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Escape from Evil

4.41  ·  Rating details ·  414 ratings  ·  36 reviews
From the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Denial of Death, a penetrating and insightful perspective on the source of evil in our world.

"A profound, nourishing book…absolutely essential to the understanding of our troubled times." —Anais Nin

"An urgent essay that bears all the marks of a final philosophical raging against the dying of the light." —Newsweek
Paperback, 188 pages
Published March 1st 1985 by Free Press (first published November 1st 1975)
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4.41  · 
Rating details
 ·  414 ratings  ·  36 reviews

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Aug 17, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I just finished reading this and my head feels like it's ready to explode. There's just so much here. Only 170 pages but so much to digest.

Something that really surprised me: Becker's advocacy of religion. He rejects organized religion, noting all the evil it's done, especially all it's done to advocate war, but he more or less states towards the end of the book that only belief in the supernatural (which, of course, can mean many different things) can save humanity. Like psychoanalysis, he wri
M. Sarki

Nearing his own end Ernest Becker expressed that he had no intention of this book ever being published. After being diagnosed with a terminal disease he decided he had nothing more to say on the subject. But his survivors decided not to honor his wishes. This happens too often to many good writers. And it is evil. It is the only issue I have with this book. His master work The Denial of Death did much to cement his reputation as one of the premier thinkers
Dec 11, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
This book spawns a theory of social psychology. It is both a devastating critique of ideology yet beautiful argument for it. All culture is fundamentally contrived... Becker never finished this books himself, it was released posthumously by his wife after she found the manuscript hidden away in his desk- so Escape from Evil lacks a bit of the nuance of The Denial of Death- yet Becker writes more candidly in what might be considered his magnum opus. Escape From Evil is a cry for a unifying theory ...more
Apr 06, 2008 rated it really liked it
We are not evil because we have an "instinct" to be, as Freud said, but because we're the only animal on this planet that knows it's going to die. And so we engage in "immortality projects", including clobbering people who don't subscribe to our view of the world, all in the name of "purity" and goodness. This is a great companion piece to Becker's Pulitzer Prize winning "Denial of Death". A closer look at the specific question of why humans do such awful things.
Sep 30, 2017 rated it liked it
This book is a continuation of The Denial of Death. While that book greatly impressed me, this one made me pause. Too much reflection and armchair philosophizing based on dubious psychoanalytical principles can end up giving you an odd perspective of evil. It seems that to Becker everything is about trying to transcend death and give meaning to life and make the world as perfect as the one in our imagination; it's all heroism and symbolism. I'm sure this is not what Becker wanted to say, but you ...more
Sep 21, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: sociology-1, psycho
"the ideology of modern commercialism has unleashed a life of invidious comparison unprecedented in history ... modern man cannot endure economic equality because he has no faith in self-transcendent, otherworldly immortality symbols; visible physical worth is the only thing he has to give him eternal life. No wonder that people segregate themselves with such consuming dedication, that specialness is so much a fight to the death ... He dies when his little symbols of specialness die." (p.85)

Jul 22, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: existential
I love Ernest Becker. I believe he offers a perspective on social justice, and our own mortality that is intimately connected to our times. In Escape from Evil he examines the ways which Evil occurs in the world. He believes that evil occurs because one is attempting to be great, to be powerful, and to transcend their mortality by investing in the larger collective good, a good that requires heroes. It is a penetrating analysis, and I believe is very timely as the US begins to (hopefully) have o ...more
Nathan Leslie
Aug 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is right in my sweet spot--a dark, philosophical examination (exhortation) of human nature. Reminiscent of Nietzsche and E.M. Cioran in particular, Becker's text takes humanity to task. Make sure to have a fuzzy animal handy whilst reading, for this is a nightmare tale of the highest proportions. Great read during the holidays, for those sick of fakey-fake cheer and hope. Tons of great one-liners. Why am I just now discovering Becker? I want to retroactively sue my undergraduate profs for s ...more
Dec 02, 2016 rated it it was amazing
"The tragedy of evolution is that it created a limited animal with unlimited horizons . . . It seems that the experiment of man may well prove to be an evolutionary dead end, an impossible animal - one who, individually, needs for healthy action the very conduct that, on a general level, is destructive to him. It is maddeningly perverse,"

Humanity is caught in the greatest goof of all time.

Reading Becker is a gut-punch - but a necessary one!
Peter LaCombe
Oct 28, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone whose read "denial of death"
every paragraph is vital. So well informed, lucid and readable that it seems unbelievable.
Oct 17, 2012 marked it as to-read
Added to the to-read list for this quote from it: "Each society is a hero system which promises victory over evil and death."
Robert Kramer
Sep 05, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Stunning. Unforgettable. A magnum opus. Even more powerful than The Denial of Death, from which it was extracted. Ernest Becker, like Otto Rank, is one of the intellectual and spiritual giants of the 20th century. What makes Becker truly great is that he recognized Rank's genius and distilled Rank's books, virtually all out of print at the time, into this lyrical masterpiece. Becker's facility with language is what Rank, sadly, lacked. Yet Becker got all of Rank almost as if he were channeling h ...more
Ever wonder why human nature is so destructive? What is behind all those different religions? War? Greed?
Capitolism versus Socialism?
This is the book to read. It is straight anthropology. Take notes while you read and review, and then read it again. I started this book in 1999, and finished in 2005. A complimentary read is The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.
jessica in chicago
Zinnia Zhang
May 28, 2011 is currently reading it
Recommends it for: CG zhang
Jan Goericke
Two of the most profound books I have read in remembrance. These existentialist books started to explain to me the human experience: our dualism of being an animal and a symbolic (conscious) creature, the beauty and need for idealistic belief systems (e.g., religions, state, culture, etc.), the interconnection of science (psychology, philosophy, theology,etc.), and "evil" as integral consequence of the human experience. A surprisingly fun and accessible read - highly recommended.
Aug 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I cannot recommend Ernest Becker's three main books enough. They are quite certainly some of the most important books I've ever read. Have been and will continue to keep going back to them. Great interdisciplinary thinker. Read. This. Now. (After his first two, of course)
Hom Sack
Feb 15, 2017 rated it liked it
Still an awkward read after 35 years. It is not as good as the prequel.
Wasiq Saeed
Feb 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Joy really comes in small pieces, so I finally got my hands on this beauty "Escape from Evil" by Ernest Becker, this is sort of a completion of his work from "Denial of Death" which is considered as one of the most influential books of the last century. I think I have just rarely reassembled myself from the effects of absorbing the previous one. Both books could be read independently though. This particular one is absolutely an amazing piece of analytical study on the nature of man, discussing a ...more
Apr 18, 2015 rated it really liked it
An interesting read, to say the least. This is a companion book to Becker's Pulitzer Prize winning study, 'The Denial of Death', published after his death in the early '70s. In his first book, Becker examines man's fear of death, and his struggle to overcome death through heroism and symbology, as the main problem and motivation of human existence. In this book, he attempts to show that this is, also, the root cause of human evil. Whether he ultimately accomplishes that goal is up to the reader ...more
Alford Wayman
Feb 26, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This little book sat on my shelf for over five years before I came to read it. Little did I know the kind of punch Becker placed between it's covers. If you enjoyed reading Carl Jung, Joseph Campbell, Erich Neumann, and Erich Fromm you will almost for certain enjoy Beckers ideas on the human psychology. Simple but enlightened chapters dealing with heroism, religion, consumerism, evil, and man's motivations for transcendence, are clearly laid out. Reading this book made me enjoy Becker so much I ...more
Muhammad Almoshaiqeh
Apr 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Becker has revolutionized the theories behind the human condition,
This book in particular is a must read for everyone searching for answers into the greatest human dilemma.. it might as well be the answer.

It was published by Becker’s family after his death, it contains his personal final notes on his work, and the works of his predecessors mentioned in the book.

It is a book that brings the psychology, Anthropology and Philosophy of man all together.
I highly recommend it for you, yes I mean you
Peter Mcloughlin
Very literary exploration of the psychological consequences of the mind's revolt against death and the negative effects it has on people and societies. Much very disturbing social behavior comes from our fear of death including racism, ethnocentrism, religious intolerance, ideological fanaticism and a host of other woes. This like his earlier work "the denial of death" explores the darkside of our revolt from mortality in psychoanalytic terms. It is more a humanist exploration than a rigorous ex ...more
Emily Calvo
Apr 30, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: deep thinkers
Recommended to Emily by: Professor Bill Hill
This book was published before the author finished it, so it's not the most well organized piece of work, but when I was in college it answered a very important question: Why do seemingly intelligent people make such horrible mistakes? In other words, why do we suffer? It's not a book for someone who thinks they have all the answers...or maybe it is.
Apr 13, 2007 rated it liked it
Great sequel to "Denial of Death"; focus on society instead of individual. Much taken from Girard on scapegoating and how in our desire to heroically overcome evil we end up dealing out evil ourselves. This book is a rebuttal to Marxist/revolutionary hope. Ultimately he has little hope; he thinks perhaps the only way forward is in nonviolent world religious movements (i.e. Gandhi/King).
Mar 31, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Jumped Chapter to Chapter with this Marxisim of a book with alot of good ideas (Especially if your one Fidel Castro)
Still in the midst of Reading it, well it's shelved at the TT Library awaiting to be consumed more.
Philosophy at its most equivalent doctrine!
Spring Break!
Sep 02, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: to-darryl
This book was a follow-up complement to The Denial of Death. His interpretation of Freud, Marx, and others, has pretty much altered my world view. His ideas will make your head spin. Spin in a Beetlejuice/Rosemary's-Baby kind of way.
Jan 20, 2011 rated it really liked it
This is an anthropology text, so it is kind of dense and hard to get through, but it was absolutely fascinating. Definitely worth a look if you're interested in ideas about human motives at all. Really cool.
Jan 11, 2013 rated it it was amazing
An incredible read. I am glad this book was published. His explanations of Otto Rank ideology and comparative analysis with other authors is abbreviated, but I found this to be helpful for further study. The book would have been much larger had he gone more in depth.
Nov 30, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Becker is in the category of being someone who I'm not sure how exactly I came across but am absolutely thrilled that I did. I've already ordered almost all his other works so I hope that they can live up the reputation I have now built for him.
Dec 21, 2011 rated it really liked it
Thought provoking.
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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
“I have reached far beyond my competence and have probably secured for good a reputation for flamboyant gestures. But the times still crowd me and give me no rest, and I see no way to avoid ambitious synthetic attempts; either we get some kind of grip on the accumulation of thought or we continue to wallow helplessly, to starve amidst plenty. So I gamble with science and write.” 10 likes
“Man is an animal who has to live in a lie in order to
live at all.”
More quotes…