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The Unbelievers: The Evolution of Modern Atheism Paperback – February 1, 2011

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 271 pages
  • Publisher: Prometheus Books (February 1, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1616142367
  • ISBN-13: 978-1616142360
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6.1 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,097,067 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Editor of the Library of America volume of pulp-sf master H. P. Lovecraft’s work, Joshi is ardently atheist. Less stylistically idiosyncratic than Lovecraft, he is as readable. If he doesn’t deliver the evolutionary account of modern atheism the subtitle promises, he introduces 14 hard-core religious skeptics sympathetically and literately. He praises all, but dissects the shortcomings of not only uncouth Madalyn Murray O’Hare, who got prayer out of America’s public schools (and wrote so badly that Joshi’s prose degenerates writing about her), but also august T. H. Huxley and Bertrand Russell. Others discussed are Leslie Stephen, J. S. Mill, Nietzsche, Mark Twain, Clarence Darrow, H. L. Mencken, Lovecraft, Gore Vidal, and best-selling contemporary God-scoffers Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens. More temperate than most of his subjects (though his observations about Voltaire and Whittaker Chambers are, respectively, unconvincing and false), Joshi shares with them the canard that failing to find a physical God disproves his existence. Philosophically informed theists will hardly agree, but even they will enjoy and learn from his presentation. --Ray Olson


The Unbelievers makes compelling and informative reading. Joshi's decision to approach a history of atheism through a series of biographies is richly justified: in absorbing these fourteen portraits one will absorb a surprisingly comprehensive and nuanced narrative of how contemporary atheism has taken shape.”
-Free Inquiry

"In this important, incisive work S.T. Joshi paints sympathetic yet critical portraits of fourteen representative nontheists of the past century and a half, particularly those who have been outspoken in their opposition to conservative religious traditions and ideas.... This new and original book merits a wide audience."
Edd Doerr, president, Americans for Religious Liberty

More About the Author

S. T. Joshi (Seattle, WA) is a freelance writer, scholar, and editor whose previous books include Documents of American Prejudice; In Her Place: A Documentary History of Prejudice against Women; God's Defenders: What They Believe and Why They Are Wrong; Atheism: A Reader; H. L. Mencken on Religion; The Agnostic Reader; and What Is Man? And Other Irreverent Essays by Mark Twain.

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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By J. Alan Bock on July 29, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
It has been conservatively estimated the the number of Unbelievers in the world today is between 500 million and 750 million. Even the low estimate would make it the fourth largest "persuasion" in the world behind Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism. Also, it is by far the youngest with no significant presence in the West before the eighteenth century. This would seem to be the ideal time to produce the definitive book on the evolution of modern atheism. Unfortunately, "The Unbelievers" subtitled "the Evolution of Modern Atheism" is not that book.

From the first entry in this book, Thomas Henry Huxley (Darwin's Bulldog), one gets the impression that "modern atheism" begins with "The Origin of the Species." I have no objection to this. That could have been a "beginning" depending upon what you mean by "modern atheism." But that is not Joshi's intention at all. In the introduction he states" The true history of modern atheism really begins in the eighteenth century with the French philosophs and British and American deists, including the founding fathers, but a treatment of their work requires far more space than I could devote to it here." I agree with Joshi that modern atheism begins in the eighteenth century.

Joshi excludes the existentialists, such as Camus and Sartre, as well as Kai Neilson since, "while they have considerable significance in the developement of contemporary atheism, their work is difficult to summarize in small compass."

The most egregious exclusion, however, is that of Robert Ingersol who, by Joshi's own admission is, "probably the most celebrated American freethinker of the nineteenth century.
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13 of 17 people found the following review helpful By rlweaverii on August 25, 2011
Format: Paperback
Book review by Richard L. Weaver II, Ph.D.

I picked up this book because it looked like a good read. First, it looked as though Joshi had an excellent background as a writer, scholar, and editor, and at least five previously published books to his credit. Second, his 10 pages of notes looked solid, and I knew his information was well researched. His 30 years of knowledge and background in researching this topic is remarkable and impressive.

This is truly a competent history book that is well-written. It is a clear, easy-to-read, thorough documentary. The book covers the works of Thomas Henry Husley, Leslie Stephen, John Stuart Mill, Friedrich Nietzsche, Mark Twain, Clarence Darrow, H. L. Mencken, H. P. Lovecraft, Bertrand Russell, Madalyn Murray O'Hair, Gore Vidal, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens. I am not a reader of any of these writers, although I have to admit that I read and enjoyed Hitchen's book, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything (2007).

In the epilogue, I agreed entirely with his personal note: "I will frankly confess that many of the central issues pertaining to religion--the existence of God, the existence of the soul and its survival after death, the existence of heaven and hell, the dependence of morality upon religion--have ceased to interest me because they have, to my mind, been all but settled in favor of atheism" (p. 247). Joshi adds in the next paragraph, " . . . after more than thirty years of investigation of these questions, I have not found a single argument offered by the religions as even remotely compelling or convincing.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By James D. Zimmerman on August 2, 2011
Format: Paperback
S. T. Joshi's latest book sketches the lives and teachings of the main players in the non-belief arena from the time of Darwin until today. In some ways, The Unbelievers: The Evolution of Modern Atheism could be read as a sequel to Kerry Walters' book Revolutionary Deists - Prometheus Book's release from earlier this year - that detailed the deism of several founding fathers.

Joshi introduces his book by offering it as "a nucleus" for certain aspects of the history of atheism. As his description indicates, his book doesn't cover that majority of atheism's history. Joshi admits that a full-scale history is still absent from the bookshelves. He notes that such a history would likely begin in the fifth century BCE, with Diagoras the Atheist. Instead, Joshi chooses to begin his book with Thomas Henry Huxley. Even though Huxley might not have considered himself an atheist (a claim for which the book offers no documentation), Joshi argues that Huxley's intense efforts in bringing Darwin's theories into the mainstream allowed, finally, for "the adoption of atheism as a working hypothesis far more intellectually viable than it had been in the generations that preceded him" (40).

The book continues, then, with a chronological overview of atheism's major players during the last 120 years. Biographies are offered on thirteen more individuals including J. S. Mill, Mark Twain, Clarence Darrow, Bertrand Russell, and Gore Vidal. The final three chapters are devoted to Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens. In their cases, Joshi dispenses with most of the details of their biographies and instead offers analyses of their popular books. The analyses make for fascinating reading, even if they are inconsistent at times.
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