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Imagine There's No Heaven: How Atheism Helped Create the Modern World Hardcover – February 25, 2014

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan Trade (February 25, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1137002603
  • ISBN-13: 978-1137002600
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.2 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #651,957 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


“[The] story of atheism as an articulate movement. We learn an enormous amount about figures censored out of history, and about the persecution that freethinkers suffered until shockingly recently. His martyrs fill our hearts; his heroes inspire….moving.”


The New Yorker


“Stephens provides an intriguing take on a topic that has sparked much discussion and will surely spark more to come.”


Publishers Weekly


“Provocative, deeply researched and enlightening.”


Kirkus Reviews


"The only thing new about the New Atheists are the names. As Mitchell Stephens reveals in this gripping narrative history of atheism, many brave souls have come out of the atheist closet over the centuries to challenge the religious dogma of their day, and many paid the ultimate price for so doing. We all stand on the shoulders of these giants so artfully brought to life—along with their ideas—in this important contribution to the burgeoning literature on unbelief."


—Michael Shermer, Publisher of Skeptic magazine, monthly columnist for Scientific American, and author of The Believing Brain, and The Science of Good and Evil


“An intriguing book, presenting a magnificent cast of characters who helped shape modernity. It helps us all measure even those we disagree with most in terms of their creativity and moral worth rather than what they do, or do not, believe.”

—Jonathan Israel, Professor of History, Institute for Advanced Studies, Princeton University


Imagine There’s No Heaven is a landmark study of the role played by atheism and other forms of religious doubt in the development of Western civilization. Mitchell Stephens strides through history as deftly as he steps across disciplines, uncovering a dramatic chronicle of unbelief as a goad to innovation that centuries of more devout scholarship tended to obscure. This book invites atheists to celebrate — and others to acknowledge — the outsized role that unbelievers have played in shaping the West.”

—Tom Flynn, editor of Free Inquiry magazine, and editor, The New Encyclopedia of Unbelief


"Mitchell Stephens’ new book “Imagine There’s No Heaven” is smart, evenhanded, and full of personality. He has a great eye for the important details, which is particularly evident in his evocative portraits of individuals, such as Sartre and Camus. Deserves to be on every skeptic’s bookshelf and we can hope it reaches many among the faithful as well."


—Jennifer Michael Hecht, author of Doubt: A History.


About the Author

Mitchell Stephens is a historian and journalist who has been researching the history of atheism for a decade. A professor in the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute at New York University, his books include A History of News, a New York Times "Notable Book of the Year" and the rise of the image the fall of the word. He has written on media, thought and culture for Daedalus, The New York Times Magazine, The Washington Post and many other publications.

Customer Reviews

This book is a surprising delight.
William L. Graham
The kind of book it can take months to read, with every few pages containing enough fodder for a few days of contemplation before continuing on.
M. Bailey
I especially liked his take on religiosity in America as compared to Europe.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

32 of 36 people found the following review helpful By David K. Chivers on March 12, 2014
Format: Hardcover
In “Imagine There’s No Heaven: How Atheism Helped Create The Modern World” author Mitchell Stephens delivers a readable, vibrant history of disbelief and atheistic thought, and argues persuasively that intellectual challenges to religious belief were a major catalyst to increasing knowledge in the modern world.
Stephens’ book is first and foremost a history of disbelief, from the Greeks and Romans, though the low points of the Dark Ages where it was institutionally repressed, then into the Renaissance where it fought to maintain a foothold and finally into the Enlightenment where atheism (and its more prevalent, slightly religious cousin, deism) finally became a valid viewpoint, at least among intellectual circles. He then follows disbelief through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and into our own, before suggesting where atheism might be heading based on his historical analysis up to now.
The history of disbelief is much more prevalent and rich than traditional history has portrayed, as atheism’s role has usually been downplayed or outright denied by conventional histories. Stephens brings out the role of many often overlooked personages, such as Denis Diderot, Jean Meslier and Charles Bradlaugh – the first open atheist elected to Parliament (in 1880) but who was denied his seat until he was re-elected several times.
While primarily a history, as the subtitle of his book suggests Stephens’ also argues that disbelief and the progress of knowledge have gone hand in hand throughout history. Whenever knowledge was taking great leaps forward, religious doubters were right there, stoking the intellectual fires.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By lorax21 on June 30, 2014
Format: Hardcover
The text is admirably clear, and a terrible injustice is done to it by the reviewer who calls himself The History Detective. For example, The History Detective accuses this book of "using Newton as an example of almost a closet atheist". In truth, however, the book's author asserts: "the men who made the Scientific Revolution appear to have sensed God... Isaac Newton, the greatest of these natural philosophers, shared the awe... he was a believer".

The book's author adds: "Yet Newton and these other 17th century scientists generally managed to keep their awe from interfering with their investigations. The first edition of Newton's Principia did not contain any discussion of... theology whatsoever. It was only after his book was criticized by Leibniz and others for impiety... that Newton added a section discussing God's role." Obviously, leaving theology out of a science text is not the same as (almost) atheism. Shame on "The History Detective" for this and other errors of fact.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Timothy R. Campbell on June 19, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
How Atheism Helped Create the Modern World
By Mitchell Stephens
Published 2014 by PALGRAVE MACMILLAN, 320 pp including notes plus index
Review by Tim Campbell

Taken from John Lennon’s famous song, IMAGINE THERE’S NO HEAVEN is unashamedly a feel-good book for atheists, agnostics, and anyone who has listened to a religious sermon and asked to themselves: “How can that be?”.

Of course, most of us are fully aware that believers have always been a majority in most cultures and most of history’s great movers and shakers have been believers, at least publicly. And we acknowledge their contributions gratefully. But religionists do not seem willing to return the courtesy. That doubters and infidels and questioners have also contributed to the creation of our modern society is a fact that religionists would rather ignore. This book attempts to begin to balance that ledger!

Author Mitchell Stephens takes back to the Greeks and forward through the Dark Ages and more, to Today in a nicely organized and very well-written manner. This is a book for the doubters, but believers would benefit also from seeing a bit of the “other side”. Of course, if the believer is afraid that reading an atheist book will cause him or her to be plunged into the depths of hell, then better to bury their heads into sand or perhaps wet concrete. Safer that way!

Stephens offers the premise that without doubt, without disbelief, without questioning, modern science, modern medicine, modern life would have been impossible to create.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Sharon Robideaux on August 9, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This book is one of the most important I have ever read. Its scope is broad but its thesis is narrow. Atheism is a very old idea, responsible for much of human progress. I particularly enjoyed the connection between human rights and religiosity. Religions enjoy claiming for themselves the honors congruent with civil liberties, when in fact religions have been the conservators of the status quo, a status that perpetuates slavery, misogyny, homophobia, and colonialism. I hope that the author is correct in his assessment that even in the USA, religion is fading and being diluted until it will eventually be mere history.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews

More About the Author

Mitchell Stephens published three new books, all of which he had been working on for many years, in 2014:

* Imagine There's No Heaven: How Atheism Helped Create the Modern World -- a history of atheism and its accomplishments (Palgrave Macmillan)

* Beyond News: The Future of Journalism - a historical argument for a wiser journalism, based on research at Harvard's Shorenstein Center (Columbia University Press)

* Journalism Unbound -- a call for journalism and journalism education to aim higher (Oxford University Press)

Professor Stephens is also the author of A History of News, an extended history of journalism that has been translated into four languages and was a New York Times "Notable Book of the Year." (A new edition was published by Oxford University Press in 2006.) His well reviewed book, the rise of the image the fall of the word, a historical analysis of our current communications revolution, was published in 1998 and is available from Oxford University Press.

In addition, Professor Stephens has written two textbooks: Broadcast News (now in its fourth edition), long the most widely used radio and television news textbook, and the co-author of Writing and Reporting the News (a third edition of this book was published in 2007 by Oxford).

He is a long-time professor of Journalism at New York University's Arthur L. Carter Institute and has served three terms as chair of the Department of Journalism there. In 2009 he was a fellow at the Harvard's Shorenstein Center, working on a project on the future of journalism.

Over the years, Professor Stephens has written numerous articles on media issues and aspects of contemporary thought for publications such as the Daedalus, New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post and the Columbia Journalism Review. He was one of five editors of the book Covering Catastrophe: Broadcast Journalists Report September 11 (Bonus Books). A new edition of this book will be published by the 9/11 Memorial.

In 2001, Professor Stephens completed a trip around the world, during which he reported on globalization for the public radio program "Marketplace" and the webzine Feed and wrote essays on travel for His commentaries have aired on NPR's "On the Media." He has been history consultant to the Newseum.

Professor Stephens has been involved in a number of media development projects overseas since 1993 - including two large State Department University-Partnership Grants, which he directed, with Rostov State University in Russia. Professor Stephens has also taught or organized exchanges in Georgia, Ghana and India. He was director of the Russian-American Journalism Institute in Rostov.

In 2006, Professor Stephens won a grant from the Carnegie-Knight Initiative on the Future of Journalism Education for research on new models of journalism education.

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