The New Encyclopedia of Unbelief
THE fact that I contributed one small article to this massive work hardly debars me, I think, from reviewing it.
Owing little to A Rationalist Encyclopedia (1948) by Joseph McCabe, the book under review is edited by Tom Flynn, who also edits the American journal Free Inquiry, and it is the direct, expanded and updated, successor to The Encyclopedia of Unbelief (1985) edited for Prometheus Books by the late Gordon Stein.
Unlike McCabe’s Encyclopedia, which was the work of a single author, this one is a compilation of almost 200 different writers, some of whom have contributed a number of entries.
The standards of content and style inevitably vary, but each topic has generally been allocated to a known expert in that field – even to the extent of familiar hobby-horses and cherished formulations. For good measure, there is a foreword by Richard Dawkins on the liberating effect of jettisoning god-belief.
Whereas McCabe dealt at length with institutional religion, particularly that of Rome – reflecting his own youth as a Franciscan priest – the main concerns of the present volume are philosophical argument and the life’s work of individual freethinkers of the past, together with the campaigns they inspired.
Handsomely produced, with silver lettering on a black stiff cover, this book, as well as affording a valuable reference resource, will visually grace any book-shelf and withstand the frequent perusal it is sure to receive.
The New Encyclopedia of Unbelief is published by Prometheus Books (Amherst, NY), 2007, hard-cover, 910 pp, $199.
• Freethinker, April 2008