Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The Birth and Death of Meaning: An Interdisciplinary Perspective on the Problem of Man” as Want to Read:
The Birth and Death of Meaning: An Interdisciplinary Perspective on the Problem of Man
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

The Birth and Death of Meaning: An Interdisciplinary Perspective on the Problem of Man

4.37  ·  Rating details ·  495 ratings  ·  29 reviews

Uses the disciplines of psychology, anthropology, sociology and psychiatry to explain what makes people act the way they do.
Paperback, 2nd Edition, 228 pages
Published September 1st 1971 by Free Press (first published August 1st 1962)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about The Birth and Death of Meaning, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about The Birth and Death of Meaning

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
4.37  · 
Rating details
 ·  495 ratings  ·  29 reviews

Sort order
Leon Sandler
Oct 12, 2014 rated it it was amazing
An absolutely amazing work. In the introduction, Becker sets out to answer the question "Why do people do what they do?" What follows, across 200 pages, is a remarkably well-constructed and well-written study on the development of selfhood and culture. Becker's work is truly interdisciplinary and draws on evolutionary biology, developmental psychology, anthropology, philosophy and literature. The book reveals the link between the organization of human societies and the vital, personal need for s ...more
Dec 07, 2010 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Feb 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing
You can read texts of great literature, the novelists, the existentialists etc; to understand what is the human condition. But in my opinion, no amount of reading fictional literature can compare to what psychology and anthropology can offer on this topic, probably because they have a more systematic or 'scientific' method of inquiry.

My thoughts upon reading this book: it's a genuinely penetrating book, but don't read it; not every brilliant book has to be read. Go on living your life, performin
Rudy Zamora
Jun 20, 2017 rated it it was ok
I remember really liking this book when I was in undergrad and feeling very inspired about its message on how to find meaning in the modern world. Recently, I tried re-reading the first few chapters and felt very disenchanted by what turned out to be a horribly facile take on evolution and the cognitive abilities of non-human animals. For all the good Becker understood of psychology, psychoanalysis, and anthropology, his research for this work was limited by the knowledge available at the time o ...more
Toby Newton
May 31, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Quite simply one of the most important books that I have ever read - the work of an absolute genius of the very first order. To read it with an open mind and with a willingness to attend is to usher in the possibility of super-pleasure and super-thought. Buy, read. Digest. Read again. Percolate. Read again.
Jan 10, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Life changing.
Aug 11, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Mind: Blown.
Oct 24, 2015 rated it really liked it
Read Denial of Death first. If you want more, try this.
Jul 16, 2015 rated it really liked it
Culture is fictional.
Mar 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
A paradigm-shifting, Matrix-unplugging piece of work. This book, along with Becker's Denial of Death, are excellent analyses of the human condition and why we do literally anything. His main argument is how everything we know that is human behavior and culture is just a mirage and a way to protect our fragile selves from an unacceptable paradox: that we're the only creatures we know of with consciousness and are aware of our own mortality, yet we know that our lives are completely meaningless in ...more
Jun 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Too a long time to finish this book. I find it helps me to integrate various ideas. The author provided a view of human (or humanity) development, learning the language (symbols) gave man the ability to put distance between immediate environment, how that formed the mind. Man being "cursed" in a way to be aware of our mortality, caught in anxieties. The effect of socialisations, and man's different ways to manage that anxieties. I think (at least in my understanding) ultimate solution is finding ...more
Adam Borecky
Dec 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is a great introduction to Becker and to psychoanalytic thought in general. I found this much more approachable than “The Denial of Death” but it wasn’t quite as rich. I would definitely start here.

Becker outlines his view of what makes humans tick and presents his conclusions clearly and convincingly. He writes in such a way as when you read him you feel like he’s saying things that you somehow always knew but couldn’t put to words.

My own personal thought has been greatly shaped y Becker
Apr 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book is fully the most eye-opening and uniquely fascinating book I've ever read. It's hard to write a review of it without sounding some overzealous fan, but I can't recommend this book enough. Anyone looking to understand the human condition and how we relate to each other and the world around us should read this cover to cover. Becker breaks everything down clearly and concisely and then uses those pieces to build a view of humanity that is as insightful as it is impressive. There should ...more
Michael David  Desormeaux
Jul 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A brilliant examination of the various symbolic systems people use to form their self-concept and find meaningful action in a chaotic world. He takes various disciplines to describe the various mechanisms that people adapt in themselves and the abnormal psychopathology that occurs when certain developments in early child fail to develop properly. I found his theory of the hero-system as the fundamental explanation of our desires as controversial since there is a lack of scientific backing for th ...more
Tom Crosby
Jun 26, 2018 rated it really liked it
An insightful little book that may contribute interest or internal discussion points to your awareness and understanding of culture, society and yourself. Very recently hopped aboard the Becker train and have been enjoying each book for what it contains, regardless of its ultimately flawed outcomes.

Very much recommended, just don't linger too long on its age.
Mar 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Wow-read this for my social psychology course and loved it! When I first saw it's published date I thought it was rather dated and wondered how relevant it could be....boy was I in for a surprise and this just proves the worth of this book. Totally recommend to anyone who is trying to understand human behaviour and society!!!
Jan Goericke
One of the best books I have read in a long time. I wish I had read this book before The Denial Of Death since it would have better prepared me. Truly an amazing piece of work. Unimaginable what Becker would have accomplished had he had 20 more years on this planet. Highly recommended, no, a MUST READ.
Rayann Reid
Oct 12, 2017 rated it it was ok
Interesting (and depressing) existentialist book about how everything we do is basically meaningless. Difficult to get through
Dec 21, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Probably one of the most poignant synthesis of human understanding I have read. It gradually reveals the root of humanity's irrational machinations, it's compulsive agitations. In short it shows how precisely human consciousness is existential-insecurity; and how neurosis is, for individuals and for entire societies, every contortion of perception, every delusion and every scheme against reality as it is -- simply everything that tries to cover up the despair, dread and anxiety that conscious aw ...more
Amy M
Aug 15, 2008 rated it it was amazing
This book was required reading for one of the film theory classes I took in college. Unlike the rest of my college texts, I still have this book. Becker's concepts were quickly assimilated into my post-college belief system; probably leading me to all that Ayn Rand and Kurt Vonnegut reading of my post-college years. In fact, I think it's time for me to re-read this book so I can perhaps have more sympathy for those who are like the boxer in Becker's book: "I could have been a champion!"
Valerie Seckler
Jan 12, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Becker's "The Birth and Death of Meaning" was one of the most important books in a life of reading and one of this reader's most exciting learning experiences, as taught by Arthur LeGacy in his Syracuse University class, "Psychoanalysis and History."
Christine Shan
Nov 23, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Great overview of the intertwined concepts in psychology, sociology, and anthropology that elucidates the role of meaning. I love how Becker gives the excellent examples that further illustrates a vague explanation and theory.
Jan 25, 2016 rated it did not like it
Shelves: non-fiction
An apologist for Freud. An attempt to synthesize anthropology and psychoanalysis in a "science of man". Pretentious pseudo. Couldn't finish it.
Dec 29, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Everyone!
Mar 25, 2008 rated it it was amazing
This book is a wonderful book of the human spirit!
May 17, 2010 added it
essential for any analyst
Jamie Dunbaugh
Jul 07, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Possibly the most important and vindicating books I've ever read.
Donna Sandidge
Aug 04, 2012 rated it really liked it
This book took forever to read. Excellent writing, interesting subject.
rated it really liked it
Jun 16, 2013
Vojtěch Ort
rated it it was amazing
Dec 02, 2012
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • Art and Artist: Creative Urge and Personality Development
  • Love's Body
  • Lust
  • In Praise of Doubt: How to Have Convictions Without Becoming a Fanatic
  • Eight Theories of Religion
  • The Twilight of the American Enlightenment: The 1950s and the Crisis of Liberal Belief
  • This Incredible Need to Believe
  • So Far from Home: Lost and Found in Our Brave New World
  • Economy of Desire
  • Evolution and Conversion: Dialogues on the Origins of Culture
  • Vital Lies, Simple Truths: The Psychology of Self-Deception
  • Shakespeare's Philosophy: Discovering the Meaning Behind the Plays
  • True Blood and Philosophy: We Want to Think Bad Things with You
  • The Empathic Civilization: The Race To Global Consciousness In A World In Crisis
  • The Purloined Poe: Lacan, Derrida, and Psychoanalytic Reading
  • In Over Our Heads: The Mental Demands of Modern Life
  • A General Theory of Magic
  • Colossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire
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
“We have become victims of our own art. We touch people on the outsides of their bodies, and they us, but we cannot get to their insides and cannot reveal our insides to them. This is one of the great tragedies of our interiority-it is utterly personal and unrevealable. Often we want to say something unusually intimate to a spouse, a parent, a friend, communicate something of how we are really feeling about a sunset, who we really feel we are-only to fall strangely and miserably flat. Once in a great while we succeed, sometimes more with one person, less or never with others. But the occasional break-through only proves the rule. You reach out with a disclosure, fail, and fall back bitterly into yourself.” 49 likes
“Try repeating “man is an animal" a few times, just to notice how unconvincing it sounds. There seems to be no way to get this idea into our heads, except by long rumination over the facts of evolution or perhaps by exposure to a primitive tribe or by being raised on a farm. Primitives sometimes see little difference between themselves and the animals around them. Karl von den Steinen was told by a Xingu that the only difference between them and the monkey was that they monkeys lacked the bow and arrow. And Jules Henry observed on the Kningang that dogs are not considered pets, like some of the other animals, but are on a level of emotional equality, like a relative. But in our own Western culture we have, for the most part, set a great distance between ourselves and the rest of nature, and language helps us to do this. Thus we say that a sheep “drops" its lamb, but a woman “gives birth"—it’s much more noble. Yet we have the right to make such distinctions because we assign the meaning to the world by naming names of things; we inhabit a different sphere and we capitalize naturally on the privilege.” 12 likes
More quotes…