The time: last week, Friday evening.
The place: Borders Books.

As my wife and I wandered around our local Borders Books browsing, I came across something you don’t see every day.

In the Christian Books section of the store, there was a prominent display. In the display, not unexpectedly, were a number of books about faith, Jesus, prayer, and Christian spirituality. Then, something incongruous caught my eye.

On the second shelf of the display, surrounded by all these books purporting to tell people how to be a better Christian or how to live a more spiritual life, I saw this: Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon, by Daniel Dennett.

At first, I thought it had to be some smart-ass customer placing this skeptical book there among the religious books. I picked up a copy, and behind it were a couple of other copies, neatly sitting there. No, it had been placed there by the staff.

Some non-religious staff member having a bit of fun with the display? Or is this book classified under religious reading by distributors?

Either way, it was somewhat refreshing, if a bit odd, to see it there. I wondered how long it would be before someone complained about it, and made a mental note to see if it was still there the next time I was in the store.


  1. #1 Bronze Dog
    June 2, 2006

    Now if only I saw that sort of thing going on here.

    Local Hastings has a big rack of Kevin Trudeau books. I’m planning on seeing if I can convince them to get rid of ’em. Apparently worked on Walgreens.

  2. #2 Platypus
    June 2, 2006

    This reminds me of a book I got from a relative for Christmas: The Politically Incorrect Guide to Science. What a trash-fest. I’m sure he bought it because he knows I’m an independent thinker, but he must not have looked at what’s actually in it. The blurbs on the cover were all from people I recognize (often from here, and thank you BTW) as crackpots and shills, and so was much of the material inside. DDT hoax, global-warming denial, Intransigent Design . . . the whole bit. It’s the one book I gladly allow my two-year-old daughter to tear up.

  3. #3 Sastra
    June 2, 2006

    I suppose it’s possible that the book was placed in the religion section instead of the science section by an employee trying to make the usual tedious point that “atheism is a religion, too.” But if so, it’s a bit self-defeating, since as you point out a person of Faith might now be more likely to buy it — and end up examining possible root causes of religion which go beyond a simplistic “we all believe in God because we all know God exists.”

  4. #4 KeithB
    June 2, 2006

    Well I just checked at ( takes you to Amazon!) and found this:

    which states the location as:
    Shelf Location: Religion > General Religion > General Religion — Shelf I1

    So it is a Borders thing.

  5. #5 oku
    June 2, 2006

    Oh, so that is why I never find that book in the store…

  6. #6 Carlos
    June 2, 2006

    Thanks for bringing up this book, Orac. It sounds as though Dennett has attempted to answer Douglas Adams’ request for “an evolutionary history of religion,” as he mentioned during an extemporaneous speech titled “Is there an artificial god?” That speech is one of my favorite works by DNA.

  7. #7 Mary
    June 4, 2006

    It’s not just a Borders thing. The Toronto and Vancouver public libraries have both assigned the LC subject heading “Religion – Controversial literature” to this book. The Brookline, Mass public library has assigned it a Dewey number of 200 (Religion). And Publishers Weekly classifies it as Religion/Philosophy. I would suspect that the Cataloguing in Publication data in the front of the book suggested such classification (as most libraries rely heavily on CiP these days), but I don’t have the book and can’t check.

    In short, this book does seem to be about religion, even if it is a skeptical take on the topic. Why did you find it so odd to find it in that section of the Borders? Was it smack-dab in the middle of Christian books rather than in the general religion shelf? If so, that was probably just lazy shelving rather than some random employee making an ambiguous comment, I think.

  8. #8 Joy
    June 5, 2006

    I think Borders is asking it’s customers to be rational. I actually laud their product placement. However, I think some Christians might find that offensive. It was the right place to put the book anyway because it belongs with books on religion. If I wanted to know more about religion, that book would definitely interest me. Who knows, I might actually go out and buy that book now..

  9. #9 cfeagans
    June 5, 2006

    It’s good to see Borders putting books in an *appropriate* location for a change! I emailed a complaint to Borders once about the placement of Graham Hancock’s pulp in the Anthropology/Archaeology section and their response was this is where they want; this is where it stays. Doubtless this is where it will appeal to the most potential buyers.

    I routinely pick up Hancock’s books and move them to the Paranormal sections of Borders and B&N. I’ve been known to move Behe’s book to the religious section.

    B&N has Dennett’s book in the Philosphy section -at least thats where I found my copy.

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