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The Young Atheist's Handbook: Lessons for Living a Good Life Without God

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Alom Shaha grew up in a strict Bangladeshi Muslim community in South-East London in the 1970s and 80s. He was expected to go to mosque regularly and recite passages in Arabic from the Quran, without being told what they meant. Alom spent his teenage years juggling two utterly different worlds: a chaotic, sometimes funny, sometimes tragic family life on a council estate, an Alom Shaha grew up in a strict Bangladeshi Muslim community in South-East London in the 1970s and 80s. He was expected to go to mosque regularly and recite passages in Arabic from the Quran, without being told what they meant. Alom spent his teenage years juggling two utterly different worlds: a chaotic, sometimes funny, sometimes tragic family life on a council estate, and that of a student at a privileged private school set amongst the idyllic green playing fields of Dulwich. In a charming blend of memoir, philosophy, and science, Alom explores the questions about faith and the afterlife that we all ponder. Through a series of loose ‘lessons’, he tells his own compelling story, drawing on the theories of some of history’s greatest thinkers and interrogating the fallacies that have impeded humanity for centuries. Alom recounts how his education and formative experiences led him to question how to live without being tied to what his parents, priests, or teachers told him to believe, and offers insights so that others may do the same.


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Alom Shaha grew up in a strict Bangladeshi Muslim community in South-East London in the 1970s and 80s. He was expected to go to mosque regularly and recite passages in Arabic from the Quran, without being told what they meant. Alom spent his teenage years juggling two utterly different worlds: a chaotic, sometimes funny, sometimes tragic family life on a council estate, an Alom Shaha grew up in a strict Bangladeshi Muslim community in South-East London in the 1970s and 80s. He was expected to go to mosque regularly and recite passages in Arabic from the Quran, without being told what they meant. Alom spent his teenage years juggling two utterly different worlds: a chaotic, sometimes funny, sometimes tragic family life on a council estate, and that of a student at a privileged private school set amongst the idyllic green playing fields of Dulwich. In a charming blend of memoir, philosophy, and science, Alom explores the questions about faith and the afterlife that we all ponder. Through a series of loose ‘lessons’, he tells his own compelling story, drawing on the theories of some of history’s greatest thinkers and interrogating the fallacies that have impeded humanity for centuries. Alom recounts how his education and formative experiences led him to question how to live without being tied to what his parents, priests, or teachers told him to believe, and offers insights so that others may do the same.

30 review for The Young Atheist's Handbook: Lessons for Living a Good Life Without God

  1. 4 out of 5

    Ruth Seeley

    In his foreword to Alom Shaha's Young Atheist's Handbook, A.C. Grayling talks about the importance of developing a questioning mind. Shaha quotes Ani DiFranco when she asks, 'What if God is just an idea/Someone put in your head?' In The Young Atheist's Handbook, Alom Shaha asks – and answers for himself – the question, 'What if God is just an outmoded concept we no longer require now that we have generated more data about our universe than any one of us can ever hope to successfully process?' An In his foreword to Alom Shaha's Young Atheist's Handbook, A.C. Grayling talks about the importance of developing a questioning mind. Shaha quotes Ani DiFranco when she asks, 'What if God is just an idea/Someone put in your head?' In The Young Atheist's Handbook, Alom Shaha asks – and answers for himself – the question, 'What if God is just an outmoded concept we no longer require now that we have generated more data about our universe than any one of us can ever hope to successfully process?' And, by implication, he is also asking, 'What will it take for us as a species to accept that no life will be filled with unalloyed joy and good luck, and how can we learn to cope with misfortune without the crutch of religion while remaining good people?' His handbook is an attempt to answer that question on a supremely personal level, although, as he admits freely, it is not precisely a handbook. Alom takes us on his journey of loss, inconsolable grief, defiance, and ultimately the acceptance of his lack – rather than his loss – of faith. Part of that journey includes an examination of the familial and socio-cultural pressures put on children to accept and observe a faith they are not permitted to question. Islam may be the most difficult of the world's major religions in this sense, as the form in which it is exported throughout the world often amounts to the prophet's words being repeated and obeyed without translation, study or debate. (I should hasten to add that I am not an expert on Islam – or on any other religion, although my own defiant and questioning attitude made me, shall we say, an unsuitable candidate for Sunday School). Growing up on a Council estate in London as the eldest surviving child of five, Shaha was one of many Bangladeshi children transplanted to the UK during the 1970s. By the time he was 13 he had experienced the death of his bipolar mother and had begun to confront his own personal truth: that if he could not believe in the concept of heaven, he did not, in fact, have faith. 'with my mother dead and a deep lack of respect for my father, I was relieved of the reason why many atheists I know, particularly ex-Muslim ones, continue to pretend to be religious. I no longer had a desire to “protect” my parents from being upset, or from being “shamed”. I was free of the pressure to believe what my parents believed. But this is a pressure that most children have to live with well into adulthood, and it helps explain why ancient religions have managed to survive into the modern world.' The Young Atheist's Handbook is simultaneously a subtly nuanced examination of the process of intellectual and emotional development as it applies to faith, and a work of creative nonfiction in which the author's memoir is interwoven with an admittedly superficial look at the role of religion in society. Shaha doesn't claim to be either a religious or a philosophical expert – but he doesn't hesitate to try to situate his own experiences within a broader context. The combination of a tragic death (and, let's face it, life, as Shaha's mother seems to have been neither successfully diagnosed nor treated for bipolar disorder) and lack of respect for his surviving parent led Shaha, at a time when the process of separation and individuation is probably most acute (adolescence) to seek answers in science rather than religion. And in studying science and becoming a secondary school science teacher, Shaha has been able to accept uncertainty and take consolation from the scientific process: 'science wasn't about certainty and rigid facts, but rather a process that made use of deduction, logic, rationality, observation, and experimentation to draw what are ultimately tentative conclusions, leaving the way open for better explanations or theories.... Science offers us a uniquely successful way of understanding the world and our place in it; it can provide intellectual thrills like nothing else; and it is, possible, the greatest of humanity's cultural achievements.' While it may seem – to those of us from less rigid cultural backgrounds – that a book like this is self-evident and perhaps unnecessary in 2012, an email a friend shared with me recently leads me to conclude it is not the case. Close to 1000 words in that email were expended on the need to ensure a three-year-old wasn't abandoned to the Canadian 'public' school system but would be enrolled in a 'Christian' school instead (with fees of up to $10,000 per year). The email from the child's grandparent included an offer to help with and/or assume the tuition costs. I have often wondered, as a person who has never had faith, how we can help ourselves and our children to create our own moral frameworks without that debate being framed by theologians of one brand or another – how do we even manage to have the debate about right and wrong, what is moral and what is immoral, if we don't even set aside an hour a week as individuals and family members to talk about these things? While The Young Atheist's Handbook doesn't precisely answer that question, I am somewhat consoled by the following: 'Scientific evidence points to the fact that our morality is a product of our biology and our evolutionary history, and research suggests that we are all endowed with a moral faculty that guides our intuitive judgments of right and wrong.... religion simply provides us with an easy way to express and share it [moral behaviour]. There is no need to invoke the existence of God to explain why humans are moral creatures.' Disclosure statement: A copy of the Australian edition of The Young Atheist's Handbook was given to me by the author.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Moumeeta

    This book for me is about a Superhero. A lotus rising from the mud. A human rising from inhumanity. Like the Superheroes song goes: Cause he's stronger than you know A heart of steel starts to grow When you've been fighting for it all your life You've been struggling to make things right That's how a superhero learns to fly (Every day, every hour Turn the pain into power) I read this book after I read an article on facebook that said this book has been issued free, by a humanist association to young pr This book for me is about a Superhero. A lotus rising from the mud. A human rising from inhumanity. Like the Superheroes song goes: Cause he's stronger than you know A heart of steel starts to grow When you've been fighting for it all your life You've been struggling to make things right That's how a superhero learns to fly (Every day, every hour Turn the pain into power) I read this book after I read an article on facebook that said this book has been issued free, by a humanist association to young prison inmates in the US. The utter nonsense of religious indoctrinations that is fed to most kids in their formative years is repugnant to me. But it is also true that Ethics is an indispensable guide in life. I thought perhaps this would be a good book to read for my teenager, who is really into watching TV series like Suits and Gotham in short episodes, and whose reading has become non-existent, thanks to the pressure of academics. Turns out, I loved the book immensely. It is an emotional ride - this book. The childhood of the writer made me cry - the death of his mother, his bewilderingly cruel father, and the responsibilities thrust on him as a child. But the way the kindness of one person - a stranger in a foreign land, a school principal (!) - changed his life around was as good a float offered to our brown superhero and his readers as any in fiction. "Insaan hi insaan ke kaam aata hai" - humans alone come to the aid of humans - is a mentality I wish we were more in tune with than praying. On choosing atheism, he says: "We think that humans are responsible for our moral choices, that human can only look to one another for hope in times of despair, and that humans are the most marvellous things in the universe." I found the writer to be consistently on the side of reason and of kindness. At one point he talks about his elation at eating pork and breaking an ingrained disgust of something delicious sowed by religion. At another he says meat-eating in the future might well be looked on as a barbaric immoral practice, especially the mass slaughter of animals in the industrialised world. The book is an ode to human connection and reading. He articulates so many ideas through his love of the works of CS Lewis. On racism : "....I knew that Lewis would never have imagined someone like me to be a Narnian. It pains me to say it, even now, but I suspect that he would have been a bit of a racist." He suggests: Love and knowledge will get us through this gift called life. It is a deeply optimistic look at reality.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Joe

    Alom Shaha's first book is part autobiography/part handbook about growing up in a Muslim family and losing faith. Honest, emotional and beautifully written Alom lets us in to his world and shows us how you can live a good life without god. From the death of his mother, the abuse of his father, the troubles associated with going to a predominantly white school and the beauty of falling in love, Alom holds back nothing in slowly explaining how god is not essential in all aspects of life. Where othe Alom Shaha's first book is part autobiography/part handbook about growing up in a Muslim family and losing faith. Honest, emotional and beautifully written Alom lets us in to his world and shows us how you can live a good life without god. From the death of his mother, the abuse of his father, the troubles associated with going to a predominantly white school and the beauty of falling in love, Alom holds back nothing in slowly explaining how god is not essential in all aspects of life. Where other writers polemics are about their anger and annoyance at people with faith, Alom focuses on the pure humanity that is within us all and how belief is not required to be a good person. No matter what your personal belief system there are lessons within this book about tolerance and understanding which can be applied. As someone who grew up in a very religious family and slowly lost his faith; I was initially an 'angry atheist'. The Young Athiest's Handbook has helped me develop a much better philosophy in life. This book makes me strive to be the best person I can be and a much better way at looking at life as a non believer. I recommend this book highly. Thank you for your bravery and honesty in writing it Alom.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Jackie

    I love this book. It feels like a conversation. There are moments of wry humour that made me grin, some utterly heartbreaking bits that had me in tears and as a whole it is never less than warm, compassionate and intelligent in the discussion of why someone might choose to identify themselves as an atheist and the strange feeling of freedom that comes from accepting sole responsibility for one's own happiness and fulfillment. You do not need to be an atheist to enjoy this book, and it would be a I love this book. It feels like a conversation. There are moments of wry humour that made me grin, some utterly heartbreaking bits that had me in tears and as a whole it is never less than warm, compassionate and intelligent in the discussion of why someone might choose to identify themselves as an atheist and the strange feeling of freedom that comes from accepting sole responsibility for one's own happiness and fulfillment. You do not need to be an atheist to enjoy this book, and it would be a real shame if people of faith were put off reading this because the word "Atheist" appears in the title. You also don't need to be young, but the title makes sense in that anyone who is questioning their belief in the god they have been raised with will find understanding and reassurance in it's pages. Reassurance that it is not necessary to have faith in order to live a good life, that atheism does not make you a bad person and that following any religion should be an informed choice, made willingly and not imposed.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Shanna

    Reading this book felt like someone taking the words right out of my mind and writing them down more articulately than I could have. It feels like having a conversation with a good friend. I placed a sticky note on every idea I agreed with, and every idea I hadn't thought of before, and I now have a book exploding with little pink papers. The writing is unpretentious and genuine. The ideal would be for everyone to read it, but I think "The Young Atheist's Handbook" would be most useful for agnos Reading this book felt like someone taking the words right out of my mind and writing them down more articulately than I could have. It feels like having a conversation with a good friend. I placed a sticky note on every idea I agreed with, and every idea I hadn't thought of before, and I now have a book exploding with little pink papers. The writing is unpretentious and genuine. The ideal would be for everyone to read it, but I think "The Young Atheist's Handbook" would be most useful for agnostics. I'd like to thank Shaha for being given the chance to read his book through the Goodreads giveaways!

  6. 5 out of 5

    Ana

    I was surprised how easy to read this book was, even though it features science, philosophy and morality. Alom Shaha wrote this book for anyone curious to hear the overwhelming amount of knowledge that shows that we as humans are influenced more by biology and society than by the threat of an imaginary sky deity. Interesting stuff. I say give it a go!

  7. 4 out of 5

    Steve

    I really enjoyed this autobiographical apologetic for atheism. There is a gentleness and sensitivity in the author's approach that permits a relaxed engagement with the ideas that contrasts with the more strident writings of some other atheists. It's a very personal narrative that wraps within it some of the traditional arguments against theism which provides the book with a seductive pull that enables one to listen to the author rather than react adversarially - at least, that's how I experienc I really enjoyed this autobiographical apologetic for atheism. There is a gentleness and sensitivity in the author's approach that permits a relaxed engagement with the ideas that contrasts with the more strident writings of some other atheists. It's a very personal narrative that wraps within it some of the traditional arguments against theism which provides the book with a seductive pull that enables one to listen to the author rather than react adversarially - at least, that's how I experienced it. A narrow-minded fundamentalist of any persuasion will probably not even read the book given its title. That would be a shame. Even committed theists would do well to start listening to the journeys of non-theists if only to have a genuine understanding of the "other's" point of view. It is also refreshing to hear about atheism from an ex-Muslim perspective. The majority of atheist writings (I think) deal with the specifically Christian versions of theism. Of course, there are many other forms of theism within which believers struggle and emerge into some form atheism. This story enriches atheist writings with nuances that would be beneficial for atheists also to read. One of the most compelling aspects of this book is the way in which it illustrates the power of experience in shaping our beliefs. Very few people are convinced to change their beliefs by argument - even ones that are logically compelling. Our culture, family history, life events, where we're born - all of these and more are more influential than argument in shaping us. The author, by telling his life story, supplemented later perhaps by supporting arguments, illustrates this beautifully. This is not a book to argue with - it's a story to listen to and meditate on. It's not a handbook as the title implies; it's an honest telling of one man's experience that everyone should read, no matter their theological stripe.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Brian Mackenwells

    This is an honest, humane account of one man's feelings on religion, and how he came to develop these feelings. If you have any interest in the topic of religion, this is a readable, great account of the atheist perspective. This is an honest, humane account of one man's feelings on religion, and how he came to develop these feelings. If you have any interest in the topic of religion, this is a readable, great account of the atheist perspective.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Marina

    I loved this book. A great read.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Nur Huda

    The Young Atheist’s Handbook is a misleading title - after all, it’s not in fact a handbook, but a personal memoir. Rather than a handbook, this is a generous and thoughtful memoir of a life in pursuit of intellectual freedom. And it is the nature of intellectual freedom that is the really potent theme throughout, transcending the careful exposition and arguments for and against religious belief, and the personal story of the author’s development. Shaha tells his own story in roughly chronologic The Young Atheist’s Handbook is a misleading title - after all, it’s not in fact a handbook, but a personal memoir. Rather than a handbook, this is a generous and thoughtful memoir of a life in pursuit of intellectual freedom. And it is the nature of intellectual freedom that is the really potent theme throughout, transcending the careful exposition and arguments for and against religious belief, and the personal story of the author’s development. Shaha tells his own story in roughly chronological order, with eight snappy chapters sewn throughout his narrative, an informal thread of philosophical reflection upon the joys, frustrations, and tragedies of his own life. Alom Shaha’s The Young Atheist’s Handbook buzz among softer atheist voices. Finally I found a moment to dig into the book. Structurally, the book is both simple and complex. It’s a brisk, pleasing read, and every bit as moving, and as laudably pluralistic, as its reputation suggested. As I’ve tried to absorb this slim, unusual, delightful book, my thoughts have returned to again and again to challenge of empathizing with the lived experience and diverging perspectives of other human beings. As a scientist myself, I would like to bring up some scientific argument on this matter. If we accept that love is a result of a brain chemistry which has evolved due to the pressures of natural selection, we might find ourselves arguing that belief in God is also a product of human evolution. This is indeed a very uncomfortable thought. Jesse Bering, in his book The God Instinct argues that our capacity for belief is something that carries ‘powerful evolutionary benefits’. Ultimately, this reasoning leads to the conclusion that God may be an illusion. This is a kind of scientific way of arriving at Voltaire’s conclusion that ‘If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent Him’. On the other hand, Francisco J. Ayala, who is also a monk, is one of a minority of contemporary scientists who believe that science and religion ‘cannot be in contradiction because ‘they concern different matters’. We can compare his views to those of the late Stephen Jay Gould, a palaeontologist who wrote that we should think of science and religion as ‘non-overlapping magisteria’. I cannot agree more with his statement, as I do believe that no such conflict should exist because each subject has a legitimate magisterium, -or domain of authority- and these magisteria do not overlap. The net of science covers the empirical universe: what is it made of fact and why does it work this way (theory). The net of religion extends over questions of moral meaning and value. These two magisteria do not overlap, nor do they encompass all inquiry. Richard Dawkins, however has a more logical account on this matter as he wrote ‘It is completely unrealistic to claim that religion keeps itself away from science’s turf, restricting itself to morals and values. A universe with a supernatural presence would be a fundamentally and qualitatively different kind of universe from one without. The difference is, inescapably, a scientific difference. Religions make existence claims, and this means scientific claims’. A proper scientific education should equip young people to arrive at their own decisions about what to believe, and ensure that, if they do conclude there is a God, He doesn’t stop them from fully appreciating the truth and beauty of scientific knowledge. There is no need to abandon belief in God if it gives you comfort, security, or a sense of belonging to a community, but there may be a need to re-frame your thinking about how God created the universe. Clinging to a literal interpretation of the Bible or the Qur’an deprives people of appreciating the glory of scientific understanding. According to the book of Genesis, God said, ‘Let there be light.’ I can’t help but feel that God would want that light to be the illumination of education and science.

  11. 4 out of 5

    TJ

    Great book! I really love how the author weaves his personal story to show his beliefs on atheism. It was an enjoyable read and not dry at all because I really like to hear people’s individual experiences, and he had quite a story to tell. It inspired me to get rid of a lot of my theistic books on religion. I’ll keep some on Advaita Vedanta however. I was going to give this book away, but considering my doubts and how I sometimes feel empty without a belief in a God, I’ve decided to keep it for Great book! I really love how the author weaves his personal story to show his beliefs on atheism. It was an enjoyable read and not dry at all because I really like to hear people’s individual experiences, and he had quite a story to tell. It inspired me to get rid of a lot of my theistic books on religion. I’ll keep some on Advaita Vedanta however. I was going to give this book away, but considering my doubts and how I sometimes feel empty without a belief in a God, I’ve decided to keep it for inspiration if I “backslide” into belief. The author talks about belief in belief. That was something powerful for me to read about, just sticking to a religion just because. I highly recommend this book as a gentle was to shake up your core beliefs about God. I’ve seen a lot harsher critiques in religion then this book. He did it in a very gentle, non confrontational away and I appreciate that. His teaching abilities clearly show in this book as he has a way of (like I said earlier) weaving in truths he has learned and applying it to his personal life. Thank you for this book Alom!

  12. 4 out of 5

    Adrian

    This book was sent to schools by the Humanist society to help young people live a good life as an Atheist; perhaps it’s hard to do that? Anyway, as our school was sent a copy I thought I had better read it to see how helpful it is. I have to say that some of this book was informative to me as I am not a Muslim, and the writer became an Atheist from a Muslim background. So there were things he said about his upbringing and original religious positions that I have often thought, ‘I wonder if being This book was sent to schools by the Humanist society to help young people live a good life as an Atheist; perhaps it’s hard to do that? Anyway, as our school was sent a copy I thought I had better read it to see how helpful it is. I have to say that some of this book was informative to me as I am not a Muslim, and the writer became an Atheist from a Muslim background. So there were things he said about his upbringing and original religious positions that I have often thought, ‘I wonder if being a Muslim is like that’ and was therefore pleased that he confirmed some of my own expectations of people’s positions. The book is an easy read, however I have lots of problems with his position and arguments, as he criticises any who have a religious view, as he says they usually arrive there by feelings and emotions. I tend to agree that is not a good way to finally arrive, however he would say that he has arrived at his position from reason and research. On reading the book, I would say he was very much influenced by upbringing, emotion and feelings. Also interesting was his point that we usually stick to the position that we were brought up with, however from a historical perspective, at the time of Christ most people turned away from the Greek and Roman Gods of their forefathers to become followers of Jesus. In fact, it only took a couple of hundred years for the new followers to close the temples that the roman empire had built, because, as the governor Pliny notes, writing his letter of complaint to Caesar in the first century, “these Christians are everywhere, the temples are deserted, they have turned the world upside down”. Or maybe the right way up? My problem is further complicated by the fact that I have personally met at least 1,000 people who started life following the religion they were brought up with, and are now followers of Jesus. Again, my life experience begs his questions. Having said that, I found a couple of points to mention, that I have often found in discussions with Atheists, and in this context; reading a book that is supposed to be of help to young people who are Struggling with faith in God. The first being that, so often these scientists or persons of other disciplines are very good perhaps in their area, but when it comes to theology and discussions regarding God they are, sad to say, still in the Kindergarten. So for me, the arguments put forward are tired and not very good at all, boring, dare I say! Better still, to quote the writer George Canty, “Oh dear they do try so hard to be having a good time, but in the end they are such a miserable bunch”. The second thing I find, and it happens in this book, though of course it’s hard to argue with a book, but my experience in discussions with Atheists is that they do it in discussion too. That is, they tell me what I believe, they tell me why I am stupid to believe it, and then there never seems the opportunity to refute it from my position. I am then left knowing that is not what I believe, I have never believed that, but now you have decided I am stupid on the basis of what you think I believe which I don’t. It’s very frustrating. The attack by atheists on straw men, I call it. The big problem that I have with this book is the writer’s position. How on earth can we ever come to a conclusion, agreement, understanding about truth, love, goodness, and define them in his ‘accidental universe’. In his terms, how can these words have any meaning, apart from simply being chemical reactions which, I am sorry, does not cut mustard, because these things are not rational, and therefore surely cannot be rationally defined? For me, there are too many incidents that confirm my belief in God, by doing what the Bible says, which he seems to have missed entirely, such as God saying things like; “question”, “prove me”, “experiment”, “ask” and “see”. All of these both work and are repeatable, as far as I have practically discovered. There are three other things I should say about the book. First of all, I was surprised that he managed to get nearly to the end before quoting Richard Dawkings, I thought he was going to get there by page three! Second thing is, he tells me he is a scientist and proves things by research, experimentation and discovery, and then quotes the Old Testament’s Ten Commandments and gets it totally wrong. He says that the first four commandments of the ten refer to how we should serve the God of the Bible. In fact it is nothing of the sort; the first commandment is how to love God and the second one is how to relate both to your neighbour and yourself, and that is you are to love your neighbour as yourself. Actually, of course you cannot love your neighbour if you don’t love yourself and, as the New Testament emphasises, to say you love God and not your neighbour is nonsense. I would have thought that was easy enough to check and get right if you are going to criticise what is says, which of course is not what it does say! He gets it totally wrong. Finally, he obviously likes C. S. Lewis’s writing, great, but I wonder if he should have used someone else probably because he did not know Lewis’ start point before his strong belief in God. Lewis was of course originally an Atheist, who eventually said “I really like the idea of being an Atheist, I like the whole philosophical position of atheism, however I had to leave that myth behind on the discovery of reality”! W1015 For Good Reads Review 24th May 2014 Adrian Hawkes Edited by Robyn Heather

  13. 4 out of 5

    Charlotte

    I think Shaha captures so much here that is important to grasp. Ideas on religion, faith and the world in general. He acknowledges the flaws and beauties of life with great compassion and understanding. I think this is expressed most beautifully of all when he speaks of books and education. Here is a little snippet to whet your appetite: I love books. They are central to my life. They have shaped me and they have saved me. If loneliness, depression and fear overwhelm me, where others might turn I think Shaha captures so much here that is important to grasp. Ideas on religion, faith and the world in general. He acknowledges the flaws and beauties of life with great compassion and understanding. I think this is expressed most beautifully of all when he speaks of books and education. Here is a little snippet to whet your appetite: I love books. They are central to my life. They have shaped me and they have saved me. If loneliness, depression and fear overwhelm me, where others might turn to drink or drugs I turn to books.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Boris

    Misleading title, but a nice read nonetheless. As a teacher I have seen quite a few students struggle with their religious beliefs as they age, but having been raised in an utterly atheist family myself I have always been eager to read more on the topic, especially concerning Islam. The book is deeply personal, but at the same provides convincing arguments in exactly the right register for the 'young Atheists' it is aimed at. Misleading title, but a nice read nonetheless. As a teacher I have seen quite a few students struggle with their religious beliefs as they age, but having been raised in an utterly atheist family myself I have always been eager to read more on the topic, especially concerning Islam. The book is deeply personal, but at the same provides convincing arguments in exactly the right register for the 'young Atheists' it is aimed at.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Selenei.7

    It is a awesome book about the authors own experience and quite a auto-biography. I am grown fond of the fact that the author put more than enough texts that could eventually help and make his younger audience excited to get to know than just the basic principles of life and how to live as a basic theist. I thank the author so much for this book because it was somewhat quite the emotional support I longed for so long, this book feels like a warm hug :).

  16. 4 out of 5

    Ann Tonks

    What a beautiful book. A humanist book. A book about love and family and learning and thinking. Written by an author who is thoughtful and warm and engaging and challenging. It's a book that every young person should read. A book that fulfils its sub-title "lessons for living a good life without God". What a beautiful book. A humanist book. A book about love and family and learning and thinking. Written by an author who is thoughtful and warm and engaging and challenging. It's a book that every young person should read. A book that fulfils its sub-title "lessons for living a good life without God".

  17. 5 out of 5

    Neil Jenkins

    A solid philosophical look at a science teacher's parting with his Muslim upbringing. He looks at all three Abraham religions from a fair perspective rather than the excitable popularised atheist nonsense that one reads. A solid philosophical look at a science teacher's parting with his Muslim upbringing. He looks at all three Abraham religions from a fair perspective rather than the excitable popularised atheist nonsense that one reads.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Chiro Pipashito T H

    Good book, well written by Bangladeshi born Alom Shaha who is a science teacher in UK. The book's thoughts resonates with my own. Good book, well written by Bangladeshi born Alom Shaha who is a science teacher in UK. The book's thoughts resonates with my own.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Maureen

    Should be in all schools

  20. 4 out of 5

    Barnet Humanist

    The Young Atheist's Handbook is not what it says on the tin. In fact, as I was reading, a series of brilliantly clever puns and critiques of this title were buzzing about my brain, ready to pounce on Shaha's poetic licence in producing what is effectively a well-crafted but badly-titled memoir. And then I saw the light. Well, not really. I read the last chapter. Spoiler alert. The concept of this book is properly addressed in the final chapter, where Shaha's punchline hits home. There simply can't The Young Atheist's Handbook is not what it says on the tin. In fact, as I was reading, a series of brilliantly clever puns and critiques of this title were buzzing about my brain, ready to pounce on Shaha's poetic licence in producing what is effectively a well-crafted but badly-titled memoir. And then I saw the light. Well, not really. I read the last chapter. Spoiler alert. The concept of this book is properly addressed in the final chapter, where Shaha's punchline hits home. There simply can't be a 'handbook for young atheists', because the whole idea of prescribing a model of atheism is self-contradictory. And yet, Shaha reminds, the (ever-growing) population of young nonbelievers shouldn't be deprived of a little book to carry and refer to in times of need or solace, just as we all see the faithful leading through their favourite holy book for comfort in the bus or the train. And herein lies he feat of this book. Grounding the opening chapters in a fascinating and candid biography of his own experience of grief, discrimination and apostasy from Islam, Shaha gradually, gently nudges the reader into reflecting on the social consequences of religion. Without departing from the personal and the biographical, providing the younger reader especially with a narrative thread, the Handbook moves from science to theology and philosophy, providing the young atheist with an accessible yet erudite foundation for accessing the intellectual joys atheism brings. It took the firey prose of Christopher Hitchens' "God is Not Great" for me to openly identify as atheist a few years ago. I believe I might have been spared a decade of garbage 'agnosticism' and fatuously labelling myself as 'spiritual but not religious' if I had read this book as, say, a 20 year-old. So it sort of is a Handbook for Young Atheists, even though it's not. Nobody can or should dictate how to be an atheist to young people, and Shaha elegantly sidesteps this trap. But he also dodges another pitfall; that of rallying atheists by bashing religion. This book steel-mans rather than straw-manning the arguments for religion and, despite his many personal reasons to despise the despotism of faith, Shaha's generosity towards the faithful is truly refreshing. As a fellow teacher, if I had a student approach me about atheism, this book would be at the at the top of my list of suggested reading for them. So despite the wonky title, Shaha has fulfilled WB Yeats' micropoem Gratitude to the Unknown Instructors. What they set out to do, They brought to pass. All things hang like a drop of dew Upon a blade of grass.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Ant Ryan

    I’d heard that the author’s initial idea to write a handbook, to help his students make informed decisions on what to believe with regard to religion, had been modified by his literary agent. They wanted it to tell his very interesting story of a personal journey from a religious upbringing to atheism. Alom Shaha not only succeeded with this task, but in my opinion surpassed it! My wife actually picked up the book for a quick scan before I did, and commented that it “sounded far more interesting I’d heard that the author’s initial idea to write a handbook, to help his students make informed decisions on what to believe with regard to religion, had been modified by his literary agent. They wanted it to tell his very interesting story of a personal journey from a religious upbringing to atheism. Alom Shaha not only succeeded with this task, but in my opinion surpassed it! My wife actually picked up the book for a quick scan before I did, and commented that it “sounded far more interesting than she expected from a book about atheism”. From early on, we get humour and warmth, as well as emotion and excellent reasoning. Furthermore Alom’s objectivity is second to none. I personally have already used some of the tips in discussions with others on the subject of atheism. The nice thing is that rather than a formal handbook (which it isn’t), you feel as though you are reading a semi- autobiography crossed with illustrations from history and different religions, the latter of which are not utilised in a laborious way. I would say that the aspect of it which lives up to the handbook name is the ability to refer back to it if or when you are faced with irrational theistic arguments. For example, I particularly liked the exchange Alom had with a colleague in this respect. On a personal note, as a vegetarian I enjoyed an early comment in the book that showed forward thinking – predicting that one day our rational minds might evolve to look back in disgust at our consumption (and poor treatment) of animals. Conversely, I also enjoyed the early comments on the delight of bacon sandwiches. The format worked so very well because it isn’t simply more of the same when it comes to books about atheism. As Alom suggests, more personal stories around this subject certainly would be welcome. I could relate to so much within the book, which I think is credit to the way the book connects to and engrosses the reader. It gently encourages the reader to think through the beliefs logically. All in all, this book was a well informed, realistic, optimistic and uplifting read. Throughout Alom is very modest about his expertise, which is refreshing, yet if anything it reinforces the honesty, credibility and believability of the whole approach. Easily the best book I’ve read for quite a while!

  22. 5 out of 5

    ZDR

    Firstly, I enjoyed this book. The writing is top notch: it is human, relatable, and sensitive. Alom tries hard to be fair and balanced, to not generalize, and to understand the point of view of the group he's writing against. But the book didn't quite do it for me in a few ways. First, I wasn't really sure what it was supposed to be. The title says 'Handbook', but as Alom himself says, it isn't really. There is a lot of very interesting biographical information about Alom's parents, siblings, and Firstly, I enjoyed this book. The writing is top notch: it is human, relatable, and sensitive. Alom tries hard to be fair and balanced, to not generalize, and to understand the point of view of the group he's writing against. But the book didn't quite do it for me in a few ways. First, I wasn't really sure what it was supposed to be. The title says 'Handbook', but as Alom himself says, it isn't really. There is a lot of very interesting biographical information about Alom's parents, siblings, and life growing up in London, but it is frustratingly limited, and generally used to relate to a point he's trying to make. The biographical elements were my favorite parts of the book, and I really wish he had gone deeper into his life. Had this been written as a biography, I'd have enjoyed it more. It ends up being a collection of essays, on various parts of his struggle with religion. Which, of course, is perfectly acceptable. Ultimately, the author uses this vehicle to express his views and thoughts. And while those thoughts are very interesting coming from the context of a Muslim community in London (something I've certainly had some prolonged exposure to, if not grew up in myself), I feel the arguments he makes against religion in general are not new or original. To her credit, he never claims that the are - just the opposite. I guess I'm just left with some feelings of confusion regarding who the intended audience of this book are. Alom's is an important and unique voice; one of an ex-Muslim and his experiences. Had those experiences been narrated in greater detail, it would have been a fantastic read. But since so much time is spent making arguments agaisnt religion that aren't really new or culturally specific, I'm not left with much, apart from some beautifually written passages about various topics. Nonetheless, it was a quick, entertaining and thought-provoking read, and a welcome voice from an underrrepresented demographic.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Paul Stevenson

    An autobiography more than anything, this is a candid and sympathetic story of the author's life, with an emphasis on his journey from a nominal muslim to a thoughtful and avowed atheist. I enjoyed very much the readable and winning style, the insight into the lives of others, and the contribution to the canon of atheist literature. Unlike perhaps some other ostensibly anti-religion books ("The God Delusion" for example), Shaha is not touting himself or what he writes as some superior moral auth An autobiography more than anything, this is a candid and sympathetic story of the author's life, with an emphasis on his journey from a nominal muslim to a thoughtful and avowed atheist. I enjoyed very much the readable and winning style, the insight into the lives of others, and the contribution to the canon of atheist literature. Unlike perhaps some other ostensibly anti-religion books ("The God Delusion" for example), Shaha is not touting himself or what he writes as some superior moral authority, which is nice, though I must say I found it a bit baffling when he talked about the eating of animals as something that we will look back on in the future and fail to justify morally, while all the same talking up the eating of animals in the present.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Damon Young

    Science is vital for Shaha but he argues that knowledge alone cannot make a good life. In one telling passage, he remembers the role models who guided him: ‘‘They were all adults whom I liked – indeed, loved – and respected, and they showed me how to be good through their actions.’’ Virtues require reflection but they are best taught with exemplification, not lecturing or hectoring. Likewise for science and philosophy: education is more than the peddling of well-packaged facts. The Young Atheist’ Science is vital for Shaha but he argues that knowledge alone cannot make a good life. In one telling passage, he remembers the role models who guided him: ‘‘They were all adults whom I liked – indeed, loved – and respected, and they showed me how to be good through their actions.’’ Virtues require reflection but they are best taught with exemplification, not lecturing or hectoring. Likewise for science and philosophy: education is more than the peddling of well-packaged facts. The Young Atheist’s Handbook is not a work of sophisticated philosophy or science research – nor does it purport to be. Shaha’s prose is plain, with little of Hitchens’s bite or Dawkins’s declarative awe. His work is more like an intelligent, frank conversation with a vibrant teacher. The story – of a young atheist ex-Muslim – is rare enough. Shaha’s talent for raw, lucid narrative makes this an uncommonly moving contribution to debate. Perhaps more importantly, Shaha offers encouragement for all tempted by delusion: better to face one’s real family than to fabricate fictional ones. Read the full review here: http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/b...

  25. 4 out of 5

    Robyn

    Even though Alom and I come from very different backgrounds I found myself relating extremely well to his transition from a child of moderately religious parents to an adult who is a vocal atheist. The questions that he asked himself, and others, through the years were the same ones that I've always been asking. He did a very nice job of illustrating that his transition to atheism was not only an intellectual one but in large part an emotional one. The fact that he could share his journey withou Even though Alom and I come from very different backgrounds I found myself relating extremely well to his transition from a child of moderately religious parents to an adult who is a vocal atheist. The questions that he asked himself, and others, through the years were the same ones that I've always been asking. He did a very nice job of illustrating that his transition to atheism was not only an intellectual one but in large part an emotional one. The fact that he could share his journey without all of the vitriol that permeates other popular books on atheism was refreshing. It took absolutely no 'work' to read. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and it definitely stands out as a favorite. I would especially recommend this book to anyone who feels alone in their lack of belief in a deity or who is struggling to come to grips with questions that are just not being satisfactorily answered by their religion. I would also have no problem recommending this book to a religious person who is trying to understand how someone could possibly be an atheist (something I could not do for some of the most popular books on atheism).

  26. 5 out of 5

    Pete F

    I have recently lost my Christian faith and saw this book in the library and read it avidly. It was just what I wanted to hear. Despite the title, it can usefully be read by people of any age including 58-year old codgers like myself! It is not exactly a handbook, more an autiobiography explaining how one man defied his strict Muslim upbringing to become an atheist, or as some would call him, a Kafir, an infidel or apostate. Although this is the story of a former Muslim who became an atheist, it I have recently lost my Christian faith and saw this book in the library and read it avidly. It was just what I wanted to hear. Despite the title, it can usefully be read by people of any age including 58-year old codgers like myself! It is not exactly a handbook, more an autiobiography explaining how one man defied his strict Muslim upbringing to become an atheist, or as some would call him, a Kafir, an infidel or apostate. Although this is the story of a former Muslim who became an atheist, it can be read by people from a Christian, Jewish or Hindu background who want to give up on God and feel liberated by it. Psychologically, it is an important book especially for young people who have been brought up in one of those religious traditions, and don't know how to make the break or fear the consequences of their family finding out. The author is a British Bangladeshi who experienced racism when he was growing up in the 1970s. He teaches physics and this book looks at the scientific challenges to faith, as well as the philosophical. It shows one can live a good and decent life without reference to a deity. Highly recommended, and a very engaging read.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Mike Casson

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. ((Some Spoilers)) I have had this on my shelf for years (like many of my books) and it has survived at least one house move. But I finally found time to get though it. And get through it I did, it’s safe to say this isn’t a difficult read, it’s title points to its target audience (Young people), it’s structured well and isn’t complex or “wordy” whilst covering basics of philosophy and religion. As many others have pointed out, this isn’t a handbook but rather a memoir, something which the author ((Some Spoilers)) I have had this on my shelf for years (like many of my books) and it has survived at least one house move. But I finally found time to get though it. And get through it I did, it’s safe to say this isn’t a difficult read, it’s title points to its target audience (Young people), it’s structured well and isn’t complex or “wordy” whilst covering basics of philosophy and religion. As many others have pointed out, this isn’t a handbook but rather a memoir, something which the author noted at the end. My main issue with the book is that it came across as a massive F U to his father and his upbringing, rather than a genuine story of someone losing their faith through reason and exploration. No matter how the author tries to explain or even when he brings up his fathers (Dis)belief, it still comes across as rebellion rather than authentic. Maybe I have been spoiled being a young adult during the early years of “new atheism”, but authenticity does matter, and those within the movement had it, this guy I’m not so sure. Maybe I’m being harsh, but this was a huge miss for me.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Steve

    My appreciation of this book comes from the fact that Shaha is writing not only from his experience but also from his heart, that is, why he truly embrace his atheistic stance. He does so by making this book part autobiography and by unpacking the reasons as to why an atheistic lens (rather than a religious one) is the best way of viewing and accepting the purpose to life. The life we have and the purpose that we determine and strive for. Given his religious background it was inevitable for Shah My appreciation of this book comes from the fact that Shaha is writing not only from his experience but also from his heart, that is, why he truly embrace his atheistic stance. He does so by making this book part autobiography and by unpacking the reasons as to why an atheistic lens (rather than a religious one) is the best way of viewing and accepting the purpose to life. The life we have and the purpose that we determine and strive for. Given his religious background it was inevitable for Shaha not to describe his rejection of his faith. His explanation of the path leading to this is unique but also relatable - which is why I am sure it will resonant with a lot of people. It was a privilege to have read this well written book and the accessibility of its content will serve to allow many to connect, learn, and perhaps follow someone who has emerged from a theistic to atheistic standpoint. "...the uncomfortable nature of the truth is not a sufficiently good reason to deny it"

  29. 4 out of 5

    Robert Butler

    The author, Alom Shaha, has been in my Twitter circle for years as a physics teacher but I’d not got around to reading his book as the title put me off (it made me think of some kind of anti-bible). Following lots of discussion about this book from my circle of science teachers on Twitter I decided to check it out again. After reading some reviews I found out that this book was a mixture of autobiography and reflections on atheism and decided to give it a go. I found the book extremely easy to re The author, Alom Shaha, has been in my Twitter circle for years as a physics teacher but I’d not got around to reading his book as the title put me off (it made me think of some kind of anti-bible). Following lots of discussion about this book from my circle of science teachers on Twitter I decided to check it out again. After reading some reviews I found out that this book was a mixture of autobiography and reflections on atheism and decided to give it a go. I found the book extremely easy to read and the stories from the author’s childhood held my interest, and gave an engaging framework on which to pin the more gritty content. The language of the book is suitable for all would be highly appropriate for older school pupils and university students who are starting to question their beliefs. Having dabbled with writing by Richard Dawkins, I found this book far easier to digest and relate to.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Beth

    I don't normally read non-fiction as I can rarely get through a whole book without being distracted by my fiction TBR pile. This however was so fascinating and interesting that I read it straight through and kept going back to re-read passages which I wanted to give more thought to. I found the style of writing a perfect mix between fact and biographical reminiscence and there were some really excellent points made on a range of different subjects. I loved the Narnia chapter because I am fascina I don't normally read non-fiction as I can rarely get through a whole book without being distracted by my fiction TBR pile. This however was so fascinating and interesting that I read it straight through and kept going back to re-read passages which I wanted to give more thought to. I found the style of writing a perfect mix between fact and biographical reminiscence and there were some really excellent points made on a range of different subjects. I loved the Narnia chapter because I am fascinated by what people read and why they make their reading choices - also which books influence their lives. I have already passed this on or recommended it to other people because I agree with lifestyle and thought being about an individual choice not an indoctrination from childhood and this book puts that point across without preaching or making you feel as though the writer is forcing his views onto you. Definitely the most interesting non-fiction book I have read!

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