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What’s in your humanist library?

Supporters of Humanists International share their book recommendations to celebrate World Humanist Day

  • blog Type / Book review
  • Date / 21 June 2023
  • By / Contributor

At Humanists International, we often hear from people who first discovered humanism or decided to get more involved in the global movement after reading a book that really inspired them. To celebrate World Humanist Day, we invited supporters of Humanists International to share their book recommendations with the global community.

You can find the list below, sorted by the author’s surname. You can expand each recommendation to find out more. We will keep adding to the list, as and when we receive new recommendations. To submit yours, simply complete the form at the bottom of the page.

Please note, the recommendations below have been submitted by supporters of Humanists International and have not been selected, reviewed or endorsed by the organization.

Supporters' recommendations, sorted by the author's surname:

"Gender: Your Guide - A Gender-Friendly Primer on What to Know, What to Say, and What to do in the New Gender Culture" by Lee Airton, Phd.

Recommended by Craig, Canada

As a senior, white, male, priviledged citizen I know I have to change the way my brain thinks if I am going to live a life which aligns closer to the Amsterdam (Humanist) Declaration of 2022. In part I do this by introducing new ideas and new experiences by reading books or, as I like to say, having a coffee chat with authors. This is one of the books that has helped me along the journey of learning and change.

"Humanly Possible" by Sarah Bakewell

Recommended by Jacqueline, United States:

This book introduced me to the history of Humanism and today’s opportunities to become more human.

Find out more: https://sarahbakewell.com/books-3/humanly-possible-700-years-of-humanist-freethinking-inquiry-and-hope/

"Humanism" by HJ Blackham

Recommended by Rolf Solheim, Norway

Actually, the first sentence of this book (after Preface) has been important to me as a leader of “classes” at the Norwegian Humanist Confirmation and later when visiting communal schools for talks on humanism on behalf of the Norwegian Humanist Association. Blackham lists reasonable assumptions which I presented in my own way as:

1. We are alone (without special forces/powers above us)
2. We have one life
3. It is our own responsibility

While all three points above points may look like a tough burden…

4. We can co-operate with others in solving problems

"Humankind: A Hopeful History" by Rutger Bregman

Recommended by Dermot, United Kingdom:

I loved this book. It’s a wonderful mixture of science, sociology and philosophy that goes a long way into explaining, in well evidenced terms, the reality of human nature. Bregman has a wonderful way with words and uses engaging real life stories to illustrate how popular negative concepts of humanity don’t stand up to scrutiny. A couple of my favourites are the outstanding ability of humans to develop through social learning. Or the investigation of the ‘thin veil of civilization’ as illustrated in the Lord of the Flies that fails to stand up to real world scrutiny. It’s unapologetically optimistic, but it does so with evidence and good humour. Not billed as a humanist text, it came across as something that humanists would most definitely enjoy. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find that Rutger Bregman is well aligned with humanist beliefs.


Find out more: https://www.rutgerbregman.com/books

"Intuición y Razón" by Mario Bunge

Recommended by Carlos Alberto, Mexico

Translation: “Intuition and Reason”

"The Little Book of Humanist Weddings" by Andrew Copson and Alice Roberts

Recommended by Carlos Alberto, Mexico

"Political Worldmaking from Below: An Ethic of Liberation and Freethought" by Anthony Cruz Pantojas

Recommended by Anthony, United States

I am working on a project regarding Humanist literacy which I hope will launch by the Fall of 2023. That said, I wonder if your recommendation list could incorporate academic articles. If yes, here is my recommendation: https://irstudies.org/index.php/jirs/article/view/819

"Six Thinking Hats" by Edward De Bono

Recommended by Craig, Canada

As a senior, white, male, priviledged citizen I know I have to change the way my brain thinks if I am going to live a life which aligns closer to the Amsterdam (Humanist) Declaration of 2022. In part I do this by introducing new ideas and new experiences by reading books or, as I like to say, having a coffee chat with authors. This is one of the books that has helped me along the journey of learning and change.

"The beginning of infinity" by David Deutsch

Recommended by Steven, United States

A passionate and reasoned defense of the power of reason and the possibility of progress.

"Good Without God: What a Billion Nonreligious People Do Believe" by Greg Epstein

Recommended by Morten, Denmark:

All the arguments for being a humanist today. The author is the Humanist chaplain at Harvard University.

"The Humanist Way" by Edward Ericson

Recommended by Randall, United States:

This book provides an introduction to the central ideas of Humanism along with how they are expressed in Ethical Culture Societies.

"Unorthodox" by Deborah Feldman

Recommended by Fabian, France:

A fascinating story of how a Jewish girl escapes Jewish orthodox fundamentalism. Offers stunning views into the inside workings of the Hasidic community.

"The Art of Loving" (1956) by Erich Fromm

Recommended by Mxolisi, South Africa:

I believe that the critical task we have as humanists is to teach humanity how to love. Religion, racism etc. are obstacles to the message we are trying to teach, while Science, Rationality, Philosophy and Empathy are tools we must use. Erich Fromm (a humanist psychologist)’s book The Art of Loving is one that provides a prediction of what would happen if we (humanists) fail to teach love. Additionally, he illustrates indicators and patterns that we may be running out of time to achieve that goal.

Today, most people would laugh off the idea of love as joke – an epiphenomenon of our erotic drive, but Erich Fromm says love is an art, a practice, much like a sport that a person can learn and can only get better at if they practice it. He will take you on a trip to make you understand why people are being apathetic and hateful towards the various forms of love-based relationships, but he also provides cautionary outline of the harms of enforcing tolerance with state apparatus.

If you never get the chance to read the book, at least take this question with you: What does your idea of a humanist utopia look like if we solved all health, stratification and poverty problems lost the ability to love in the process – Would that world be worth living in? For me, it took me into an obsessive concern about mankind’s future, and a deep dive onto books about the topic most notably the fiction classic Brave New World and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s The Future of Man. (His works inspired one of modern humanism’s founding fathers, Sir Julian Huxley)

"Neurociencia" by Joaquín M. Fuster

Recommended by Carlos Alberto, Mexico

"For The Good of the World" by A. C. Grayling

Recommended by Sam, Ireland:

A virtuoso performance in the dying art of rational argument. Logical, persuasive and deeply humane.

"Sapiens" by Yuval Noah Harari

Recommended by Carlos Alberto, Mexico

"Elle the Humanist" by Elle Harris and her father, Doug Harris

Recommended by Carly, United States:

It’s a children’s book that explains the basics of humanism in a really accessible way. It can be especially helpful for kids who are starting to get questions from their peers like, “If you don’t believe in God, what do you believe?” You can check it out here. Also, through the Translations Project, you can access free downloadable versions of the book, available in Arabic, Urdu, Bahasa Indonesia and Farsi.

"The Power Tactics of Jesus Christ and other essays" by Jay Haley

Recommended by Mark, United States:

In this essay, psychologist Haley analyzes the new testament gospels to show that JC was really seeking power, and anticipated other revolutionaries like Lenin. I find this to be the most persuasive interpretation of that source and I hope to write a book based on this after I finish the one I’m working on now.

"The End of Faith" by Sam Harris

Recommended by Fabian, France:

A classical work, by one of the four horsemen of New Atheism. Demonstrates how much power religion has on the human mind, and argues that this power is sometimes used for dangerous outcomes.

Recommended by Dave, United Kingdom:

This book helped me sort out my thoughts on religion in a positive way and how I had been hoodwinked by religion. It made my decision to become a humanist so much easier.

"Think Like a Feminist" by Carol L. Hay

Recommended by Craig, Canada

As a senior, white, male, priviledged citizen I know I have to change the way my brain thinks if I am going to live a life which aligns closer to the Amsterdam (Humanist) Declaration of 2022. In part I do this by introducing new ideas and new experiences by reading books or, as I like to say, having a coffee chat with authors. This is one of the books that has helped me along the journey of learning and change.

"Enlightenment 2.0: Restoring sanity to our politics, our economy, and our lives" by Joseph Heath

Recommended by Michael, United States

Not a strong enough ending here, I think. But the opening half is dynamite. Necessary dynamite.

"DOUBT: a history" by Jennifer Michael Hecht

Recommended by Randall, United States:

Does exactly what the title says. Traces doubt from early religious traditions up through contemporary society. Very absorbing and insightful.

"Heretic" by Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Recommended by Fabian, France:

This book argues that the very foundations of Islam (the Quran and the life of the prophet) may be the root for the violent interpretations of the faith.

"Mortality" by Christopher Hitchens

Recommended by Carlos Alberto, Mexico

"Humanisme en Rede" by Humanistisch Verbond (1957)

Recommended by Robert, Portugal

Translation: “Humanism and Reason”. Six articles by JP van Praag, TT ten Have, Albert Daan, Libbe van der Wal, HJ Blackham and H Bonger.

"Humanists in the Hood - Unapologetically Black, Feminist and Heretical" by Sikivu Hutchinson

Recommended by Craig, Canada

As a senior, white, male, priviledged citizen I know I have to change the way my brain thinks if I am going to live a life which aligns closer to the Amsterdam (Humanist) Declaration of 2022. In part I do this by introducing new ideas and new experiences by reading books or, as I like to say, having a coffee chat with authors. This is one of the books that has helped me along the journey of learning and change.

"Travels With Epicurus" by Daniel Klein

Recommended by Tom, Republic of Ireland

Epicurus, with his philosophy of kindness and simple cure of the fear of death, has claims to be the father of Humanism; this book was written on a Greek island by a retired American gentleman. It is a book of gentle wisdom on how to conduct one’s life, act with compassion, and especially how to grow old gracefully. Short and sweet- beautiful holiday reading- best read and appreciated with a cool glass of ouzo on the little island of Hydra. The greatest wisdom is the wisdom to use your wisdom well… to quote Epicurus himself “it is not the young man who should be considered fortunate, but the old man who has lived well, because the young man in his prime wanders much by chance, vacillating in his beliefs, whilst the old man has docked in the harbour, having safeguarded his true happiness.”

"Paying for Masculinity - Boys, Men and the Patriarchal Dividend" by Murray Knuttila

Recommended by Craig, Canada

As a senior, white, male, priviledged citizen I know I have to change the way my brain thinks if I am going to live a life which aligns closer to the Amsterdam (Humanist) Declaration of 2022. In part I do this by introducing new ideas and new experiences by reading books or, as I like to say, having a coffee chat with authors. This is one of the books that has helped me along the journey of learning and change.

"El Origen de la Vida" by Antonio Lazcano-Araujo

Recommended by Carlos Alberto, Mexico

Translation: “The Origin of Life”

"Doing Good Better" by William MacAskill

Recommended by Jacqueline, United States:

This book was my intro to effective altruism and subsequently to Humanism

"‏Atheism‏ ‏For Dummies" by Dale McGowan

Recommended by Ebrahim, Iran:

The content of the Atheism for Beginners book is a brief history of the philosophy of atheism and the developments that have occurred over the years for the thought of atheism, it also examines atheism as a historical and cultural movement, which includes historical writings on atheism.

 

"Essays" by Michel de Montaigne

Recommended by Terry, United States:

The endlessly fascinating ruminations of a Renaissance humanist’s humanist. Montaigne puts regard for humankind in the centre of his thinking and uses logic and reason, and a particularly fascinating writing style, to illuminate the human condition in all its ambiguous glory.

"Why there is no god" by Amin Navabi

Recommended by Fabian, France:

A very short, but to-the-point book that refutes the most common arguments for the existence of god. Interesting also because it comes from the Muslim perspective. Very clear and powerful.

"Radical - my journey out of Islamist extremism" by Maajid Nawaz

Recommended by Fabian, France:

The amazing true story of an Islamist who becomes a Muslim humanist. Fascinating because it shows how Islamists think and what makes Islamism attractive. Fascinating also for the remarkable turn that the author’s life took, towards a humanist interpretation of his religion.

"The Age of Reason" by Thomas Paine

Recommended by Fabian, France:

One of the first works (from the 18th century) that systematically dissects Christianity. A highly enjoyable read by a very multi-faceted personality: Thomas Paine participated first the American Independence movement and then the French Revolution.

"Raising a Humanist - Conscious Parenting in an Increasingly Fragmented World" by Manisha Pathak-Shelat and Kiran Vinod Bhatia

Recommended by Craig, Canada

As a senior, white, male, priviledged citizen I know I have to change the way my brain thinks if I am going to live a life which aligns closer to the Amsterdam (Humanist) Declaration of 2022. In part I do this by introducing new ideas and new experiences by reading books or, as I like to say, having a coffee chat with authors. This is one of the books that has helped me along the journey of learning and change.

"Enlightenment Now" by Steven Pinker

Recommended by Fabian, France:

A quintessential work that shows that life did not actually become worse in recent centuries, but much better. Humanity has advanced tremendously over the past centuries not only in terms of technology, but also in terms of health, equality, peace, justice, knowledge, and even happiness. Steven Pinker traces this progress back to the values of the Enlightenment (a scientific world view, Humanist ethics, education, etc.) and argues that this is where we should seek human betterment — not in religion.

Recommended by Gary, United States:

An excellent summary of how humanity is making progress per evidence-based data and of how humanism plays a major role in the mix with reason and science to produce our progress.

Find out more: https://stevenpinker.com/publications/enlightenment-now-case-reason-science-humanism-and-progress

"Rationality" by Steven Pinker

Recommended by Fabian, France:

An all-round work on the importance (and scarcity) of rational thinking. The book argues that rationality is an important tool for achieving more prosperity for humanity. It then shows how humans (knowingly or unknowingly) fail to reason correctly.

Find out more: https://stevenpinker.com/publications/rationality-what-it-why-it-seems-so-scarce-and-why-it-matters

"Critical Humanism - A manifesto for the 21st Century" by Ken Plummer

Recommended by Craig, Canada

As a senior, white, male, priviledged citizen I know I have to change the way my brain thinks if I am going to live a life which aligns closer to the Amsterdam (Humanist) Declaration of 2022. In part I do this by introducing new ideas and new experiences by reading books or, as I like to say, having a coffee chat with authors. This is one of the books that has helped me along the journey of learning and change.

"What I believe" by Bertrand Russell

Recommended by Petros, Greece:

A mid 20th century humanist book by a world renowned humanist.

"The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark" by Carl Sagan

Recommended by Carlos Alberto, Mexico

"The Life You Can Save" by Peter Singer

Recommended by Jacqueline, United States:

This book and his charity of the same name convinced me to be more careful in choosing ways to help those who are in need.

"Prometheus Unbound: A Lyrical Drama in Four Acts" by Percy Bysshe Shelley

Recommended by Bridget, Ireland

When I was 16 I was a committed Roman Catholic – that was in the days of Archbishop Oscar Romero and Liberation Theology based on the mantra of Fr. Gustavo Gutiérrez’ dictum: “To know God is to do justice.” So there was a rationale to my stance. However that same year I studied Shelley’s lyric poem ‘Prometheus Unbound’ – not an easy read. The nugget of wisdom I took from that was that in the unlikely event of an omnipotent god existing he was at best a total incompetent but more likely a tyrant worthy only of disdain. In the subsequent 54 years I have never encountered an argument that beats that one.

"The Atheist Bible" by Fabian Suchanek

Recommended by Fabian, France:

Offers an atheist and Humanist view on life, the universe, ethics, truth, and the meaning of life. It also discusses the history, the functioning, the tenets, the diversity, the benefits, and the liabilities of the major world religions. It thus aims to be a handbook of “what the educated atheist has to know”.

"The Code for Global Ethics: Ten Humanist Principles" by Rodrigue Tremblay

Recommended by Craig, Canada

"Problemen der Zedelijke Waardering" by Libbe van der Wal

Recommended by Robert, Portugal

Translation: “Problems of Moral Appreciation”.

Would you like to recommend a book?

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