Review: ‘The Happy Atheist’, by PZ Myers

The Happy AtheistThe Happy Atheist by P.Z. Myers
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

While it admittedly sounds harsher than I really intend, what I want to say about this book is that I don’t have much to say at all, because neither does PZ Myers. By this I don’t mean at all that he is unintelligent or inarticulate in his criticisms and observations; he is obviously both of these things and has a relatively commensurate following in the skeptical community. Arguably worse, this book largely commits the cardinal sin that the late and indelible Christopher Hitchens warned against above all others: this book is boring. ‘Chapter’ (edited blog post) after ‘chapter’, the same metaphor kept struggling to take shape in my mind — something about low-hanging fruit that wasn’t quite right, but more something along the lines of PZ Meyers wandering alone in the fruit orchard that has been picked clean. He’s not looking for a new orchard, or planting new trees, so to speak.

Every single criticism here is well worn, every argument is an argument rehashed, every snarky aside not only a second act but a second act that can’t live up to the first. I honestly cannot locate one point raised here that is either original or at least an entertaining and engaging re-interaction with a point familiar to Myers’ audience. Anyone remotely familiar with the work of the New Atheists will feel, probably, both bored and shorted, page by page. Missing both depth and any rich rhetorical work, it just feels like a hollow collection of prose. Revisit Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens, Dennett, Krauss, Stenger, et al, and feel assured you’ll find the same ground and find it better guided. It’s not that Myers is wrong or bearing any great argumentative faults, and I’d argue if he were it’d actually make for a more worthwhile book. But it seems that Myers shies away from anything but the most superficial and cozily familiar ground, doesn’t seem to want to step more than a couple feet into the more challenging terrain. His writing and personality have never struck me as terribly lazy or insecure, so I’m at a loss to explain this. I’d like to see someone of Myers’ intellect and at least affected confidence put more skin in the game and dig a little deeper. It’s certainly telling that I am about as deep in his targeted audience as one could be and I couldn’t force myself to finish the last 1/4 of the book out of sheer disinterest.

‘The Happy Atheist’ is like a third-rate cover band; loving the original only makes you all the more disappointed, and you wish the frontman would apply himself a bit more.

View all my reviews


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