What We Are Reading Today: Village Atheists

Updated 30 December 2018

What We Are Reading Today: Village Atheists

Author: Leigh Eric Schmidt

A much-maligned minority throughout American history, atheists have been cast as a threat to the nation’s moral fabric, barred from holding public office, and branded as irreligious misfits.
Yet, village atheists — as these godless freethinkers came to be known by the close of the 19t century — were also hailed for their gutsy dissent from stultifying pieties and for posing a necessary secularist challenge to majoritarian entanglements of church and state.
Village Atheists explores the complex cultural terrain that unbelievers have long had to navigate in their fight to secure equal rights and liberties in American public life, says a review on the Princeton University Press website.
Leigh Eric Schmidt rebuilds the history of American secularism from the ground up, giving flesh and blood to these outspoken infidels, including itinerant lecturer Samuel Porter Putnam; rough-edged cartoonist Watson Heston; convicted blasphemer Charles B. Reynolds; and reformer Elmina D. Slenker. He describes their everyday confrontations with devout neighbors.


What We Are Reading Today: Not Born Yesterday by Hugo Mercier

Updated 26 January 2020

What We Are Reading Today: Not Born Yesterday by Hugo Mercier

Not Born Yesterday explains how we decide who we can trust and what we should believe — and argues that we’re pretty good at making these decisions. 

In this lively and provocative book, Hugo Mercier demonstrates how virtually all attempts at mass persuasion — whether by religious leaders, politicians, or advertisers — fail miserably, says a review on the Princeton University Press website. 

Drawing on recent findings from political science and other fields ranging from history to anthropology, Mercier shows that the narrative of widespread gullibility, in which a credulous public is easily misled by demagogues and charlatans, is simply wrong.

Why is mass persuasion so difficult? Mercier uses the latest findings from experimental psychology to show how each of us is endowed with sophisticated cognitive mechanisms of open vigilance. 

Computing a variety of cues, these mechanisms enable us to be on guard against harmful beliefs, while being open enough to change our minds when presented with the right evidence.