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The Denial of Death

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4.2  ·  Rating Details ·  4,074 Ratings  ·  351 Reviews
Winner of the Pulitzer prize in 1974 and the culmination of a life's work, The Denial of Death is Ernest Becker's brilliant and impassioned answer to the "why" of human existence. In bold contrast to the predominant Freudian school of thought, Becker tackles the problem of the vital lie -- man's refusal to acknowledge his own mortality. In doing so, he sheds new light on t ...more
Paperback, 336 pages
Published May 8th 1997 by Free Press (first published 1973)
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John S any wrong can be undone, is too optimistic, in the context of the book's argument: that we (humankind) need an enemy, for a heroic struggle in which…moreany wrong can be undone, is too optimistic, in the context of the book's argument: that we (humankind) need an enemy, for a heroic struggle in which we gain transcendence, ie freedom from our fear of personal insignificance (death). History being, by and large, our acting out on the basis of this need. if this is correct, can we undo human nature, even if the inability to do so may mean our extinction?(less)

Community Reviews

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Jafar
Jan 05, 2014 Jafar rated it it was amazing
I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work; I want to achieve immortality through not dying. I don’t want to live in the hearts of my countrymen; I want to live in my apartment. —Woody Allen.

Becker’s main thesis in this book is that the most fundamental problem of mankind, sitting at his very core, is his fear of death. Being the only animal that is conscious of his inevitable mortality, his life’s project is to deny or repress this fear, and hence his need for some kind of a heroism. E
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Greg
At my parents house the poster for this record is on my bedroom wall:

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The poster the added text that "Some ideas are poisonous, they can fuck up your life, change you and scar you."

This poster came to mind pretty often while reading The Denial of Death.

I hope this isn't going to come as a shock to anyone, but you are going to die. But you aren't just going to die, in the big picture there is nothing you will ever do, nothing you will ever be or effect matters one bit. In the long vi
...more
Tyler
Sep 24, 2015 Tyler rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: People Who Want Answers ... Any Answers
Recommended to Tyler by: Pulitzer Prize
If Ernest Becker can show that psychoanalysis is both a science and a mythic belief system, he will have found a way around man’s anxiety over death. Or maybe not. This book is a card trick that conjures sham religion out of sham science, with death playing a supporting role.

Becker tells us that the idea that man can give his life meaning through self-creation is wrong. Only a “mythico-religious” perspective will provide what’s needed to face the “terror of death.” That’s an interesting idea, b
...more
Joshua Nomen-Mutatio
"The irony of man's condition is that the deepest need is to be free of the anxiety of death and annihilation; but it is life itself which awakens it, and so we must shrink from being fully alive."
—Ernest Becker

The sloppy latticework of gnarled tree branches anchors the foreground while Devlin and Geoffrey puff upon thick, stolen cigars, steathily removed from a father’s humidor, stashed in the closet of a house that was summarily purchased with blood, sweat and finely tuned 'n' directed tears.
...more
Jessica
Jul 25, 2008 Jessica marked it as to-read
Recommended to Jessica by: stepmom, woody allen, buncha other mere mortals
I really only want to read this if it's going to give me concrete, practical, how-to tips on denying death.
Tammy Marie Jacintho
Aug 03, 2008 Tammy Marie Jacintho rated it it was amazing
Do you feel like your days fly by? Or, that a month disappears into another month? How does a lifetime get swallowed up? Why do we live with regret? Aren’t we just living like all the other people? Why do we take risks with our health and with our financial resources? What is it all about?

After reading this book, the sheer madness of the 20th and 21st century seems apparent-- no longer mysterious. If you think you are living on a rollercoaster-- hate how you've been strapped onto the monster's b
...more
Nelson Zagalo
Feb 10, 2016 Nelson Zagalo rated it did not like it
Um livro tão referenciado, tão elogiado, com direito a Pulitzer, é à partida algo que devemos reconhecer, se não gostar, pelo menos admirar, essa foi a minha a condição de partida. Mas nada me tinha preparado para o que aqui encontrei, apesar de ter lido várias reviews, foi um choque... Por isso lhe peguei em 2013 e não avancei, nem disse nada sobre o mesmo, quis ler mais e tentar compreender melhor o porquê. Entretanto depois de ter lido que Don DeLillo teria partido daqui para o seu 8º romance ...more
Mike
Feb 23, 2013 Mike rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Denial of Death straddles the line between astounding intellectual ambition and crackpot theorizing; it is a compendium of brilliant intellectual exercises that are more satisfying poetically than scientifically; it is a desperately self-oblivious and quasi-futile attempt to resurrect the ruins of Freudian psychoanalysis by re-defining certain parameters and ostensibly de-Freudianizing them; there is an unhealthy mixture of jaw-dropping recognition and eye-rolling recognition.

It is important
...more
Safat
Jul 24, 2016 Safat rated it it was amazing
This was spectacular. If I manage to live long enough to grow old despite my overwhelming urge to suicide now and then , I would look back on this book as my first lesson on 'human condition'. This book won Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction(1973). New York Times described it as ' One of the most challenging book of the decade .' And upon googling I came to know that this book is a seminal book iin psychology and one of the most influential books written on psychology in 20th century. It can ...more
Sandy
Apr 20, 2009 Sandy rated it it was amazing
Shelves: death
WHAT IS YOUR LEGACY?

Becker's Pulitzer Prize winning book was written while he was dying-- it is his final gift to humanity. Praised by Elizabeth Kubler Ross, The New York Times Book Review, Sam Keen, you name it. One of my brightest, most humane friends described it as, "The only book I've ever read twice." Becker says-- very thoroughly, too-- that everything we humans do is to blot out the understanding that we die. That includes all the monuments to our egos we leave behind: shopping centers,
...more
Mac
Sep 28, 2012 Mac rated it it was ok
Going to school when I did, it’s hard to conceive of how important the psychoanalytic project was for so much of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The influence of Freud and the subsequent schools of psychology developed by his students spread into virtually every discipline, from literary analysis to economics, but by the time I got there it was all pretty much gone. I’m sure that somewhere there’s an Onoda-type holdout department that won’t let the old stuff go, or one or two octogenaria ...more
Talat
Aug 20, 2008 Talat rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: religious, therapists, existentialists
Recommended to Talat by: Merlyn Mowrey
Becker introduces the very basic idea that we humans have four distinguishing features: (1) we can contemplate our death, we do contemplate -- and try to deny -- our death, and (2) we can create symbolic realities of thought and action, and (3) we project and perpetuate symbolic realities of thought and action to create systems that will outlive -- in an everyday sense "transcend" our physical mortality; we want to symbolically live on and some of us succeed in doing so (a major point at the end ...more
Emma Sea
Apr 13, 2013 Emma Sea rated it it was amazing
This is a classic for a reason. It's a brilliant book, in which Becker discusses Otto Rank's writings in a highly accessible way, that is absolutely relevant to 21st century society. The knowledge that we will die defines our lives, and the ways humans choose to deal with this knowledge (consciously or subconsciously) are what creates culture - all culture; from BDSM to Quakerism.

The downside is that the book was first published in 1973, and therefore contains some highly offensive writing.

It's
...more
Mark R.
Feb 12, 2008 Mark R. rated it it was amazing
I read this book for a couple reasons, the first being that I'd always been mildly interested in in it, ever since I heard Woody Allen talk about it in "Annie Hall". I asked one of my friends in school a few years ago about the book, and he said it was pretty hard reading. I'd had one psychology class at the time and figured he was probably right, that it would be difficult reading for someone who had a hard time getting through any of his text books and didn't have much interest in psychoanalys ...more
Lani
Jul 01, 2009 Lani rated it did not like it
Is there a 'couldn't bring myself to finish' rating? I feel like I'm cheating by putting this one on my "read" shelf...

Here's the thing... I'm fairly well read, I've taken philosophy classes, I've powered through some pretty dry books. But apparently I CANNOT bring myself to power through a dry book about PSYCHOANALYSIS.

Being a modern psych major, and a fairly well-read one at that, AND one who has dealt with mental issues personally... I can't bring myself to believe a god damned WORD that Fre
...more
Peter Mcloughlin
Old School psychoanalytic exploration of death and its meaning in the human condition. The fact that we dream of the stars yet at the same time are stuck in absurd mortal animal bodies is the central tension of our psychological lives. We soar symbolically yet are bound the earth will eventually return to dust. This tension causes much of human neurosis and psychosis and drives much ordinary behavior. It is the impetus of world historical figures from conquerors to saints and other assorted monu ...more
Hadrian
How do people deal with death? By wanting to do something which endures.
Jimmy Ele
Sep 11, 2016 Jimmy Ele rated it it was amazing
What more could I say about this book?

DISCLAIMER: I can not do this book justice with a review.

The artist, the pervert, the homosexual, Freud, adults, Hitler, kids.....basically all of humanity gets placed under the analytic microscope that is Ernest Becker's mind. With intense clarity of vision he exposes us all as the frail mortal human beings that we are. He embarrasses us for our petty quests for immortality. He exposes the artist for the fraud that he is. Oh vain wanna be creator! You can
...more
Harry Allagree
Jan 21, 2015 Harry Allagree rated it liked it
This was a somewhat different kind of book than I'd assumed it to be. It's written in very technical psychological & psychoanalytical terms. Nevertheless, though I didn't understand all of it, the main message came through & was really an education for me in the advances of psychoanalytical thought, especially of Freud's, since I'd studied some of these things way back in my formative years.

Ernest Becker wrote this book in 1973 as he himself was in the process of dying of terminal cance
...more
Ruzz
This book is one of the few books I would consider required reading by all the minds capable of following its subject matter. I'd go further and suggest we should encourage it for everyone but the fact is most people would find it undigestable.

While i don't agree to the full with what he suggests, I find so many of the topics to be highly interesting and this is a book that could spawn years of consideration and it's very likely much of the insight will find its way to my day to day understandi
...more
M. Sarki
Nov 30, 2013 M. Sarki rated it really liked it
An important book for all of us to read, though I bogged down a bit during the sex parts. It is possible I am not as familiar with all the so-called perversions and neurosis of sexuality and therefore the actually small bit of text referring to fetishes and homosexuality was lost on me. I know that most of what he wrote is true for me, without a smidgen of doubt. And those areas I admit ignorance of I will have to pass on my judgment, though those parts did seem a bit dated given our present soc ...more
Leo Robertson
Neither as terrifying nor as reassuring/enlightening as the title suggests!

Great primer on the concepts of duality, anxiety, culture as terror management. Lots of weird re-hashed Freud that warded me off Freud (shit is a dead dick! Men with fetishes don't have to be gay [this in a chapter about mental illness] because they can get over the fear of castration that the sight of women's genitals give them!) This is all fun but quite academic...

It is clearly true that we must create an illusion out
...more
Rob
Jun 13, 2007 Rob rated it it was amazing
When I read this book I was all like "OF COURSE." The thesis is as follows: As humans we are the only creatures to understand abstract concepts and thus the only creatures to understand our mortality. This knowledge is so terrifying that our psyches build up defenses to repress the true horror of our impending demise.. An example is our tendancy to believe that some ideas are greater than life or death. Thus heroism and the ideologies that lead to war are manifistations of this death repression. ...more
Deogratias Rweyemamu
Work of Genius

With little understanding of psychoanalysis and psychology in general, it was a bit of a struggle comprehending the full contents of the book. Credit goes to the author in his ability to provide a coherent flow of content and constant regard for the layman.

Becker's philosophy seems to centre on four pillars that he further goes onto detail in the remainder of the book: one, that the world is much more terrifying than we observe and admit.

Two, that the basic motivation for human be
...more
skye
May 23, 2007 skye rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book may have caused us to coin the phrase, "Books that destroyed me"... a huge part in the senior year radical change of worldview. Key in my process of discovering mortality. Brilliant social-anthro insight into the ways in which humans try and get immortality -- and all the harm this does. Connects Freud and Kierkegaard. This is existential psychoanalytic theory at its best!
Gary
Mar 18, 2015 Gary rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This prize winning book from 1973 has immense value today because it captures how very smart people explained the world in those days and it is amazing we ever got out of the self referential tautological cave that was being created to explain who we are. There is nothing more dangerous than using just intuition and strong arguments without empirical data to reach your conclusions. That's what this author does.

He ties existential and psychoanalytical thought and the necessity for beliefs in God
...more
Myridian
Mar 21, 2008 Myridian rated it it was ok
There were two really wonderful things about this book that somewhat make up for the fact that I completely disagree with Becker's ultimate thesis. First, Becker presents the marvelously interesting idea that humans have some kind of innate need to be heroic within the contexts of their own lives. This theory is quite similar to the premise of narrative therapy and has a distinct appeal to me. Second, the book is incredibly informative re early Freudian theory (at least as Becker understands it) ...more
James
Feb 18, 2012 James rated it it was amazing
This book will transform your view of everything, if you are only honest with yourself and let it. The language assumes some great familiarity with Freudian psychology, but the layman can definitely power through it with a little help from Wikipedia, Google, etc.

I was a little disappointed that as I progressed through the book, I saw fewer and fewer passages highlighted in my kindle, which means that a number of people gave up before getting to the later chapters, which were filled with amazing
...more
C. Travis
Aug 13, 2007 C. Travis rated it really liked it
don dellilo used this to write *white noise*. denial is our birthright, as it is the birthright of all cultures--probably. though no culture is quite so adept as the american. the problem is, of course, like average intelligence, no one believes denial applies to them. and all the denial starts here, with this: you are going to die, and pretty fucking soon. that is the fate of all sexually reproducing creatures.

it's an important place to start, though montaigne had a different solution, but hey
...more
Aaron Schmid
Jun 19, 2016 Aaron Schmid rated it it was amazing
I supremely enjoyed this book. Had me thinking all the way through. It definitely has its lulls and peaks, but overall I would recommend this to anyone who's interested. It breaks down the notion that we're all very frightened of both living and dying, and that a large portion of life is defined by our fears and/or our ability to repress our basic fears. Very interesting stuff. Pulitzer Prize winning stuff :P
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1895
Dr. Ernest Becker was a cultural anthropologist and interdisciplinary scientific thinker and writer.

Becker was born in Springfield, Massachusetts to Jewish immigrant parents. After completing military service, in which he served in the infantry and helped to liberate a Nazi concentration camp, he attended Syracuse University in New York. Upon graduation he joined the US Embassy in Paris as an admi
...more
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“The road to creativity passes so close to the madhouse and often detours or ends there.” 173 likes
“Man cannot endure his own littleness unless he can translate it into meaningfulness on the largest possible level.” 141 likes
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