cover image The Age of Atheists: How We Have Sought to Live Since the Death of God

The Age of Atheists: How We Have Sought to Live Since the Death of God

Peter Watson. Simon & Schuster, $35 (512p) ISBN 978-1-4767-5431-4

In his 14th book, British journalist and historian Watson (The Great Divide) turns his estimable intellectual skills on the history of non-belief - which he calls "a major plank of modernity" %E2%80%93beginning with Friedrich Nietzsche's 1882 declaration that "God is dead." While this ground is well-trodden, Watson takes an intriguing course: he charts it by genre. Particularly fascinating are passages about non-belief's impact on the arts. Too many Americans, those of faith and no faith, are unaware that atheism is not an invention of the "New Atheists" Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and Sam Harris (who all fall under Watson's scrutiny), but has a history of expression in literature (James Joyce, Samuel Beckett), art (Rene Magritte, Jackson Pollock), poetry (Seamus Heaney, Czes%C5%82aw Mi%C5%82osz) and dance (Rudolf Laban, Isadora Duncan). The beauty of this book is Watson's ability to impose order on a riot of ideas. Still, this is not light reading%E2%80%94the book clocks in at over 500 well-footnoted pages. But even the casual reader will find much to delight and enlighten as Watson elegantly connects the dots from Nietzsche and William James to Bob Dylan and jazz. Agent: Robin Straus, Robin Straus Agency. (Feb. 18)