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Escape from Evil

4.41  ·  Rating details ·  494 ratings  ·  45 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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 ·  494 ratings  ·  45 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
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.
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
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."
Jun 17, 2020 added it
Analysis of man’s motives from prehistory to present. Analytic anthropology, social theory, and psychology combined.

I left it unrated based on the fact that this wasn’t the book I needed or really wanted to read. So I abandoned it near the end. Maybe I’ll finish it one day.
Aug 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Brilliant synthesis of a wide range of thinkers. Unsettling, too.
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
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
Jun 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This is Becker's accompanying piece to his book "The Denial of Death". This is not the type of book the typical reader chooses to "snuggle up with next to the fire". It is a serious scientific book that is attempting to put together a science of man. As Becker attempts to do this, he pulls from the sciences of Anthropology, Psychology, Behaviorism and Sociology. "Escape from Evil" is a book about social theory and human behavior in group settings that lead to evil.

Ultimately, Becker believes tha
Özgür Doğan Birol
I will share a part from the book for readers who consider reading:

"As Dostoevsky saw, killing is sometimes distasteful, but the distaste is swallowed if it is necessary to true heroism: as one of the revolutionaries asked Pytor Verhovensky in the Possessed, when they were about to kill one of their number, 'Are other groups also doing this?' In other words, is it the socially heroic thing to do, or are we being arbitrary about identifying evil? Each person wants his life to be a marker for good
Milos Todorovic
May 19, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I would strongly recommend reading Denial of Death first, as this profound and unfinished essay is somewhat continuation to it. Neither of two books is easy read to digest. Both books are sobering, and not necessarily in good way. So take heed if you decide reading them.

In this book, Becker argues that evil doesn't come without a reason and has only one reason, embedded in our very existence-fear of death, or as author would write it fear of "extinction without insignificance". Every human motiv
Aug 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Being an already huge fan of Becker's work it's hard for me to write an objective review of this book. However, I firmly believe everyone with even a passing interest in the psychology of the human condition should read it. Incredibly interesting and genuinely thought-provoking theories abound and you can't help but feel like you're getting some really important and well researched insight.

Wanna understand why societies condone awful shit and follow dickhead leaders? Mr. Becker has some answers.
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.
Onni Nikkinen
Apr 06, 2020 rated it it was ok
I really liked Denial of Death and especially The Birth and Death of Meaning which was far more coherent in its thesis. But this Escape from Evil was just nonsensical drivel that seemed to have no point. I can see why Ernest himself asked for the notes to be thrown away. Instead of honoring his dying wish his wife for some reason published the notes as a book. I cannot understand why.
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.
Jonathan Flynn
Aug 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I was assigned this book at Brown University in 1977 or 78 for a Class titled, "Problematic Heroism." It forever changed the way I look at existence and those around me.
Mar 28, 2020 rated it really liked it
This is a dense book. If you're interested in psychology or philosophy it might be worth a read.
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
Peter (Pete) 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
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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

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“Man is an animal who has to live in a lie in order to
live at all.”
“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.” 11 likes
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