An Interview with Susan Jacoby and Her Choices for the Five Best Atheist Books

When I say I cannot get just any atheist author to write for my anthologies, Susan Jacoby is one of them. When I approached her at a conference she smiled and said to me, "Honey, I make my living from writing. You can't afford me." Then she walked away. Ouch! Regardless, this interview is very good and her book choices are interesting (no, she didn't choose mine). LINK. If I were choosing the five best books on atheism I think I would choose the following ones (no, not mine):

1) David Hume, Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, finished the year he died in 1776. This edition includes Hume's essays "On Miracles" "On Suicide" and "On the Immortality of the Soul."

2) Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason written as pamphlets in 1794-95.

3) David Friedrich Strauss, The Life Of Jesus Critically Examined, translated by Mary Ann Evans, who used the pen name George Elliot to ensure her works would be taken seriously. What a shame she had to do that! The first edition was written in 1835, when Strauss was just 27 years old.

4) Charles Darwin, On the Origin of Species: By Means of Natural Selection, published in 1859.

5) Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark, published in 1996, just a few years before Sam Harris and the other new atheists rode into town, which have had a huge impact, no doubt, but arbitrarily excluded from my list. Sagan's two memorable quotes are that, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence,” and "The cosmos is all that is, or ever was, or ever will be."

I don't have time to give the reasons for my choices, except for one. My choices of books are the ones having a big impact on people which led to atheism. I chose a philosopher, Hume (known to be the greatest English speaking philosopher), a political activist/theorist and revolutionary, Paine (who thought there was the need for another revolution, a religious one, just as there was a need for political revolution--see quote below), a theologian/New Testament scholar, Strauss (whose book rocked the Christian world by arguing the miracle stories in the life of Jesus were myths), then two scientists, Darwin (of course) and Sagan (Why not? Although I almost chose Bertrand Russell's Why I Am Not a Christian.) What are your choices?

Now the promised quote from Thomas Paine, which I think people who haven't read it should know. It's in the very first chapter:
IT has been my intention, for several years past, to publish my thoughts upon religion. I am well aware of the difficulties that attend the subject, and from that consideration, had reserved it to a more advanced period of life. I intended it to be the last offering I should make to my fellow-citizens of all nations, and that at a time when the purity of the motive that induced me to it, could not admit of a question, even by those who might disapprove the work.


Soon after I had published the pamphlet Common Sense, in America, I saw the exceeding probability that a revolution in the system of government would be followed by a revolution in the system of religion. The adulterous connection of church and state, wherever it had taken place, whether Jewish, Christian, or Turkish, had so effectually prohibited by pains and penalties, every discussion upon established creeds, and upon first principles of religion, that until the system of government should be changed, those subjects could not be brought fairly and openly before the world; but that whenever this should be done, a revolution in the system of religion would follow. Human inventions and priestcraft would be detected; and man would return to the pure, unmixed and unadulterated belief of one God, and no more.