"Ayn Rand Answers: The Best of Her Q&A" edited by Robert Mayhew
This was such a joy to read. Ayn Rand’s wit, humor, and moral conviction shine in all of her great works. But this particular collection of interviews really gives the reader a more candid view of her personality. Her ability to answer questions powerfully and quickly is a testament to her sharp mind and her great thoughtfulness. I was recently lambasted on a popular Christian website devoted to heretics (I won’t link that garbage here) and one of the main things this group of believers criticized me at length about was my affection for this author. Of all the things about me that are worthy of criticism, I think digging Ayn Rand may be rather low on the list.
"God: The Failed Hypothesis: How Science Shows That God Does Not Exist" by Victor Stenger
This book is interesting because it makes claims that are rare in the world of non-theism. Traditionally the atheist position is not the assertion that there are no gods, but the disbelief in any gods. Both sides of the debate generally concede that God’s existence and nonexistence are equally improvable. An atheist would indeed be unjustified if she did not reserve judgment until all the evidence was in. Victor Stenger is not claiming that science disproves all possible gods, only the ones that are testable. What are testable gods? These are gods that intervene in the natural world by answering prayers, controlling weather, healing the sick, parting seas, etc. It is clear from the holy books that the three main monotheistic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) proclaim the existence of such gods. Stenger's book is a serious scientific approach to these hypotheses. As the title suggests, none of them meet any legitimate scientific criteria and therefore the book concludes that the god hypothesis fails. While I generally adopt a more skeptical posture, I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the scientific ramifications of believing in God.
"Godless: How an Evangelical Pastor Became One of America’s Leading Atheists" by Dan Barker
I feel especially connected to Dan Barker not only because he was a devout evangelical Christian but also because he was a successful Christian musician, contributing to many acclaimed worship projects during his believing years. This book is a well written and impassioned account of why he could no longer be a minister and eventually why he could no longer be a Christian. Barker is humorous and easy to read while simultaneously making very cohesive and sophisticated arguments for leaving the faith. This is one of the top five books I would recommend to a person struggling with belief. Dan Barker now is the head of the Freedom From Religion Foundation , which is the largest atheist organization in the country. He runs FFRF with his lovely wife, Laurie Annie Gaylor who is the author of the tremendous books Women Without Superstition: No Gods, No Masters and Woe To Women: The Bible Tells Me So. I encourage my female readers to check those books out.
"Atheist Universe: the Thinking Person’s Answer to Christian Fundamentalism" by David Mills
I loved this book. David Mills is perhaps the most quirky atheist writer I have read. If you don’t believe me just check out his YouTube channel where you can behold his amazing orange afro and hear him croon old country ballads. Aside from the funny stuff, this book contained some really great arguments, the best from a scientific point of view. His most interesting argument is on the conservation of mass/energy in response to the “something cannot come from nothing” rhetoric so often espoused by cosmologist apologists. Atheist Universe was a top seller on Amazon.com for several years. Do yourself an amazing favor and read it.
"Can We Be Good Without Gods? Biology, Behavior and the Need to Believe" by Robert Buckman
I purchased this book because I was interested in what an acclaimed Christian doctor had to say about morality and belief. I was hoping that, although a believer, he would have some legitimate scientific ideas to offer this arduous topic. No such luck. This book makes the same straw man arguments about how we would all basically rape and kill each other without God and ends with a lengthy and boring presentation of the gospel. Nearly all of his appeals are to the Bible, which is ineffectively circular for a non-theist. I cannot imagine why he wrote it or, for that matter, why anyone thought this book would be at all helpful. It reminded me of last year’s snore fest, Ravi Zacharias’ The End of Reason but worse, which is frankly remarkable.
"The God Virus: How Religion Infects Our Lives and Culture" by Darrel W. Ray
For the most part this is an objective look at how religion functions like a virus within culture. How it infects communities and families, bulwarks itself against other viruses and immunities and passes itself from generation to generation. It is very clever and well written and was really interesting to read after spending nearly ten years in evangelical Christianity. I think the virus analogy gets a little overused but for the most part this book is insightful and fair. The last few chapters deal gracefully with finding meaning in the world without religion. This book got several notable endorsements but the one I find most interesting is this one by Frank Schaeffer, author and son of renowned theologian, Francis Schaeffer:
“I am a religious person, a churchgoer. Nevertheless, this one of a kind book was a vital reminder of the fact that we need to look objectively at what religion does to us.”
So there you have it, brethren. Frank Schaeffer digs it. Now go get it!
"Irreligious: A Mathematician Explains Why the Arguments for God Just Don’t Add Up" by John Paulos
This was an enjoyable read that looks at some of the more sophisticated arguments for god’s existence and effectively dashes them to shreds. It deals humorously with several different Ontological arguments. Paulos is great because he isn't as self serious as other authors on this subject but his arguments are nevertheless airtight.
"The New Atheism: Taking a Stand for Science and Reason" by Victor Stenger
This is Stenger’s follow up to the aforementioned, God: The Failed Hypothesis. In this book he basically sums up the “new atheism” movement by introducing the main authors and their more notable arguments. He also spends about half of the book responding to some of the criticism for his arguments in God: The Failed Hypothesis. Stenger is a lot of fun to read and his works are filled with great science.
"A Good Man Is Hard to Find" by Flannery O’Connor
This is my favorite, and probably the best known, collection of short stories by the lovely Ms. O’Connor. A few years ago someone sent me an mp3 of Flannery reading the titular story at Notre Dame towards the end of her life. If you think the story itself is haunting, wait until you hear it read by a properly southern lady. Terrifying in a totally awesome way! Favorites are “The Life You Save Might Be Your Own”, “Good Country People”, and “A Late Encounter with the Enemy.”
"Everything That Rises Must Converge" by Flannery O’Connor
This was the collection of stories Flannery was working on when she passed away of lupus in 1964. It contains some of her best stories and causes quite a pain in the heart when considering the great work that could have been written had she lived longer. Favorites are “Greenleaf”, “Parker’s Back”, and “Judgment Day.”
"The Atheist’s Way: Living Well Without Gods" by Eric Maisel
This one was the greatest struggle to read. I picked it up in the Castro district of San Francisco because it got a great endorsement from David Mills, whose work I enjoyed. Maisel is a nationally known creative coach which means he spends a lot of his time helping artists realize their full artistic and creative potential. I dig that. For realsies. However, his attempts to extrapolate that over to atheism and the search for meaning without gods comes across pretty flat in this book. I don’t recommend it unless you’re interested in a lot of fuzzy words about “being your own meaning maker.” No thanks.
"Killing Yourself to Live: 85% of a True Story" by Chuck Klosterman
Me and Chuck Klosterman would be best friends. I know a lot of hipsters and post-hipsters have probably thought and/or said that exact sentence, but I think in my case it might actually be true. Why do I think this? Because Chuck Klosterman is the only other legitimately cool guy in the world who is as obsessed with the band KISS as I am. That’s right. KISS. There is a chapter in this book that explains the intricacies of falling in and out of love through the examination of all four KISS solo albums from the late seventies. I didn’t like it because it was a unique and awesomely nerdy way of unfolding ideas about love. I didn’t like it because I think Ace Frehley is pretty cool. I liked it because literally every word of it made sense in my KISS infatuated brain. If that is not badass then I quite honestly have no idea what is. Oh and the rest of the book is cool, too.
"Letter to a Christian Nation" by Sam Harris
This is the follow up to Harris’ 2004 national best seller, “The End of Faith: Religion, Terror and the Future of Reason.” I read this book for the first time last year and was quite literally blown away. Sam Harris is easily one of the clearest communicators on the subjects of faith and reason. He argues passionately but without the characteristic flare of someone like Hitchens or Dawkins. His education is well grounded in world religion and moral philosophy and he has a PHD in neuroscience. Whenever someone asks me for a few recommendations for atheist reading I always include this one because it is short and powerfully reasonable.
“The Christian Delusion: Why Faith Fails" edited by John W. Loftus
John W. Loftus, a former evangelical preacher, became popular after publishing his first book, “Why I Became an Atheist: A Former Preacher Rejects Christianity.” He studied under renowned Christian apologist William Lane Craig and now runs an influential blog called Debunking Christianity. This book is a thorough collection of essays from an assortment of scientists, professors and biblical scholars aimed at criticising Christianity from multiple fronts. The most interesting essays were on the cognitive science of belief and the problem of evil from the perspective of the immeasurable suffering in the animal kingdom. There are also brilliant essays on the nature of Hitler’s religiosity, the immorality of Christianity, and the (lack of) historical evidence for Jesus and the resurrection. It is a fatal blow to Christian faith and I challenge any of my thoughtful Christian friends to read it and prove me wrong.
“Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why” by Bart Ehrman (May)
I don’t think most Christians realize that the collection of books we call the New Testament actually comes from copies of copies of copies of copies that are literally centuries removed from the originals, which were themselves written by non-eyewitnesses decades after the events of Jesus’ life took place. I don’t think most Christians realize that the earliest copies we have were transcribed by amateur scribes during a time when theological differences ruled the day. And lastly, I don’t think most people realize that there as many discrepancies between the NT manuscripts as there are words in the New Testament itself. This is arguably the most important book for any believer to read. If any of you have read it I would love to know your thoughts. This dude is a textual criticism Jedi.
"Our Inner Ape: A Leading Primatologist Explains Why We Are Who We Are" by Frans de Waal
This book was a lot of fun to read. Frans de Waal is a world renowned primatologist but he has spent a lot of his career specifically studying the bonobo. A lot of people do not know about the bonobo but they are our closet primate cousins along with chimpanzees and our more distant cousins, gorillas and orangutans. This book focuses on the bonobo and the chimpanzee as a way of understanding some aspects of human behavior. Bonobos are interesting because for a long time nobody knew they existed. Due to their close resemblance to chimpanzees they were not categorized into a different species until 1928. What makes bonobos remarkable is that many of their troops in the wild are matriarchal and not dominated by an alpha male. Bonobos are overwhelmingly more docile primates and are generally predispositioned towards sexual activity. In other words, they are the lovers. This book contained many fascinating stories of chimps and bonobos exemplifying emotions that were long thought to be solely human. Things like love, monogamy, altruism, the ability to recognize reflections and faces, and even homosexuality. Super fascinating read.
"Karl Marx" by David McLellan(May)
This was a well written biography of the ever interesting Karl Marx. It presented a clear and concise evolution of Marx’s philosophy and work. This book got me interested in a lot of what I’m reading now about Lenin, Stalin and Hitler.
"The Hellbound Heart" by Clive Barker (June)
I find it remarkable that in his very first novella Clive Barker was able to create one of the most feared and beloved monsters in the history of horror: Pinhead. The Hellbound Heart is the story of a man who has tasted all of the desires of the flesh and yet remains insatiable. Along his travels he discovers a mythology about a puzzle box that, when solved, unleashes indescribable pleasures from another world. He, of course, finds the box and solves the puzzle unlocking a gateway into a hell he could never have imagined. This book is disturbing, but in all the right ways. It is one of my favorites by far.
"Only a Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America’s Soul" by Kenneth R. Miller (June)
This is a book written by an evangelical Christian defending the theory of evolution and taking a serious critical stance on Intelligent Design theory. The author never really betrayed his personal views of God and instead opted to fill this book with as much good science as possible. He profoundly succeeds which gives me a lot of hope for theistic evolutionists. If you’re a believer on the fence about evolution and feel anxiety about reading an atheist’s take on it, do yourself a favor and get this book immediately.
"Thomas Jefferson: Author of America" by Christopher Hitchens (June)
It is refreshing to read Christopher Hitchens write about something other than religion. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve really enjoyed his work on the subject. Most people just don’t realize what an amazing writer he is on a variety of topics, particularly history and politics. It is fitting that he should write this book as he is arguably a bigger fan of Jefferson than most Americans. Last year on tour in Charlottesville I was fortunately able to visit Monticello, Jefferson’s amazing, self-designed home and see where he spent his last days. Thomas Jefferson was a lover of books, knowledge, science, and the enlightenment. He was the principle author of the Declaration of Independence and was responsible for some of the major events of America’s history including the Louisiana Purchase and the Lewis and Clark Expedition. A true renaissance man, he was a horticulturist, architect, archeologist, paleontologist, musician, inventor, and founder of the University of Virginia. In other words, he was a badass. Can you imagine our con temporary presidents being so accomplished?
"The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution" by Richard Dawkins (June)
This book is a great reminder that Dawkins is a superb popularizer of science as well as a scholarly evolutionary biologist and polemicist. He powerfully and clearly articulates all of the wonderful evidences for evolution from the success of artificial selection in plants and animals to the cousinship of all living creatures through DNA to the breathtaking fossil record. There are really great chapters on watching natural (specifically, sexual) selection in laboratories and thoughtful debunking of creation science and its costume, Intelligent Design theory. This book is a must read for anyone who loves evolution because it is less of a defense and more of a celebration.