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Publisher's Summary

Here is an impassioned plea for reason in a world divided by faith. This important and timely work delivers a startling analysis of the clash of faith and reason in today's world.

Harris offers a vivid historical tour of mankind's willingness to suspend reason in favor of religious beliefs, even when those beliefs are used to justify harmful behavior and sometimes heinous crimes. He asserts that in the shadow of weapons of mass destruction, the world can no longer tolerate views that pit one true god against another. Most controversially, he argues that the we cannot afford moderate lip service to religion - an accommodation that only blinds us to the real perils of fundamentalism.

While warning against the encroachment of organized religion into world politics, Harris also draws on new evidence from neuroscience and insights from philosophy to explore spirituality as a biological, brain-based need. He calls on us to invoke that need in taking a secular humanistic approach to solving the problems of this world.

©2007 Sam Harris (P)2004 W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

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  • Mark
  • Reno, NV, United States
  • 08-04-13

Easy to misinterpret

Any additional comments?

A brilliant discussion of why faith (belief in something you can’t prove) is incompatible with a world brimming with weapons of mass destruction. I'd stopped reading this after a couple of chapters when the book came out years ago because Harris said something that angered me. Since then, he’s found himself frequently explaining how people misinterpreted that part (allegedly saying Islam should be outlawed; he also has pointed out misinterpretations about the part involving a nuclear first strike on the Middle East). So I decided to try it again since I've enjoyed his subsequent books, especially “The Moral Landscape.” And, yep, I didn’t fully grasp what he was saying. This is a deeply thought-provoking book. I especially liked his takedown of Chomsky on moral equivalency.

The narrator is boring and robotic at first but either he becomes more invested in the text as it goes along or I got used to him so that about a third of the way through, his delivery didn't grate anymore.

18 of 18 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Good book, bad narrator

Great book, good ideas. Wish Sam Harris had read it himself. The narrator doesn't seem to be able to inflect and give proper emphasis to Sam's words.

35 of 37 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Good book ruined by poor narration

I really think that I would have enjoyed this book had the narrator been good or had I read it on paper. Sam Harris makes solid arguments and I like his writing style, but the narrator was atrocious. I listen to a lot of audiobooks and I have yet to encounter a book so throughly ruined by bad reading: stilted affectation, odd emphases, and a cadence so strange that I could barely decipher sentence structures. Overall, this book was a chore to get through. Do yourself a favor and buy this book on paper.

I want to add a note about the Islam bashing mentioned by several other reviewers. This book is critical of Islam, but I don't think that it's unfairly critical. Sam Harris is making an appeal for sanity and, in today's world, Christianity and Islam are the two greatest sources of insanity. So, from my perspective, he could have fairly been more critical of Christianity, but that doesn't mean the book is filled with unfair Islam bashing.

23 of 26 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Michael
  • Brighton, MA, USA
  • 04-23-08

Great

One of my all time favorite books. It's too bad Sam is not the narrator because he is a superb speaker. However the guy they have does a decent job. I will say when I ordered the book it stated that Sam was the narrator so I was a little bummed about that. Audible has sinced fixed the error.

15 of 17 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Eduardo
  • Aberdeen, SD, USA
  • 08-02-08

Almost a five-star work

A rather enjoyable, lucid, and coherent discussion on how and why religious beliefs have created so much suffering in the history of humankind. From why it is untenable to argue in favor of religion as the basis for our morality, to very cohesive arguments supporting morality as unrelated to, and indeed murkied by, religious dogma.

The narrator leads the listener through sometimes very complex reasoning in a clear and lively manner. I wish I could give this audiobook 4 and a half stars, but this rating is not available. The only reason for this is the somewhat oddly placed last chapter on meditation and spirituality. However, I must say the author recovers from this to some extent in the afterword, with his rationale for having included this topic in the book. His "Letter to a Christian Nation" further refines and clarifies many of the central arguments introduced in this book.

Overall a great read/listen. It nicely complements Dawkins' work. However, I have enjoyed more the latter's more unapologetic style.

19 of 22 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Seth
  • Ocala, FL, USA
  • 05-22-08

Disappointed

The reader didn't read the words as Harris wrote them. Emphasis was placed at the wrong points in sentences throughout the book. Thankfully I have the book in print as well, otherwise I would have been completely lost due to the readers recording. Great book, horrible audiobook.

33 of 39 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Byron
  • Venice, CA, USA
  • 01-13-09

Excellent pace and arguments make for a great read

From historical atrocities to modern atrocities, from Judaism to Christianity to Islam, from terror to charity, Harris makes the case that religion is not just wrong, it's dangerous. He offers an alternative: rational, phenomenological exploration of consciousness. Far from academically laborious, "The End of Faith" is a perfect introduction to the atheist movement or a great source for those already knowledgeable. Very compelling, but will it change any minds? Are religious people open to correction?

15 of 18 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Tyler
  • Calgary, Alberta, Canada
  • 07-03-08

Excelent

Sam Harris is a great writer and speaker, and this book highlights many of his best ideas. A strong and always reasonable voice in the secular community. I could have done with less of the chapter regarding torture, for although his points were valid, they felt out of context from the rest of the material. I found that Letter to a Christian Nation had a lot more bang for it's buck, and I've heard better points that he omitted here in his debates and lectures.

Can't wait for the next book.

7 of 8 people found this review helpful

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Surprisingly disappointing

I listened to Richard Dawkin's the god delusion and found it a good book, which, though self admittedly biased and partial took a pretty fair, even handed and careful approach.
Since I am overall a fan of Sam Harris, I expected something similar, a take on religion that is critical but well reasoned.

I was rather disappointed, and for the hasty reader:
If you consider this book, do look at the God Delusion first, you will find better arguments there.


The core problem, I think is this: Harris will flip-flop on several of his approaches.
What he says will be inconsistent with each other and I shall try to explain how:


1. He first looks at religion in a scriptural literalist approach, he gives the thought experiment of a person from a past century, placed in the modern age, highlighting that such a person would know pretty much everything there is to know about his, in this case, christian religion, but be terribly out of date and seemingly moronic on pretty much everything else.

He will argue, that modern moderate religious position owe their existence to outside developments: not to christian values, so to say, but to modern sensibilities.

And those arguments can be made. One can see a religion as primarily defined by its foundational documents, especially since officially, all of those still stand as canonical in Christianity, in Judaism, in Islam, etc.
They have not been overruled in the same way that constitutions have been changed, even though it seems rather oversimplified to not give more space to how theologians have dealt with them.


However, if this is one's reasoning, if one sees theologians' modern interpretations as in the end, relatively inconsequential, then one will not be able to argue the way the authors does.

You cannot blame Christianity for antisemitism, as all such ideology is not in any way less contemporary theology (the texts still talk of the old covenant, the prophets, the entire Jewish foundation of Christianity) than moderate modern outlooks.
Similarly, other atrocities can not be blamed on Christianity, whenever they go beyond the texts and the theological foundation.

You have to decide whether religion is eternally defined by its foundation, or whether it is a changing phenomenon developing over time.

So either you will have to accept both the good and the bad changes, or discard them both.
You cannot have your derision of modern moderate religious groups and your condemnations of every evil ever carried out in the name of a religion.
Arguing that way seems awfully convenient.


2.The same problem I see in his views of atrocities and deeds of compassion.

Same Harris will argue, that you need no irrational believes to do good (when talking about Christians for example protecting Jews under the Third Reich motivated by their Christian faith), but then claim that for genocides and similar atrocities, one will find irrational believes behind them.
I find this a very bold assertion.

First, mass killings of "out-group" individuals, paired with acquiring their resources (including land) can hardly be argued to lack any "rational" reasoning - as immoral as that rationality is for us.
Third Reich Germany acquired massive short term profits from confiscating Jewish fortunes. Their ideas of war and conquest similarly were founded on ideas of massive land acquisitions.

And they are not in any case the first. History is teeming with atrocities which were highly profitable for those carrying them out. Irrational believes make a good tool, for sure, to direct and organize such activities (ideologies give swift access to an in-group and an out-group to attack), but denying the fact, that such atrocities tend to have very materialistic motives seems questionable.

On the contrary though, looking at primarily cost-benefit aspects, actions such as risking your own life and that of your family to oppose a regime like the Nazis and thus possibly facing the same fate as the people you help, this indeed seems hard to justify.
You need at least some sort of irrational believe to place the necessity of such an altruistic act (which will not even benefit your gene's survival) over the costs it imposes on you.

Now, do not get me wrong, this does not mean that any religious sentiment is necessary to do those altruistic acts, clearly it is not. A completely secular belief in the value of altruism perfectly suffices.

But Sam Harris will be quick to label secular ideologies as quasi-religious. And if we will liken an atrocity comparable to ones we see in some religious contexts to a religion, but not also liken a selfless act which we see in some religious contexts, then we are engaging in quite a bit of inconsistency.


So in the end, I am left with a book that seems to attempt some not even very subtle rhetorical tricks to argue against religion.
Could we not instead look at what actually causes atrocities?
How about we look at the phenomenon of group formation and violence between groups - and within against those who are seen to deviate from the group identity?
How about we stop obsessing about the relatively inconsequential part of whether or not superstition is involved (believing in unproven things of a supernatural nature) and focus on the very real problem of justifying violence and atrocities against others?
You can both be a perfectly peaceful superstitious person as well as a violent non superstitious ideologue.

Sam Harris does address the "superstitious" part, I think those are the actually good passages of the book.
He will argue quite well, if not in a very original way, that any benefits of religion are completely unrelated to their veracity - which is completely true for plainly obvious logical reasons.
But as it stands, the End of Faith offers little that has not been said better elsewhere and a lot of unsound reasoning.

The book however is also over ten years old.
I personally think judging more recent talks and podcasts, that Sam Harris has become better at this.
Thus, I would advise any potential buyer to look at other, especially more recent books. The end of Faith feels very sadly lacking and does compare poorly to books like "The God Delusion".

As a small aside, I do find it a shame that Sam Harris does not narrate this book himself, I do overall prefer him to Brian Emerson as a narrator.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Brilliant!

A great read. Still relevant 10 years later. A fair, measured approach to a sensitive topic. Sam Harris is quickly becoming one if my favorite authors.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful