Penn Jillette's 6 favorite books
The eccentric magician recommends Moby-Dick, a Houdini biography, and, perhaps surprisingly, the Bible
Moby-Dick by Herman Melville (Dover, $5). My favorite book; I'm always reading it. As soon as I finish it, I start it again. Consider this line: “So ignorant are most landsmen of some of the plainest and most palpable wonders of the world, that without some hints touching the plain facts, historical and otherwise, of the fishery, they might scout at Moby Dick as a monstrous fable, or still worse and more detestable, a hideous and intolerable allegory.” To me that means the white whale is God, and Ahab is wasting his life chasing God.
The Secret Life of Houdini: The Making of America's First Superhero by William Kalush and Larry Sloman (Atria, $18). Sure, Houdini was the son of a rabbi and never said he was an atheist. But he did say that if there was life after death, he would come back and tell us. He didn't come back; that makes this an atheist book.
Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $30). This is the best magic book ever written. I don't think Kahneman thought he was writing a book on magic, but most magicians don't think they're studying how the brain works, so we're even. God doesn't come up in this book.
Human Smoke by Nicholson Baker (Simon & Schuster, $16). I could really pick any book by Baker. He's my favorite writer. Nicholson is a peacenik like me, and if you think World War II was a just war, this book will give you another think. World War II proves there's no God.
The Man Who Fed the World: Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Norman Borlaug and His Battle to End World Hunger by Leon Hesser (Park East, $20). Norman Borlaug was the father of the “green revolution” and saved more than a billion people around the world—doing God's work, because God isn't going to.
The Bible by...a bunch of guys in the desert. If you're considering becoming at atheist, read the Bible from cover to cover. No study guides, no spins, just read it. Sometime between when God tells Abraham to kill his son and when Jesus tells everyone to put him before their families, you'll be an atheist.