This list was first published in July 2009, and is occasionally updated: add your own favourite atheist-related book to the comments and I will add it to the list.
During July 2009 I asked on Twitter and Facebook about your favourite atheist-related books, and why. The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins was recommended as many times as the next three books combined. The Bible took second place, with its power to convince people of atheism edging it ahead of God is Not Great by Christopher Hitchens.
Also popular in the original list were books by Phillip Pullman, Sam Harris, Bertrand Russell, Daniel Dennett, Douglas Adams, Michael Shermer, Julian Baggini, Pascal Boyer, Nietzsche, Carl Sagan and Derren Brown. More have since been added based on the comments to this post.
But the most fascinating part is the eclectic list of books recommended once. You may not have heard of all of them, but each is a book that somebody, somewhere, believes to be a valuable read for anybody interested in finding out more about atheism, reality or morality.
Here’s the full list, along with some of the reasons that you gave as to why this was your favourite atheist-related book.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
35 x The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins. The first to comprehensively address a lot of the issues I had been thinking about… Because he is a genius and much more eloquent than I could ever be… Because it reinforced with me that my decision was right and it turned my dad from agnosticism to atheism… Because I kept shouting “YES!! That’s what I’ve always said!”… Because it’s all covered… I wanted to hand it to others that didn’t understand my beliefs and yell “See? Read”… The modern classic. I found it more “fun” than others I’ve read, and that counts with shallow folk like me… I already had ‘Faith’ I just needed the ammunition to argue more effectively… Total eye opener and extremely thought provoking… Logical and concise. Dawkins at his best… For its clear wording, its non-aggressive (well almost) approach and the breath of subjects covered… It was the first book that actually made question the beliefs I was brought up with in a scientific manner… He’s a brilliant man!… After 39 years was glad to find out that atheism was more prevalent than thought plus it was my first book to read on atheism… Provides the most clear scientific explanations for the existence of religion… It’s the most comprehensive rebuttal of religion out there and I’m drawn to the fact that Dawkins tackles it mainly from a scientific as opposed to a social viewpoint… Because it appears aggressive, domineering and arrogant but is in fact only plain and honest or reciprocating… By far my favorite and most important… The God Delusion changed my life.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
22 x The Bible (or holy book of choice), taken with a grain of skepticism… At least as far as books that led to my inability to believe… The New Testament… Hard to beat the Bible itself as a cornerstone for fundamental atheist belief!… It deconstructs itself… If only more Christians would read it… It has a bit of everything: genocide, incest, child murder, rape pillage, incurable knee botches… Best reason to reject theism… Makes it a whole lot easier to disbelieve in a god… My favorite is Leviticus… It’s really the only one you’ll ever need… It’s the best example of the ludicrousness of religion… It was certainly the Bible that started me doubting. I was a good little catholic girl but at the age of four or five when I heard the first thing Noah did on reaching dry land was to sacrifice some of the animals I said the whole thing was dotty.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
12 x God is Not Great by Christopher Hitchens. More aggressive and attacking of religion than just the existence of gods… Utterly brilliant… Really blasted religion… It takes all my beliefs on religion and wraps them up as eloquently as possible… Bloody brilliant… Mainly because it goes straight to the point… Just a comprehensive analysis of the wrongs of religion against humanity… It’s vicious but brilliantly argued… I just like polemics I guess.
* * * * * * * *
8 x Why I am not a Christian by Bertrand Russell. Mostly because it was my first… I was very young when I read it, and it really made me think, still does… A clear, calm critique/argument against religion in essays; doesn’t ridicule believers… Not “against” religion, but against its use as a source for moral or ethical rules… Probably the most famous atheist of his time, he also supported son-in-law through seminary… 80 years later and that pamphlet hasn’t lost its potency.
* * * * * * *
7 x His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman. Celebrates the unleashing of human creative thought and action over imposed dogma… Remember Pullman’s image of The Authority?… Like something from the fashion show in Fellini’s Roma… Nil points for originality on my part, but full points on his.
7 x Letter To A Christian Nation by Sam Harris. For its brevity… Because it’s short, to the point and covers all the bases… It’s a short, but sharp critique of Christianity… Short, sweet and loaded with powerful arguments against irrational religious belief.
* * * * *
5 x Breaking the Spell by Daniel Dennett. Pretty good. Easy to read & understand with a touch of humor… Good popularization of Boyer, et al… More convincing, less strident than Dawkins.
5 x The End of Faith by Sam Harris. Because it delves into the psychology… Less gratuitously nasty and better argued than many others… Well argued on points I was often uncomfortable with.
5 x The Portable Atheist by Christopher Hitchens. Great collection of essays from past & present atheists… It serves as a sort of atheist/humanist Bible, if you will… In it, Michael Shermer’s “Genesis Revisited; A Scientific Creation Story” is a long time personal favourite.
* * *
3 x A Very Short Introduction to Atheism, by Julian Baggini. Philosophically precise yet readable… Packs in all the arguments, including a few you may not find elsewhere, but does it pretty dispassionately, which can be an advantage sometimes.
3 x All in the Mind by Ludovic Kennedy. Often overlooked.
3 x God’s Problem. How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question: Why We Suffer. by Bart D. Ehrman. Ehrman is a higly educated biblical scholar and former evangelical christian who became an atheist through his knowledge of the bible.
3 x Godless by Dan Barker. How an evangelical preacher became an atheist advocate.
3 x Die Zukunft Einer Illusion by Freud. Essential to any atheist library.
3 x Dune by Frank Herbert
3 x In Defence of Atheism (aka The Atheist Manifesto) by Michel Onfray. Gives a great historical picture of how religion has obstructed social progress. Really for the convinced Atheist to help think more deeply about how Christianity has influenced every aspect of our lives and how to start deconstructing that influence.
3 x Infidel by Ayann Hirsi Ali. Displays the evils of Islam and particularly the oppression of women and irrational dogma.
3 x On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin. Probably the book that started the ball rolling as far as a valid alternative to the god idea is concerned. It is amazing how much Darwin had correct when he had no knowledge of the details of DNA and Plate Tectonics etc.
3 x Small Gods by Terry Pratchett. The gods in this book (and in The Galactic Pot Healer by Phillip K Dick) are real, as in eating, drinking, farting, fighting, falling in love real, as well as ridiculous. As any god would be.
3 x The Antichrist by Nietzsche
3 x The Demon Haunted World by Carl Sagan. Beautifully written… I think it might be because I read it in his voice.
3 x The Hitch-hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy by Douglas Adams. Classic… Particularly the Babel fish… God vanishes in a puff of logic!
3 x Tricks of the Mind by Derren Brown. Mostly for the non-atheist related stuff, but also he explains the rationale very well. It’s a stealth atheist book, you read about the shameful scam of mediums preying on the vulnerable and…
3 x Why People Believe Weird Things by Michael Shermer. Great on general skepticism, logical fallacies etc… Didn’t change my view on the world, but made me understand that I’m a skeptic, which led to understanding that I’m an atheist… Isn’t really atheistic but I loved it.
2 x 50 Reasons People Give for Believing in a God by Guy Harrison. Good broad & nonthreatening introduction to give to believers.
2 x An Intelligent Person’s Guide to Atheism by Daniel Harbour. Explains beautifully the difference between the two ways one can view the world. One is the view which underlies the scientific process, and the other is the one which underlies religion, belief in healing crystals and all that.
2 x Atheism Advanced by David Eller. Better than his Natural Atheism… takes atheism beyond atheism, so to speak, and brings his audience to atheism’s ultimate conclusion.
2 x Das Wesen des Christentums by Feuerbach. Essential to any atheist library.
2 x Natural Atheism by David Eller
2 x Religion Explained by Pascal Boyer. Great overall explanation.
2 x The Foundation series by Asimov. Shows how easily a religion could be invented – in this case, to control the nuclear power generation plants… My skeptical journey through agnostisism , eventually leading to atheism, began with Asimov.
2 x The Misery of Christianity Joachim Kahl. Brilliant, but sadly out of print.
2 x The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins. A very readable science book, which explains how we evolved, and how behaviours like empathy evolved (not god given).
2 x Skepticism Inc. by Bo Fowler. Lovely bit of Vonnegut fanfic.
2 x Voltaire’s Bastards by John Ralston Saul. Saul is wonderful and a deep, black cynic. Vastly under-rated philosopher, economist and social commentator.
2 x Waiting For Godot by Samuel Becket. The greatest play of the 20th century and a powerful commentary on the emotions that engender religion – fear, vulnerability, a desire for certainty, and so on: “Yes, in this immense confusion one thing alone is clear. We are waiting for Godot to come.”
1984 by George Orwell. The most important book for me on the topic of what truth is, and being influenced by others, and lying to yourself.
A History of American Secularism by Susan Jacoby. It ought to be a mandatory read. I doubt even atheists realize the extent to which the religious bloc have impeded social progress. Or the extent to which just about every leap in humankind was either conceived or fervently encouraged by brave atheists and agnostics.
A History of God by Karen Armstrong. Should be required reading for ALL!
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce
After God by MC Taylor
Against All Gods by AC Grayling. Like Life, Sex and Ideas, this makes the case against god/s and religion and outlines what makes healthy, sane, intelligent, informed, dare I say happy, people and societies.
An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding by David Hume. If for no other reason than his classic argument in Section X, “On Miracles”.
Androcles and the Lion by George Bernard Shaw. The preface gave me my first set of tools – ideas and words – for dismantling religion.
Atheism: A Philosophical Justification by by Martin. For the detail.
Atheism: A Reader. I liked all the essays.
Atheism Remix by R. Albert Mohler Jr. A Christian perspective on atheism’s recent popularity and growth surge since 9/11
Atheism: The Case Against God by George H Smith.
Atheist Universe by David Mills. Lucid, daring and cute as Dawkins, but deals with physics stuff too.
Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. Demonstrates the dangers of dogma in society whether mystical or social. Offers a view of ethics which rejects altruism as its basis and tells why and how rational egoism is the rational ethics in which to life by.
Beyond Good and Evil by Neitzsche
Black Mass by John Gray
Caesar’s Messiah’ by Joseph Atwill. Argues, very convincingly, that Jesus was a propaganda invention by a Roman emperor used to undermine Jewish resistance to Roman rule.
Cannery Row by Steinbeck. I’ve also always felt warm atheist fuzzies from Steinbeck. Not sure if that is a fair reading of Steinbeck, but there it is.
Chimpanzee Politics by Frans de Waal. Like Your Inner Fish by Neil Shubin, it shows just how closely we are related to the living world and arose from it instead of being divinely purposed and partitioned from it.
Confessions of a Justified Sinner by James Hogg. A chilling 19th century tale that gets into the head of an utterly deluded religiot.
Cosmos by Carl Sagan. Goes into the struggles of science & reason versus religion throughout history.
Critique of Religion and Philosophy by Walter Kaufmann. Presents the elements of philosophy of religion in a way that is both intellectually and morally serious, but also accessible to a high school student.
Darwin’s Angel by John Cornwell
Darwin’s Dangerous Idea by Daniel Dennett. Mind-opening.
Does God Hate Women? By Ophelia Benson & Jeremy Stangroom
Doubt: A History by Jennifer Michael Hecht. A skeptic’s Bible of historical doubt.
Early Christian Doctrine by J.N.D. Kelly
Examination of the Prophesies by Thomas Paine. A fisking of the New Testament claims that the Old Testament predicted the life of Christ.
Faith of a Heretic by Walter Kaufmann
Ghost Rider by Neil Peart. He chronicles the loss of his wife & daughter, how he copes and recovers, and there is zero mention of God, Religion or faith! He does it himself with a motorcycle, friends and love.
God: the Failed Hypothesis by Victor Stenger. I don’t understand why it isn’t right up there in the bestseller list alongside TGD, God is not Great, The End of Faith, etc.
Godless Morality by Richard Holloway. A Christian acknowledging that atheists can be moral people!
Golden Torc series by Julian May. Paints a nice alternative reality that’s just as ridiculous as, and yet somehow much more believable than, the bible.
How to Read The Bible by James L. Kugel. Goes through how modern scholars and early Christians interpreted the Old Testament. Great source if you want to talk to people about how to interpret the Bible.
Humanity’s Gain from Unbelief by Charles Bradlaugh. Bradlaugh may not have written a book length treatment of atheism but he did write a number of essays some of which are available in the Thinker’s Library under the title of one of his essays – Humanity’s Gain from Unbelief
Irreligion by John Allen Paulos. Mathematical arguments against the existence of a god. Love it!
Is Christianity True? by Michael Arnheim. Maybe not a great book but the first one that did it for me back in 1985.
Job: A Comedy of Justice by Heinlein
Kiln People by David Brin. Deals with morality and deity in a well written and fascinating Sci-Fi story.
Knowledge of Angels by Jill Paton Walsh
Leaving the Fold by Marlene Winell. A great book for a person who just left the faith. I highly recommend it.
Letters from Earth by Mark Twain. He will laugh you right out of Christianity.
Letters to a Young Contrarian by Christopher Hitchens. Not explicitly about atheism but independent thought, skepticism.
Life, Sex and Ideas: the Good Life without God by AC Grayling. Like Against All Gods, this makes the case against god/s and religion and outlines what makes healthy, sane, intelligent, informed, dare I say happy, people and societies.
Man and His Gods by Homer Smith
Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter by Simone de Beauvoir
Miracle of Theism by Mackie. Classic critique of the standard philosophical arguments for God.
Morals Without Religion by Margaret Knight. A fascinating little book that gives a window onto attitudes to religion in 1950s Britain.
Not Wanted on the Voyage by Timothy Findley. Another good atheist-related work of fiction (Noah’s Ark retold)
On the Genealogy of Morals by Neitzsche
On the Nature and Existence of God by Richard M. Gale. Precise critique of standard arguments and best explanation of what a god *could* be.
Re-Engineering Philosophy for Limited Beings, Piecewise Approximations to Reality by William Wimsatt. A collection of essays on the philosophy of science, not atheismper se. Helped me see my underlying approach or method, and my atheism is a product of my approach or method.
Second Philosophy by Wittgenstien
Talks by Ramana Maharshi. He reiterates again and again the folly of following the inventions of ego.
The Adding Machine by Elmer Rice. 1923 play that condemns a man to eternal mediocrity and drudgery for failing to challenge himself.
The Age of Reason by Thomas Paine
The Ancestor’s Tale by Richard Dawkins
The Battle for God by Karen Armstrong. For me its completely Deadly, killing off the fundies for all time. Can’t believe the clever-clogs tosh she’s writing now!
The Blind Watchmaker by Richard Dawkins
The Book on The Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are by Alan Watts. Not strictly atheist, but his work dismantles Christianity and offers an alternative worldview derived from interpreting Eastern thought.
The Conquest of Happiness by Bertrand Russell. It’s a self help book for atheists.
The da Vinci Code by Dan Brown. More of an example of how chirstianity was abducted and bastardized by the catholic church, but I find it interesting.
The Day I Sold my Soul to Santa by Dirk DurplePick
The Decameron by Boccaccio. For its raunchy clerical satire, topped later by the likes of Voltaire and De Sade.
The Faith Healers by James Randi. Love how Randi exposed that sham. Makes me wonder why Sister Cleo had 2 stop.
The Galactic Pot Healer by Phillip K Dick The gods in this book (and in Small Gods by Terry Pratchett) are real, as in eating, drinking, farting, fighting, falling in love real, as well as ridiculous. As any god would be.
The Golden Bough by Frazier
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. A frightening tale of an anti-feminist theocracy in a future dystopia in North America.
The Heroes Journey by Joseph Campbell. Because it shows myth is hardwired instinct.
The Jesus Puzzle. A scholarly work that explains the ancient world view that spawned a mythical Jesus.
The Last Witchfinder by James Morrow
The Little Book of Atheist Spirituality, by Andre Comte-Sponville (translated to English by Nancy Huston).
The Making of the Fittest by Sean B Carroll. It totally trashes the design argument by looking at the evolution of genes.
The Monstrosity of Christ by Slavoj Zizek
The Passover Plot by Hugh Schoenfeld. This was crucial in my coming to understand what kind of document the Bible is.
The Quotable Atheist by Jack Huberma. A collection of quotes from non-believing philosophers, scientists, poets, writers, artists, entertainers, and political figures.
The Reason for God by Tim Keller. The best Christian response to atheism I’ve read.
The Rebel by Camus
The Satanic Bible by Anton LaVey
The Six Ways of Atheism by Geoffrey Berg
The Stranger by Camus
The Threat to Reason by Dan Hind
The Towing Jehovah Trilogy by James Morrow (Book iii The Eternal Footman is best)
The Varieties of Religious Experience by William James. An emperical psychologist interviews people of all denominations, documents their experiences with religion. He believes that the backbone of the worlds spiritual life is in the experiences of the individual.
The Wisdom of Insecurity by Alan Watts. Not strictly atheist, but his work dismantles Christianity and offers an alternative worldview derived from interpreting Eastern thought.
Thus Spoke Zarathustra by Neitzsche
Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus by Wittgenstein. Each aphorism is a bitch slap to god fanatics.
Prison Notebooks by Gramsci. Beautifully written, insightful, testiment to the human spirit: defiance of his fascist censors.
Saxon Tales by Bernard Cornwell. Cornwell always has a few mean things to say about God.
Stranger In A Strange Land by Heinlein. Showed the social mechanisms of fame and faith, & how 1 could be exploited 4 the other.
Unweaving the Rainbow by Richard Dawkins
What Is Good? by A C Grayling. Provides a godless account of morality, and its pre-christian history.
Your Inner Fish by Neil Shubin. Like Chimpanzee Politics by Frans de Waal, it shows just how closely we are related to the living world and arose from it instead of being divinely purposed and partitioned from it.
Your Religion Is False by Joel Grus. Because it’s brilliantly funny.
Any book by Ayn Rand
A small booklet debunking the so called miracles and shams of the “godmen” of India… that booklet made me think rationally
Also: the work of many notable social scientists – Weber, Durkheim and more recently B.F. Skinner. If God is a Creation of man then it is toward social scientist that awe should look for an explanation, not philosophers like Dennet or biologists like Dawkins.
In much need of poststructuralist philosophy, absolutely devastating stuff. Try readable introductions to Deleuze, maybe Derrida & Lacan to a lesser extent.
Reading Carl Sagan and Richard Leakey was the final nail in the coffin of supernaturalism.
The work of Voltaire, Thomas Paine, Lock, Quine, Hume, and, of course, Hobbes (not the tiger!)
Thanks to the following for replying to the original post
26Tim | AllanCavanagh | Ammouni | Aperture11 | AprilBraswell | atheistie | askegg |asoulorg | Autarkis | BLADT | BrainCramps | brainycat | brenstrong | BriefLess | cafedave | CaptainGraviton | CheapEatsDotIE | Chrsthmsn | cpmichetti | damienlooney | danielgrosvenor | DaveMann | davemurdock | davidnicolson | daycoder | defiantskeptic | delfrisco | denvy | derekbradley | derekrootboy | dermotcasey | DollarLama | doodledawne | DeusExorcist | dhskee | drunkenmadman | dsriharsha | EddieBaseball | ElaineEdwards | expatina | failedmuso | FaithInterface | fatmike182 | finkeegan | galelem | GordonGoblin | HarryGuinness | hipishizik | HLindskold | H0llywoodWh0re | hudsonette | IAmRoot | Icaruspoe | irodman | istaranews | jbtweeter | Jackster69 | JM_Boivin | julzart | jptxs | justinf | joshcarples | Killarny | Larro | lippard | Locnar1970 | lucykjohnstone | m_ls | MarkLane71 | mary_martin | matt_warner | mattincinci | mdhughes | MeLorena | midnightcourt | MusiCaller | naehutch | NomDuJour | nwoolhouseuk | PattiMoran | pedro_vazquez | Pete_Knight | picklepumpers | PopuliAtheist | PrashVader | primaryposition | Rationalists | reeft | reneehendricks | richardmbunn | robertbruce13 | rodiell | SabreNation | saveourbluths | SeandBlogonaut | setdragonfriend | SkeptiKat | sketchfordawn | SloRunnerMom | spacetrucker | spam_methuselah | SpiderSlayer | spiller2 | stephanie206 | stinginthetail | straggleyway | Suckermouth | taueret | teebalicious | theadividual | thebeernut | theirishpenguin | TheMadderHat | tnargnitram | TomMendham | tommcmullenjr | trontsephore | TSLtLillith | tuibguy | tylermassey | Underbundle | UserNameError | vjack | WillLynch | woodpigeon01 | Ygern | yoga99 | yrif | ZenMonkey
Thanks to all who made comments about the list on RichardDawkins.net.