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on 26 September 2009
My copy of The Atheist's Guide to Christmas arrived unexpectedly early, and I opened it with interest. Would atheists really have anything to say about Christmas? It turns out: yes, so very much, yes. This is a book full of treasure, and I found myself continually delighted.

The book's 42 contributions are divided into six sections, which cover a lot of ground. `Stories' is full of charming anecdotes, memorably including Simon Le Bon (Simon Le Bon!) on his love of church music, Catie Wilkins on sending Christmas cards to biblical characters, and (I'm certainly unlikely to forget this one) Richard Herring on his Christmas with a cat. `Science' follows with some surprisingly moving odes to wonder - including how to hear the echoes of the Big Bang on Christmas Day - and a completely unexpected comedy sketch from Richard Dawkins (I won't spoil the surprise, but trust me). `How To' and `Arts' are full of genuinely practical suggestions for films, games, music, jokes, and even making Christmas environmentally friendly, while `Events' goes behind-the-scenes on the highlights of the secular community. But I think my favourite is `Philosophy', with Derren Brown, AC Grayling et al. wonderfully making the case for a humanistic Christmas, full of light, compassion and, above all, a simple joy.

Indeed, I was happy to find that the whole book is a uplifting, happy read, as the assembled atheists' enthusiasm for Christmas is surprising and infectious. Josie Long is particularly endearing in this regard, and her recommended party games had me in fits of giggles on the Tube, as did Anna Pickard's alternative carols. I'm certainly going to give both of these an outing come December.

As you'd expect, it isn't 100% in favour of the festive season, as Andrew Mueller and Jon Holmes are apparently allergic (tinselitis?), but even there the tone is jovial and light-hearted. In fact, I'd say the book is almost guaranteed to put you in a festive mood, so it's worth recommending as one to read before the big day. Put it this way - I'm writing in September, and am already yearning for fairy lights and mince pies. Even Slade. I don't know what's happening to me.

But the really special part is that placing this under someone's tree is a double gift: Terrence Higgins Trust benefits from every sale (the editor and contributors all did it for free), and I'm more than happy for my money to go to such an important cause. Getting so much entertainment as part of the deal is the marzipan on the Christmas cake.

Ariane Sherine has put together a beautiful thing, and I really can't recommend it enough: it's touching, it's personal, it's funny, it's educational, and buying it helps people who need help. Whether atheist or not, that's got to be what Christmas is about.
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on 27 September 2009
Do you love Christmas but find that Jesus guy just a little unconvincing?

Do you enjoy the sweet taste of turkey and sprouts, but find that having to give thanks to God while you're at it tends to sour the experience?

Do you like singing, like carols, and like singing carols... but don't take all that stuff about mangers and herald angels seriously?

Are you, in short, an atheist finding yourself wondering quite where you fit in on Christmas?

Well wonder no more. This book is the perfect collection of short stories, how-to guides, philosophical discussions, practical ideas, comical rants, and all manner of uplifting affirmations that Christmas can be a wonderful time of year for anyone who cares to involve themselves in it. Nothing could matter less than whether or not you're a Christian. I haven't been one for years, but I've always seen Christmas as an opportunity for everyone to just be happy and be nice to each other for absolutely no reason. And evidently I'm not the only one.

There are contributions from a wonderful variety of brilliant thinkers, so nobody will ramble on for too long if they're not your cup of tea. If you aren't keen on having Brian Cox blind you with science, then skip ahead to reading about Derren Brown's teeth. If you don't want to join in with any of Josie Long's reindeer games, you can stop worrying and enjoy the delightful merriment of that angel of perennial good cheer, Charlie Brooker. They've got a wonderful range of contributors together, for a really excellent book that is truly an essential buy for anyone whose atheism is important to them at this time of year.

Oh, and the profits are all going to a charity that treats AIDS. Bonus.
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on 26 September 2009
I am pleasantly surprised and amazed by this book (have been lucky enough to receive my copy before publication date). Maybe because it was a charity book, I wasn't sure the standard of contributions would be that high and was expecting it to be quite serious, but I was smiling and impressed from the first page. I particularly liked Richard Dawkins' piece because it was nice to see him lighten up for once, and Derren Brown's as it showed that atheists can be just as caring and moral and religious people. I hope that's the message everyone will take away from this book.
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on 27 September 2009
The happiness and joy of Christmas doesn't have to be restricted to people of certain religions. Christmas took over from other winter festivals, and incorporated elements from them, so it was never uniquely a Christian creation anyway - just a Christian take on existing festivals. Now we have an atheist take on it - all the fun, togetherness and joy of the celebration, without any religious focus. Fantastic!
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on 27 September 2009
I got my copy early, and I'm extremely happy!

My first observation, as I eagerly began to read the book, was that I should not open this beautifully presented volume at night, for my laughter would surely awaken the neighbours! Ah, such are the perils of modern apartments and paper thin walls.

As I delved deeper in, I found a gem of a tale from Simon Le Bon in which he recounted Christmas memories, and his path away from faith. His particular story was very interesting to me, personally. As with the other tales, there is no preaching, just honest tales from remarkable people!

I tried to put the book down, to savour it and extend the experience, but alas, my will was weaker than I had thought it to be. I eagerly leafed through further tales until I arrived at a short piece by Richard Dawkins. Having read his work before, I was truly expecting a succinctly scientific piece of text, but again, I was taken aback by a supremely witty fictional discussion which left me almost in tears with laughter! A whimsical side to a man who had, until now, struck me as a very serious, if rather snarky fellow!

Also in the book are ways to celebrate Christmas, games to play, scientific explanations of the universe, more humour, and a very warm sense of belonging, as well as the meaning of life... Well, in actual fact, that isn't quite so simply spelt out, but within the pages are a reason to join an atheist celebration to the many that surround a season which holds such great significance for many cultures, even though it's most commonly known by its Christian name.
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on 8 October 2009
You wait years for a funny contribution to the culture wars and then 42 turn up at once. Honestly...

Why 42? Well, as the introduction says, this is the answer to the question of Life, the Universe and Everything as calculated by one deserving contributor who sadly died some years too early to see this come to fruition. Luckily, a friend of his, Richard Dawkins, was around to add his own first, witty foray into fiction writing. And a friend of Dawkins, the adorable Ariane Sherine, organised and edited it all. It is, of course, the Atheist Bus Campaign reified in book form. And very lighthearted it is, too.

This is not a "serious" piece of work. It is some serious Xmas fun for those who wish to reclaim the midwinter festival and restore its true, pagan message of lots of food and drink with your community at the darkest part of the year. Now, you might think that this does not need reclaiming as it is what people are already doing. Believe it or not, though, there are persistent efforts by one of the later-arriving, monotheistic faiths to annexe this festival for their own aggrandisement. Just as aggressive and terrifying proselytising on buses by such a religious group provoked the light and cheerful message of the Atheist Bus Campaign, now aggressive and moralising annexation of Xmas by the same religious group has provoked this light-hearted staking-out of this common territory for the rest of us.

It is a collection of short pastiches and thoughtful essays on the subject of the Xmas period and what it means to us atheists and humanists. It is too common knowledge to be clever these days that Xmas is originally a pagan celebration, like Easter. Be that as it may, one is occasionally confronted by theists demanding to know why one celebrates Xmas if one does not believe in the Christian God, in whose own Book flying reindeer, bearded men in red-and-white pyjamas, totemic trees and egg-nog obviously feature most prominently. Read this book and you'll have some answers lined up.

The contributors range from professional scientists and philosophers to comedians and pop stars. What they all have in common is that they are atheists and/or humanists. As a movement we are finally starting to come together in small ways like this and express our aspiration to recognition on an equal basis with supernaturalist belief groups. Not before time. In addition, the proceeds from the book go to the Terence Higgins Trust, a charity helping AIDS victims. There is no downside to this book and it is a pleasant, light read. None of the contributors threaten you with being burned alive for all eternity, they just tell you how to have some fun at Xmas without feeling incongruous. It is a great read and would make a fitting present for a humanist, or tolerant theist, friend or relative.

I am not a contributor, by the way!
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on 27 September 2009
Having ordered this ages ago with no particular idea of when it would be delivered, I was suffering from an enormous crisis yesterday - my mum's birthday, and nothing to give her! Lo and behold, the doorbell rang and Amazon dropped the perfect present into my hands.

It's a weightier book than I expected and was really pleasantly surprised by the variety of contributors. Mum reports back that it's very funny (I was relegated to making tea while she flicked through it and giggled, but I suppose it was her birthday after all). It's not just articles, there are 'how to' guides and practical bits and pieces as well - a really nice light read, well presented and classy looking, would recommend as a Christmas present for the thinker-with-a-sense-of-humour in your life.
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on 16 May 2010
A wonderful collection of essays from some of the best known freethinkers, atheists, humanists, and other -ists alive today. Contributors include comedians, scientists, broadcasters, journalists, podcasters, bloggers and educators. All edited by the lady who came up with the idea for the internationally sensational Atheist Bus Campaign, Ariane Sherine.

Despite what many -- who almost certainly have not read it -- may have you believe, this book is not cover-to-cover anti-theism, God-bashing and miserable Scroogeyness. The vast majority of the writers talk about how much they enjoy Christmas, and normally for the same reasons.

Why a collection of 42 essays? Think about it for a minute, Mr Dent. (An homage to another brilliant mind who is, sadly, no longer with us).
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This book is a compendium of humourous musings on Christmas - and what that very special time of year is like for Atheists.

This is a genuinely funny book and reading it makes me laugh out loud with various nostalgic stories covering all sorts including: having Christmas ruined by sharing a birthday with Jesus, tips on decorating the outside of your house beyond accepted levels of tastelessness, and of course debates over whether sprouts are a welcome addition to the Christmas dinner plate. The book is intelligently written and contains sections from many Atheists, most of which have a comedy background - this is a funny book, and as with most funny books it's pretty heartwarming.

The warmth in this book contrasts with the preconception that this must be a diatribe on Christianity - it isn't, it actually gives a very accurate insight to Christmas in most UK homes, a time of year which becomes decreasingly religious and contains many common niggles which unify religious and Atheist thinkers.

At just over 300 pages, this isn't a quick read, but the nature of its structure means the series of short contributions make it a perfect book to pick up and put down for short sessions.

In a nutshell: This will make you laugh, it will make you think, and it will make Christmas that bit more special. This isn't one of those naff collections of writing which (ironically) end up as stocking fillers when the imagination fails to think of a decent gift, this is a well thought out book which I am incredibly pleased to have read and feel chuffed to have supported a worthwhile charity by purchasing it.

This doesn't attack other beliefs - it celebrates what it is to be Atheist.
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on 7 October 2009
This is a lovely idea for a book - a positive, inspiring message of inclusivity and togetherness - and very well-realised too.
This is perfect for anyone interested in essays from an atheistic viewpoint; or those who have no faith and don't want this to affect their relationships with their loved ones.
At heart, this is ultimately a humanist book - no calls for anarchy, no ad hominen barbarity; just civil, kind and humorous essays that promote thought and light-hearted discussion.

The cast of writers is incredible - from Derren Brown to Ed Byrne; AC Grayling to Lucy Porter; Charlie Brooker to Simon Singh; Ben Goldacre to David Baddiel, and Richard Dawkins to Simon le Bon!
Highly recommended - a great stocking filler for believers and non-believers alike.

Goes very well with mincepies, by the way.
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