An Atheist Book That Doesn’t Shy Away From the Word October 6, 2011

An Atheist Book That Doesn’t Shy Away From the Word

It seems like PZ Myers has been working on his book forever, but it finally has a title and an ISBN number!

The Happy Atheist: Dancing on the Graves of the Gods is scheduled to be released in June of 2012. (Aww, no Easter release?)

Interestingly enough, the word “Atheist” is right in the title. Maybe that doesn’t seem weird to you, but the most popular books in the “New Atheist” movement have avoided it. It’s as if publishers think the word itself will decrease sales despite the content.

Think about the books that defined the genre:

Richard Dawkins‘ biggest contribution was The God Delusion.

Sam Harris started everything with The End of Faith and followed it up with Letter to a Christian Nation. (In fact, the word “atheist” appeared only once — and only in passing — in the original edition of The End of Faith.)

Christopher Hitchens‘ #1 NYT bestseller was called God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything — he followed it up later with The Portable Atheist, but that wasn’t the more popular book.

Daniel Dennett‘s book critiquing religion was Breaking the Spell.

Even Greg Epstein‘s book was Good Without God: What a Billion Nonreligious People Do Believe.

It’s not that “Atheist” is always avoided in book titles. There are several books that use it, but they’re just never as popular as the New Atheists’ books — admittedly, though, that’s a tough peak to reach. Only Dan Barker seems to have bucked the trend with Godless: How an Evangelical Preacher Became One of America’s Leading Atheists (and even then it’s in the subtitle) and, more recently, The Good Atheist: Living a Purpose-Filled Life Without God. However, neither book was a bestseller.

Anyway, I say all this because I like that the word is right in the title of PZ’s book. It’ll be good to see “Atheist” on the shelves of the three bookstores still left in the country.

You don’t have to be a psychic to know this book’s going to sell remarkably well. PZ has a massive following and (imho) he’s just a better writer than the other major atheist authors. I know I’m excited about this book’s release because I want his thoughts to reach an even broader audience than he does now.

Let’s just hope the eventual cover does him justice…

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  • Paul Lundgren

    If it doesn’t have a squid on the cover, there is no god (pardon the expression). 🙂

  • Kindle. It’s the only book store I care about. And I shall have PZ’s book and I shall read the hell out of it (heh).

  • Matt Brooks

    I guess he doesn’t count as a New Atheist, but there’s also Penn Jillette’s new book, “God, No!: Signs You May Already Be an Atheist and Other Magical Tales.”

  • And here would be a good spot to plug MY book…

    “Letters from an ATHEIST Nation” (<—not shy) 

  • Yeah, it’ll sell, but will anyone outside of his bitter and beligerant echo chamber take it seriously? *ducks for cover*

  • Alexis

    Let your local book seller know that you’ll be there in person to buy it on day one. That way they’ll be encouraged to have some in stock and on display instead of referring you to their on line ordering system.

  • Rieux

    I’ve been waiting with bated breath for PZ’s book for years, and I expect the book will be fantastic and I’ll devour it ravenously… but “The Happy Atheist”? What a titanically “meh” title.

    Geez, Hemant, he’s almost swiping your moniker.

  • Edmond

    Pfft.  You can keep your Kindle.

    “Gee, that looks like a good book you’re reading on your Kindle.  Could I borrow it after you’re done?  No?”

    “Here, would you like to borrow MY book?  Oops, I dropped it!  It’s okay, let me pick it up.  I’m so clumsy like that!  Could I HOLD your Kindle for a minute?  No?”

    “I like to use a highlighter in my favorite books.  Could I do that with your Kindle?  No?”

    “Whoops, there I go, dropping my book again, this time in WATER.  Oh well, I’m only out a couple bucks.  Could I hold your Kindle over here, by this puddle? No?”

    “I know some kids that like coloring books, and pop-up books.  Kindle have anything like that?  No?”

    Oh well, technology can’t do EVERYTHING.

  • Anonymous

    I like the subtitle even better. “Dancing on the Graves of the Gods” would’ve been a great title on it’s own!

  • And, unfortunately, no one Googled it.

  • Sarah

    Well, you can highlight with Kindles.  Andddd you can borrow in a roundabout way, if you use the PC app for Kindle and give someone your credentials. I think they’re also looking into a “borrowing” feature where the book goes to your device from a friends and disappears after an amount of time. 

    “Hey, I really want a book to read right now, but don’t want to drive 20 minutes to Barnes and Noble. Thank goodness I have this Kindle here.”

    “I want to take multiple books on this plane but don’t have the room! Oh, wait, all my books are here in one place!”

    Paper can’t do everything : ) I like both, though, and see your point.

  • Greisha

    He is as much a new atheist as it goes.

  • I don’t think publishers are shying away from the word. Very few books on any topic become bestsellers, and a quick search of my library catalog reveals plenty of nonfiction with “atheist” or “atheism” in the title.

    FWIW, I’d love to see more books about atheist pop culture (movies, television shows, books), atheist history, atheist countries (Zuckerman’s Society Without God is excellent), atheist parenting, atheist education, and atheist memoirs. I’ve read just about all the philosophy and debunking books I can handle.

  • Probably not.  I must admit I stopped reading his blog ages ago.  If I want to be preached at, have people try to re-define words to suit themselves and tell me how they think I should act around women then I’ll go to church.

  • Tom Goodfellow

    Wait…you think PZ is a better writer than Hitchens? Really?

  • Drew M.

    Like Paddy Reddin, I stopped reading his blog a long time ago. I have no desire to read any book of his.

  • Annie

    …not to mention the fossil fuels saved by not making and shipping a book, and me driving to the store to purchase it, or the library to borrow it.  The kindle has its place.  I use both.

  • Jen

    Hey, you forgot the Atheist’s Guide to Christmas!

  • Anonymous

    Trees! Won’t someone think of the trees?

  • Ronlawhouston

    Beware the wrath of the PZ sycophants!  Heretic!

  • Ronlawhouston

    I’ll repeat again.  Beware the wrath of the PZ sycophants.  Heretic.

  • Ronlawhouston

    PZ is happy?  I think he is a very angry small man.

  • I actually preferred the fucking atheist myself.

  • Bob Becker

    Some interesting comments above. I still read PZ’s blog. His posts on biology are usually well worth reading, and he occasionally references some event/happening I’d not otherwise know about that I find interesting.

    But… I’m getting just a tad tired of Celebrity Atheism, and of a now apparently endless series of  meetings, conferences, assemblies, etc. at which the same speakers appear over and over again, saying mostly the same things,  and which PZ’s reports on invariably focus on the the even more famous celebrity atheists he met/ate/drank with and how much beer he downed on any given night.   Kind of cute the first hundred times.   After that, not so much.  

    Still worth reading, but I’m a little uneasy about his becoming more of a celebrity atheist  than a working scientist who happens as well to be an atheist and writer.   Too, the endless  snark is wearing a little thin, or starting to, at least for me.   

    And I don’t particularly like the book title.  Hitchen’s “God is NOT Great” was excellent, and conveyed precisely both the central argument and the tone of the book.  Ditto for Dawkin’s “The God Delusion.”   But “Dancing on the Graves of the Gods” conveys nothing much beyond grinning snarkery  to me, particularly prefaced by “The Happy Atheist.”  I don’t think I’ll be a first adopter on this one.  Will take a while to look at the reviews in places I have reason to respect first to see if it looks to be worth the price of admission, or is instead merely a much extended PZ-patented blog post trying to pass itself off  as a book. 

     Perhaps my skepticism is misplaced. I hope it is.  

    We shall see. 

  • bc

    …and not to mention the fossil fuels that went into making the plastic parts of the Kindle, and to power the batteries…

  • Annie

    Good point.  But at least with the kindle, it’s only made once.    If you have 1000 books on one kindle (which is by no means a stretch for most kindle users), the kindle wins (and the battery life is phenomenal… I won’t use mine for a month, but turn it on and it’s still fully charged).  And yes, Stev84, we must always think of the bloody trees!

  • I’d like to think we’re entering (or re-entering) a world of non-academic, non-intellectual atheism. (Only because I’m a non-academic). I’d appreciate your thoughts on my book title and description. Click my name.

  • I’m not a fan of atheist books in general (too much atheist 101), but I’d read PZ’s book.  I’m not really sure what I’d expect it to be or want it to be, but it could be fun.

  • Bob Becker

    Clicked on yr name as requested. Nothing comes up.  Blank screen. Tried several times.  

  • Bob Becker

    OK, up now.  And I’m down for the night. Will read in the AM. Thanks for the pointer. 

  • Anonymous

    I too prefer paper books but when it’s too dark to read I can whip out the old kindle reader on my iPhone and use that instead.

  • Anonymous

    Myers illustrates what I’ve tried to argue about the meaning of “atheist” based on how people actually use and understand the word: Atheist means something like “a critic or skeptic of theism.” The word doesn’t mean someone with a mysterious void inside him analogous to “non stamp collecting.”

    After all, non stamp collectors don’t publish books about how philately poisons everything.

  • Pseudonym

    I figured that was the point.

  • I agree that the ‘non-stamp-collecting’ line doesn’t hold any water, as you show. It seems to me that different people mean different things by identifying as ‘atheist’, and they tend to get antsy if you assume they mean something else.

    I’ve had several atheists assert that atheism is nothing more than lacking belief in Gods, where as some will say that they have the (positive) belief that no gods exist… (actually, the former holds this view in a practical sense IMO).The origins of the word come from athe-ism (no god ism – the view that no gods exist). It was only since Antony Flew argued for it in his book ‘The Assumption of Atheism” that it has come to generally be understood as a-theism (not a theist – the lack of belief in gods).

    Something else worth noting is that Atheism, at least in the so-called ‘new’ popular manifestation of it, only really makes any sense in relation to what it rejects. As Paul Wallace puts it:
    “The atheisms of most committed, principled atheists are often not more than mirror images—inversions—of the theisms they negate.”

  • Rich Wilson

     he’s just a better writer than the other major atheist authors

    Better than Hitchens?  I’ve only read PZ on his blog, so I’ll reserve judgement, but for me Hitchens sets the standard, and Dawkins is no hack.

  • Re: your second point: Agreed! Apart from Christopher Hitchens (because he is just such a kick-ass prose artist), I haven’t bothered much with a lot of the new atheist/God debate books, because the atheist books are all just preaching to the choir with me, and the pro-religion arguments are generally nothing new to me either. I would love to read more novels with interesting plots and well-rounded characters where atheists/atheism play a prominent part per se, without devolving into Ayn Randian preachniness.

    (Something I’ve also been looking for, for years, is an atheist/secularist Christmas book, one that would have lots of good ideas on how to celebrate the holiday in a fun, materialist way and tell about the pagan origins of the customs without getting all Wiccan and New Age-y!)

  • OMG, there actually IS one? I am so getting it!

  • Remus


  • Anonymous

    It does seem odd to define “atheist” in such a way that its meaning could encompass a person who does not hold the view that no gods exist.  Indeed, the definition is often so incautiously phrased as to encompass slime molds and rocks, both of which clearly lack belief in gods.

    An interesting question is whether the word “atheist” should properly be applied to someone who believes that gods do not exist, but publicly asserts the existence of God.  Imagine a televangelist who’s just in it for the money, but who doesn’t actually believe a word of what he preaches.  Should we call him an atheist, or not?

  • Hemant makes a good point though, and it made me realize that with my book that he was kind enough to post about Wednesday, which is about a Mormon girl who becomes an atheist, the word atheist/atheism doesn’t appear in the official description – it just talks obliquely about her leaving behind religious belief …

    I think it’s true that the word “atheist” is kind of scary from a publishing standpoint. I think a LOT of the reading public, upon seeing that word in a book title, would automatically put up mental blinders and just not see it as a book they would ever look twice at. (Although, Hemant, I love the title of your book, I Sold My Soul on eBay!)

  • (Actually, not true, now that I think about it, the official book description does have the word atheist a couple of times, but just not clearly applied to the main character …)

    Anyway, it does look like Myers’s book is going to do great though – it’s already at #4 in the atheist book rankings on Amazon, and it’s not even going on sale for another 8 months!

  • Todd

    I have it, it was a little disappointing, don’t set your expectations too high.  🙂

  • Rieux

    Oh, hell, I’m a PZ sycophant. When the man himself was in the hospital after a heart episode, I hand-delivered a sympathy card to the nurse in his ward. Beat that, fellow Pharyngulites!
    Nevertheless, “The Happy Atheist” is a really lousy title.

  • Rieux

    Oh, hell, I’m a PZ sycophant. When the man himself was in the hospital after a heart episode, I hand-delivered a sympathy card to the nurse in his ward. Beat that, fellow Pharyngulites!
    Nevertheless, “The Happy Atheist” is a really lousy title.

  • Anonymous

    The Happy Atheist: Dancing on the Graves of the Gods
    I could not love that title any more.

  • It does seem odd to define “atheist” in such a way that its meaning could encompass a person who does not hold the view that no gods exist.  

    Just because someone lacks belief in gods does not mean they believe no gods exist – there is a subtle distinction, but one which is usually lost in practice.

  • Well.. he isn’t small, that’s true. But I assume the title was meant to be ironic?

  • Anonymous

    That is exactly one of my points.  There’s a major difference between

    A. a person who believes that gods do not exist, and

    B.  a person who does not believe that gods do not exist.

    Is whether one wants to say that person B might be an atheist more a matter of debating strategy than anything else?

  • In case Twitter fails you again, there’s also the Amazon page:

  • Anonymous

    Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend.  Inside of a dog, it’s a Kindle.

  • Oh, I don’t disagree that a lot of religious people might be turned off, but I still don’t think that there’s a shortage of publishers willing to use it nonetheless. Hemant seemed to imply that authors or publishers were shying away from the word, but I don’t see any evidence of that. Just looking at my library catalog, I count 29 books with “atheism,” “atheists,” or “atheist” in the title or subtitle.

  • Totally agree! I’m a lifelong atheist, and the first book I ever read on the subject was Douglas Krueger’s What Is Atheism? back in 1999. That was interesting at the time, but there are only so many debate books that a person can read before getting bored. I don’t feel like I need Atheism 101, and I’d definitely rather read about other aspects of being a nonbeliever.

    I enjoyed Phil Zuckerman’s book about secular countries and Dale McGowan’s Parenting Beyond Belief and Raising Freethinkers. I also enjoyed Nica Lalli’s memoir about growing up atheist: Nothing: Something to Believe In. I’d love to read more books like that, rather than argumentative books. There are a lot of subjects that someone could explore. You could have a book about atheist homeschooling, personal essay collections that revolve around a particular theme, a compendium of atheist characters in television and movies, and so on. 

    Regarding Christmas, I did enjoy The Atheist’s Guide to Christmas, but it was a collection of essays rather than a how-to guide. I’m guessing that there are probably some mainstream books that fit your description, but I can’t to say for sure. For kids, The Winter Solstice by Ellen Jackson and The Shortest Day by Wendy Pfeffer provide a good overview, but they’re not focused specifically on Christmas.

  • Did you mean:

    B. a person who does not believe that gods exist.


    I know enough Atheist who in all practical senses believe that no gods exist, but when it comes to justifying such a claim, they shy away and claim they merely ‘lack belief in gods’ and aren’t making any positive belief claims.

  • My friend wrote a chapter in The Australian Book of Atheism. It seems to be getting fairly mainstream coverage and stockage..

  • My friend wrote a chapter in The Australian Book of Atheism. It seems to be getting fairly mainstream coverage and stockage..

  • Bob Becker

         Read the teaser text on Amazon page.  Love the opening line, the one about keeping peace at the dinner table. Ain’t that the truth.  And of course I noticed immediately that there was no letter from Zion [aka Utah] where I now reside.
         About the title:  “Nation” must refer to a “nation” of atheists within the larger Nation of Christians.  Just a tad confusing until you start to read into the text and it becomes clear.
         I like very much the idea of making more public  that unbelief in the US has a long history and is not merely [as the Christian Right likes to pretend]  a result of a recent sharp decline in American civilization and values, usually dated to the Supreme Court school-led prayer in school decision, which is invariably described as “taking God out of the schools.”   That unbelief is… well, is as American as apple pie and has been for a very long time is something worth conveying.
        Unhappily, I notice your book is e-published only.  I do most of my reading these days in coffee shop, and not owning a Kindle or a Nook or a tablet or a laptop, afraid I won’t be able to go deeper than the teaser text from the first chapter on the Amazon site.  [For which pointer, thanks again.]
        As for celebrity-atheists ,  I’m afraid they inevitably [particularly in the minds of journalists] and however reluctantly or inadvertently, morph into  “Atheist leader PZ Myers” or “Atheist leader Richard Dawkins” and so on and so  they get called then to provide the atheist “side” of   said/she said coverage of any news involving atheism or atheists.  Which is funny in a way, because I can’t think of a group less likely to have leaders  members follow, or leaders who can [in a political sense] “deliver” followers, or even leaders who can speak with some justice about “what atheists think”  than American atheists.  Talk about trying to herd cats….


  • Anonymous

    If I may borrow a line of argument from Richard Dawkins, such people seem to be taking the following position:  “I ain’t sayin’ there ain’t fairies at the bottom of the garden.  I just ain’t sayin’ that there are.”It always sounds to me very much like they are saying that, after having carefully considered the question of the existence of gods, they have been unable to make up their minds about the matter.  However, I don’t think that in most cases that’s true — quite the contrary.

  • I like my kindle and my real books, but if you guys are going to argue over environmental impact, the library still wins.

  • You could have a positive belief that a particular god (like Thor) doesn’t exist while still allowing for the remote possibility that deities (broadly defined as powerful supernatural entities) could exist somewhere in the universe, as yet undetected by humans. I think it’s quite improbable, but I would not make a categorical assertion that such things could not exist. That’s my reasoning for using the term “lack of belief in gods.”

  • But if we lived in a world where stamp collectors fought constantly over which stamps were the best ones and bullied (and even killed) people who weren’t stamp collectors or who didn’t collect the right kinds of stamps, we might very well see books about how philately poisons everything. Atheism isn’t inherently interesting or controversial. In a more secular world, there just wouldn’t be any need for us to discuss it.

  • Sounds interesting! I doubt I’ll come across a copy here in the U.S. but I’ll keep my eyes open just in case.

  • Rich Wilson

    My belief is that the argument most often comes up when anti-atheists want to paint atheists as illogical, and as such prefer the hard-atheist definition of atheist, when in fact that vast majority of proclaimed atheists are soft atheists.  One can argue all one wants that Dawkins is really an agnostic, but it doesn’t really change anything.  We all know Dawkins’s position.

    What’s important is a person’s position, not who’s right about the definition of a word.  There are a lot of different kinds of Christians.  I hope I would never presume that anyone who claims to be a Christian must necessarily believe in Hell, or Noah’s Ark, or that homosexuality is a sin.

  • Thanks for your comments, Bob. Yeah, unfortunately my cover is wrong. I’m fixing it. (Rush to publish, too easy to do with eBooks.) There were no letters from Zion, Utah, but there is one from Logan in the opposite corner!

    I did title it “Atheist Nation” for two reasons: 1) controversy, that’s always good; 2) much like you said, a nation within a nation.

    And, yes, it is only in eBook format now, but I am formatting it for print as I type this (I’m on a lunch break). I hope to add some images, too.

  • Libraries FTW! I get 99% of my books there.

  • Rich Wilson

    Closely followed by “garage/yard sales” and “second hand stores”.

  • TruthOverfaith

    And I think you’re a jackass. A small, angry one.

  • Sulris Campbell

    i think pointing out the eviromental impacts of each is useless if you aren’t adding them all up and comparing… just pointing to a few pieces of evidence wihtout factoring them into the big picture is worthless.

    you must figure out all the recourses used to build and maintain kindles up against all the recourses used to build and maintain books

    i think the kindle would win… but i didnt bother looking at all the numbers and if you didnt either stop acting like reporting one way in which kindle or books affect the enviroment is proof that one is better than the other for the enviroment.  this is sloppy reasoning

  • randall.morrison90

    PZ is as much a bigot as any.

    More power to him.  Because of people like him, atheism will not advance nearly as fast as it might have.

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