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Western Attitudes toward Death: From the Middle Ages to the Present
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Western Attitudes toward Death: From the Middle Ages to the Present

3.85  ·  Rating details ·  592 ratings  ·  61 reviews
Ariès traces Western man's attitudes toward mortality from the early medieval conception of death as the familiar collective destiny of the human race to the modern tendency, so pronounced in industrial societies, to hide death as if it were an embarrassing family secret. -- Newsweek
Paperback, 128 pages
Published August 1st 1975 by Johns Hopkins University Press (first published April 1st 1974)
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Average rating 3.85  · 
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 ·  592 ratings  ·  61 reviews

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Larissa Shmailo
Aug 02, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Using history and literature, Aries describes the evolution of death and dying from an accepted and inevitable human passage to today's denial and shunning of the dying. Insightfully and intelligently written.
Sep 08, 2010 rated it it was ok
This book is a collection of lectures concerning death and the place it has held in Western society throughout history. Because of the lecture format, the material is accessible and easy to follow. However, this also means that things are said in passing, and not much depth is given.

I was mostly fascinated, however, by the transition people have gone through in history, with how they approach their own deaths. People did not always fear death. How is it that with all the advances society has
Megan Mcdowell
Mar 29, 2008 rated it really liked it
A classic. This book is easy to read and entertaining, especially considering its subject. Aries deals with changing attitudes toward death and mortality beginning in early medieval times through the present. His observations about the loss of ritual surrounding death, and our current "medicalization" of death in a way that neatly removes pain and suffering from everyday life, changed the way I think about life and death. It made me more willing to think about death in my daily life, rather than ...more
May 07, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: people interested in death!
A wonderful book! I took pages and pages of notes.
Jun 25, 2012 rated it really liked it
Aries does a remarkable job of tracing the shift of death perception and its role in society from the Middle Ages. His findings are fascinating, and i know for certain i will be looking up many of his research texts myself to go deeper!

It seems most of the negative commentary on this text is due to a dismissal of its lecture-to-essay format. I have to admit, I loved this format! I found the consistent summarizing a brilliant way to process such a subtlety of change in a huge body of
Aug 22, 2009 added it
Extremely illuminating work. I would recommend it to anyone interested in either anthropology or psychology.
Jul 11, 2014 rated it really liked it
It is a really good book. I promise I'll write a review soon, but it's important to note that it also has very good references regarding the subject.
Tom Schulte
Sep 20, 2017 rated it really liked it
This little work, really a long essay, is a fascinating overview of burying, dying, and funereal practices in America and Europe from ancient times into the Twentieth Century. The author tracks the dying experience from personal to a gathering of intimates to a sterile, lonely act in a modern hospital. Burying goes from a dispassionate "mystical trust" into graves which are readily exhumed for re-use, filling the charnel houses, which graves become more personal and pushed in on churches until ...more
Marsha Altman
May 13, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
Okay overview of Western European Christian attitudes towards death in last 2000 years.
Madeline Hunter
I read this book for a class, and while I did enjoy it, discussing it in a critical setting brings to light so many faults that I couldn't give it an amazing rating. The argument, over all, is sound-ish, but his many tangents and lack of major historical events made it less compelling. When I say lack of major historical events,I mean that he devoted the majority of the first chapter to discussing death in the Middle Ages through the deaths of knights, yet only mentioned the Black Death that ...more
Aug 17, 2007 rated it liked it
This was actually a series of lectures the dude gave in France or something like that. This makes for strange format, but a pretty simple and interesting hypothesis about the evolution of our (the West's) ideas about death. I liked it fine. Super short, can read in one sitting for sure.
Greg Tilden
Dec 08, 2013 rated it really liked it
Read this for Death & Immortality with Menning, though Western religions are usually not my main interest, the conciseness of this book coupled with Aries' interpretation of death rituals was very informative and had me thinking about Western Europe in the 16-1800s.
Jan 09, 2009 rated it really liked it
I read this in Vegas, baby
واسع علوی
A good book. But probably not as informative as I hoped it would be.
Sep 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Phillipe Aries gives us a general tour of the concept of death throughout western history, which can be depicted through four phases: Tamed Death, One’s Own Death, Thy Death, and Forbidden Death. Each narrative has a fascinating display of the attitudes and ritualization that took place during that era. With the exception of our own era, what’s particularly interesting is that each era he mentions had an imitate connection with its dead and an understanding of death in which modernity now ...more
Sheldon Farough
Jan 22, 2018 rated it really liked it
Well this was an interesting little read. I had to read this book for a class in university and ended up reading the entire book in an evening. It's fairly short and a really interesting look at the way our view of death has changed over the past 1000 years.

It's hard to review this book without just giving a synopsis. Basically in the middle ages, death was such a part of everyday life that people didn't really fear it the same way as people fear it now. Based on writings and historical
Richard Smith
Nov 09, 2019 rated it really liked it
A seminal book.

My blog lon the book:
Gabrielle Bonnar
Dec 29, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: college
Read it for school and was interesting but really not my type of book
Jorun Bork
Oct 22, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very interesting learning how our attitude towards death has changed, and how death replaced sex in being the most taboo topic in the modern age.
Playing Marbles
Mar 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book is absolutely essential for understanding the changes in conceptions of death and how they have changed over the centuries.
Marc Nash
The parts about death in early history more convincing than in the modern age. Yes death has become that of which no one speaks of today, but never convincingly argued as to why.
Elianna Hills
Nov 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
Aries gives an interesting analysis of western attitudes towards death stemming from the Middle Ages. Covering many bases, the book is well thought out and provoking.
Used as reference material for an essay - makes some excellent points and is a classic, but not my usual cup of tea.
Julio R. Vargas-Vidal
Must read

Excellent book, rich in history and social facts. Should be a required reading for all interested in knowing more on the topic of dying.
Yağız Ay
Dec 30, 2019 rated it really liked it
Don't read it before sleep.
Philippe Malzieu



Death disappeared. You can notice that death and sexuality had ways opposite. Whereas sexuality left alcove to reveal itself publicly, intimate and personal death became a subject taboo with a fold in the private sphere.

During centuries, man lived with like companion death. He gave it names : la camarde, la faucheuse.... It is entitled even to a physical representation. The scythe, the skeleton… Bergman took again this imaginary in
Feb 16, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Read it in my mother tongue, french, and found it catching and very much engrossing.
Aries' style flows easily. The topic of course is fascinating anyway, but one comes out of this book with both less questions and more curiosity. A great entry into other books on similar topics, and also a great book to get into Aries works.
Highly recommended.
Jan 22, 2017 rated it liked it
Basically read the entire thing for an essay, it's quite short. It's really easy to follow and treats the material well, only not very in-depth. But what do I care, just need a few quotes for my essay :')
Feb 18, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Not sure how this was 'seminal work' (Perhaps I confused this with his other work). Interesting but less informative than I thought it was going to be.
Jun 25, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Exceptionally revealing, this work explains so much of today's angst about death, brilliantly!
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Philippe Ariès (21 July 1914 – 8 February 1984) was a French medievalist and historian of the family and childhood, in the style of Georges Duby. He wrote many books on the common daily life. His most prominent works regarded the change in the western attitudes towards death.

Ariès regarded himself as an "anarchist of the right". He was initially close to the Action française but later distanced
“A single person is missing for you, and the whole world is empty. But one no longer has the right to say so aloud.” 5 likes
“Too evident sorrow does not inspire pity but repugnance, it is the sign of mental instability or of bad manners: it is morbid.” 4 likes
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