I recognize that everyone's needs will be different, so I am not going to simply provide a list of books and instruct you to read them. Instead, I am going to explain what you will find in each book and make some suggestions about the order in which to read them. Your time and resources may be limited, so my goal is for you to have enough information to choose wisely.
Where to Start
In learning about any new phenomenon, it is helpful to begin by understanding why the object of one's study is important. Atheism is no different in this regard. I recommend starting with a book that will both provide a decent overview of the subject matter and help the reader understand the perils of religious belief. Thus, I suggest beginning with one of the following books:
Atheist Universe: The Thinking Person's Answer to Christian Fundamentalism.
Some of the best writing on atheism comes from the philosophers, and indeed, most well-rounded atheists will be familiar with many of the philosophical arguments for and against theism. This domain is a great one to explore next. There are many excellent places to start, and nearly any text in the philosophy of religion will be worthwhile. However, I do have a couple favorites in this domain, both of which are very easy to recommend:
- Atheism: The Case Against God
- Why I Am Not a Christian and Other Essays on Religion and Related Subjects
Not everyone enjoys reading scientific books, and not all atheists will want to delve far into the scientific arguments against religion. However, there is one book from this domain that I strongly recommend to all readers, including those without any science background whatsoever:
History of Atheism and Freethought in America
Precious little is new about the "new atheism" with which the mainstream media was recently obsessed. Nonbelievers were making important contributions long before Harris, Dawkins, and Hitchens were born. Even in the so-called "Christian nation" of America, many influential atheists had a critical role in history.
Given the widespread bigotry faced by atheists from believers, no introduction to atheism is complete without addressing the social, cultural, and political context in which we find ourselves. There are so many excellent books to recommend in this area, but I will limit myself to these three:
- The Assault on Reason
- Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism
- Piety & Politics: The Right-Wing Assault on Religious Freedom
Once again, this reading list is designed for persons wanting to learn about atheism and in the early stages of their exploration of atheism. Here is a follow-up post in which I provide additional suggestions in these domains for the intermediate to advanced atheists wanting to explore one or more domain in depth.