to put chicken head into print. Just kiddin…lol

  48. Hairy Chris, blah blah blah etc says

    To be honest, “A Universe From Nothing” isn’t too bad. Krauss keeps it pretty general and he’s got a nice and relaxed writing style. There are popular science books that have sold many more copies that are a significantly more obtuse (Stephen Hawking, I’m looking at you!)…

  49. Emu Sam says

    It looks as if it’s intended to be the citation for a quote. Probably better to just italicize a title in this context.

  50. A Hermit says

    I’d highly recommend Andre Comte-Sponville’s “Little Book of Atheist Spirituality”, especially to new atheists.Sponville does a good job of summarizing the major arguments against theism. Don’t be put off by the “spirituality”; it’s similar to what Sam Harris has proposed.

    Sponville is not an “angry” atheist which to me, is kind of refreshing. He’s just matter of fact, confident and clear about where he stands.

    And since I’m an old fart, having been an atheist long before I heard of Dawkins or Harris, I’d recommend Antony Flew’s “Presumption of Atheism”

  51. says

    I may check out Sponville’s work then. I too am a bit weary of the anger and/or over intellectualized books. Not to say I don’t think they have a place, but a range of voices and approaches are needed.

  52. says

    As much as I love Carrier’s blog here … man that guy is verbose.

    He’ll take a horse, and flog it to death. Then he’ll take the right front hoof and flog it a bit. Then he’ll turn to the left front hoof, and on and on.

    Love ya, Richard. But sometimes, being succinct makes the point better.

    Of course, I was always more of a Hemingway than a Faulkner person myself.

  53. Christian Giliberto says

    Hume, Davis. Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion Short, lively work, completely dissects theism (I’m making an exception to my rule). In my opinion, almost all critiques of arguments for theism since are mere footnotes.

    Every other book that directly criticizes arguments for theism (rather than laying a broader intellectual foundation for a scientific worldview) is a mere footnote to this short masterpiece.

  54. unfogged says

    Adding Bart D. Ehrman’s Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why
    It’s a little dry and a bit repetitive but it gets more interesting as it goes on and it makes it pretty clear how much the text was changed over the centuries. I can’t count how many times I’ve heard Christians claim that the dead sea scrolls are absolutely identical to the latest publications and how miraculous that is. I guess anything can be called a miracle when you dismiss the facts and accept only the mythology that you want to believe.

  55. Robert75 says

    Christopher Hitchens, The Portable Atheist: Essential Readings for the Nonbeliever, Da Capo Press, 2007.

    Has this Horseman been forgotten so quickly? Available on iBooks, this is a collection of original text from dozens of sources: Heraclitus, Darwin, Dawkins, Grayling and many others. I found this book useful in its searchable electronic format. Whenever I need the definitive original arguments in full context, I’ve often found it already here in one spot.

  56. says

    I’m reading Thinking Fast and Slow right now, and I highly recommend it.

    Also in the same vein, Michael Shermer, Why People Believe Weird Things and The Believing Brain.
    Christopher Chabris, The Invisible Gorilla
    Carol Tavris, Mistakes Were Made, But Not By Me.

  57. Emma Black says

    Holy Unbelievable by PC Dixon rips the bible apart in a hilarious fashion – I’d highly recommend that for a lighter read.