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The Denial of Death

4.15  ·  Rating details ·  7,667 ratings  ·  759 reviews
Winner of the Pulitzer prize in 1974 and the culmination of a life's work, The Denial of Death is Ernest Becker's brilliant and impassioned answer to the "why" of human existence. In bold contrast to the predominant Freudian school of thought, Becker tackles the problem of the vital lie -- man's refusal to acknowledge his own mortality. In doing so, he sheds new light on t ...more
Paperback, 336 pages
Published May 8th 1997 by Free Press (first published 1973)
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Tg I read this book last year--It was a tremendous Read--it made me think of the Greek Myths--The Ramayana, The Bible--How the Protagonist in each tale o…moreI read this book last year--It was a tremendous Read--it made me think of the Greek Myths--The Ramayana, The Bible--How the Protagonist in each tale overcame unbelievably stiff obstacles---The triumph of the Hero is always an inner drive to move forward with Spirit in the face of Disaster--Admiral Stockdale tells how Greek Philosophy helped him not only to overcome, but to thrive under 8 years of torture in Vietnam--see his article "The Master of My Fate "
Excellent, Excellent Book by Mr. Becker(less)
John S any wrong can be undone, is too optimistic, in the context of the book's argument: that we (humankind) need an enemy, for a heroic struggle in which w…moreany wrong can be undone, is too optimistic, in the context of the book's argument: that we (humankind) need an enemy, for a heroic struggle in which we gain transcendence, ie freedom from our fear of personal insignificance (death). History being, by and large, our acting out on the basis of this need. if this is correct, can we undo human nature, even if the inability to do so may mean our extinction?(less)

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Apr 03, 2007 rated it it was amazing
I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work; I want to achieve immortality through not dying. I don’t want to live in the hearts of my countrymen; I want to live in my apartment. —Woody Allen.

Becker’s main thesis in this book is that the most fundamental problem of mankind, sitting at his very core, is his fear of death. Being the only animal that is conscious of his inevitable mortality, his life’s project is to deny or repress this fear, and hence his need for some kind of a heroism. E
At my parents house the poster for this record is on my bedroom wall:

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The poster the added text that "Some ideas are poisonous, they can fuck up your life, change you and scar you."

This poster came to mind pretty often while reading The Denial of Death.

I hope this isn't going to come as a shock to anyone, but you are going to die. But you aren't just going to die, in the big picture there is nothing you will ever do, nothing you will ever be or effect matters one bit. In the long vi
This book is extremely important. I can't emphasize this enough.
Apr 07, 2010 rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: People Who Want Answers ... Any Answers
Recommended to Tyler by: Pulitzer Prize
If Ernest Becker can show that psychoanalysis is both a science and a mythic belief system, he will have found a way around man’s anxiety over death. Or maybe not. This book is a card trick that conjures sham religion out of sham science, with death playing a supporting role.

Becker tells us that the idea that man can give his life meaning through self-creation is wrong. Only a “mythico-religious” perspective will provide what’s needed to face the “terror of death.” That’s an interesting idea, b
Jul 25, 2008 marked it as to-read
Recommended to Jessica by: stepmom, woody allen, buncha other mere mortals
I really only want to read this if it's going to give me concrete, practical, how-to tips on denying death.
Tammy Marie Jacintho
Jun 15, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Do you feel like your days fly by? Or, that a month disappears into another month? How does a lifetime get swallowed up? Why do we live with regret? Aren’t we just living like all the other people? Why do we take risks with our health and with our financial resources? What is it all about?

After reading this book, the sheer madness of the 20th and 21st century seems apparent-- no longer mysterious. If you think you are living on a rollercoaster-- hate how you've been strapped onto the monster's b
Joshua Nomen-Mutatio
"The irony of man's condition is that the deepest need is to be free of the anxiety of death and annihilation; but it is life itself which awakens it, and so we must shrink from being fully alive."
—Ernest Becker

The sloppy latticework of gnarled tree branches anchors the foreground while Devlin and Geoffrey puff upon thick, stolen cigars, steathily removed from a father’s humidor, stashed in the closet of a house that was summarily purchased with blood, sweat and finely tuned 'n' directed tears.
Apr 26, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This was transforming. If I manage to live long enough to grow old despite my overwhelming urge to suicide now and then , I would look back on this book as my first lesson on 'human condition'. This book won Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction(1973). New York Times described it as ' One of the most challenging book of the decade .' And upon googling I came to know that this book is a seminal book iin psychology and one of the most influential books written on psychology in 20th century. It can ...more
Dec 18, 2015 rated it really liked it

I have mixed thoughts and feelings while reading this book, because I intend to immerse myself through it, and there were instances that some parts of it really bored me, for example, the constant references to Nietzsche. Ernest Becker brilliantly synthesized Freud's psychoanalysis with the ideas of writers most notably, Otto Rank, Soren Kierkegaard, Carl Jung, Medard Boss, among others and poignantly illustrated their insights on the individual's attempts and striving against death, which entai
Feb 17, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Denial of Death straddles the line between astounding intellectual ambition and crackpot theorizing; it is a compendium of brilliant intellectual exercises that are more satisfying poetically than scientifically; it is a desperately self-oblivious and quasi-futile attempt to resurrect the ruins of Freudian psychoanalysis by re-defining certain parameters and ostensibly de-Freudianizing them; there is an unhealthy mixture of jaw-dropping recognition and eye-rolling recognition.

It is important
Sep 28, 2012 rated it it was ok
Going to school when I did, it’s hard to conceive of how important the psychoanalytic project was for so much of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The influence of Freud and the subsequent schools of psychology developed by his students spread into virtually every discipline, from literary analysis to economics, but by the time I got there it was all pretty much gone. I’m sure that somewhere there’s an Onoda-type holdout department that won’t let the old stuff go, or one or two octogenaria ...more
Emma Sea
Feb 28, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This is a classic for a reason. It's a brilliant book, in which Becker discusses Otto Rank's writings in a highly accessible way, that is absolutely relevant to 21st century society. The knowledge that we will die defines our lives, and the ways humans choose to deal with this knowledge (consciously or subconsciously) are what creates culture - all culture; from BDSM to Quakerism.

The downside is that the book was first published in 1973, and therefore contains some highly offensive writing.

A.G. Stranger
Nov 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
One of those rare books that will change your perspective about EVERYTHING. Even though I don't agree with everything in this book I wish I could give it 10 stars.
Jun 29, 2009 rated it did not like it
Is there a 'couldn't bring myself to finish' rating? I feel like I'm cheating by putting this one on my "read" shelf...

Here's the thing... I'm fairly well read, I've taken philosophy classes, I've powered through some pretty dry books. But apparently I CANNOT bring myself to power through a dry book about PSYCHOANALYSIS.

Being a modern psych major, and a fairly well-read one at that, AND one who has dealt with mental issues personally... I can't bring myself to believe a god damned WORD that Fre
Feb 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
The Denial of Death by Ernest Becker tries to essentially explore the human condition and its associated 'problems' by buttressing some new insights on the central concepts of psychoanalysis as popularly enunciated by the likes of Freud, Otto, Jung and Kierkegaard among others (Yes, Kierkegaard too if one is to believe this book). The book's fundamental premise is to view man as an animal primarily tortured by the tension of duality inherent within him in the form of a battle between the infinit ...more
Kevin Shepherd
"We repress our bodies to purchase a soul that time cannot destroy; we sacrifice pleasure to buy immortality; we encapsulate ourselves to avoid death. And life escapes us while we huddle within the defended fortress of character." ~Sam Keen

Consumption. There are books that I read and then there are books that I consume. Denial of Death was consumed. This reads more 1990's than 1970's, a testament to Ernest Becker's acumen. It is both critical and reverent of Sigmond Freud's psychoanalytical theo
Jan 07, 2019 rated it did not like it
The author could have said he was producing philosophical musings or bad literature or random religious thoughts or whatever, but he didn't. Instead he is suffering from the delusion that he is doing science: Analyze that!

Not everything has to be science, but Becker repeats incessantly that this stuff is "scientific." It is not. It is closer to medieval scholasticism, i.e. opinionated commentary on received texts. In science, you state a hypothesis and you test it. Moreover, if you are recommen
Feb 16, 2020 rated it really liked it
The Denial of Death [1973] – ★★★★

“It is fateful and ironic how the lie we need in order to live dooms us to a life that is never really ours” [Becker, 1973: 56].

Ernest Becker (1924 – 1974) was a cultural anthropologist whose book The Denial of Death won the 1974 Pulitzer Prize. It deals with the topic that few people want to consider or talk about – their own mortality and death. The paradox is that, although this topic is considered to be a societal taboo, everyone on this earth will have to co
Apr 20, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: death

Becker's Pulitzer Prize winning book was written while he was dying-- it is his final gift to humanity. Praised by Elizabeth Kubler Ross, The New York Times Book Review, Sam Keen, you name it. One of my brightest, most humane friends described it as, "The only book I've ever read twice." Becker says-- very thoroughly, too-- that everything we humans do is to blot out the understanding that we die. That includes all the monuments to our egos we leave behind: shopping centers,
Gary  Beauregard Bottomley
This prize winning book from 1973 has immense value today because it captures how very smart people explained the world in those days and it is amazing we ever got out of the self referential tautological cave that was being created to explain who we are. There is nothing more dangerous than using just intuition and strong arguments without empirical data to reach your conclusions. That's what this author does.

He ties existential and psychoanalytical thought and the necessity for beliefs in God
Aug 20, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: religious, therapists, existentialists
Recommended to Talat by: Merlyn Mowrey
Becker introduces the very basic idea that we humans have four distinguishing features: (1) we can contemplate our death, we do contemplate -- and try to deny -- our death, and (2) we can create symbolic realities of thought and action, and (3) we project and perpetuate symbolic realities of thought and action to create systems that will outlive -- in an everyday sense "transcend" our physical mortality; we want to symbolically live on and some of us succeed in doing so (a major point at the end ...more
Jimmy Ele
Jan 24, 2015 rated it it was amazing
What more could I say about this book?

DISCLAIMER: I can not do this book justice with a review.

The artist, the pervert, the homosexual, Freud, adults, Hitler, kids.....basically all of humanity gets placed under the analytic microscope that is Ernest Becker's mind. With intense clarity of vision he exposes us all as the frail mortal human beings that we are. He embarrasses us for our petty quests for immortality. He exposes the artist for the fraud that he is. Oh vain wanna be creator! You can
Jun 05, 2017 added it
Shelves: psychology
You know that scene in Annie Hall where Woody Allen summons Marshall McLuhan out of the shrubbery to shout down the movie queue bloviator? "You know nothing of my work!"
Becker sounded like that guy.

Maybe that was harsh. After all, Becker has a lot of useful tips for living properly, and for realizing how the death phobia infects our day-to-day interactions.

That being said, I had some skepticism from the beginning, and that kept growing... a few too many denunciations of orthodox Freudianism foll
Michael Britt
Mar 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
I'm not going to lie and pretend like I understood all of this book or fully grasped all of the philosophical points in the book, because I didn't. The things I did understand were really thought provoking, though, and that's what I loved about it. I don't think I could even do this book close to what it deserves through a book review. So I'm not even going to try. What I will say is that I do plan to keep reading it, to try and understand it better, quite often. Also plan on looking up some exp ...more
Peter (Pete) Mcloughlin
Old School psychoanalytic exploration of death and its meaning in the human condition. The fact that we dream of the stars yet at the same time are stuck in absurd mortal animal bodies is the central tension of our psychological lives. We soar symbolically yet are bound the earth will eventually return to dust. This tension causes much of human neurosis and psychosis and drives much ordinary behavior. It is the impetus of world historical figures from conquerors to saints and other assorted monu ...more
Tom Quinn
Jun 15, 2018 rated it liked it
Quintessentially 1970s, this mish-mash of Freudian analysis and biological determinism starts out by exploring the principles of Sociobiology and making a lot of grandiose statements about human narcissism as an inborn trait resultant from "countless ages of evolution" (2). Blithely dismissing religious tradition and appealing to ideas of childhood imprinting and unconscious suppression as the primary drivers of adult thought and behavior, Becker's main thesis is that if only we could realize ou ...more
Apr 10, 2019 rated it liked it
This was one of a dozen books commonly used in my course on Coping with Life and Death: of course, Kubler-Ross also, and even Woody Allen, "Death: A Play." Poems like Frost's "Death of the Hired Man," many by Emily Dickinson, and Keats's Nightingale Ode--which I helped Director James Wolpaw make a film on, "Keats and His Nightingale: A Blind Date," Oscar nominated in 1985. The Director kindly used me as a talking head, and even for the sound of the Nightingale because I study Birdtalk. My Nighti ...more
Mark R.
Feb 04, 2008 rated it it was amazing
I read this book for a couple reasons, the first being that I'd always been mildly interested in in it, ever since I heard Woody Allen talk about it in "Annie Hall". I asked one of my friends in school a few years ago about the book, and he said it was pretty hard reading. I'd had one psychology class at the time and figured he was probably right, that it would be difficult reading for someone who had a hard time getting through any of his text books and didn't have much interest in psychoanalys ...more
Simply one of the best books I’ve ever read..
Ashkin Ayub
Jul 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: All fans of psychology
Recommended to Ashkin by: Mim

“Man cannot endure his own littleness unless he can translate it into meaningfulness on the largest possible level.”

- Ernest Becker

This book won the Pulitzer Prize the same year that Ernest Becker died in 1974. His long works on Oedipus Theory, heroism, psychoanalysis and neurosis are an eye opener and makes you dive deeper in this human brain.

In The Denial of Death, Becker tried to explore the human obsession with life and immortality and the unconscious fear of mortality and oblivion which
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Any Critique of Becker? 9 97 Mar 12, 2017 09:39AM  
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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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