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The Denial of Death [Paperback]

Ernest Becker
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
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Book Description

4 April 2011
Winner of the 1974 Pulitzer Prize and the culmination of Ernest Becker s life s work, The Denial of Death is one of the twentieth-century s great works. In it Ernest Becker s passionately seeks to understand the basis of human existence. Addressing the fundamental fact of existence as man s refusal to acknowledge his own mortality, Becker sheds new light on humanity and the meaning of life itself. Becker views human civilisation and achievement as an attempt to transcend a sense of mortality as mankind seeks heroic acts (a sense of heroism is the central fact of human nature) to become part of something eternal; even though the physical body will die one day life can still have meaning and a greater significance. In the modern world much conflict between religions, nations and ideologies are the result of contradictory immortality projects (Becker s term for an attempt to create something eternal) but Becker looks for new and more convincing immortality projects that can restore the heroic sense, as well as bringing about a better world. Drawing together an astounding array of fields, from psychology and philosophy to religion and the human sciences Ernest Becker s work has had a lasting cultural impact.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Souvenir Press Ltd (4 April 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0285638971
  • ISBN-13: 978-0285638976
  • Product Dimensions: 2.5 x 13.3 x 21 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 13,884 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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It puts together what others have torn to pieces and rendered useless. It is one of those rare masterpieces that will stimulate your thoughts, your intellectual curiosity, and last but not least, your soul. --Elizabeth Kubler-Ross

A brave work of electrifying intelligence and passion, optimistic and revolutionary, destined to endure. --New York Times Book Review

Meditating on death and its influence on our culture… that the fear of death is the single motivating fact of human endeavour and that all art and philosophy come from trying to deal with obsolescence. --The Catholic Herald

About the Author

Ernest Becker taught at Simon Fraser University in Canada, his work drew on that of Kierkegaard, Freud, Wilhelm Reich and Otto Rank. He was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1974 for The Denial of Death (two months after his death from cancer).

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The first thing we have to do with heroism is to lay bare its underside, show what gives human heroics its specific nature and impetus. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
33 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A deep and brutally honest treatment 25 July 1997
By A Customer
All lovers of existentialism will enjoy Becker's treatment of life and death. Becker won the Pulitzer Prize for this work when it was first published in 1974. Ironically and tragically, Becker himself died of cancer that very same year. He was 50 years old. I have been unsuccessful in my efforts to find out whether or not Becker knew of his sickness when he wrote the work. He certainly writes as one who understands the darkness of human life. Becker's thesis is that human personality and behavior has its deepest roots in our denying our death (thus the title). By this he means not only our death itself, but all of the horrors associated with our mortality as human beings. Becker makes frequent reference to Otto Rank, and reiterates Rank's point that all human cultural creation is inevitably religious in nature. There is also a wonderful treatment of Freud which will be especially refreshing to all those nauseauted by modern attempts to dress up Freud's theories and make them appear more optomistic than they are, as well as a discussion of Freud's breaks with Jung and others. There is even a chapter on Kierkegaard. Becker also attempts to show that neurosis is at least in part a result of not being able to erect the 'denial of death' defense mechanisms so many do, and that those who traverse the depths of human existence cannot but go mad to some degree. He says at one point, "No wonder the road of the artist so often detous through the madhouse." Finally, Becker bashes modern psychology, which makes this book an absolute must for any deep thinker who is considering entering this field. The Denial of Death is brutally honest, scholastic, and beautiful. Best of all, Becker doesn't make the all too common mistake of attempting to provide a solution (something all lovers of Camus will appreciate). The last 10 pages alone make this book worth reading. Read it thoughtfully and you will never be quite the same.
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Quick Comment 12 April 2003
For me, this has been one of the most important books I have ever read. If you haven't read it, I would obviously encourage you to do so.
I noticed that one of the reviewers thought that Becker had surrendered to some sort concept of God. I'm afraid that I disagree strongly with this view. My view is that Becker calls for the courage to be (to steal Tillich's phrase) and that the act or process of creativity is in and of itself meaningful - is possibly the only higher level authentic way of being. It is not at all that he is calling for happy denial. I think he agrues that denial is necessary for mental health but that through a constant creative process denial can be recognized and used as a source and dynamo for growth and self-willed courageous living. True, there are echoes of this in various religious tradtions (I'm thinking particularly of Jewish negative theology and Moltmann-esque Christianity) but in my estimation that says something good about those traditons rather than something bad about Becker's approach.
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23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating analysis of illusion formation 10 Oct 1997
By A Customer
Ernest Becker's Denial of Death explicates the human propensityto create illusions which obfuscate consciousness of the immanence of death and meaninglesnness. Drawing on cultural anthropology, social psychology, and psychoanalysis, Becker explores the human need to ornament reality with illusions and palliative fantasies which protect consciousness from our mortal fear and dread. Becker proposes that death is the "worm at the core" of human self-awareness, and we suffer intense fear and despair at the prospect of our own finitude, mortal decay, and meaninglesness. We therefore resort to character defenses and illusions to blot out our meaninglessness, helplessness, and creatureliness from consciousness.
Becker claims that we could not survive without such illusions, and that we create religion, myth, and ideology to establish a meaningful and dependable universe. Such fictions also provide a fantasy in which we can establish a personal sense of importance and esteem, a feeling of cosmic heroism in an otherwise terrifying universe.
However, whereas human beings functioned historically through the operation of these religious fantasies to evade death and meaninglessness, religion no longer provides a coherent meaning system for many people. Hence, we now create our own fantasies of "the dramatic apotheosis of man." We are now forced to invent our own personal illusions. In other words, where the social fantasy no longer holds, we become neurotics divorced from community and reality. According to Becker, the human animal is the sick animal. Normalcy is neurosis, since we cannot endure reality without anodynous illusions.
In addition, we engage in violent struggle against others to conquer death and weakness.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Denial Of Death, by Ernest Becker 10 Sep 2008
Ernest Becker is fairly easy to read, and the concepts he refers to are either well introduced through the book before they become widely called upon, or they will be clearly understood after a little while.
This is a very wide-ranging work, in which Ernest Becker first paints a comprehensive panorama of the problem of death anxiety from every point of view and possible significance, making use of a wealth of knowledge on the subject within psychology and beyond. At the very last part, he draws a conclusion more clearly of his own, and it feels less like the putting together of a puzzle and more like his own freehand sketching.
Now about my personal experience with this book. The book even proves a lot of what it teaches you, by making you observe the things around you and see exactly what you read, if you had not seen it in yourself before. Another thing Becker achieves is that by the time you come to read the concluding chapter, you had almost reached that same conclusion by yourself, but still his words truly satisfy you. The book taught me first hand what unusual instances transference can have. When I had only a few pages left, I was a bit afraid of finishing it. I am only starting to read psychology now, and in this book I had an object that allowed me to safely and automatically "analyse", so to speak, and once I had finished it, I would have to move on by myself and do it "on my own steam". I realised this before I finished reading the book, which was funny. Then, gladly, the final pages really do not leave you afraid or lost in the middle of the road or feeling down about anything at all (without resorting to any calls for new fantastic unrepressed beings). I think the book instead takes you all the way to a place where there are many directions in which to progress.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars Like the wines
The book is deeply psychoanalytic. It treats a very interesting topic with such a narrow and "stubborn" perspective. Read more
Published 2 months ago by sp klv
5.0 out of 5 stars Bleak but inspiring
A fantastic, mind clearing book. Not for the faint hearted. Learned, erudite and bold.
Published 3 months ago by Richard M, Derbyshire
1.0 out of 5 stars Life is short. Don't waste any of it on this.
Hmm. Not terribly original; essentially a second-rate rehash of existentialism, particularly Heidegger's concept of 'being unto death. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Schopenhauer’s ghost
5.0 out of 5 stars very interesting
this is an account of some deep thinker's conclusions on life

you may not agree with the answers he finds, but to read it is to effectively mingle amongst the ideas of... Read more
Published 8 months ago by Broken iPod owner
5.0 out of 5 stars a good hard read
This a very interesting perspective on Psychology and the Spiritual life. I am working my slow way into it so I should not really say too much yet. Read more
Published on 22 Nov 2011 by thomas coffey
5.0 out of 5 stars Second half not so good.
The first half is brilliant and deserves way more than five stars, so I'm still going to give it five overall. Read more
Published on 15 Jun 2011 by ben brimley
4.0 out of 5 stars The Denial of Death
The book arrived in excellent condition, although 8 days later than the delivery estimate. This is a great book as almost half of it includes Kierkegaard notes and writings.
Published on 28 April 2011 by Yannis
4.0 out of 5 stars We only live once!
I first came to Ernest Becker's discourse through Woody Allen who, in his interview with Stig Bjorkman, refers to the anthropologist's work when questioned about themes of death. Read more
Published on 5 Dec 2006 by Room For A View
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb, Brilliantly Written and Highly Recommended
Superb, Brilliantly Written and Highly Recommended. Shows there are as many ways of dying as there are of living. Open to many interpretation and good to think with. Read more
Published on 12 Mar 2005 by Andrew Irving
2.0 out of 5 stars Denial of Reason
I ordered this book through Amazon purely on the strength of some of the reviews. It seemed really interesting to me, since it proposed to explain much of human behaviour and... Read more
Published on 7 July 2001
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