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Myths to Live By

4.25  ·  Rating Details ·  4,130 Ratings  ·  173 Reviews
Joseph Campbell famously compared mythology to a kangaroo pouch for the human mind and spirit: "a womb with a view." In Myths to Live By, he examines all of the ways in which myth supports and guides us, giving our lives meaning. Love and war, science and religion, East and West, inner space and outer space-Campbell shows how the myths we live by can reconcile all of these ...more
ebook, Ebook/Second Edition, 276 pages
Published March 11th 2011 by Joseph Campbell Foundation (first published 1972)
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Nandakishore Varma
This is the best introduction to Joseph Campbell, and very accessible. If you are new to his work, this would be the ideal place to start.
Craig Williams
Sep 19, 2009 Craig Williams rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A friend of mine recommended Joseph Campbell to me a while back, and I never got a chance to check him out until this book randomly fell into my lap at the bookstore I work at. This book was right up my alley. Campbell's thesis is that mythology plays a more important role in our lives than we give it credit for - by mythology, I mean religion too. When you get down to it, mythology is ultimately the resting place for dead religions. Anyway, the myths of a culture really go far in explaining who ...more
Dec 02, 2007 Philip rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One of the first comparative religion texts I ever read. And, yes, Campbell is not really a comparative religion author, but, along with Frazier's The Golden Bough and Hero with a Thousand Faces, it provided me with enough tips (and ammunition) to smart down the dumb fundies in my college classes....
Brian Bess
Aug 31, 2014 Brian Bess rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The essential Campbell in small, yet healthy portions

'Myths to Live By', aside from the book length transcript of the televised interviews he did with Bill Moyers, 'The Power of Myth', is the only one of Joseph Campbell's books that I have read, not only once, but twice now. I still intend someday to read 'The Hero of a Thousand Faces' and his magnum opus, the four-volumes of 'The Masks of God.' When I read it the first time in the early 80's at a very desperate time in my life, I saw the title
Sep 01, 2007 Anna rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
In essays that spin off Campbell's speeches before the Cooper Union Forum between 1958 and 1971, it's unsurprising that most passionate and intelligent piece spins off the first landing on the moon in 1969.

Whether it's human sacrifice understood in plant-based communities that owed their survival to the life-death-life cycle of the natural world, or the modern day's strain to reconcile our stories of godly creation with the evolutionary evidence among us, Campbell convincingly argues that our m
Aug 24, 2009 David rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: religions
This series of lectures is very interesting and a good read for those interested in religions. Campbell draws on sources from the world religions and shows many similarities. My favorite was the chapter on mythologies of war and peace, as I felt he clearly laid out the similarities and differences between various religions on that topic.

Overall though, Campbell seems to come to conclusions that are unjustified by the data. Perhaps we could say he takes many leaps of faith. He focuses on similari
May 17, 2009 Michael rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: philosophy, 1970s
I've read parts of just about all Joseph Campbell's works, and since I haven't read too much literature on comparative spirituality, I always learn really interesting facts I didn't know. Lots of these essays had fascinating topics, and I loved learning that decapitated heads are an important part of some people's wedding rituals. . . yum!

But, instead of a real review, I'd much rather reflect on the interesting ways in which this book is dated. F'rinstance, one of these essays (originally lectu
Aug 28, 2008 Shawn rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Shawn by: Marc
Shelves: marc-recommended
Pretty good; definitely some interesting content here.

However, as a reader, I thought not all of the lectures were particularly linked, and sometimes it seemed like certain topics weren't covered that should have been. It seemed like he was trying to say that the myths of all cultures are the same, but he didn't ever do a good job of showing this in my opinion. Also, the title was misreading and irrelevant, and even the subtitle wasn't particularly appropriate.

The later lectures were definitely
Recently it dawned on me where my religious experience with organized religion went wrong. The paradigm I was operating under focused on taking everything literally. To me it was all or nothing, and as anyone who really delves into any Christian religion will quickly learn there are glaring contradictions that quickly become impossible to ignore. After reading this book I thought "if only I had this view I wouldn't have missed the valuable lessons of religious mythologies and become so disillusi ...more
Leanne Ritchie
Dec 26, 2016 Leanne Ritchie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Rocked my world...
Feb 26, 2014 Steven rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
When people think of Joseph Campbell, they often think of "The Power of Myth," his series with Bill Moyers that aired over 25 years ago. Campbell was knowledgeable and engaging. On some of the audios of his that you can buy you can hear that same quality that makes him such a fascinating speaker. But his books...the academic in him rears its ugly head here.

This is a good -- not great -- book. It's really about 3 1/2 stars, but as always I give the benefit of the scale. I'd like to call it great,
Billie Pritchett
Joseph Campbell's Myths to Live By is a reminder that "there are more things in heaven and Earth... than are dreamt of in [our] philosophy." Human understanding of the world has been increased through the sciences, including mathematics, the natural sciences like physics and chemistry, the social sciences like economics, sociology, and history, and the humanities like literary and religious studies. Humanity needs these fields for the purposes of advancing what is beyond our natural ways of thin ...more
Victor Davis
Jan 04, 2016 Victor Davis rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I liked this book, but I only really liked the chapters on Buddhism and science. I'm told this is his most accessible book. After reading (and failing to comprehend a lick of) The Hero With a Thousand Faces, I believe it. My problem is with the format. JC did not write this book, he delivered a series of disconnected lectures and later transcribed them here. It makes for disjointed reading. Not to mention there are several passages I can tell he delivered/wrote while nursing his fifth scotch. My ...more
Ciaran Thapar
Mar 28, 2014 Ciaran Thapar rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I had come away from 'Hero with a Thousand Faces' with a thirst for more Campbell wisdom, and this provided it. Some of the essays are less digestible than others, but the order in which they are placed means you go on a genuine journey through his ideas - which include more 'real life' commentary than HWTF (e.g. the final essay, 'Envoy: No More Horizons', about the state of mythology and religion in modern life, is one of the best essays I've ever read and is a great conclusion). He is a champi ...more
Nov 19, 2012 Jamie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The title and tagline to this are so self-helpish that, as self-help rightly should, it makes you want to run for the hills and break out in hives. When, no: this book should cause the opposite reaction. Scarf this one up, gulp this one down. The self-help bullshit is so toxic and this is just the opposite.

It’s what Daniel said, Campbell can run fast and far afield sometimes but when he brings it home it’s dead-on.
Jun 19, 2008 Addie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Amazing - a must read for every living person! I starting reading this back in college when I was on a mythology kick (but then I was distracted by some other fascinating, shiny thing) & I just picked it up again - I'm so glad I did - I'm devouring it!
Bridget Morrow
Mar 05, 2009 Bridget Morrow rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Wonderful book, it answers questions you didn't even know you had. I am a huge fan of his, reading it as part of my recommended reading for grad school.
Feb 22, 2015 CG FEWSTON rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Myths to Live By (1972) by Joseph Campbell is a collection of lectures/essays taken from a series of Campbell’s talks at The Great Hall of the Cooper Union Forum in New York City between 1958 and 1971. “My continuing pleasure in lecturing there derived in part,” explains Campbell, “of course, from the old-fashioned, simple grandeur of the Great Hall itself and the knowledge that Abraham Lincoln once spoke from the very stage on which I stood” (p vii).

And even then, in that Great Hall where grea
Max Nova
Dec 12, 2013 Max Nova rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Thought-provoking and controversial, Campbell wrote “Myths to Live By” as a comparative study of world religious traditions with a special focus on differences between East and West, religion and war, and the underlying psychological needs fulfilled by religion. He doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to Christianity - a religion whose central text is a “nursery tale of disobedience and its punishment, inculcating an attitude of dependency, fear, and respectful devotion, such as might be thoug ...more
Jeffrey Howard
Jul 16, 2014 Jeffrey Howard rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Joseph Campbell reveals how mythology redeems the true value of religion, while reconciling it with advances in science, medicine and technology. Mythology, correctly understood, provides an insight into the human experience in ways the modern western worldview never will.

He traces ancient occidental and oriental mythologies and parses out the truth of myth from religion. "I like to think of the year 1492 as marking the end--or at least the beginning of the end--of the authority of the old mytho
Oct 20, 2009 Rebecca rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: comparative religion nerds
This was my first exposure to Campbell's work, and in retrospect, it was probably not the best volume to start with. For one thing, this isn't so much a book with a coherent theme as a series of essays and lectures from several different years all packaged together. That in itself was a bit of a problem, because there was nothing tying all of these disparate ideas together into one thesis.

Another issue is that Campbell has a really pompous style of writing. Many of his ideas are genuinely intere
Christopher Miller
In chapter VIII, The Mythology of Love, Joseph Campbell discusses the five degrees of love, as set forth in the Indian tradition. I think you will be surprised by his conclusions.

The First Degree: Servant to Master

Joseph Campbell suggests that the way that an individual realizes identification with God goes through five stages of understanding. The first is as a servant to his master.

“O Lord, you are the Master; I am thy servant . Command, and I shall obey!” This, according to the Indian teachin
Jan 14, 2017 Jake rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"The answer is that simple the primitive shaman does not reject the local social order and its forms; that in fact it is actually by virtue of those forms that he is brought back to rational consciousness. And when he has returned, furthermore, it is generally found that his inward personal experiences reconfirm, refresh, and reinforce the inherited local forms; for his personal dream-symbology is at one with the symbology of his culture."
Mario Russo
Feb 01, 2017 Mario Russo rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: philosophy, religion
It saddens me that once I finish all professor Campbell books there will be none new. Good thing that one can always go back and re-read. Awesome book and author.
Mollie Moon
Feb 12, 2017 Mollie Moon rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I love Joseph Campbell's knowledge and insights, and his practical way of relaying it. Excellent book. Worth reading a couple of times. Packed with information.
Oct 08, 2016 Lola rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
A book both fascinating and frustrating. I spent more time following up references than actually reading these essays, but unfortunately Campbell's writing has not aged well. As long as he stuck to his core theme of comparative mythology his arguments were dated but interesting. However, the attempts in the second half of the book to make predictions about the future and also to extrapolate to other fields such as psychiatry were credulous and infuriating in their privileged presumption. I also ...more
Oct 07, 2009 Oswald rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Campbell is boring, yet amazingly interesting at the same time. Campbell is basically trying to connect primitive mythology, to modern religion/myth, and drug use or dreams, which all have similar context.

Here are a few quotes that stuck:

“things which once were in contact with each other continue to act on each other at a distance after the physical contact has been severed.”

“Myths are public dreams; dreams are private myths.”

“the famous conflict of science and religion has actually nothing to
I read the chapter that drew comparisons between the foundational Western (Occidental) origin story, the Old/New Testaments and the foundational Eastern (Oriental) religious origin story (Buddha), which I found nicely done. In particular, Campbell finds that the point of comparison is in how both Jesus and Buddha are saviors of the human propensity for sin/profane through rejection of physical and Earthly attachments. Furthermore, there is a central image of the tree in both origin stories, whic ...more
G.D. Vidrine
Feb 21, 2010 G.D. Vidrine rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was an excellent book. This book should be required reading for every person on this planet, to internalize everything he has to say about mythology and religion. The world would be better place if certain fundamentalists of various religions realized that we have more in common than we have differences.

Campbell is specifically critical of fundamentalists, those who interpret holy works literally. I've personally been arguing about this for years. Those who take the Bible, and other religio
Keith Kendall
Aug 31, 2012 Keith Kendall rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: religion
To understand the tales in this book would be a semester of study. I read it quickly because I don't have a semester to learn these books. In retrospect, it seemed like a stream of consciousness where each part reminds him of another myth. Just as he starts to make a conclusion, he is off into another myth. Myths of war, conflict, death, foolishness, etc.

A few statement that struck me:

"The fundamental text of the Hindu tradition is, of course, the Bhagavad Gita; and there four basic yogas descri
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Huntsville-Madiso...: Staff Pick - Myths to Live By by Joseph Campbell 1 7 Aug 31, 2014 05:23PM  
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Joseph John Campbell was an American mythology professor, writer, and orator best known for his work in the fields of comparative mythology and comparative religion.
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“To become—in Jung’s terms—individuated, to live as a released individual, one has to know how and when to put on and to put off the masks of one’s various life roles. ‘When in Rome, do as the Romans do,’ and when at home, do not keep on the mask of the role you play in the Senate chamber. But this, finally, is not easy, since some of the masks cut deep. They include judgment and moral values. They include one’s pride, ambition, and achievement. They include one’s infatuations. It is a common thing to be overly impressed by and attached to masks, either some mask of one’s own or the mana-masks of others. The work of individuation, however, demands that one should not be compulsively affected in this way. The aim of individuation requires that one should find and then learn to live out of one’s own center, in control of one’s for and against. And this cannot be achieved by enacting and responding to any general masquerade of fixed roles.” 37 likes
“The LSD phenomenon, on the other hand, is—to me at least—more interesting. It is an intentionally achieved schizophrenia, with the expectation of a spontaneous remission—which, however, does not always follow. Yoga, too, is intentional schizophrenia: one breaks away from the world, plunging inward, and the ranges of vision experienced are in fact the same as those of a psychosis. But what, then, is the difference? What is the difference between a psychotic or LSD experience and a yogic, or a mystical? The plunges are all into the same deep inward sea; of that there can be no doubt. The symbolic figures encountered are in many instances identical (and I shall have something more to say about those in a moment). But there is an important difference. The difference—to put it sharply—is equivalent simply to that between a diver who can swim and one who cannot. The mystic, endowed with native talents for this sort of thing and following, stage by stage, the instruction of a master, enters the waters and finds he can swim; whereas the schizophrenic, unprepared, unguided, and ungifted, has fallen or has intentionally plunged, and is drowning.” 10 likes
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