This is a short list of the ten best books on religions that I have read and loved the most on the very first years of my quest for for understanding them. I originally wrote this list two years ago (in 2010), but I think that it still mostly stands, as these are still the very basic books on this issue.
The books mentioned in my little list are the ones that every person should read who wants to know understand how religious ideologies are formed and how religious organizations operate in the real world. They will also aid in the voyage to world of atheism that so often follows from reading these books. So, here is my private Hall Of Fame:
1. Sam Harris: The End of Faith. (Religion, Terror and the Future of Reason.)
This magnificent book by Sam Harris is the main reason why I am writing these lines in the first place. When I first did encounter this book, I did read this it in a couple of nights with growing enthusiasm. In its 336 pages, there is condensed all the thoughts that I had been thinking privately for a long time and much, much more.
Sam Harris is a great writer. He is a skilled rhetoric and most importantly a man with conscience who really worries for the wellbeing of our little blue dot. If you will ever read anything else about this subject, read at least this little but extremely important book.
This book was reviewed in this blog at http://beinghuman.blogs.fi/2008/06/01/play-it-again-sam-4256180/
2. Richard Dawkins: The God Delusion
Today many start their voyage into the world of religious ideas and atheism with this wonderful book. It really is a magnificent introduction to its subject matter. The most important thing is that Richard Dawkins is a scientist who does not listen to bullshit. He really sounds his horn when he thinks it is time to get rough.
He might a bit lacking on the department of humor, but I have never found out anything in which I would disagree with him. The book has been reviewed in this blog at http://beinghuman.blogs.fi/2008/05/31/the-definite-book-on-atheism-4252643/
3. Christopher Hitchens: God is not Great (The Case Against Religion)
Christopher Hitchens loved to be at the center of a controversy. Many of his ideas really are also controversial. He was the bad boy of the new atheism. He stumbled into the literary salon with a lighted cigarette hanging provocatively at the side of his mouth and a glass of whiskey in his other hand.
However, he was perhaps the most talented and gifted writer of the new atheist generation, but at the same time the most unscientific of them. Chris said aloud the things he had in his mind without sometimes pausing for a thought. However, he did embellish his attacks with sonnets of Shakespeare. A wonderful book, that simply makes all resistance futile.
A review in this blog: http://beinghuman.blogs.fi/2008/04/19/the-basic-curriculum-of-atheism-4067611/
4. Michel Onfray: Atheist Manifesto (The case against Christianity, Judaism and Islam)
French writer and philosopher Michel Onfray is more like Hitchens than Dawkins. Michel Onfray is a wonderful writer. He has a strong vision and a will to say things as he sees them. Michel Onfray does create a real detective story around the birth of Christianity and especially on the roots of the misogynist attitudes so deeply embedded in some of its teaching. The villain of the story is naturally the old fox Saint Paul.
A review of the book is at http://beinghuman.blogs.fi/2008/04/21/further-readings-in-new-atheism-4075620/
5. Pascal Boyer: Religion Explained (The Human Instinct that Fashion Gods, Spirits and Ancestors)
We return to the series of scientist after a couple of brilliant writers and thinkers. Pascal Boyer tells with the thoroughness of a real scientist how and why religions have been formed in the first place. At least for me this book gave the ability to understand why wholly rational people can believe in so many kinds of quite irrational explanations of the world.
A review in this blog is at http://beinghuman.blogs.fi/2008/06/02/why-do-religions-exist-4260373/
6. Daniel C. Dennett: Breaking the Spell (Religion as a Natural Phenomenon)
The nice and cozy Uncle Daniel does not bring much new after the five big ones described above. Daniel Dennett, however, tries to understand the reasons behind the continued attraction of religions and he often wraps his bitter tasting pills in sugar-coating.
This book can be recommended especially to those who just want to dip their toe in the ocean of atheist thinking, as Daniel has the ability of being agreeable even if he quite disagrees with you.
7. Nicholas Humphrey: The Mind Made Flesh (Frontiers of Psychology and Evolution)
Nicholas Humphrey brings a quite new dimension into the discussion at hand. He has studied also the claims for paranormal during his career and he looks at religions from a quite different perspective than the representatives of the more “normal” scientific endeavors.
He often brings fresh and even surprising viewpoints to the discussion.
I have reviewed his book here: http://beinghuman.blogs.fi/2008/12/06/nicholas-humphrey-and-the-case-of-jesus-christ-5173372/
8. Scott Atran: In Gods We Trust (The Evolutionary Landscape of Religion)
It must be admitted upfront that Scott Atran’s book is a big and heavy one. It was a bit too much even for me. He just is a scientist who is doing scientific research. Scott Atran makes unfortunately no compromises to make his book more interesting or readable
Science is science and there is no room for mere play. Scott Atran is a person that can be said to shown the mechanisms that have created religions as we now know them. The answer to this big question is not an easy one, as the reasons are many and varied, as they are in so many really important issues in our world.
9. Victor J. Stenger: God – The Failed Hypothesis (How Science Shows That God Does not Exist)
Good old Victor represents a quite different approach to storytelling than Scot Atran. He studies things from a strict scientific viewpoint, but tells about his findings in a way that is easy to follow and quite understandable even for a lay person.
10. Sam Harris: Letter to a Christian Nation
This little book by Sam Harris is really a collection of his answers for the critique he received after publishing the End of Faith. This book is, however, a good tool for a person who finds himself constantly in debates with the believers.
Sam Harris has listened carefully to all the claims made by the religious folks and tells what he thinks is the best course in countering them.
(This piece was revised on 22th of May, 2012)