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Nothing: Something to Believe in Paperback – March 6, 2007


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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Books on atheism are red-hot this year, and Lalli’s adds something fresh to the mix: rather than being an angry apologetic, it’s an engaging personal account of non-belief. Raised in Chicago and New York to free-thinking parents who seem to have provided little supervision, Lalli had sporadic encounters with religion at her friends’ churches and synagogues as a child. A disastrous high school ski trip turned her off completely when religious students tried to convert her with manipulative tactics. In college, she fell in love with a fellow agnostic, whom she married after a brief stint of what she calls "living in sin." Although Lalli got along well with her Christian mother-in-law, her self-righteous sister-in-law and her husband were a different story, and much of the memoir’s second half explores serious family tensions. "I got the feeling that I had to respect them for their religion but they were not going to return the favor," Lalli writes. Although Lalli doesn’t come across as being quite as open-minded as she claims herself to be, she does see herself as an equal-opportunity agnostic, as skeptical about a tarot reading as she is about Christian platitudes. This memoir is well-written and often acerbically funny, an edgy quest for meaning outside the boundaries of organized religion.

From School Library Journal

Adult/High School—In this appealing memoir, an art educator in New York City chronicles her journey of acceptance as she came of age in a family that refused to embrace organized religious belief. When the author was seven, she decided she would like to join a Catholic friend in making her first communion. "I wanted the white dress," Lalli admits. When she asked her parents, "What are we?" she was surprised at the answer. Her once-Catholic father responded, "We are nothing." Her mother said, "My family is Jewish, but we don't practice Judaism." Thus began the girl's quest to define her secular beliefs in a society where religion often separates rather than unites people. She tried to come to terms with the friendliness of door-to-door proselytizers. She resisted efforts to convert to Christianity at a ski weekend sponsored by a church. As a teen, she tried to come to terms with the meaning of death. Her hardest task was to gain acceptance from the sister of the boyfriend she later married. When she gained the strength to believe in the correctness of her secular views, the judgments of believers no longer bothered her. The memoir ends as the author, now the mother of two, must answer the same questions she posed to her parents as a child. Whatever readers' beliefs, they will find this search for acceptance enlightening.—Pat Bangs, Fairfax County Public Library, VA
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Prometheus Books; First Edition edition (March 6, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 159102529X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1591025290
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.6 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,833,029 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

I kept waiting for it to pick up, but it let me down.
Hoang Minh Vo
Occasionally, the topic comes up within the voluminous anecdotes but this material comprises a very small portion of the book.
Mance Rayder
Perhaps I'm missing the point, but I can't help wishing that there was a little more something to this "nothing".
Malcolm Broderick

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

21 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on April 7, 2007
Format: Paperback
With all of the hype around books such as The God Delusion and Letter to a Christian Nation, I am sure that many people feel surrounded by the supposed "New Atheism" (a misnomer; the term only exists since we all got a bit louder). While the other two review the scientific and social reasons for atheism and religion, this book instead is a personal account of nonbelief and will leave readers of all religions feeling that they have made a new connection with nonbelievers. While the other books out today dwell on the differences between nonbelievers and believers, this book shows how similar we all are, how many experiences we share, and the reasons nonbelievers feel uncomfortable with many aspects of society. Not to mention this is an excellent read, I couldn't put it down! I would recommend this book to anyone, especially people who feel like they "don't get" nonbelievers, including those who answered in recent polls that they would not vote for an atheist or allow a child to marry one.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Meirelle on April 8, 2007
Format: Paperback
I picked this up on a whim one night, started reading it when I got home, and I just couldn't put it down! So many of Nica's experiences seemed like my own, and I even cried at parts. This memoir shows what it's like to be a "nothing" in America. And more importantly, it shows that we're really not all that different from everybody else. I highly recommend this, no matter if you're a "nothing" or a "something." This memoir has something everyone can relate to-- the struggle everyone goes through in life to find oneself, to define one's own beliefs.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Yvette Gibson on May 1, 2007
Format: Paperback
The great thing about the book is that its about an average person working through one of life's challenges - who am I and what do I believe. Lalli's telling of her journey is entertaining, witty, humourous, which makes the book highly enjoyable. I find it hard to believe that anyone wouldn't be able to find something in the book to indentify with and be inspired by.

On a related note - in response to Maria's review below of "disappointing" - Isn't the whole point that it's OK to be who you are without proselytizing to others? The way I read it, in the end she resolved the conflict she had with herself, so the characters were there to help her come to terms with who she really was.
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19 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Jason P. Archer on May 3, 2007
Format: Paperback
As an atheist I read this book not to reinforce my own non-belief but for the possibility of discovering a different path to atheism. I got more than I bargained for. As a kid I was raised as a Mormon until I was 13 and simply refused to continue going to church. I still believed in god at the time but I just couldn't shake the bad taste I had in my mouth for Mormonism. It was probably another 7 years or so until I became a full blown atheist. I followed this path through the study of science and the increasing sense of its absolute superiority in its illumination of truth over religion.

Nica Lalli follows a different path. She is told from a very early age that her parents are "nothing". This will shape her life in ways that she will not realize until many years later. She has the advantage from the very beginning of not being poisoned with a mindset that says that it is ok to believe things without any evidence whatsoever.

The book essentially tells the story of her coming to terms and being comfortable with the fact that she is nothing. She has to survive in a world in which atheism is more despised and less trusted than anything else. She tells many interesting stories regarding her trials and tribulations in this religious world. The most interesting are those involving her in-laws who are extremely Christian. They are very intolerant towards her and will not return the favor of her tolerance towards their beliefs. Kind of un-Jesus like.

If there is any criticism I have for this book is that it really isn't a good argument for atheism. Anybody that goes to this book that is questioning god's existence will probably not be swayed. One could easily say that Nica's atheism is another form of dogma. She seems to only believe the way that she does because it is all that she has ever known. She did not come to her conclusions through reason. At least it seems. Nevertheless, it is good to know that there is one more non-believer in the world.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Jessica Winney on August 7, 2007
Format: Paperback
While I agree with many of the other reviewers of this book that Nica Lalli's details and anecdotes about her life, her family, her schooling, her marriage, etc, can be tedious and sometimes boring, I applaud her for writing a book that tackles the atheism vs. religion debate from a personal perspective. Lalli's book is not about "making the case" against religion from a scientific standpoint as so many other authors have done. If you are looking for that type of book, try David Mills, Richard Dawkins, or Sam Harris. Lalli's book is more about the struggles of growing up as an atheist (or in her words, a person who believes in nothing) in a religious world and feeling out of place and many times downright wrong. Lalli refuses to define her beliefs in negative terms. It is not that she DOESN'T believe in god, it is that she DOES believe in nothing. Her book is really a memoir, and when read in that context, the stories and anecdotes don't seem so out of place and many of them are very humorous (she could, however, benefit from staying a little more focused on her subject as she gets rather long-winded at times). All in all, her book is a refreshing take on this issue and it was particularly interesting to me to read about a person who has always been an atheist and was raised by atheist parents. Most of the atheists that I am aware of (including myself) have all come into atheism after "de-converting" from whatever religion they were raised under. Nica Lalli did not have this experience. She was never indoctrinated with religion as a child, so religious ceremonies, holidays, iconography, rituals, and sayings seem completely bizarre to her. Her perspectives on these topics are both humorous and thought-provoking.
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