Looking for some nonreligious books to add to your summer reading list? Want some recommendations beyond the “new atheist” bestsellers?

Below, six atheist and Humanist activists, authors, or scholars offer their picks for atheist books you may have missed and explain why you should read them. Check back tomorrow for the second half of this list! (Update: Here’s part two.)

André Comte-Sponville

André Comte-Sponville. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

1. The Little Book of Atheist Spirituality by André Comte-Sponville

For anyone deafened by the culture war, this accessible but substantial little book is like hearing refreshing new music. Instead of reacting and defending as so many books do, this is the work of an intelligent atheist thinking out loud, honestly and well, about things like community and loyalty, the ways people stay attached to ideals and committed to each other after faith is gone, and how they handle grief and loss without the traditional supports. It’s a happy surprise of a book. Dale McGowan, author of In Faith and In Doubt and Executive Director of Foundation Beyond Belief | @InFaithAndDoubt

Susan Jacoby

Susan Jacoby. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

2. Freethinkers by Susan Jacoby

It is widely believed that America is a Christian nation devoid of a secular heritage. Freethinkers is the perfect antidote for this false claim, showing that America has a rich history of secular political thought and activism. Jacoby discusses usual figures like Thomas Jefferson, but also lesser known secular champions such as Thomas Paine and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. In the process, she leads us from our founding to the Golden Age of Freethought to the rise of religious fundamentalism to the Civil Rights Movement to our modern legal battles. Given its subject matter, Freethinkers is particularly relevant to atheists and secularists in America. But I submit that it should be required reading for all Americans. Michael De Dora, Director of Public Policy at Center for Inquiry | @mdedora

Kevin Roose

Kevin Roose. Photo by Janine Cheng, courtesy Roose.

3. The Unlikely Disciple by Kevin Roose

The Unlikely Disciple recounts agnostic Brown University student Kevin Roose’s semester spent at Liberty University, the evangelical school founded by Jerry Falwell. While the creation science exams, homophobic sermons, and spring break proselytizing make for salacious stories for a secular audience, what sets this autobiographical work apart as a critical atheist text isn’t just the right-wing gossip—it’s Roose’s commitment to humanizing his Christian peers and showcasing their diversity. Roose didn’t immerse himself in an evangelical environment to challenge; he was motivated to simply understand those with whom he disagreed. Stephen Goeman, atheist interfaith activist and first year Master of Divinity candidate | @StephenChanges

Mary Johnson

Mary Johnson. Photo via Johnson.

4. An Unquenchable Thirst by Mary Johnson

With incredible storytelling and provocative insight, An Unquenchable Thirst does more than offer a glimpse into one of the most private worlds of Catholicism. Amid the history of one of the world’s most influential religions, this book shares the personal journey of a former nun through doubt—to doubt—familiar to many atheists and agnostics. As a former Catholic, I found in this book a connection to my own past, a better way of understanding who I am, and true support for the work I do today. I recommend this book to former and current Catholics alike; to the nonbelievers who challenge and question every day; and to anyone who has struggled to forge his or her identity in a world where doing so can feel so lonely. Sarah Chandonnet, Program Director at the Humanist Community at Harvard | @sarahjanechando

Alom Shaha

“The Young Atheist’s Handbook” author Alom Shaha, photo courtesy Alom Shaha.

5. The Young Atheist’s Handbook by Alom Shaha

An honest and vulnerable personal memoir written by a science teacher who was born in Bangladesh and raised in the UK. As an immigrant, ex-Muslim, and person of color, Alom Shaha is highly sympathetic to those who face racial, ethnic, and religious intolerance—and impatient with fellow atheists who stereotype Muslims and other people of faith. Shaha’s intersectional perspective will appeal to non-believers concerned with social justice issues, while his compassionate, practical, pluralistic approach makes The Young Atheist’s Handbook an inspiring read for anyone. It’s one of very few atheist books I’d feel comfortable recommending to a wide audience of believers and non-believers alike. Daniel Loxton, Editor of Junior Skeptic and author of Evolution: How We and All Living Things Came to Be | @Daniel_Loxton

Alain de Botton

Alain de Botton. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

6. Religion for Atheists by Alain de Botton

Religion for Atheists starts with a bold idea: The interesting question about religions isn’t “are they true” but “what can we learn from them?” Religion is more than a list of sentences that are either true or false—it’s a solution to certain social and moral problems that modern, secular life can learn from. How do we put others ahead of ourselves, how do we show compassion and humility, how do we manage the terrors of everyday life, and so on. Though some of de Botton’s specific proposals fall somewhat flat, the spirit behind them is a moving and broad-minded one, which advances the spirit of atheism and secular life forward. Vlad Chituc, Research Associate at Duke University | @VladChituc

What books would you add to this list? What do you think of the books listed? Please share your recommendations in the comments and check back tomorrow for part two! (Update: Here’s part two.)


  1. Not a book but the Teaching Company’s CD course “Skeptics and Believers” is the best overview of the interplay between secular and religious thought from the 17th century to the present day that I have ever heard. A better tool for understanding the issues and people involved could not be found.

  2. When I got a copy of Alan Michael Wilt’s novel, The Holy Family, I wondered if I would be interested in reading it. At first I was merely intrigued by the title and the incongruous picture of a young girl’s blonde French braid on the cover. But from the first page I knew I had stumbled into a jewel of a book. I found myself reading and re-reading and putting stars by exquisite passages that took my breath away. Wilt begins by describing Marty Halsey’s battle with his Catholic faith–a religious upbringing that seemed to him to turn on dogma and rules versus the beauty and poetry of faith. The story follows Marty’s religious odyssey alongside the tender and breathtakingly sensual descriptions of his “courtship” and marriage to Justine Damont, the artist, the atheist, the loving and charming wife, and the devoted mother of their two daughters. Early on, you understand that Marty and Justine have suffered a horrible loss and are trying to “hold it together” for each other. I found myself simultaneously wanting the details of their loss and yet dreading the details I knew I would be given. I was also afraid that a too-neat resolution would end this story and make me sorry I went for the ride. Instead, what I got was a pitch-perfect ending to a deeply moving and thought-provoking story of love and of faith in “the beauty and poetry” of human emotions.

  3. I hate to plug my own book (lie), but I would recommend “Bible Stories”. It’s a comedic re-telling of the Bible. It’ll make you laugh!

    here’s a sample chapter: http://www.thegoodatheist.net/bible-stories-preview/

  4. The Holy Family by Alan Michael Wilt
    In this always provocative tale, the reader is invited not only to consider his or her own emotional attachment to faith, but to revel in the richness of character so beautifully depicted by Mr. Wilt. From the first chapter, the reader is drawn into the complex questions so many face today: to believe or not to believe.
    The Holy Family is so much more than the sum of its parts. Aside from its well-crafted and beautifully told story, it is a book to sustain during those times when grief threatens to overwhelm. Wilt is a gifted storyteller and writer, one from whom I hope to hear much more in days to come.

  5. I also was excited to find Alan Michael Wilt’s book – given to me by a friend and author Daryl Ray (who wrote Sex and God – another good read) – it made me cry – it’s one of the wonderful novels that isn’t preachy and that both believers and nonbelievers alike can appreciate. I liked it so much that I chose it to write a professional review on NY Journal of Books – check it out!

  6. Another self-plug: The book “Red Neck, Blue Collar, Atheist: Simple Thoughts About Reason, Gods & Faith.”

    Lots of books out there about the “why” of atheism, not many about the “how.” How do you think about morality, science, reality, so much more, as an atheist?

  7. brettongarcia

    Maybe this list is too conciliatory for most atheists? Atheism seems far more interesting and compelling to many – when it doesn’t compromise with religion at all.

    These compromises often seem far too wishy-washy, mealy-mouthed. Typical double talk; trying to have your cake and eat it too.

    If you’re interested in some kind of in-between area between Religion and Reason – why not look more into what I would call the Rational Religion of say Augustine. Rather than trying to sentimentalize Atheism.

  8. Greg Peterson

    I think Philip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” trilogy is a wonderful antedote to C.S Lewis’s “Chroniclesof Narnia,” and a ripping yarn to boot.

  9. Chris, may I bring this short free ebook to your attention:
    “The Reason Revolution: Atheism, Secular Humanism, and the Collapse of Religion”

    Info and download links at http://dandana.us/atheism/


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