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Staring at the Sun: Overcoming the Terror of Death

4.21  ·  Rating details ·  7,647 ratings  ·  563 reviews
Written in Irv Yalom's inimitable story-telling style, Staring at the Sun is a profoundly encouraging approach to the universal issue of mortality. In this magisterial opus, capping a lifetime of work and personal experience, Dr. Yalom helps us recognize that the fear of death is at the heart of much of our anxiety. Such recognition is often catalyzed by an "awakening expe ...more
Hardcover, 306 pages
Published February 1st 2008 by Jossey-Bass (first published January 2008)
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Jan 08, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2016
“I do not intend this to be a somber book. Instead,
it is my hope that by grasping, really grasping, our
human condition—our finiteness, our brief time in the
light—we will come not only to savor the preciousness
of each moment and the pleasure of sheer being but to
increase our compassion for ourselves and for all other
human beings.”
Apr 28, 2020 rated it liked it
T.S. Eliot, Ash Wednesday

Irvin Yalom is right.

We have to stare fixedly at the blazing sun of our mortality - as Merseault did on the beach, in Camus’ The Stranger - for it changes him.

And it can change us.

But ONLY if we daily, and in sometimes excr
Ahmad Sharabiani
Staring at the Sun: Overcoming the Terror of Death (2008), Irvin D. Yalom
Over the past quarter century Irvin Yalom has established himself as the world's leading group psychotherapist. In 'Staring at the Sun', he explores how the knowledge of our own mortality affects the unconscious mind of every human being. Tackling the effect of mankind's fear of death - both conscious and unconscious - on life and how we might live it, Yalom explains how we find ourselves in need of the comfort of therapy.

Though a very special view (Epicurist) of the ageing process and the challenges man and woman face throughout (death included), it's a very important book for any psychotherapist, regardless of the philosophical or psychotherapy school espoused.

Yalom cites plenty of clinical cases, including his personal record: as child (his view on Religion), as therapist (his masters,...W.H. Bion, namely) and himself (as father, husband...)... ageing.



Dec 05, 2007 added it

Some smart person, back in the early days of Amazon decided that, while books should be rated on a five-point scale, reviews should be either ‘useful’ or ‘not useful’. Good idea. Something that helps you decide to buy or not-a perfectly binary process-should be judged in a similarly binary fashion. Either it helps or it doesn’t.

A book that makes the immodest claim of helping the reader overcome the terror of death can probably best be judged the same way. Did it help or not?

In spite of the claim
Mar 30, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book makes the psychology of death anxiety accessible to everyone. The author’s lifetime of psychology research & practice are enhanced by his numerous case study examples. His gentle compassion in discussing death and the fear of death is very welcome and attractive. It would be very helpful for psychotherapists, hospice workers, nurses, and caregivers as well as anyone plagued by death anxiety (so, basically, everyone).
Apr 02, 2014 rated it it was amazing
It's hard to go wrong with Yalom. Great book on death anxiety. In the couple of years before reading this book I had 4 acquaintances in their early 40's, all with young children, die of cancer. Having young kids myself, I was really starting to worry about an untimely death of my own. I wouldn't say reading this book fixed all that, because hey, none of us knows how long we have, but this was a good exploration of the topic.

I read this about a year ago and had quit putting reviews up on Goodread
Mar 18, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: death
A longtime psychotherapist, Yalom argues that it’s important for each of us to face our mortality head-on, with full awareness. Although such awareness is difficult, bringing with it great anxiety, it can motivate us to embrace life and to live more fully and compassionately. As he puts it, “Although the physicality of death destroys us, the idea of death saves us” (33). Yalom offers Ebenezer Scrooge, Pierre Bezukhov, and Ivan Ilych as literary examples of people who had “awakening experiences,” ...more
Aug 11, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: You who seek to make death an ally of creativity
Shelves: psychotherapy
Yalom, a psychiatrist (Emeritus Stanford University School of Medicine) has written a manual and memoir to show us how he, his patients and many people have been able to transmute the foreknowledge looming before all humans that we will one day die into a catalyst for consummating one's own life. Yalom directly addresses the question of how can we, even if we are not theists leave our own traces of "immortality."

Although Yalom maintains he is an atheist, he demonstrates a great respect and nurtu
Aug 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing
One of the best quotes that I've heard is Turgenyev's: "Death's an old story, but new for each person". Every death around us or unfortunate life events become awakenings to start to read the story that belongs to us. But the process of this story is different for each of us. Many people do not even want to think about death and deaths around them, like a story book waiting on the shelf to be read. Many people are in grief. Many people are obsessively living in this story. But the most important ...more
Leo Robertson
Oct 21, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

If you're starting to look into death and the fear thereof—something I guess we all do at some point, maybe many points in life—this is your best starting point :)

The tone is gentle and compassionate, filled with examples from Yalom's therapy sessions, and he's a cultured chap who will lead you in the direction of great films and books to read next.

The topic as you can imagine is bleak in the hands of most, so it's refreshing to consider that Yalom has reached his kindly optimistic outloo
♥ Ibrahim ♥
Feb 12, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: thinkers-i-adore
The title of the book is based on a French quote by François de La Rochefoucauld: Le soleil ni la mort ne se peuvent regarder en face, that is, You cannot stare straight into the face of the sun, or death. It’s not easy to live every moment wholly aware of death; it’s like staring the sun in the face: you can stand only so much of it. The author offers this book optimistically and he hopes that it will help us to stare death in the face and, in so doing, not only ameliorate terror but enrich our ...more
Mar 23, 2015 rated it really liked it
Much of our neurotic behavior can be reframed as manifestations of death anxiety. This is my third book by Irving Yalom and he again proves himself to be a master storyteller and exceptionally wise psychologist. As we age it is impossible to avoid death anxiety. To avoid consciously confronting death anxiety is to let it surface in unconscious ways. Pick an approach to death anxiety, but either way, it is coming and we have to deal with it. Yalom’s regularly emphasizes existential issues in his ...more
Jason Pettus
Feb 24, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I've started seeing a therapist in 2016, an offshoot of meeting her as a staff counselor while I was a student at Chicago's DevBootcamp; and she's what's known as an "existential therapist," based on a number of ideas first developed by renowned academe Irvin Yalom, which is what's had me reading a whole series of this popular author's work this year. This 2008 title could very well be the one that he ends up being best remembered for, and touches on one of the base core concepts of existential ...more
Oct 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This book helped me SO much. Ever since I was a little girl, death has always frightened me. The thought of being separated from the ones I loved or dying before I was ready has always troubled me. My fear of death intensified with the news that my dad has terminal brain cancer and intensified even more with the birth of my second child. After I had my second baby, being afraid of dying was all I could think about. Some days the fear would wane, but other days my fear would prevent me from doing ...more
Sophy H
Dec 19, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: psychology
A very good book dealing with overcoming death anxiety, a problem I used to suffer from terribly as a kid. I would frequently sit at the top of the stairs crying uncontrollably at the thought of my parents or my brother dying.

Yalom's advice is practical, sympathetic, down to earth and realistic.

The only reason for 4 instead of 5 stars is the last chapter aimed at therapists. I felt this was repetitive of what was already contained in the bulk of the text.

The biggest thing I took away from this
Daniela Iordăchescu
Apr 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Having read some books by Yalom already, for me this one really set the tone in my search for meaning and understanding of existential psychology and all the issues human face when dealing with death or merely with the fear of dying. The ephemerality of life keeps us in a maze and rarely we can really be conscious about the fact that our lives are ending day by day. And this should only motivate us to live better. This book is not a gloomy, dark version of fearing death experiences, it's just a ...more
Jun 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing
My psychiatrist recommended this book to me after the sudden death of a good friend. I was having a hard time with her passing but also talking about the topic of death to those around me. Many tried to offer comforting words and said that she was in Heaven or watching over me, etc. I would nod and keep my mouth shut because I know no one can answer my question, which is: How do you know??

I had to take breaks from reading It but it really helped me.
I honestly think Yalom is the only author who can write a self-help kind of book without ruining everything completely. His writing is really good and, as always, he makes me think of and at things. And think with seriousness, not just skim through important matters and forget, but compare, question, ponder on an endless basis of notions and concepts.
Feb 09, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: psychology
Readable and honest. Yalom gives an account of his theory about death anxiety and practical examples in his work of dead anxiety (anxiety about nonbeing, anxiety about what comes after or anxiety about the dying process).

Don't expect a empirical scientific study. Yalom is philosophical oriented with the belief that people can find their own truths.
Apr 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A must read for those fearing or facing death. While difficult to open, you will feel more at peace in the end. Addresses the universality of our fear in a rational straightforward manner. We are not in this alone.
Jan 22, 2021 rated it really liked it
This is a great mix of things that are individually interesting - Yalom talks about life and death from a philosophical standpoint and then applies those principles to individual therapy cases, as well as discussing how he is trying to come to terms with the concept of his own transience. Some of the stories were very touching, particularly those about his mentors. When he talked about the man who was able to look at having terminal dementia as a chance to see things out his window as if for the ...more
Feb 07, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: fergus, kimber, Sanjay
Beautiful Book by an extraordinary therapist, he understands and shares case studies of people,
who seem to be suffering from something else, but unconsciously are staring at the fear of death.
He patiently works with widows, both male and female divorcees, and elders facing the prospect of having to give up all their possessions and move into nursing homes.
He draws on Ancient Philosophers like Epicurus to help ease his clients ever so gently, to integrate the fear of death. He does not preach dog
Feb 03, 2021 rated it really liked it
This is written by a psychotherapist so he ends up adding some patient interactions which might drag a bit. He doesn’t believe in afterlife ... we all die and that’s it. Most interesting idea was that there are two types of loneliness : interpersonal loneliness and existential loneliness. The philosophical background was very enjoyable : epicurus , Nietzsche, Heidegger etc
Feb 07, 2019 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: anyone even slightly existentially inclined
*4.5 stars*

When my therapist recommended this book to me, I was surprised. I wasn't afraid of death; on the contrary, I was terrified of life! When I voiced this concern she simply gave me one of those mysterious therapist looks.
"The same principle applies," she said; this answer intrigued me.

At first I thought she had meant the fear of death and the fear of life could be approached and helped in a very similar way. But as I progressed and took in Irvin Yalom's wisdom I realized that that was n
Feb 09, 2010 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: therapists in particular, but many people would probably like it
Shelves: professionallit
Yalom frequently poses the following thought experiment to his clients:

Suppose you were told that after your death, you were destined to relive your entire life exactly as it is, with all the same choices and all the same consequences.

1. Would that be a reward or a punishment?
2. What can you do now in your life so that one year or five years from now, you won't look back and feel dismayed about the new regrets you've accumulated?
3. Even if you are subject to forces which seem beyond your contro
Daniel Gualdino
Jan 07, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Absolutely fascinating! The way Yalom writes about death, and the ideas and philosophies he shares with the reader are life-changing and powerful.

In my opinion, the idea of Existential Psychotherapy is so refreshing and illuminating.

I found lost of wisdom in this book on how to live a more meaningful life. I highly recommend it and it’s one I’m sure I’ll reread in the future.
Oct 18, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
This book is beautifully written and flows like a conversation. It addresses the difficult (for many) topic of facing our own mortality and how to turn the knowledge of our mortality into a force for living better. While Yalom directly addresses fellow therapists in one part of the book, it is still an approachable and useful read for anyone. Coming from my perspective as a future existential therapist, this was a perfect read.

Yalom addresses the different ways death anxiety can show up in our
Tomas Serrien
Nov 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is a fantastic book. Yalom writes in a lucid way about mortality, the worm of our existence. With the inspiration and the influence of people like Freud, Becker and Otto Rank he has the courage to explore the sometimes terrible feeling of our impermanence and the accompanying fear of death. The strength of this book is that Yalom doesn’t avoid any subject on this matter. While reading, you hear a specialist talking. With a lot of practical examples of his long extended carrier as a psychiat ...more
Jan 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 8-10, 9
This book attracted my attention because of my fear of death. Sometimes I have panic fear attacks: woke up in the middle of the night and pray loudly for for the help from God, or from my mummy or daddy. Such moments I feel helpless.
Introduction of the book looked promising, but the first chapters were a little bit disappointing. After I advanced with the reading, the book became more interesting. It had interesting ideas which could help to cope with fear. One of them was Epicurus thought that
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Unflinching, brilliant, profound …. 1 22 Mar 01, 2008 03:53PM  

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Irvin David Yalom, M.D., is an author of fiction and nonfiction, Emeritus Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University, an existentialist, and accomplished psychotherapist.

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