Minnesota Atheists Meetup Group Message Board › List of book recommendations
Saint Paul, MN
At our last Burnsville book discussion we talked about generating a list of recommendations for future book clubs. What follows are three fantastic lists of book ideas for atheists. The first list was created by Dr. Nick Pease, a MNA member who is an adjunct professor at the University of Minnesota. The second list was created by Susan Jacoby (whose books we have discussed at previous Burnsville book discussions) which was published in the Washington Post. Nick kindly pointed out the article to me. The third list was created by MNA member Grant Steves and published in the MNA Newsletter. Please feel free to create your own list and share your ideas with your freethinking brothers and sisters!
Athey Lit (best reads italicized) – Nick Pease:
Kafka, THE TRIAL (easy read, big fave of mine)
Camus, THE FALL, THE PLAGUE, THE MYTH OF SISYPHUS (another fave)
Hemingway, A CLEAN, WELL-LIGHTED PLACE; THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA
PLATO’S PARABLE OF THE CAVE
Sartre, NO EXIT; NAUSEA; DIRTY HANDS
Conrad, HEART OF DARKNESS
Melville, BARTLEBY, THE SCRIVENER; BENITO CERENO
Susan Jacoby's "Summer Reading for Infidels":
1. Darwin, His Daughter & Human Evolution. By Randal Keynes. Riverhead Books. 2001. This fascinating biography, by Charles Darwin's great-great grandson, explores Darwin's family life and the relationship between the death of his 10-year-old daughter, Annie, and the great naturalist's growing conviction that the manifestations of nature (including its cruelty) had nothing to do with a divine plan. The book is based on notes that Darwin made during his daughter's illness, and it offers a moving portrait of the thinker and scientist as a grief-stricken human being. By the way, those of you who were unfortunate enough to sit through the dreary movie Creation, which covers some of the same ground and portrays Darwin primarily as a hopeless neurotic, will particularly enjoy the real story, based on contemporary letters and diaries, of this crucial time in Darwin's life and work.
2. On The Origin of Species (1859) and The Descent of Man (1871). I hadn't read either of these in full, I'm ashamed to say, until I began working on Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism in 1999. Their lively prose style was, you should excuse the expression, a revelation. I wept when I came to the great line near the end of Species, "There is a grandeur in this view of life...." Perhaps I wouldn't have appreciated these books as much if I had read them when I was young. One is struck by the fact that Darwin's observations on the famous voyage of the Beagle are products of the last era of science in which the physical work and experimentation of science were largely unaided by complicated technology. On the latter subject, try The Age of Wonder, by Richard Holmes (Pantheon, 2008).
3. Betraying Spinoza: The Renegade Jew Who Gave Us Modernity. By Rebecca Newberger Goldstein. Nextbook. Schocken. 2006. The title says it all.
4. 36 Arguments for The Existence of God: A Work of Fiction, By Rebecca Newberger Goldstein. Pantheon Books. 2009. This novel's protagonist is Cass Seltzer, dubbed "the atheist with a soul" by Time magazine after his book becomes a surprise bestseller. In this pitch-perfect novel (which, among its other amusing virtues, captures precisely the tone of the mainstream media toward atheists), Goldstein explores the ways in which life intersects with, and is frequently at odds with, firm philosophical and religious convictions.
5. The Bible According to Mark Twain. Edited by Howard G. Baetzhold and Joseph B. McCullough. Touchstone Books. 1996. Still irreverent after all these years. Many of these works were not published in Twain's lifetime. Do recall that blasphemy was still a crime in many jurisdictions in the late 19th century.
6. The Book of Laughter And Forgetting. By Milan Kundera. Translated from the French by Aaron Asher. HarperPerennial. 1996. The Czech-born novelist Milan Kundera, who now lives in Paris and writes in French, is a modern master of surrealism and skepticism. What I love about his novels is their combination of playfulness and rationality.
7. The Closing of the Western Mind: The Rise of Faith and the Fall of Reason. By Charles Freeman. Vintage Books. 2002. Freeman, one of the foremost living scholars of the ancient world, explores the relationship between the Emperor Constantine's conversion to Christianity--and his recognition of Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire--and the decline of the Greek intellectual tradition for the next thousand years. The question his book raises is, "What would western culture be like if Christianity had not been accorded political privilege in the waning days of the Roman empire?"
8. What's God Got to Do with It?: Robert Ingersoll on Free Thought, Honest Talk, and the Separation of Church and State. By Robert Green Ingersoll. Steerforth Press. 2005. This collection of some of the most important essays and speeches by Ingersoll, known as the "Great Agnostic" and the preeminent American orator of the late nineteenth century, is introduced by Tim Page, former music critics of The Washington Post. Many more of Ingersoll's works are available online, but this slim volume places his thought in a historical context that has been all but forgotten. Among Ingersoll's greatest accomplishments were his revival of Thomas Paine's reputation in the United States and his introduction of Darwin's theory of evolution to Americans of all geographical regions and varied educational backgrounds.
9. A People's History of the Supreme Court. By Peter Irons with a forward by Howard Zinn. Penguin Books. 2000. Irons, a civil liberties lawyer and director of the Earl Warren Bill of Rights Project at the University of California-San Diego, introduces and dissects many of the most important civil rights and civil liberties decisions in American history, including many dealing with the separation of church and state. He offers a stellar account of the impact of the Warren Court on cases involving liberty of conscience, and the right not only to freedom of religion but freedom from religion.
If you agree with Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Sclaia that God is the source of all governmental authority, don't bother reading this book.
10. The Drowned And the Saved. By Primo Levi. Simon and Schuster. 1988.
There is no greater work on the mixture of intentionality, random events, and individual acquiescence or resistance that creates both human evil and the capacity to survive evil.
Here's "Your Summer Reading List" created by MNA member Grant Steves. It was posted on the Minnesota Atheists website yesterday: http://mnatheists.org...
1. Owen Flanagan, The Really Hard Problem, 2007, 288 pages, The MIT Press.
How we create meaning in the material world. Flanagan expands our understanding of consciousness as it is understood pursuant to neurological research.
2. Bruce M. Hood, Supersense, 2009, 302 pages, Harper One.
A cognitive scientist explores why we believe in the unbelievable. He strips away the magic of mind reading and gives us the biology of belief.
3. Lee Tiffin, Creationism’s Upside-Down Pyramid, 1994, 230 pages, Prometheus Books.
A man of science explores why we need to refute Fundamentalism’s creation myth, and its intrusion into public education and life.
4. Thomas W. Clark, Encountering Naturalism, 2007, 103 pages, Center for Naturalism.
A short, pithy introduction to the worldview of naturalism. Atheism presents a position, and naturalism provides the worldview for atheism.
5. Richard Carrier, Sense and Goodness Without God, 2005, 424 pages, Author House.
Carrier gives depth to the philosophical position of naturalism that Clark’s book only outlines. Carrier’s book is for the philosophically adventurous.
6. Rodrigue Trembaly, The Code For Global Ethics, 2010, 300 pages, Prometheus Books.
This book is reviewed on page 12. An easy, readable book on ethics for humanists.
7. Greg M. Epstein, Good Without God, 2009, 250 pages, William Morrow.
The Humanist chaplain at Harvard University explains what nonreligious people know and believe. Epstein explores the practical side of living as a humanist.
8. John W. Loftus, The Christian Delusion, 2010, 422 pages, Prometheus Books.
Loftus participated in an interview on MNA’s radio program a year ago when he discussed his book Why I Became an Atheist. His latest book is a collection of essays by various atheist authors. David Eller discusses the culture of Christianities; Hector Avalos explores Yahweh as a moral monster; Robert Price states why Jesus is a myth; and Loftus contributes several essays on the failure of Christianity. The adventure in this book lies in browsing through to the essays you enjoy.
9. Lee A Kirkpatrick, Attachment, Evolution, and the Psychology of Religion, 2005, 400 pages, The Guilford Press.
Kirkpatrick explores the psychology behind human attachment to religion as revealed in the evolution of humanity. We may have left religion behind and wonder why more do not. Kirkpatrick helps us understand why so many stay within religion.
10. David Lewis-Williams, Conceiving God, 2010, 314 pages, Thames & Hudson.
Lewis-Williams presents the cognitive origin and evolution of religion. This book mixes the history, anthropology, and psychology of humanity as religion evolved in the human community.
Saint Paul, MN
Roger, another Burnsville book club attendee, suggested "The Courtier and the Heretic: Leibniz, Spinoza, and the Fate of God in the Modern World" by Matthew Stewart.
Roger said that it presents the basic philosophies of both Spinoza and Leibniz, and also outlines the struggle Leibniz went through for the 40 years of his life after his encounter with Spinoza, trying (unsuccessfully) to overcome the atheist implications of Spinoza's thought. Spinoza is the grandfather of the Enlightenment and the Godfather of atheism.
Let's see some other suggestions!