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on November 12, 2007
The Portable Atheist, edited by Christopher Hitchens, is a great selection of how atheism has transformed into what it is today. Hitchens' introduction itself is an astounding tour de force that should not be skipped. In his introduction alone, Hitchen's lays out the foundation and positive attributes of atheism. This is crucial as many people have the common misunderstanding that atheists are pessimists or discontented. He also makes the genuinely important point that in order to believe in one of the three major monotheisms, you have to believe that the heavens watched our species for at least one hundred and fifty thousand years with "indifference, and then- and only in the last six thousand years at the very least - decided that it was time to intervene as well as redeem." He concedes that it is preposterous to believe such a heinous thing - for it would be cruel if true. His introduction is intelligent, convincing and witty - and it doesn't stop there.

The selections in this book show the evolution of atheism (or at least nontheism) from early critics of religion such as: Benedict De Spinoza, Thomas Hobbes and David Hume to more of a middle stage (Darwin, George Eliot, Mark Twain and Bertrand Russell) and then to modern-day critics like: Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Steven Weinberg, Daniel Dennett, Carl Sagan, Victor Stenger, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and many more. Another great thing is the book is helpfully arranged in chronological order. All beliefs aside, the selections in this book are powerfully argued and well written. I'd recommend it to anyone with a hunger for the truth and an open mind.
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VINE VOICEon October 22, 2007
Christopher "Hitch" Hitchens is the literate jackanapes of the New Atheism, an unofficial affiliation that includes Richard Dawkins, Dan Dennett, Sam Harris, A.C. Grayling, Victor Stenger, PZ Myers, and others. Hitch once quipped that Dawkins had been invited, along with him, to present atheism so that the audience could also get a more moderate view of the position. (If you don't know why that's funny, read Dawkins's "The God Delusion," which is uncompromisingly immoderate.) Hitch's book, "god is Not Great" cemented his reputation as the Sweeney Todd of antitheism, for whom words are razors and arrogant ignorance is the prey. This was the guy, after all, who several years ago wrote a slashing diatribe against Mother Teresa.

The introduction that Hitchens writes for this volume is just excellent. Funny, barbed, witty...a real showcase of his rhetorical skill. And the selections made for this book are uniformly excellent. It's easy to quibble that this should have been included or that could have been left out, but on the whole, this volume represents a compendium of some of the best literature in atheology. From Hume to Penn Jillette, Hobbes to Salman Rushdie, some of the most brilliant, sharpest criticisms of the notion of gods and the practices of religion are represented.

I know too many believers to think that something as mere as reading a great many genius writers making mountains of sense could change their minds; but certainly this tome presents a substantial challenge to easy assumptions, and a buffet banquet for thought. It is a tribute to this book that it winds up on the favorites lists of several bloggers, including one who defines himself as a "secular Catholic Buddhist": [...]
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on December 6, 2007
In a world being swamped with 6000-year earth age advocates and mind-numbing religious attacks on science, with some U.S. presidential candidates in the lead, The Portable Atheist is an island of sanity and respite from irrationality and the unending barrage of misinformation from "believers". From the Taliban to the fundamentalist and evangelical command posts, whether on "Christian" TV and radio or the minaret, temple, or store front hotbeds, common sense, science, and rational thinking have never been so daily assaulted. Revel in the words of those who have fought the good fight against Bronze Age morality and intellectual dysfunction. The Portable Atheist is a companion you will want by your side. Great reading, instructive, and, most of all, provides hope that clear thinking might just have a chance.
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HALL OF FAMEon December 26, 2007
Hitchens prefaces his book by telling us that the prehistory of our species is ridden with episodes of nightmarish ignorance and calamity, for which religion is used to identify not just the wrong explanation but the wrong culprit as well. The few men of science and reason and medicine had all they could do to keep their libraries and laboratories intact, or their very lives safe from harm.

Today's typical "justification" for religion involves charitable or humanitarian work - obviously this says nothing about the veracity of the belief systems involved. All religions must, at their core, look forward to the end of this world; atheists, on the other hand argue that this world is all we have and that it is our duty to make the most of it.

It is one thing, per Hitchens, to believe that the magnificence of the natural order strongly implies an ordering force; quite another to say this creative force cares for our human affairs, and it is interested in with whom we have sex and how, as well as the outcome of battles and wars (and even athletic contests). Even accepting Jesus' birth, it still does not prove he was more than one among many shamans and magicians of the day.

Einstein took the view that the miracle is that there are no miracles.

Everybody is an atheist in saying that there is a god in which he does not believe - atheists simply go one step further and add another god to not believe in.

Sadly, there are the seemingly endless wars and persecutions that go on in the name of religion. It is almost comical that as the Iranians pursue the imminent return of the Twelfth Imam and reinforce their apocalyptic talk by acquiring doomsday weaponry, Jewish settlers hope, by stealing the land of others in accordance with biblical directions, to bring Armageddon in their own way, while their chief backers (American evangelical fundamentalists) are simultaneously trying to teach pseudo-science, criminalize homosexuality, forbid stem-cell research, and display Mosaic law in courtrooms. At the same time, the Pope maintains that condoms are worse than AIDS.

The bulk of "The Portable Atheist" consists of readings from mostly eminent minds, going back to the early Greeks. My favorites were Elizabeth Anderson, Bertrand Russell, and Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

Summarizing, the biggest take-aways of this book were to show how tenuous the belief in religion is, the almost laughable inconsistencies involve, how it has blocked progress through the ages, and the almost unlimited misery it has brought to mankind - throughout the ages.
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on January 30, 2008
Come to think of it, I've never seen anyone passing out atheist tracts on a street corner or in a parking lot or anywhere else, for that matter. Nor, when the doorbell rings, do I have to worry about being hammered with some unbeliver's version of the atheist's bible. No, a person pretty much has to seek out ammunition for unbelief on his own. For darn sure, no big name foundation, is going to set up a TV channel or any other promotional that goes against the nation's number one industry-- organized religion. So, as atheists in a nation officially "under God", unbelievers are pretty much on their own.

But organized or not, deniers have been around for some time, as Hitchens' collection of heretical writings demonstrates. Now, I'm not very conversant about the myriad selections available to him, but it looks like the volume is heavy on 20th century works, such as, the literary (Orwell, Conrad, Updike, et al.); the scientific (Sagan, Einstein, Dennett, et al.); the philosophic (Russell, Ayer, Grayling); along with intellectual troublemakers from the world of Islam (Rushdie, Warraq, Ali). It's this latter cateory that distinguishes the collection, since many of the others are oft anthologized. What's generally missing (except for Mencken) are selections from the rabble-rousers, such as Darrow, Ingersoll, and Bradlaugh whose pulpits did so much to fend off past generations of Bible-belters. Also, readers looking for material on the classic proofs of god's existence (ontology, cosmology, et al)--. including the classic disproof from the existence of evil (theodicy)-- should probably look elsewhere.

Now, I respect Hitchens as a public figure for using his high-profile to press the case for unbelief. He's stuck his neck out on the airways big time. But it looks to me like this collection was rushed out in the wake of his previous success with God Is Not Great. The entries follow one another in roughly chronological order which means they're not grouped by topic. This may amount to an expedient way of ordering the material, but chronology also scatters the topics instead of concentrating them. Thus readers wanting to focus, say, on morality's basis in religion or miracles and natural law, must do their own sorting. Also absent is a bibliography or explanatory footnotes that could be helpful to the less initiated. In short, the work is not researcher-friendly. Then too, Hitchen's introductory comments are brief, of varying quality, and follow no particular format. Readers may need no introduction to Einstein's credentials, but I'd sure like to know who Elizabeth Anderson is and what she's published. Her essay on morality and religion qualifies as a modern classic in my little book.

Anyway, I'm glad there's a readership large enough to follow up on Hitchens' polemical earlier book whatever the purpose. And while I don't expect to see pamphleteers on the sidewalk anytime soon, it looks like interest is growing.
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on November 11, 2007
The lengthy introduction will be familiar to those who have read other works by Hitchens and seen his lectures and debates. If you like the introduction, definitely get God Is Not Great. This introduction is basically a recitation of his arguments against religion and faith, with copious examples. I am not trying to belittle it - any believer who is unfamiliar with Hitchens should definitely read the introduction, and if they are surprised by what they read, should move on to God Is Not Great for more such historical examples that for whatever reason have not penetrated their protective outer coating.

Following the introduction are 47 excellent selections with brief introductions by Hitchens, spanning two millennia (although there is a distinct gap of about 1500 years, the reasons for which should be obvious to all).
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VINE VOICEon December 3, 2008
"The Portable Atheist": what a wonderful read! It challenges, it amuses but, most of all, it has no time for the sheer and utter nonsense that is religion. And here, religion means all religions and not certain select ones.

Christopher Hitchens has compiled a thought provoking grab bag of readings from across the ages and across the planet. He begins with Lucretius and Thomas Hobbes and finishes with Sam Harris and Ayaan Hirsi Ali. In between, the reader is confronted by Mark Twain, Albert Einstein, Bertrand Russell and Richard Dawkins. There are many sections that I enjoyed. For example, consider the following:

Mark Twain: "There was never yet a case of suffering or sorrow which God could not relieve. Does He sin, then?"

Elizabeth Anderson: "To a mainstream Christian, Jew or Muslim, nothing is more obvious than that founders and prophets of other religions...are either frauds or delusional". In other words, the faithful can readily see the flaws of other faiths but never the flaws of their own.

Ibn Warraq: "It is very odd that when God decides to manifest Himself, He does so only to one individual. Why can He not reveal Himself to the masses in a football stadium during the final of the World Cup". God sounds a bit like a UFO that is only seen by a hillbilly in the Ozarks.

There are many more quotes but I think the reader gets the flavour. This is a book to be enjoyed by the rational and despised by the irrational and their thought police. I recommend it wholeheartedly. However, if you ever doubt the stupidity of religion just try the Sam Harris line that replaces the word God with Zeus. This shows up religion for the ridiculous farce that it is.
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on December 7, 2007
Great book but I suspect books in this genre, either for or against atheism, are only read by those already in agreement with the author. So much for debate. I guess with the phrase "Great book" my position is exposed. What has always puzzled me about christianity is that it insists that unlike the prophets of other monotheisms, it's prophet is divine, that he is a god. And the first 5 of the 10 commandments command that you believe this and behave accordingly or else. Also puzzling is why christianity thinks this control is so necessary. Mohammad and Buddha both insisted they were not gods. Instead of commandments with a capital "C" Buddha suggested: "Be a lamp unto yourselves.
Believe nothing on the faith of traditions,
Do not believe a thing because many people speak of it.
Do not believe on the faith of the sages of the past.
Do not believe what you yourself have imagined,
persuading yourself that a God inspires you.
Believe nothing on the sole authority of your masters and priests.
After examination, believe what you yourself have tested
and found to be reasonable, and conform your conduct thereto. Me, given the choice I'll stick with character building instead of obedience. The correctness of the second half of the 10 commandments doesn't require a GOD and lightning bolts (or was that just Hollywood), they are just life's practicalities, like drive on the right in USA and the left in England, social lubricants.
More of a rant then a review but if you lean my way this book will make you more comfortable with such thoughts. If you lean the other way, may GOD help you for you aren't going to learn how to do it yourself
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on December 19, 2007
After the brilliant - but short - introduction by Hitchens, the rest of the anthology offers a diverse assortment of historical writings. All interesting .. some more succinct than others - but some pretty slow reading to plough through! However, I like the size of the selections so that even with heavy reading I enjoy almost every author. A great companion to Hitchens' "God is Not Great" ... which is must reading for anyone of intellect and an open mind to the fallacies of religious dogma ,.
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on January 21, 2008
This is a great collection of great writing from authors across time and cultures. This book is really good for people like me who don't have the time to read *everything* out there by *everyone* who *ever* said *anything* about religion. You get lots of kernels. The indepthness of the historical writings is fascinating. You get to see how the same exact observations and silliness involving religion has been examined and noted over time. The new lecture by McEwan (my favorite author) was an excellent addition. The poems were striking, though readily available on the web. Highly recommended.
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