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The Denial of Death Paperback – May 8, 1997

4.2 out of 5 stars 195 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, M.D. Author of On Death And Dying It puts together what others have torn to pieces and rendered useless. It is one of those rare masterpieces that will stimulate your thoughts, your intellectual curiosity, and last but not least, your soul...

New York Times Book Review ...a brave work of electrifying intelligence and passion, optimistic and revolutionary, destined to endure...

Albuquerque Journal Book Review ...to read it is to know the delight inherent in the unfolding of a mind grasping at new possibilities and forming a new synthesis. The Denial of Death is a great book -- one of the few great books of the 20th or any other century.

The Chicago Sun-Times It is hard to overestimate the importance of this book; Becker succeeds brilliantly in what he sets out to do, and the effort was necessary.

About the Author

After receiving a Ph.D. in Cultural Anthropology from Syracuse University, Dr. Ernest Becker (1924-1974) taught at the University of California at Berkeley, San Francisco State College, and Simon Fraser University, Canada. He is survived by his wife, Marie, and a foundation that bears his name -- The Ernest Becker Foundation.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press; 1 edition (May 8, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684832402
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684832401
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (195 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #15,226 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
All lovers of existentialism will enjoy Becker's treatment of life and death. Becker won the Pulitzer Prize for this work when it was first published in 1974. Ironically and tragically, Becker himself died of cancer that very same year. He was 50 years old. I have been unsuccessful in my efforts to find out whether or not Becker knew of his sickness when he wrote the work. He certainly writes as one who understands the darkness of human life. Becker's thesis is that human personality and behavior has its deepest roots in our denying our death (thus the title). By this he means not only our death itself, but all of the horrors associated with our mortality as human beings. Becker makes frequent reference to Otto Rank, and reiterates Rank's point that all human cultural creation is inevitably religious in nature. There is also a wonderful treatment of Freud which will be especially refreshing to all those nauseauted by modern attempts to dress up Freud's theories and make them appear more optomistic than they are, as well as a discussion of Freud's breaks with Jung and others. There is even a chapter on Kierkegaard. Becker also attempts to show that neurosis is at least in part a result of not being able to erect the 'denial of death' defense mechanisms so many do, and that those who traverse the depths of human existence cannot but go mad to some degree. He says at one point, "No wonder the road of the artist so often detous through the madhouse." Finally, Becker bashes modern psychology, which makes this book an absolute must for any deep thinker who is considering entering this field. The Denial of Death is brutally honest, scholastic, and beautiful. Best of all, Becker doesn't make the all too common mistake of attempting to provide a solution (something all lovers of Camus will appreciate). The last 10 pages alone make this book worth reading. Read it thoughtfully and you will never be quite the same
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Format: Paperback
There are some books that are brilliant because they delve deeply into one subject. There are other books that are brilliant because they synthesize a panorama of other great books. Finally, there are perhaps the rarest of works that in one book combine the insights of many other brilliant tomes and make the synthesis seem like one subject. "The Denial of Death" belongs to this rarest of books. The excellence of the insights on so many pages is breathtaking, and it's only fitting that Becker, certainly a great writer previously, made his last book, published shortly and ironically before his death, his best.
Becker states at the outset the problem in our day is not that there isn't enough knowledge, the problem is that there isn't enough integration of this knowledge into a kind of wisdom that would properly summarize the accumulated knowledge. At the outset he acknowledges the difficulty in claiming that there is one direct insight into what causes (almost) all of the neuroses of life, which is the inability of people to see and overcome what I feel is the ultimate paradox of life, that we live and die at the same time. Yet in one book Becker succeeds so well it is astounding!
To summarize a summarizing book is difficult indeed! Basically what Becker claims is that man has twin but conflicting ontological needs/motives - to individuate and yet at the same time to feel a part of something greater. Man is a paradox in many other ways. Unlike other animals inside he (I will omit she to keep it simple) is largely symbolic - in his mind he can imagine the farthest mysteries of the universe, he can philosophize about the deepest meanings of life and its purpose. Yet like other animals man is anal (discussed extensively!) and possesses a body that is only too mortal.
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Format: Paperback
About the Book: All animal species are pre-wired with a survival instinct. Unlike other species, man is cursed with self-awareness which makes known to him his ultimate destiny with death. This realization engenders abject terror. Yet, man has to repress this terror (narrow consciousness) so that he can move through life with equanimity and precision. To do so, culture provides immortality scripts that if lived up to, help attenuate death-related terror through cognitive and emotional means. Emotionally, cultural prescriptions toward immortality elevates self-esteem and buffers against death related fear. This is possible because on a cognitive level, cultural scripts allows one to deny their mortality either through literal (heaven or Nirvana) or symbolic means (e.g., literary immortatlity). Because these cultural prescriptions to immortality are important to everyday functioning, they are refered to as man's vital lies. The problem with these immortality scripts is that they create continuous holy wars between people of differing worldviews: The very prescence of an alternative immortality script insinuates that the favored immortality script may be wrong. This motivates attempts at transelytization or the murder of dissentors (clearing the world of evil).Read more ›
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