Village Atheists: How America’s Unbelievers Made Their Way in a Godly Nation, by Leigh Eric Schmidt (Princeton, N. J.: Princeton University Press, 2017, ISBN 9780691168647). 337 pp. Hardcov er. $35.00.
One index of the freethought tradition’s marginalization is that most of the literature about it arises from within the movement. For example, there are five major biographies of nineteenth-century agnostic orator Robert Green Ingersoll. All were written by admirers; by any objective standard, their tone is cloyingly sycophantic. The best general reference works in the field were edited or authored by insiders: Gordon Stein (The Encyclopedia of Unbelief, 1985); Bill Cooke (Dictionary of Atheism, Skepticism, and Humanism, 2006); and, casting modesty to the wind, yours truly (The New Encyclopedia of Unbelief, 2007). I could go further, but the idea should be clear: for decades, American freethought seemed a backwater, a field about which few not already involved in it would take the trouble to write.