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on 25 May 2008
This book is perhaps slightly undersold by it's title, it's a pretty solid tome, still portable I suppose but it must be a good 2 or 3 inches thick. The second part of the title is also a little misleading, the majority of the authors are indeed atheists, but not limited to the more militant kind one might expect Hitchens to choose. There's a broad spectrum of Humanist, Secularist and Rationalist writing spanning from Lucretius and Spinoza to Ibn Warraq and Sam Harris. The book progresses through these in a roughly chronological order charting the way human thought on the divine (or lack thereof) has changed and progressed.

The readings are well chosen and Hitchens provides a little introduction and context to each section (if I had one minor complaint it would be that these intros could have been even longer, they were fascinating in their own right). He also provides an overall intro to the book as a whole.

If I was to direct someone, atheist or theist, to a single book to explain non-theistic world views to them, it would have to be this.
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on 11 March 2008
An absolutely dazzling work. As a recovering Christian I am actively seeking out the thoughts of the great secularists down through the ages.
Particular highlights for me were the writings of Mark Twain on the Church's position on slavery, and also a remarkable deconstruction of every Christian argument regarding morality and God by Elizabet Anderson. Its one of those books that I'd love my wife and my Christian friends to read. Sadly, the bubble of false consolation and cognitive bias appears overwhelmingly strong. My experience tells me that the only evidence that Christians can cope with is Christian evidence. A truly impartial assesment of the available evidence from both sides seems a pose a real challenge to them.
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on 18 January 2008
I found this interesting in that it provides a potted history of atheistic philosophy which could be useful to anyone introduced to the subject more recently (perhaps by Dawkins or Dennet). Some of the historical material can be a little hard to read (especially on a packed train) but I found it fascinating to see how the arguments against religion have developed over time. Ayaan Hirsi Ali's story is truly inspiring and is a fitting conclusion to the book. Hitchens' introductions to each chapter are fitting, and often show just how important the individual writers ideas are to the him. Highly recommended.
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on 19 December 2009
Unless you're one of the lucky people with a brain like a computer, able to instantly bring to mind, that perfect reposte, during any discussion on religion or theology, then this is the book for you. Within it's pages, is a deconstruction of biblical and koranic arguments, added to scientific logic and a dollop of plain old common sense.

In short, it contains all the quotations and arguments an atheist might ever need, to win the inevitable arguments, in which we find ourselves so often. On top of that, it's contributors are witty, brilliant and mostly very readable. For those believers of one persuasion or another, who wish to confront the atheist argument; stay away from this book, unless you're ready to face the truth.

Good old Hitchens, his selection of writings is perfect, as we've come to expect.
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on 8 March 2013
Excellent collection of writings dealing with some of the nonsense surrounding religion. It is difficult to imagine anyone reading this book and not wantinig to sue the various relegious organisations for gaining money under false pretenses.

Some of the writings are a little difficult to read as their use of English is very dated. The book starts with the work of an arab and ends with how a Somali woman left her faith.

There is an excellent piece by one of the Penn and Teller magicians. If nothing else, read that one.
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VINE VOICEon 13 February 2008
Here's a book that will expand your mind. And how could it not? Look at the contributors it boasts: Einstein, Darwin, Orwell, Larkin, Twain, McEwan, Rushdie, Hume, Shelley, Russell, Dawkins and many more. Plus you get a main introduction and author introductions from the erudite and savagely witty Hitchens.
A word of warning: the first 100 pages are a bit sticky to wade through. This is because the book's essays are arranged in chronological order so we start with some ancient texts where the English is very heavy and dozens of commas adorn each sentence. There are some wonderful points made of course, but extreme concentration is required to pick them all up.
Things brighten after that and the book becomes highly readable. The majority of the essays are informative, stimulating and beautifully written. Highlights for me included Dawkins (as ever), who once again comes over as the world's best science writer, Larkin's stirring poem Aubade, AC Grayling's succinct essay, Can An Atheist Be A Fundamentalist?, and Ibn Warraq's brilliant dismantling of Islamic beliefs. If only Muslims would read it - but if they did they'd likely just throw it on the nearest fire.
We have much work to do. It may be a thousand years before the awfulness of religion is eradicated from the world, but books like this help: they perpetuate the `drip-down' effect. In the West we were well on the way to eradicating it before several million Muslims came to live here. Personally I doubt that nothing but a devastating clash of civilizations can be the result (we have of course already seen such clashes). Reading this book underlined my belief that this will be the case.
In conclusion, this book is highly recommended. If you only buy one atheist book buy this one (although The God Delusion is also fantastic). In the end you must decide which version of man's evolution and the planet's creation you believe: the views of thousands of the world's greatest ever minds of the past few hundred years; or words written a long, long time ago by people who thought the earth was flat and that the sun went round it, as passed on to them by other people who could not read or write and had not travelled, in their whole lives, more than a few miles from their primitive, parochial townships. I know who I'd prefer to believe.
PS On reflection I'd give this five stars but Amazon don't appear to allow you to edit star ratings.
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on 8 August 2010
In The Portable Atheist, Hitchens has assembled a surprisingly diverse collection of first rate writing by non-believers. From medieval poets and enlightenment philosophers, to twentieth century scientists, this is most definitely not 500 pages of people saying the same thing in the same way. Representing a broad sweep of styles and perspectives - science, politics, philosophy, poetry, autobiography, literature, and more - about the only thing they have in common is their willingness to stand up and challenge the great behemoth that is religion.

The entries by Carl Sagan, Anatole France, and the always dependable Bertrand Russell are a real treat. Ibn Warraq and Ayaan Hirsi Ali lift the cloak on Islam, Ian McEwan and others reveal the unsavoury episodes in the history of Christianity, and the poet Shelley gives us an early refutation of creationism. The writers and the writing truly are the cream of the crop. Also welcome in this volume are selected writings by Albert Einstein, whose eleven pages of letters and notes remove any lingering doubt about his repudiation of a god that takes an interest in human affairs. So much for the religiosity of the world's most famous genius.

The brief introductions by Hitch to each contribution are pitched just right: concise, illuminating, a little droll, but never nasty. He prefaces the whole collection with a longer piece that has all the passion and wit we've come to expect from him. Very few religious people will be drawn to read this book, but that's fine - this isn't that kind of book. (Those readers might like to try the excellent 50 Reasons People Give for Believing in a God.) As others have said, Hitch's compendium is considerably less 'portable' than the average paperback, but if you compare it with a whole bookshelf from which these extracts have been taken, you start to appreciate the aptness of the title. Whether you're an atheist, an agnostic, or just someone who appreciates fine writing, The Portable Atheist is highly recommended.
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on 18 October 2011
I'll admit I haven't read the Hume essay yet but I ate the rest of the book and have a copy on my iPhone so I can dip into it whenever I'm stuck on the tube without something to read. This book offers evidence of Hitchens wide reading and each essay seems perfectly placed in the collection.

Like all good collections this book should serve as an introduction to authors you may have neglected, ignored or been unaware of. For me, George Eliots essay was a very welcome surprise. Reading it made me realise what a dimwit I'd been to neglect her and encouraged me to start reading her novels with Middlemarch.
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on 19 October 2012
I have found this to be a most stimulating and rewarding read. At last we have the voices of reason pulling away the dark veils of established religions. If only radical fundamentalists could accept a more rational approach to belief systems by reading this book then the world would be a saner place to be.It's time to confine all Gods to the realms of mythology.
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I bet the publishers thought about calling this book "The Atheist Bible". It's a chronological collection of writing by different authors about religion, the first half being writings from history (ranging from pre-Biblical through to early 20th century), the second half being a more modern take on things- sound like any other religious books you can think of?

Instead they've played it safe and given it the title "Portable Atheist"- presumably tongue in cheek, as at 500 pages it's not a pocket book by any means.

On the back cover it claims- "Atheist? Believer? Uncertain? No matter", suggesting that the subject matter is suitable for everyone. Although that's not necessarily untrue, I think different sections will be of more interest to people with different standpoints. Some of the writings are very earnest pleas obviously directed at believers, and any atheists reading (like myself) will just nod and think, "I know this already, I don't need any more convincing". Some of the writings are by atheists, for atheists, and will do nothing to believers except infuriate or alienate them. So it's a mixed bag in that sense, but all the better because that's something for everybody.

I'm not an academic and I would say that a handful of the writings were too dry and longwinded for my liking. Writers like Carl Sagan and Richard Dawkins specialise in exceptionally readable work, and there are a few little treats of short writing from Michael Shermer and Penn Jillette that should be hung on atheist's walls the way "Desiderata" hangs in some Christian houses. However the extracts from Karl Marx and Ibn Warraq (60 stone-dry pages) were too much like hard work.

Personally as an atheist I didn't need my views re-affirming, but it's still an entertaining read and provokes some thought. If you're agnostic or wavering in your world outlook, read this book. It's important.
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