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Myths to Live By

4.13  ·  Rating details ·  6,819 ratings  ·  298 reviews
What is a properly functioning mythology and what are its functions? Can we use myths to help relieve our modern anxiety, or do they help foster it? In Myths to Live By, Joseph Campbell explores the enduring power of the universal myths that influence our lives daily and examines the myth-making process from the primitive past to the immediate present, retuning always to t ...more
Paperback, 276 pages
Published February 1st 1993 by Penguin Compass (first published 1972)
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 ·  6,819 ratings  ·  298 reviews

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Nandakishore Mridula
This is the best introduction to Joseph Campbell, and very accessible. If you are new to his work, this would be the ideal place to start.
Brian Bess
Aug 31, 2014 rated it really liked it
The essential Campbell in small, yet healthy portions

'Myths to Live By', aside from the book length transcript of the televised interviews he did with Bill Moyers, 'The Power of Myth', is the only one of Joseph Campbell's books that I have read, not only once, but twice now. I still intend someday to read 'The Hero of a Thousand Faces' and his magnum opus, the four-volumes of 'The Masks of God.' When I read it the first time in the early 80's at a very desperate time in my life, I saw the title
Yvette Hill
Aug 05, 2012 rated it really liked it
One paragraph that hooked me very early on:

"...in our present day - at least in the leading modern centers of cultural creativity - people have begun to take the existance of their supporting social orders for granted, and instead of aiming to defend and maintain the integrity of the community have begun to place at the center of concern the development and protection of the individual - the individual, moreover, not as an organ of the state but as an end and entity in himself. This marks an ext
Craig Williams
Sep 19, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A friend of mine recommended Joseph Campbell to me a while back, and I never got a chance to check him out until this book randomly fell into my lap at the bookstore I work at. This book was right up my alley. Campbell's thesis is that mythology plays a more important role in our lives than we give it credit for - by mythology, I mean religion too. When you get down to it, mythology is ultimately the resting place for dead religions. Anyway, the myths of a culture really go far in explaining who ...more
Aug 24, 2009 rated it it was ok
Shelves: religions
This series of lectures is very interesting and a good read for those interested in religions. Campbell draws on sources from the world religions and shows many similarities. My favorite was the chapter on mythologies of war and peace, as I felt he clearly laid out the similarities and differences between various religions on that topic.

Overall though, Campbell seems to come to conclusions that are unjustified by the data. Perhaps we could say he takes many leaps of faith. He focuses on similari
Blaine Snow
Although I have many other books by Joseph Campbell, this one probably influenced me the most. I think I've read the essay in this book entitled "The Separation of East and West" over two dozen times in the past 30 years I've had this book, going back to its insights over and over and over, deeply ensconcing his ideas into my understanding of our complex human world.

Campbell's work is some of the most important knowledge a modern contemporary person can have - knowledge that helps bring a deep
Jamie Smith
Nov 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
How do we make sense of our lives? The days when religion could provide comforting answers are long gone, except for the terminally hopeful among us. Perhaps the search for answers is meaningless, and Gertrude Stein was right, “There ain't no answer. There ain't gonna be any answer. There never has been an answer. That's the answer.” If there are no objective truths, no universal constructs, then the only meaning for our life is the meaning we give it ourselves.

Despite all of humankind’s indivi
Sep 01, 2007 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
In essays that spin off Campbell's speeches before the Cooper Union Forum between 1958 and 1971, it's unsurprising that most passionate and intelligent piece spins off the first landing on the moon in 1969.

Whether it's human sacrifice understood in plant-based communities that owed their survival to the life-death-life cycle of the natural world, or the modern day's strain to reconcile our stories of godly creation with the evolutionary evidence among us, Campbell convincingly argues that our m
I couldn't finish this book (and that's pretty unusual for me). I know I'm in the minority (at least review-wise) in not really liking it, but I couldn’t get past the author's condescending attitude toward all people who truly believe in the literal teachings of their religion. I think he makes some interesting points, but I just disliked the tone of the book. He actually says that anyone with at least a kindergarten education can't possibly believe that the events depicted in religions (i.e. th ...more
Dec 02, 2007 rated it it was amazing
One of the first comparative religion texts I ever read. And, yes, Campbell is not really a comparative religion author, but, along with Frazier's The Golden Bough and Hero with a Thousand Faces, it provided me with enough tips (and ammunition) to smart down the dumb fundies in my college classes.... ...more
Feb 26, 2014 rated it really liked it
When people think of Joseph Campbell, they often think of "The Power of Myth," his series with Bill Moyers that aired over 25 years ago. Campbell was knowledgeable and engaging. On some of the audios of his that you can buy you can hear that same quality that makes him such a fascinating speaker. But his books...the academic in him rears its ugly head here.

This is a good -- not great -- book. It's really about 3 1/2 stars, but as always I give the benefit of the scale. I'd like to call it great,
Jeffrey Howard
Jul 16, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Joseph Campbell reveals how mythology redeems the true value of religion, while reconciling it with advances in science, medicine and technology. Mythology, correctly understood, provides an insight into the human experience in ways the modern western worldview never will.

He traces ancient occidental and oriental mythologies and parses out the truth of myth from religion. "I like to think of the year 1492 as marking the end--or at least the beginning of the end--of the authority of the old mytho
Oct 07, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Campbell is boring, yet amazingly interesting at the same time. Campbell is basically trying to connect primitive mythology, to modern religion/myth, and drug use or dreams, which all have similar context.

Here are a few quotes that stuck:

“things which once were in contact with each other continue to act on each other at a distance after the physical contact has been severed.”

“Myths are public dreams; dreams are private myths.”

“the famous conflict of science and religion has actually nothing to
May 17, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: spirituality
I've read parts of just about all Joseph Campbell's works, and since I haven't read too much literature on comparative spirituality, I always learn really interesting facts I didn't know. Lots of these essays had fascinating topics, and I loved learning that decapitated heads are an important part of some people's wedding rituals. . . yum!

But, instead of a real review, I'd much rather reflect on the interesting ways in which this book is dated. F'rinstance, one of these essays (originally lectu
Aug 28, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: marc-recommended
Pretty good; definitely some interesting content here.

However, as a reader, I thought not all of the lectures were particularly linked, and sometimes it seemed like certain topics weren't covered that should have been. It seemed like he was trying to say that the myths of all cultures are the same, but he didn't ever do a good job of showing this in my opinion. Also, the title was misreading and irrelevant, and even the subtitle wasn't particularly appropriate.

The later lectures were definitely
David Withun
May 04, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mythology
Jan 11, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: dnf
Dnf b/c i remembered i don't trust campbell's interpretations. he obviously knows his myths & their history quite well. how he takes that info. & applies it to the whole of what was modern-life for the time he was in is what i can do without. It seriously dates the work, & some stuff was just off-base even for the times. When I arrived at p. 155, wherein he stated that the 'copter pilots (of that era) in Vietnam flew in & then flew out other soldiers from the ground as an act motivated by nothin ...more
Billie Pritchett
Apr 20, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
Joseph Campbell's Myths to Live By is a reminder that "there are more things in heaven and Earth... than are dreamt of in [our] philosophy." Human understanding of the world has been increased through the sciences, including mathematics, the natural sciences like physics and chemistry, the social sciences like economics, sociology, and history, and the humanities like literary and religious studies. Humanity needs these fields for the purposes of advancing what is beyond our natural ways of thin ...more
Victor Davis
Jan 04, 2016 rated it really liked it
I liked this book, but I only really liked the chapters on Buddhism and science. I'm told this is his most accessible book. After reading (and failing to comprehend a lick of) The Hero With a Thousand Faces, I believe it. My problem is with the format. JC did not write this book, he delivered a series of disconnected lectures and later transcribed them here. It makes for disjointed reading. Not to mention there are several passages I can tell he delivered/wrote while nursing his fifth scotch. My ...more
This book provides a thoughtful look at the parallels between different religions' stories and the links between these stories and various elements of existence. If that sounds vague, it's because the book's twelve lectures cover serious ground. The most interesting talks were "The Importance of Rites," "The Confrontation of East and West in Religion," and (surprisingly) "Schizophrenia--the Inward Journey." While many of Campbell's ideas aren't news, they are expressed in articulate and, at time ...more
Nov 19, 2012 rated it really liked it
The title and tagline to this are so self-helpish that, as self-help rightly should, it makes you want to run for the hills and break out in hives. When, no: this book should cause the opposite reaction. Scarf this one up, gulp this one down. The self-help bullshit is so toxic and this is just the opposite.

It’s what Daniel said, Campbell can run fast and far afield sometimes but when he brings it home it’s dead-on.
Jun 19, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Amazing - a must read for every living person! I starting reading this back in college when I was on a mythology kick (but then I was distracted by some other fascinating, shiny thing) & I just picked it up again - I'm so glad I did - I'm devouring it! ...more
Oct 01, 2008 rated it it was ok
This book should have been called Random Ramblings. Fortunately, when Joseph Campbell rambles, it's still pretty interesting, but I didn't get much out of it. ...more
Bridget Morrow
Mar 05, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Wonderful book, it answers questions you didn't even know you had. I am a huge fan of his, reading it as part of my recommended reading for grad school. ...more
Max Nova
Dec 12, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Thought-provoking and controversial, Campbell wrote “Myths to Live By” as a comparative study of world religious traditions with a special focus on differences between East and West, religion and war, and the underlying psychological needs fulfilled by religion. He doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to Christianity - a religion whose central text is a “nursery tale of disobedience and its punishment, inculcating an attitude of dependency, fear, and respectful devotion, such as might be thoug ...more
C.G. Fewston
Feb 22, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Myths to Live By (1972) by Joseph Campbell is a collection of lectures/essays taken from a series of Campbell’s talks at The Great Hall of the Cooper Union Forum in New York City between 1958 and 1971. “My continuing pleasure in lecturing there derived in part,” explains Campbell, “of course, from the old-fashioned, simple grandeur of the Great Hall itself and the knowledge that Abraham Lincoln once spoke from the very stage on which I stood” (p vii).

Even then, in that Great Hall where great me
Octavia Cade
Jan 23, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mythology
This book is basically a transcribed series of lectures given by Campbell over a period of several years. They're quite interesting, focusing as they do on how myths can be re-interpreted for the modern world, but because they're general lectures there is sometimes a bit of repetition and over-explanation here - Campbell, for me, is one of those writers who must explain everything, which can border on irritating levels of wordiness in every book of his I've read so far. This is especially appare ...more
Oct 20, 2009 rated it liked it
This was my first exposure to Campbell's work, and in retrospect, it was probably not the best volume to start with. For one thing, this isn't so much a book with a coherent theme as a series of essays and lectures from several different years all packaged together. That in itself was a bit of a problem, because there was nothing tying all of these disparate ideas together into one thesis.

Another issue is that Campbell has a really pompous style of writing. Many of his ideas are genuinely intere
Christopher Miller
In chapter VIII, The Mythology of Love, Joseph Campbell discusses the five degrees of love, as set forth in the Indian tradition. I think you will be surprised by his conclusions.

The First Degree: Servant to Master

Joseph Campbell suggests that the way that an individual realizes identification with God goes through five stages of understanding. The first is as a servant to his master.

“O Lord, you are the Master; I am thy servant . Command, and I shall obey!” This, according to the Indian teachin
Ben Saff
Jul 23, 2022 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
One of the best. Essays compiled from talks given in the 60s and 70s, Campbell's depths of perception and understanding of our unique human condition far extends the view of many writers topping the charts today. One of the best of all time. A rare Western guru. ...more
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Joseph Campbell was an American author and teacher best known for his work in the field of comparative mythology. He was born in New York City in 1904, and from early childhood he became interested in mythology. He loved to read books about American Indian cultures, and frequently visited the American Museum of Natural History in New York, where he was fascinated by the museum's collection of tote ...more

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119 likes · 18 comments
“To become—in Jung’s terms—individuated, to live as a released individual, one has to know how and when to put on and to put off the masks of one’s various life roles. ‘When in Rome, do as the Romans do,’ and when at home, do not keep on the mask of the role you play in the Senate chamber. But this, finally, is not easy, since some of the masks cut deep. They include judgment and moral values. They include one’s pride, ambition, and achievement. They include one’s infatuations. It is a common thing to be overly impressed by and attached to masks, either some mask of one’s own or the mana-masks of others. The work of individuation, however, demands that one should not be compulsively affected in this way. The aim of individuation requires that one should find and then learn to live out of one’s own center, in control of one’s for and against. And this cannot be achieved by enacting and responding to any general masquerade of fixed roles.” 61 likes
“The LSD phenomenon, on the other hand, is—to me at least—more interesting. It is an intentionally achieved schizophrenia, with the expectation of a spontaneous remission—which, however, does not always follow. Yoga, too, is intentional schizophrenia: one breaks away from the world, plunging inward, and the ranges of vision experienced are in fact the same as those of a psychosis. But what, then, is the difference? What is the difference between a psychotic or LSD experience and a yogic, or a mystical? The plunges are all into the same deep inward sea; of that there can be no doubt. The symbolic figures encountered are in many instances identical (and I shall have something more to say about those in a moment). But there is an important difference. The difference—to put it sharply—is equivalent simply to that between a diver who can swim and one who cannot. The mystic, endowed with native talents for this sort of thing and following, stage by stage, the instruction of a master, enters the waters and finds he can swim; whereas the schizophrenic, unprepared, unguided, and ungifted, has fallen or has intentionally plunged, and is drowning.” 42 likes
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