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Two thousand years of facing the dark and the light
on July 1, 2008
In editing this anthrology, Christopher Hitchens has performed a great service for all who wish to understand one of the most important issues of our time, the debate (the struggle?) between secularism and religion. From Lucretius to Ayan Hirsi Ali, the chosen authors reveal and explain their understanding of the universe and its ways. Hitchen's pithy introductions to each selection add considerably to the reader's understanding and pleasure.
Many of the essays would be difficult to find outside of a large library, others might be hard to find at all. From the 1997 UN Anthology, for example, there's Salman Rushdie's "Imagine There's No Heaven": a letter to the Six Billionth World Citizen. This gentle and loving essay fearlessly accepts the fact that there is no god, but gently and with love asserts that there is much beauty in human life if each of us can manage to 'live in our own time, use what we know. . .'
The reader expects to find Spinoza, Hume, Shelly, George Eliot, Marx, Einstein, H. L. Menkin,Carl Sagan and Richard Dawkins in such a book, and we are not disappointed. Hitchens also introduces us to many less-well known (or almost forgotten) men and women, such as Chapman Cohen, Elizabeth Anderson and Charles Templeton.
There are brief contributions such as the poems by Thomas Hardy, Johon Betjeman and Philip Larkin;, other segments, such as Ibn Warraq's commentary on the Koran, are extensive. (The latter is sixty pages in fact.) The variety in the length of selections makes The Portable Atheist an excellent book for a long journey, or to keep beside a favorite chair.
The subtitle of the book is "Essential Readings for the Nonbeliever" but i would suggest that any and all intelligent citizens will find the selections stimulating and exciting, well worth the purchase price and reading time.