My Atheist Bookshelf

When I moved into my dorm room to start my senior year of college last August, I went on a shopping spree of atheist books with which to fill my new bookshelf. At that point, I had eight atheist books and seven Christian books, and I had seven more atheist books coming in the mail from Thriftbooks (which I highly recommend: I bought seven books for $26!). Since then, my bookshelf has been slowly expanding through gifts from my fiance and romantic trips to used bookstores together on rainy Sunday afternoons, as well as random orders from Thriftbooks. I’ve only made it through four and a half books so far, but of course I accumulate more much faster than I read.

Last August, I purchased the following books:

Letter to a Christian Nation by Sam Harris
Why I Am Not a Christian by Bertrand Russell
The Portable Atheist by Christopher Hitchens and various authors
Why Evolution is True by Jerry Coyne
Mortality by Christopher Hitchens
Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon by Daniel Dennett
Atheism: A Reader by S.T. Joshi and various authors

Three of them—Why I Am Not a Christian, The Portable Atheist, and Atheism: A Reader–are collections of essays, although I must say that Hitchens’ The Portable Atheist is the biggest book on my whole shelf, and the least portable. While I’ve read a handful of essays from these works, the only book I finished from this list so far is Hitchens’ Mortality. I wanted to save this posthumous publication for after I’d read at least one other Hitchens book so I could better familiarize myself with him before reading his last words, but Mortality, with its brevity and popularity, called to me one day when I was having a bit of an existential crisis. I never wrote a review of it, but I thought that it was worth mentioning that I read it.

Throughout the year, as well as for Apologetics 101, I added a few pro-theism books as well. I collected the following:

Classical Apologetics by R.C. Sproul
My apologetics teacher made us buy this book for class. We never read it. At all. But I kept it as a reference in case I am ever in an apologetic emergency.

The Case for a Creator by Lee Strobel
After learning nothing in Apologetics 101, I went and bought my own books in the hopes of learning the arguments for the existence of God. I recently read this book, and it was . . . terrible. Just completely awful, all the way through. I won’t bore you with the details now, but if you do want the details, take a look at this review post I did a few weeks ago.

The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel
After reading the other Strobel book, I dread reading this one. But it is extremely popular, and it has apparently convinced a lot of people of Jesus’ existence—not to mention that it became a huge motion picture, which I’d like to see, but not until I read the book. I suppose that’s my motivation!

The Proof of God by Larry Witham
This is one of the books that I picked up from a used bookstore. It’s a tiny book about the ontological argument and the life of William Ockham (of Ockham’s Razor), so I suppose that it will be an interesting read.

Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
I’ve had this book for many years; I actually stole it from one of my older sisters’ bookshelves, because you know they have multiple copies. In my experience it is one of the most beloved books in all of Christian literature, behind the bible. Somehow, I’ve read the first half of it twice and the second half not at all. It’s well written, but not convincing and considerably over-dramatic.

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Now onto the good stuff: all of the new atheist books that I’ve been hoarding . . . I mean collecting.

Atheism: A Very Short Introduction by Julian Baggini
Science and Creationism by Ashley Montagu
The Young Atheist’s Survival Guide by Hemant Mehta
The End of Faith by Sam Harris
Why There is No God by Armin Navabi
God: The Most Unpleasant Character in All of Fiction by Dan Barker and Richard Dawkins

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I haven’t read any of these yet; most of them are fairly new. They’re a combination of Valentine’s Day gifts, bookstore finds, and Thriftbooks binges. Usually when I go to bookstores, I find books I’m interested in, and then I add them to my Thriftbooks wishlist (warning: it’s very long), because they generally have lower prices even than used bookstores. They also have free shipping!

Which of these books have you read or which do you have? Do you have any recommendations for me to add to my Wish List? Right now I’m reading God is Not Great, but what do you think I should pull from my shelf next?


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33 Replies to “My Atheist Bookshelf”

  1. Oh, let me add – A different approach, or just for variety – If you can find the movie Religilous, with Bill Mahler it is awesome, poking fun at religions of all kinds. But true. Maybe available as a download for $4-5.
    Also look up the stage comedy of George Carlin on religion on youtube. Ten minutes that will help to open your eyes. (It all doesn’t have to be so serious, you know!). Outrageous stuff, but ….. TRUE !!! Look up Ted the Atheist on youtube. Watch him debate with street preachers. These are not substitutes for the books and lectures but just to add some spice into your life, laugh a little.

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  2. I don’t know why you still are accumulating theology books. Are you still debating the matter with yourself? Seems to me you haven’t made a clean break into real freedom yet.
    Someone suggested Heretic by Ayaan Hirsi Ali. This is an outstanding book by an ex Muslim which clearly shows the extreme danger of extremists in religion.
    I would also suggest Fighting God by David Silverman. He shows how religion is so dangerous in infiltrating our government. If you’ve ever heard the term firebrand atheist it comes from Silverman.
    Hitchens’ God id Not Great is quite possibly the best book I have ever read.
    Dawkins’ The God Delusion is outstanding.
    But why keep going back and studying religion is what I can’t understand.
    See, I have a simplistic outlook on the whole matter. It goes like this – In the beginning there were humans, and they did not understand things. Things like earthquakes, lightning, disease, the stars, earth, love. So they invented gods as an explanation. As they realized there was a scientific explanation for these phenomena the gods were shown to be nothing but myths, and they were retired. Poor Zeus, Athena, Poseidon, Venus and hundreds of others. But it didn’t end there and humans are still inventing gods clear up to modern times. Mormonism, Scientology, etc. But keep one thing in mind – every single one of them is a creation of someone’s delusional mind. The fact that billions of humans believe the myths and creations has never made them true. The books will show you how easily the minds of humans are brainwashed into believing ANYTHING, especially if done early in their lives. I could go on for hours.
    Many of these authors have awesome videos on youtube. Hitchens, Dawkins, Lawrence Krauss, Sam Harris, Silverman (president of American Atheists). Watch some of Hitchens’ debates. Watch some of Krauss’s lectures. He is an awesome university physicist who can explain the origin of the universe and how insignificant we are in it. Life changing stuff.
    I wish you the best.

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  3. I think most of the Atheist books on this list should be mandatory reading at Christian universities. There is more intellectual honesty in them than the entire canon of christian literature.

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  4. Have you tried reading books by classical atheists. Democritus or older atheists like David Hume, Paul They D’Holbach or Robert Ingersoll. You can get them for free on Gutenberg. And I tend to prefer them.

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  5. Great list, Jim. I have the Skeptic’s Annotated Bible. It’s a great reference source.
    I agree with your assessment of C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity. My brother gave it to me, certain that it would (re-)convert me back to Christianity. Not so much. As much as I love Lewis’ writing style I, too, found it pathetically unconvincing.

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  6. I’m glad to see that you are willing to read selection’s that are pro-theism. It’s too bad that you didn’t complete “Mere Christianity”, it really is a good philosophical work on Christian theism. I would highly recommend “The Reason For God” by Timothy Keller for any skeptic as a good and more modern take on defending Christian theism. I would also recommend “The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus” by Gary Habermas and Michael R. Licona. While I haven’t read this yet, I know that it is a more empirical take that seriously considers critics of their view/ directly addresses the actual evidence for Jesus’ resurrection. I recommend this because the apostle Paul said “And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith” (1 Corinthians 15:14, NIV), so this ought to be an important point of study for any skeptic or atheist. Beyond that, especially regarding current leading scholarly apologetics works, though I have not yet completed it, I would recommend “Reasonable Faith” by William Lane Craig. I don’t “entirely” agree with everything that these authors would say (as would be the case with most books/authors).

    I see that you have a Bible on your shelf. Out of curiosity, have you read it, or parts of it? If so, what parts? Have you at least read through one of the gospels such as the gospel of John? I would definitely recommend an honest reading of one of the gospel accounts if you haven’t already. What would you say that your interpretation of what the actual “gospel” message of Christianity is? I don’t know all of your experience or what you’ve looked at thus far, nor do I want to assume anything. But an open reading of the primary source of the very thing being considered is always a good starting point! And if you have done or would do that, I would recommend going to an educated Christian for counsel (pastor/professor) regarding your questions on the Bible to get a genuine Christian perspective before looking beyond that to secular sources for explanations, which can sometimes give a rather caricaturized take on Christianity and what we supposedly believe.

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  7. I recommend “The Little Book of Atheist Spirituality” by French philosopher Andre Comte-Sponville. This has three parts: a discussion of the relationship between religion, atheism, and morality; an analysis of the arguments for and against theism and atheism, in which Comte-Sponville makes the case for atheism; and a discussion of the possibility of an atheist “spirituality”, and what that could mean. He’s a good writer, or at least he and his translator together are good writers. In addition to having some solid substantive arguments and discussion, the book has a dramatic difference in tone from Dawkins, Hitchens, and Harris. It’s a very different approach to atheism.

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  8. As others have said already, “the case for Christ” is complete garbage but feel free to try and read through it if you’re feeling masochistic.

    On the other hand, I would recommend Free Will by Sam Harris, A History of God (if you want to learn some of the development of the abrahamic religions), Godless by Dan Barker, and A Manual for Creating Atheists by Peter Boghossian.

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  9. I was sent “The Case for Christ” by Lee Strobel by a religious relative, whom I love, so I made a good faith effort to read it. There were so many scriptural and interpretational errors in it, I stopped shortly after I started. The popularity of this book must be due to its use as an unread coffee table adornment in Christian households.

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  10. Depending on where you’re looking to go in your studies I can think of several recommendations based on what I’ve read on your blog. Like a few people have mentioned atheist books that only discuss atheism for atheism’s sake only take you so far and many of them are just screeds in the same manner as fundamentalist religious “apologetic” writings. For example while it’s worth reading “The God Delusion” at least once if you are (or are considering becoming/being) an atheist many of Dawkins’ other works yield much better insight (like “The Selfish Gene” which is still phenomenal. It’s not “about” atheism but it’s arguments dismantle much of popular creationist theory. I highly recommend “How Jesus Became God: The Exultation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee” by Bart Ehrman (a very prominent biblical studies scholar who is also an atheist) for a look at how the idea of Jesus rose to Godhood hundreds of years after his death. “Doubt” by Jennifer Michael Hecht is a great book detailing the history of dissent in thought–secularists, free-thinkers, and non-normative philosophers who stand out and against predominant religious thought in every age. Elaine Pagel’s “The Origin of Satan” and “The Gnostic Gospels” are great. Books like “The Historical Jesus” by Crossan are good for presenting biblical studies that vastly depart from the Christian history you’ve likely heard in your church and religious school experience. Long story short–I think an “Atheist Bookshelf” should include plenty of religious books, science books, history books, and philosophy books.

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  11. I think I’ve read most of the books on your list. Right now I’m working my way through “The Portable Atheist”. It’s pretty slow going, and I’ll admit to finding the section by Karl Marx pretty impenetrable, and I skipped most of that chapter. But there’s been a lot of good stuff in the rest of it.

    “Letter to a Christian Nation” is a good one to start with, it’s short and to the point.

    For future purchases I’d recommend “The Selfish Gene” (Dawkins) “The Demon-Haunted World” (Sagan) and “Why are you Atheists so Angry?” (Greta Christina).

    I’m very pleased to see that you have a copy of the Gospel of the FSM on your shelf – humor is very helpful in getting over the lingering effects of indoctrination. I also second the recommendation for Pratchett.

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  12. Wow! You have collected many books. The only physical atheist books I have now are The God Delusion by R.D and God is Not Great by Hichens. It is rare to get those books above here in the Philippines. So, I just have free epubs . I hope to luck out on them whenever I go to book stores.
    As what I told you before if you do remember my review of God is Not Great, I highly recommend Atheism: The Case Against Religion by George H. SMith. It may not be as famous as other books above, but I believe that for new people starting to be an atheist, this is the best springboard for breaking the spell of religion.

    Like you, I would also love to complete all the atheist books . 🙂

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    1. By the way, Lee Strobel blew my mind when I read his The Case for Easter. He was so amazing that I have still been confused if he is an avowed atheist. So, I would also find his other books. 🙂

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  13. Glad to see that your bookshelf is growing.

    While I don’t know if you or your fiancé are into fiction, books written by atheists, and/or with an atheist as the protagonist, that I would recommend would be:

    “The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories” a collection of horror stories by H.P. Lovecraft.
    In particular: “Hebert West — Reanimator,” “The Shadow over Innsmouth,” and “The Colour Out of Space.”
    H.P. Lovecraft was notoriously racist, but despite that I believe his work is still worth a read.
    “The Martian” by Andy Weir and “Armor” by John Steakley. Science fiction novels that feature atheist protagonists.
    “Armor” is in need of a little editing — there are some grammar errors here and there, and one instance where the same sentence is written twice. But, for me, it was nothing that took away from the power of the story.

    I also recommend “The Politically Incorrect Guide to Christianity” by Michael P. Foley just because it is the worst, most condescending, arrogant apologetics book I have ever read. I couldn’t make it past the Author’s Note (“A Note to the Politically Correct Reader”). It’s a prime example of how low Christians can go.

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  14. A book that no self-respecting atheist should be without is Thomas Paine’s “Age of Reason.” 🙂 Conversations with God books by Neale Donald Walsch are also very good (and fairly light reading), but the book I highly recommend by him is “What God Wants.”

    Personally, I’ve never cared about reading Hitchens, Dennett, or Harris … but to each his own.

    In any event, it sounds like your on the right track. Happy reading!

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  15. “Light thinks it travels faster than anything but it is wrong. No matter how fast light travels, it finds the darkness has always got there first, and is waiting for it.”

    I liked this quote. Terry Pratchet has written many more good ones but I prefer to read not more than five or six at the time, so I earmarked one of those google sites for later reading; thank you Arkenaten, for the suggestion!
    .-

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    1. yesss. I read this and thought, that has got to be Pratchett. If you never read any other books, Pratchett will give you an amazing look into gods, how different people view the worship of their own gods, and all the things in between. He can do pure metaphysics and it doesnt hurt a bit. And he makes you think about your own place in your own universe.

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  16. If you’re serious about wanting to challenge your atheist position, and specifically as it is articulated by the New Atheists, with sincere and intelligent Christian arguments, I recommend Ed Feser’s “Last Superstition”.

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  17. I haven’t read any of the books on your list, though I have looked at a few excerpts.

    Back in my teen years, I did have a few Christian books. But I have never bought an atheist book. Once I ditched religion, they did not appeal to me. It always seemed that they (and apologetics books) would mostly be presenting the old tired arguments.

    I have heard discussions of Lee Strobel’s books, particularly “The case for Christ”. I found them unpersuasive. If that’s the best that apologetics can do, then they are only interested in “preaching to the choir”. I have read C.S. Lewis space trilogy (well, 2/3 of that trilogy). That was more than enough of CS Lewis for one lifetime.

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  18. I never found those atheism-themed works very interesting.
    Flag-waving mostly, with little content beyond that.
    C. S. Lewis, and later, Craig were the most influential for me.
    I particularly recall reading Mere Christianity and The Problem of Pain and thinking, “Wow, this really is bullshit after all.”

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  19. Ha! My bookshelf is similar. Toss in a few Buddhist books too. I happen to be at Barnes and Nobles quite a few years ago and they didn’t have the Portable Atheist, in fact they didn’t have many atheism books. I went up to customer service and made a comment about that. I ended up ordering the book. It’s funny, in the Children’s section they have a whole area devoted to Christianity and two entire rows in the religion section for Christianity but very little on other world religions. (I’m in the bible belt, lol)

    Lee Strobel “The Case for Christ”: I didn’t read the book but watched the movie on Netflix. I know movies tend to be different from the book so take it with a grain of salt. I found the movie to be unconvincing. When all his proof comes from the bible without much investigation… I just can’t buy that. If I remember correctly, the resurrection was one of those proofs. “500 people witnessed it?, Wow, it must be true”. Really? My thinking is that he and his wife had issues and she was moving towards Christianity. It was out of necessity that he moved to Christianity.

    He was also an alcoholic, had anger issues (according to the movie/ other sources) so naturally if you find a concept that works… you believe it. His anger, alcoholism..etc is not a trait of atheism as I’m sure he would like to portray it, those were his character traits and it sounds like Christianity helped him out with that. It’s no different than how Buddhism (I’m atheist) helped me a bit or how a psychologist could help someone else out.

    It just didn’t make a case for anyone other than a Christian 🙂

    Dave

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  20. You are a glutton for punishment!
    I simply read my encyclopedia: The sections on biblical literature. That was enough.
    And especially when I read the stats and history of the gospels, example: 600 verses of Matthew appear in Mark and the original had no long ending.
    I laughed out loud at these two things.
    And once you have studied a bit of archaeology and the Exodus it pretty soon becomes nothing but a joke … and a rather tasteless one at that.

    You need some light reading! Try Terry Pratchett.

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