My Top Five Books About Atheism

The video below, part of The Atheist Voice series, discusses my five favorite books about atheism:

If you’d like to check out those five books, just click the links below!

Atheism for Dummies by Dale McGowan

Breaking the Spell by Daniel Dennett

The Ancestor’s Tale by Richard Dawkins

The Skeptic’s Annotated Bible by Steve Wells

Letting Go of God by Julia Sweeney

We’d love to hear your thoughts on the project — more videos will be posted soon — and we’d also appreciate your suggestions as to which questions we ought to tackle next!

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • starskeptic

    4 books and a CD.

  • Jan Kafka

    Where can I get a copy of ‘The Skeptic’s Annotated Koran’?

    • http://boldquestions.wordpress.com/ Ubi Dubium

      Right now online, and I think on CD: http://skepticsannotatedbible.com/quran/index.htm

      • ejoty

        The print version doesn’t seem to be available on the Amazon UK site – only an attack on it.

        • islandbrewer

          I have to say that your muslim apologists in the UK are waaaay more organized, aggressive, and have more clout than our US muslim apologists.

        • http://boldquestions.wordpress.com/ Ubi Dubium

          I have not heard that there has ever been a print version for the Skeptics Annotated Qu’ran. There ought to be one someday.

  • John A. Anderson

    The God Delusion, god is not Great, Letter to a Christian Nation.

  • GubbaBumpkin

    I understood The Ancestor’s Tale to be a book about biology, not atheism.

    • Rationalist1

      It is, but it’s still a great book, probably my favourite book by Prof. Dawkins.

      • Pseudonym

        I agree with you, but I’m more than a little amused that this book scores more highly on the list than anything that Dawkins has written about religion.

    • islandbrewer

      Yeah, it’s not really about atheism, but our evolutionary lineage. I don’t think it should count. I do still think it’s a great book.

  • Bitter Lizard

    All you need to understand why atheism is the way to go:

  • http://skepticink.com/dangeroustalk Dangerous Talk

    My list of top five books:
    1. Misquoting Jesus by Bart Ehman
    2. The Bible: A Biography by Karen Armstrong
    3. The Moral Landscape by Sam Harris
    4. The Universe From Nothing by Lawrence Krauss

    5. The Bible by multiple anonymous authors

    • Jayne Cravens

      Misquoting Jesus by Bart Ehman is *excellent*. I wish so much it had been around for me to read in my 20s.

    • Bitter Lizard

      Take everything you read by Armstrong with a grain of salt. She’s a religious apologist first, and a historian second.

      • http://skepticink.com/dangeroustalk Dangerous Talk

        I wouldn’t go as far as calling her an apologist, but she is definitely religious and that is one reason I like this book. It destroys the Abrahamic religions and it was written by a religious person. The fact that she isn’t an atheist gives this book more credibility with religious believers. It is an excellent book and if more religious believers read it, there would be less religious believers.

        • Bitter Lizard

          It’s been a few years, but I recall reading several of Armstrong’s books (A History of God, The Battle for God, etc.) alongside other books on the history of religion, and it was amazing how whitewashed and selective her accounts were in comparison to basically any more objective historian. She very much cherry-picks things to create a very misleading narrative, and I’ve come to see her as a propagandist for a sort of liberal, spiritual kind of theism more than an objective historian.

          I don’t have the source material around, or really the desire, to go into detail, but any informed atheist who reads her book The Case for God will likely see how full of shit she is (by the way, that book clearly does make her an “apologist”). She is no doubt a very educated and informed person, but I can’t take anything she says at face value (which is usually what you have to do, because she is not great at citing her sources). There are so many historians, both religious and not, writing about the same things she does with a lot more integrity, so I really try to discourage pretty much anyone from reading Armstrong.

          • http://skepticink.com/dangeroustalk Dangerous Talk

            I certainly agree with you that her book, “The Case For God” was apologetic, I don’t think the same could be said for her other books however. The book I recommended is no where near apologetic. Far from it. I think it will lead people away from religion.

            Most pop-books of this nature in any discipline are going to lose some integrity. They are for lay people and so they have to dumb it down a little and entertain more than educate.

            Bart Ehrman also wrote a somewhat apologetic book about the historicity of Jesus. But that shouldn’t discount everything he has ever written. I really do think that Armstrong’s “The Bible: A Biography” is a really strong book and more religious believers and atheists should read it. That doesn’t mean that I am ready to endorse everything she has ever written.

      • Wayne D

        Has she changed? In her book, The Spiral Staircase: My Climb Out of Darkness, she writes about breaking free of being a nun and becoming an atheist.

        • Bitter Lizard

          She calls herself a “freelance theist” now. It’s a sort of wishy-washy, Shelby Spong-type theism, but she’s a lot worse than Spong. I think Jerry Coyne has some good blog posts about her that would fill you in on why she’s so infuriating.

  • Rationalist1

    It was Breaking the Spell that allowed me to finally realize that I didn’t need faith anymore. For that book I won’t be eternally grateful, but will be will be grateful for the rest of my life.

  • CanuckAmuck

    I haven’t given much thought to what be on my list of such books, but I know it would probably include Small Gods, by Terry Pratchett.

  • http://boldquestions.wordpress.com/ Ubi Dubium

    I’ll have to think about what else would be on my list, but I think mine would have to start with The Wizard of OZ.

    “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain….”

  • Gus

    One could make a pretty good list of five atheism books by listing a single title:
    The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

    • Sinfanti

      Actually, The Salmon of Doubt includes a couple of essays by Adams talking about atheism that had a big impact on me. And the rest of the book is gold as well.

  • Eliot Parulidae

    1. The woks of Primo Levi, especially If This is a Man and The Periodic Table

    A chemist, Auschwitz survivor, and amazing writer whose kind-spirited yet emphatic atheism has made a huge impression on me

    2. The Beak of the Finch: A Story of Evolution in Our Time by Jonathan Weiner

    This one is pretty self-explanatory

    3. When God is Gone, Everything is Holy by Chet Raymo

    A slim volume about how those who love nature can experience a profound sense of connectedness without drawing on the idea of God

    4. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

    The parts of this novel narrated by Ada paint a fascinating portrait of a scientific mind developing in an inhospitable religious environment

    5. Ulysses by James Joyce

    It is one thing to mock the Catholic church, but quite another to write a book so good that it’s practically an alternative to religion (though unabashedly the product of a human mind.) Joyce did both.

    • Anna

      The Raymo book sounds interesting. I admit I don’t have much tolerance for musings on spirituality, but I’ll keep an eye out for it.

      • pennyroyal

        Chet Raymo is a treasure and writes with a biologist’s eye and a human heart about how the man-made supernatural god obscures all that truly is: nature. Not an ounce of woo-woo or spirituality.

    • Guest

      Chet Raymo is a treasure.

  • Hertzey

    God’s Lunatics: Lost Souls, False Prophets, Martyred Saints, Murderous Cults, Demonic Nuns, and Other Victims of Man’s Eternal Search for the Divine by Micheal Largo.

    Set up, not in essay format, but in an encyclopaedic format. It goes through cults, saints, prophets and more from all religions. It gives a no-nonsense approach giving facts as is.

    You Got To Be Kidding! The Cultural Arsonist’s Satirical Reading of The Bible
    By Dr. Joe Wenke

    I am still reading this one, but so far so good. Points out a lot of contradictions of facts with in the bible, has an entire chapter on OT vs. NT god and instead of taking each gospel separately, shows how they contradict each other.

    • http://skepticink.com/dangeroustalk Dangerous Talk

      Here is my interview with Dr. Wenke:
      Interview: Joe Wenke author of ‘You Got To Be Kidding!’ – http://exm.nr/YGEC0n

      • Hertzey

        Excellent interview, thank you for sharing!

  • Librepensadora

    It was “The God Delusion” that brought me out of faith, but I was already familiar with the arguments, having read many of (Episcopal) Bishop Spong’s works, including “Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism.” But he was still on the inside of the Christian bubble. It was Victor Stenger’s “God: The Failed Hypothesis” that showed me how ludicrous it was to imagine that the monotheists’ God could be in charge of the entire universe.

  • Randay

    Nietzsche “On the Geneology of Morals” and “Beyond Good and Evil”.
    B.F. Skinner, “Beyond Freedom and Dignity” and “About Behaviorism”.
    Baron d’Holbach, “The System of Nature”.

  • David Beadle

    Excellent reviews, Hemant. A Short History of Myth by Karen Armstrong

  • Atheos

    The Atheist Way: living well without gods by – Eric Maisel and The God Virus: How Religion Infects our lives and Culture by Darrel W. Ray are two great books

  • Bill

    The Bible… Worked for me. It took less than 100 pages of reading investment before it was hurled toward the wall…

    • pennyroyal

      my Sunday school bible was kicked around my driveway until it fell apart, my way of ridding myself of the hold that my family-of-origin, their church and community indoctrinated into me. Even today the memory is a touchstone and milestone of my ‘coming out’.

  • Anna

    My top 5? I think I’d go with What Is Atheism? by Douglas Krueger, Letter to a Christian Nation by Sam Harris, Freethinkers by Susan Jacoby, and Society Without God and Faith No More by Phil Zuckerman.

    • Bitter Lizard

      A couple good ones I forgot about there. Michael Martin’s Atheism: A Philosophical Justification is one that I haven’t seen mentioned that’s really good.

      • Anna

        I recommended Martin’s book to a fundamentalist Catholic who wanted to argue philosophy with me.

  • One who Chuckles

    The book that really did it for me was God’s Problem by Bart Ehrman and also Why Christianity must change or Die by Bishop John Spong.

  • Svelaz

    1: Zealot, Jesus of Nazareth. Reza Aslan.
    2. God is not great, Hitchens.
    3. Bible, Book of Job.
    4. Mark Twain, letters from earth.
    5. God delusion, Dawkins.

  • http://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/ Ani J. Sharmin

    I love your list. I keep meaning to read Dawkins’ Ancestor’s Tale, but haven’t gotten around to it yet.

  • Sgeo

    I haven’t read it myself, but I’ve read many of the essays it’s based on: Daylight Atheism, which as far as I understand draws from the Ebon Musings essays.

  • Jason Hanerfeld

    The Portable Atheist, Christopher Hitchens, The Philosophy of Spinoza, also along with a great story of someone who left the Islamic religion, you can see not only how, but why someone becomes an atheist, Infidel, Ayaan Hirsi Ali! Also The End of Faith, Sam Harris.

  • Anne Hutchings

    50 Reasons People Give For Believing In A God by Guy P. Harrison, Why Are You Atheists So Angry? By Greta Christina and Why People Believe Weird Things by Michael Shermer are three books I think would be of interest to atheists.

  • Ciro Galli

    Atheism: the Case Against God by George H. Smith is one that shouldn’t be absent from anybody’s list of books on atheism. Another one that is not precisely about atheism but more about the cognitive systems that cause religious thought and behavior and cover the religious phenomenon completely is Pascal Boyer’s Religion Explained. I can’t imagine someone who could actually remain a believer after reading those two in a row with an open mind.

  • redharry

    My top five (especially for doubting Christians, and exreligious born-again skeptics like myself):

    “Trusting Doubt” by Valerie Tarico
    “Why I Became An Atheist” by John W. Loftus

    “The Skeptic’s Annotated Bible” by Steve Wells
    “The Birth Of Satan” by T.J. Wray and Gregory Mobley
    “The God Virus” by Darrel Ray

    and if this were a top ten I’d also include: “Why Evolution Is True” by Jerry Coyne, “Leaving The Fold” by Marlene Winnell, “The Demon Haunted World” by Carl Sagan, “The God Delusion” by Richard Dawkins, and “50 Simple Questions For Every Chistian” by Guy P. Harrison.

    These books opened my eyes and changed my life. They all helped me to be okay with not being afraid.

    • Anna

      I’ve never left a religion, but I definitely enjoyed Winnell’s Leaving the Fold. Very educational!

    • pennyroyal

      I went to Andover Newton Theology School and knew both T.J. Wray and Greg Mobley. I think both of them are theists.

      • redharry

        They most definitely are believers, but they’re pretty liberal and in this book they meticulously trace the roots of the biblical archenemy of Satan back to its ancient Near-Eastern folklore roots, which exposes the Abrahamic antagonist as having absolutely zero basis in reality except as a means to square the obvious contradiction of the problem of evil and suffering with the belief in a supreme being who controls all. I find it essential to read because it helps to break down the fear of “the enemy” that so many nonbelievers, especially apostates from Christianity, have been conditioned with and also allows them to finally be free to ask the questions they need to ask about the world we live in.

        • pennyroyal

          I’ve seen it but haven’t read The Birth of Satan. Given your recommendation, I certainly shall.
          I know lots of Ex-Jehovah’s Witness who are still Christian and spend time/energy proving their version of Christianity is the true version and the Watchtower utterly wrong. At the same time, a friend said younger exJWs “are going right to atheism.”

  • Wayne D

    Highly recommend Bart Erhman’s book Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium. Also, his lectures from the Teaching Co., The Historic Jesus and The New Testament.

  • Jim Hudlow

    A book that shows the current harm religious extremism is doing is The Good News Club by Katherine Stewart. I did not see it mentioned. She shows how evangelicals are working their way ever further into our public school system with the specific purpose of preaching to the very young….4 to 12 year old children. It causes splintering both of groups of children on the playground and in the classroom as well as causes parents to become factional and angry as well. I have not read a book that demonstrates as well how religion is divisive and exclusionary to the point of ruining friendships and dividing communities. It’s not a standard atheist book but it sure brings home the harm religion does and no reader could deny it.

    • Anna

      That one’s great! Other fascinating books about religious extremism are Quiverfull by Kathryn Joyce and Write These Laws on Your Children by Robert Kunzman.

  • pennyroyal

    Philosophers Without Gods: Meditations on Atheism and the Secular Life. Ed. Louise M. Antony. This is a book I go back to for the ability to sustain me.


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