Grand Traverse Humanists
Careful thinking… thoughtful caring

Book Club


Candidate Without a Prayer, by Herb Silverman

April 15, 2018

Following our visit from atheist activist Herb Silverman, we'll discuss his book "Candidate Without a Prayer." In this deeply revealing and engaging autobiography, Herb Silverman tells his iconoclastic life story. Equal parts Bertrand Russell, Woody Allen, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, he takes the reader from his childhood as an Orthodox Jew in Philadelphia, where he stopped fasting on Yom Kippur to test God’s existence, to his adult life in the heart of the Bible Belt, where he became a legendary figure within America’s secular activist community and remains one of its most beloved leaders.

Never one to shy from controversy, Silverman relates many of his high-profile battles with the Religious Right, including his decision to run for governor of South Carolina to challenge the state’s constitutional provision that prohibited atheists from holding public office, and his experiences facing Christian fundamentalists of all stripes in open debate. He is equally candid about the battles he has faced in the secular community itself and the many hurdles he overcame in the historic step of politically uniting the country’s major secular, humanist, and atheist groups under the banner of the Secular Coalition for America.

Silverman combines a satirist’s pen with an activist’s passion, revealing in humorous and often moving ways a personal side few know. Famous for dispatching his opponents and those who might question him with a few carefully chosen words, here he disarms with refreshing candor about his own foibles and flaws, and unabashed honesty about his work and life.

With a voice that crackles with effortless wit and with prose that reveals deep, often hidden wisdom, Candidate Without A Prayer offers an intimate portrait of a central player in today’s increasingly heated culture wars. It will be sure to charm both believers and nonbelievers alike, and will lead all those who care about the separation of church and state to give thanks (if not a prayer) for Silverman’s many gifts to humankind and America’s future.

Reviews of Candidate Without a Prayer:

"An entertaining and informative look at America’s culture war from a writer who has been embedded in the front lines."
Steven Pinker, Harvard College Professor of Psychology, Harvard University, and author of The Better Angels of our Nature.

"Iconoclastic atheist, humorist, and mathematician Herb Silverman takes you on an entertaining tour of his irreverent life, so far."
Wendy Kaminer, lawyer, social critic, and author of seven books.

"Herb Silverman’s autobiography is not an anti-theological treatise.  It is, however, a warm, deeply personal and inspiring tale of one atheist’s travels through life in one of America’s most religion-drenched regions.  Silverman “plays well” with believers and non-believers who share this core belief: no government official dare treat a person as a second class citizen because of what she or he believes about God, gods, or the non-existence of them."
Reverend Barry Lynn, Executive Director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State

"It isn't often that inveterate honesty and inviolable reasonableness are combined with such a sweet disposition and a wonderful sense of humor. Those who don't yet know Herb will find in this wonderfully entertaining tale of how he became a fighting atheist a man of true wit, true warmth, and true wisdom."
Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, author of 36 Arguments for the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction


The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams





The Nordic Theory of Everything, by Anu Partanen

August 20, 2017

A Finnish journalist, now a naturalized American citizen, asks Americans to draw on elements of the Nordic way of life to nurture a fairer, happier, more secure, and less stressful society for themselves and their children.

Moving to America in 2008, Finnish journalist Anu Partanen quickly went from confident, successful professional to wary, self-doubting mess. She found that navigating the basics of everyday life—from buying a cell phone and filing taxes to education and childcare—was much more complicated and stressful than anything she encountered in her homeland. At first, she attributed her crippling anxiety to the difficulty of adapting to a freewheeling new culture. But as she got to know Americans better, she discovered they shared her deep apprehension. To understand why life is so different in the U.S. and Finland, Partanen began to look closely at both.

In The Nordic Theory of Everything, Partanen compares and contrasts life in the United States with life in the Nordic region, focusing on four key relationships—parents and children, men and women, employees and employers, and government and citizens. She debunks criticism that Nordic countries are socialist “nanny states,” revealing instead that it is we Americans who are far more enmeshed in unhealthy dependencies than we realize. As Partanen explains step by step, the Nordic approach allows citizens to enjoy more individual freedom and independence than we do.

Partanen wants to open Americans’ eyes to how much better things can be—to show her beloved new country what it can learn from her homeland to reinvigorate and fulfill the promise of the American dream—to provide the opportunity to live a healthy, safe, economically secure, upwardly mobile life for everyone. Offering insights, advice, and solutions, The Nordic Theory of Everything makes a convincing argument that we can rebuild our society, rekindle our optimism, and restore true freedom to our relationships and lives.


The Book of Joy by the Dalai Lama, Bishop Desmond Tutu, and Douglas Abrams

May 2017

“The question may be timeless, but their answer has urgent significance.”
—Time Magazine

"This sparkling, wise, and immediately useful gift to readers from two remarkable spiritual masters offers hope that joy is possible for everyone even in the most difficult circumstances, and describes a clear path for attaining it."
Publishers Weekly

"The world needs joy and compassion more than ever before – and who better than Archbishop Tutu and the Dalai Lama to show us how it is done. This beautiful book takes us on the journey of their friendship and gives us the gift of their wisdom. A bright spot of hope and love in this world."
—Sir Richard Branson

"It's a book that transports you deep within the intimate friendship that binds these two incredible souls. And it’s a book that vividly probes the very nature of joy itself — the illusions that eclipse it, the obstacles that obscure it, the practices that cultivate it, and the pillars that sustain it."
—Rich Roll, The Rich Roll Podcast  --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

About the Authors

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, describes himself as a simple Buddhist monk. He is the spiritual leader of the Tibetan People and of Tibetan Buddhism. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989 and the US Congressional Gold Medal in 2007. Born in 1935 to a poor farming family in northeastern Tibet he was recognized at the age of two as the reincarnation of his predecessor, the 13th Dalai Lama. He has been a passionate advocate for a secular universal approach to cultivating fundamental human values. For over three decades the Dalai Lama has maintained an ongoing conversation and collaboration with scientists from a wide range of disciplines, especially through the Mind and Life Institute, an organization that he co-founded. The Dalai Lama travels extensively, promoting kindness and compassion, interfaith understanding, respect for the environment, and, above all, world peace. He lives in exile in Dharamsala, India. For more information, please visit

Desmond Mpilo Tutu, Archbishop Emeritus of Southern Africa, became a prominent leader in the crusade for justice and racial reconciliation in South Africa. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984 and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009. In 1994, Tutu was appointed chair of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission by Nelson Mandela, where he pioneered a new way for countries to move forward after experiencing civil conflict and oppression. He was the founding chair of The Elders, a group of global leaders working together for peace and human rights. Archbishop Tutu is regarded as a leading moral voice and an icon of hope. Throughout his life, he has cared deeply about the needs of people around the world, teaching love and compassion for all. He lives in Cape Town, South Africa. For more information please visit

Douglas Abrams is an author, editor, and literary agent. He is the founder and president of Idea Architects, a creative book and media agency helping visionaries to create a wiser, healthier, and more just world. He is also the co-founder with Pam Omidyar and Desmond Tutu of, a public benefit company working to share life-changing and world-changing ideas. Doug has worked with Desmond Tutu as his cowriter and editor for over a decade, and before founding his own literary agency, he was a senior editor at HarperCollins and also served for nine years as the religion editor at the University of California Press. He believes strongly in the power of books and media to catalyze the next stage of global evolutionary culture. He lives in Santa Cruz, California. For more information, please visit and


Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance

April 2017


"You will not read a more important book about America this year."—The Economist

From a former marine and Yale Law School graduate, a probing look at the struggles of America’s white working class through the author’s own story of growing up in a poor Rust Belt town

Hillbilly Elegy is a passionate and personal analysis of a culture in crisis—that of poor, white Americans. The disintegration of this group, a process that has been slowly occurring now for over forty years, has been reported with growing frequency and alarm, but has never before been written about as searingly from the inside. In Hillbilly Elegy, J.D. Vance tells the true story of what a social, regional, and class decline feels like when you were born with it hanging around your neck.

The Vance family story began with hope in postwar America. J.D.’s grandparents were “dirt poor and in love” and moved north from Kentucky’s Appalachia region to Ohio in the hopes of escaping the dreadful poverty around them. They raised a middle-class family, and eventually one of their grandchildren would graduate from Yale Law School, a conventional marker of success in achieving generational upward mobility. But as the family saga of Hillbilly Elegy plays out, we learn that J.D.’s grandparents, aunt, uncle, sister, and, most of all, his mother struggled profoundly with the demands of their new middle-class life, never fully escaping the legacy of abuse, alcoholism, poverty, and trauma so characteristic of their part of America. With piercing honesty, Vance shows how he himself still carries around the demons of his chaotic family history.

A deeply moving memoir, with its share of humor and vividly colorful figures, Hillbilly Elegy is the story of how upward mobility really feels. And it is an urgent and troubling meditation on the loss of the American dream for a large segment of this country.

About the author

J.D. Vance grew up in the Rust Belt city of Middletown, Ohio, and the Appalachian town of Jackson, Kentucky. He enlisted in the Marine Corps after high school and served in Iraq. A graduate of the Ohio State University and Yale Law School, he has contributed to the National Review and is a principal at a leading Silicon Valley investment firm. Vance lives in San Francisco with his wife and two dogs.


“[A] compassionate, discerning sociological analysis…Combining thoughtful inquiry with firsthand experience, Mr. Vance has inadvertently provided a civilized reference guide for an uncivilized election, and he’s done so in a vocabulary intelligible to both Democrats and Republicans. Imagine that.” (Jennifer Senior, New York Times)

“[Hillbilly Elegy] is a beautiful memoir but it is equally a work of cultural criticism about white working-class America….[Vance] offers a compelling explanation for why it’s so hard for someone who grew up the way he did to make it…a riveting book.” (Wall Street Journal)

“[Vance’s] description of the culture he grew up in is essential reading for this moment in history.” (David Brooks, New York Times)

“[Hillbilly Elegy] couldn’t have been better timed...a harrowing portrait of much that has gone wrong in America over the past two honest look at the dysfunction that afflicts too many working-class Americans.” (National Review)

[A]n American classic, an extraordinary testimony to the brokenness of the white working class, but also its strengths. It’s one of the best books I’ve ever read… [T]he most important book of 2016. You cannot understand what’s happening now without first reading J.D. Vance. (Rod Dreher,The American Conservative)

“J.D. Vance’s memoir, “Hillbilly Elegy”, offers a starkly honest look at what that shattering of faith feels like for a family who lived through it. You will not read a more important book about America this year.” (The Economist)

“[A] frank, unsentimental, harrowing memoir...a superb book...” (New York Post)

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