Sunday, August 14, 2011

Next time I’ll just say “GOD, NO!”

I don’t often do book reviews on my blog. I’ll leave reviews on amazon , but my blog is largely dedicated to ... well, lets face it... me and my perspectives on things religious.

But when the publisher Simon & Schuster asked me to accept a free copy of a famous personage’s latest tome, someone I respect and whose views I share and humor I appreciate; and asks me to post a review on my blog ...well, convention gets pushed aside. It’s Penn Jillette from the Penn & Teller team! Penn, from the TV show “Bullshit!”. PENN, atheist and comedian and magician par excellence! Fucking A I’ll review it!

Now, see that word above ... “fucking”? This paragraph will contain the last use of that word in this blog post. I have no problem with the word fuck; it has its varied and legitimate uses. It’s a great word. But after reading the word fuck some four- hundred times over 230 pages (that’s 1.7 “fucks” per page) one becomes aware of its overuse. Fifty fucks is shock value. One-hundred fucks are fun and games. Four-hundred fucks is overkill. If one can’t dredge up enough wit without “fuck” dependency ... well, there’s a fucking problem

If that was the only problem with Penn Jillette’s "God, No! Signs you may already be an atheist, and other magical tales” I’d give it five stars. Unfortunately it goes much deeper than that.

The first forty to fifty pages are absolute genius. I found myself nodding in agreement with Penn’s disdain for agnostics, a point of view I have voiced here and in my books. I loved what he had to say about Christians who call atheists “know it alls who have all the answers” when in fact we are the first to say “I don’t know”, while religionists claim knowledge of the “absolute truth” without an iota of evidence. I laughed so hard reading about the antics of Extreme Elvis and the atheist conversion of Hassidim that I couldn’t read through the tears and actually had to put down the book lest I pass out from lack of oxygen.

But unexpectedly, like getting hit in the face with a brick filled pie, his on point and amusing commentary on atheism, religion, the foolishness of belief, and rejection of reality faded away. Without warning the tales descended into something less than magical. What followed were rambling, hideously detailed accounts of Jillette’s personal experiences and sexual exploits that have no detectable connection to the theme implied by the book’s title and promised by the opening chapters. Let me highlight a few of the most memorably forgettable chapters:

  • His naked weightless frolicing and vomit filled ride on a zero gravity airplane.

  • His naked field trip to a gay bath house in the 80’s.

  • His ruminating over his departed older sister whose most admirable quality was that she stated she’d sacrifice the lives of millions of innocents at the hands of an atomic bomb terrorist, rather than turn him in if the terrorist in question was her brother Penn.

  • His admiration for aged porn star Ron Jeremy’s genitalia and ability to perform fellatio on himself.

  • His love of strip clubs and lap dances and the importance of never denigrating an unattractive stripper.

  • His wager that he could have intercourse with a gorgeous large-breasted model while scuba diving which culminated in his masturbating in the ocean, providing a protein snack for the native fish. [Note: all of his many sexual exploits are with gorgeous large breasted women].

  • His obsessions with (A) nakedness (his own), (B) masturbation/ejaculation, and admiration for (C) surgically enhanced breasts, and (D) penises (mostly his own).

I didn’t count the number of references to those last four topics but if I were a betting man, and I am, I’d say one-hundred-fifty references would be a conservative estimate. (Note: that would be 0.65 exhibitionist, sex/masturbation, tits, and penis/cock reference on every page).

I’m as far from being a prude as one can be. I can appreciate ribald stories. I have been called a dirty old man since I was fifteen. But I kept looking for some meaning, some tie back to the primary topic, some redeeming quality and justification. I came up empty. Oh, for sure there were subsequent if somewhat forced stabs at bringing the atheism theme back into the forefront. But it seemed like an after thought given that the bulk of the book was devoted to the shenanigans of an aging, sex obsessed, self-indulgent, and eternal high school sophomore. I wanted desperately to like this book, because I love Penn Jillette. I suppose if I were a teenaged pimple faced kid I’d find it very cool. Instead, I found it a massive disappointment and inexplicably depressing.

Nevertheless, "God , No!" will likely be a big seller among hardcore admirers of Penn who will masturbate under the covers with a flashlight as they live vicariously through the imagery of Penn inserting his finger into a gorgeous model’s anus. He’ll make a ton of money from them, and from the betrayed unsuspecting fan who was seeking Penn’s insights on the religious culture war. I wish him well with that.

By the way, if the back cover blurb attributed to Richard Dawkins (Penn claims him as a friend) was actually written by Dawkins, he should be ashamed of himself. If it was written for Dawkins by a press agent that he shares with Jillette, he should sue the pants off the fu ... uh ... clown.


NewEnglandBob said...

Terrific timing, Hump. I have this book on my wish list and would probably have bought it on my Kindle when it gets released the day after tomorrow (8/16).

Thank you so much for the review, you saved me $11.99 and four or 5 days of reading it. It is now off my wish list.

Dromedary Hump said...

Bob, your very welcome.
They asked me to publish my review on or about the publication date. Decided to do it today...glad I did.

If you want my hardcover copy email me your address, I'll send it to you.

Den!s said...

I've long thought that he should have curbed his potty mouth. Trouble is, the guy would go completely bananas if you asked him to knock it off. He should become the silent one.

MissBizzyLizzy said...

Damn! I was excited when I saw this because he is so funny. Thanks for saving me some money. I would've been really ticked off (and a bit nauseous) to get half way through it just to find him bragging about his man vegetables. I'm not a prude or anything but eeeeeeeewwwww!!

SimonSays said...

Penn Jillette will be appearing on Tuesday August 16 at GW Lisner Auditorium to discuss his book for CFI DC. Ticket information here:

Dromedary Hump said...


Thanks for the info. I see you posted the exact same message on blogs and newspaper articles about Penn's book all over the internet.

You are no doubt a paid employee of Simon & Schuster, or one of Penn's penis envy gophers. The stench of desperation fills the air.

I for one am in a veritable lather to spend a few hundred dollars to fly down to DC and hear Penn and his penis entertain us with a rendition of more tits, pussy and penis stories... in the best atheist tradition of course.

Sue said...

Good for you, Hump. Nobody will call you a celebrity slut! I too love Penn Gillette and he's done much good by exposing Bullshit on his show... but his libertarian rants are cold. He has disappointed me on that score as surely as dearly beloved Bill Maher does when he spouts about vaccines.

Dromedary Hump said...

"Simon Says" works part time for the Center for Inquiry in DC. They do fine work.
He is promoting an appearance by Penn Jillette, for which I can't fault him.

Carl said...

Thanks Hump! I was reluctant from the start I always thought he was a little off kilter. His talking about genitalia instead of anything intellectual would be a big turn off.

Tracey - said...

I wonder what Penn's "disdain" for me is? Out of the closet Agnostic for one year now. Having conversations with Atheist and other "freethinkers" is the reason why I am an Agnostic, and an ex-fundamentalist religious person.
I love my life now, and knowing that when I die, there is nothing makes it that more precious!

Rachelle said...

LOLOL!!! That's a fucking brilliant review, Hump!! LOL!

And I for one gag at the thought of Penn naked. Love him--but don't wanna see him naked. Ew. LOL!

Anonymous said...


Agnosticism is about the state of knowledge, not belief. There are agnostic theists and agnostic atheists. However "agnostic” by itself is not a "middle" point between atheism/theism. Those that call themselves “agnostic” are in most cases, trying to avoid the label of “atheism”, thus the cowardliness (or ignorance) is what is generally objected to.

- Fastthumbs

Tracey said...

@Anonymous - Oh, ok, I'm not a coward, here is my stance:
Apathetic agnosticism (also called pragmatic agnosticism)
Not In My Power —if god/s want people to believe in them, they need only to demonstrate their existence. There is nothing humans can do to prove the existence of a god, and gods are the only force that can prove their existence, therefore the choice of human faith lies not on the shoulders of humans, but god;
In other words - I'm gonna live my life for me in the here and now.

Portugal said...

The book is not so much a defense of atheism or of Penn Gillette, but rather stories from Penn's life that explain his worldview. He looks at the world through the lens of there not being any kind of God. He doesn't feel that religion is the problem, but rather it is belief, or faith itself –"the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen" – which is the driving force of a lot that is wrong in the world.

Dromedary Hump said...

Portugal:, if you can explain how flying naked in a zero gravity plane ride, vomitting all over himself, and wanting to have sex while doing it explains his world view...I'll perhaps be enlightened.

Canada said...

I imagine someone will post a "review" of this book without reading it, complaining that the book is anti-Christian. It isn't. It could be viewed as anti-religion (Penn skewers a variety of religious beliefs) but his larger point -- that religion isn't a necessary component of an ethical life -- is not a concept that depends upon hostility to religion. The book doesn't have a mean-spirited feel (although religious people might be offended by some of the things he says). One of Penn's precepts is that most people are fundamentally good, whether or not they belong to a religion. Penn is actually meaner to self-described agnostics (who, in his view, "are really cowardly and manipulative atheists") than he is in his discussions of sincerely held religious beliefs.

Neosimian Sapiens said...

My wife, who is gradually drifting away from theism, found this book in a drawer said she might read it. I suggested that she shouldn't. Not because I think it will turn her off of atheism but because I think it's not very good.

Others have commented on the over-use of the word "fuck" and I concur. However, to me the most annoying part was that when the book came out the New Atheism was just hitting its stride, and I thought this was Penn's attempt to contribute to the “marketplace of ideas” — that's an expression he loves to use.

Instead, he spends a bit of time talking about atheism and then goes off on various tangents that are not interesting. And this brings me to my objection about the marketing of the book ...

Some people have said that it's silly that I thought the book would be about atheism. They point out that the subtitle includes the words “... and other magical tales.” But every time I look at that cover I think, “This was intended to look like a book about atheism.”

I feel like I was conned. If I'd known what the book actually was I would not have purchased it.

I usually give books I buy to the local library, but I won't do so with this one. I think it will actually turn people off from atheism unless they know other atheists to give balance to their impressions.

Dromedary Hump said...

Thanks for your perspective.

Seems his 3.6 star rating amazon confirms we're not alone in our opinion. While I love him on TV, I'd think twice before buying another of his books.