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on 12 April 2011
This book is easy to read, despite the references to philosophy that were unfamiliar to me: I am no intellectual. Yalom makes several references to Epicurus (341-270 BC) who developed `thought experiments' to help deal with the fear of death. He also makes the thoughts of Schopenhauer, Nietzsche and Heidegger accessible, and mentions the works of Tolstoy, Bergman and Kurosawa without being pretentious or academic.

Yalom is a psychotherapist and mentions the death fears of some of his patients. I was struck to how similar they were to my own thoughts - these really are universal fears (what did I expect?).

He writes of the fact that a brush with death can enhance one's enjoyment of living. He explains that Heidegger believed we have an `everyday' mode where we wonder at HOW things are, and an ontological mode where we wonder THAT things are and where we are keener to make major changes.

Another theme is the idea that we all create ripples of influence that continue for years or even generations after our deaths - even if we are not famous. This can give comfort. `Transiency is forever,' he quips.

Towards the end of the book there is a longish sector aimed at therapists and explaining how they should deal with patients' death anxiety. This is easy enough for the layperson to read but for me, less interesting than Yalom's philosophical ideas.

The book ends with a short section of questions the reader might like to ask herself about the ideas in each chapter in the book to clarify her own thoughts. These are not like those annoying `exercises' given in self-help books, though.

This is a book to keep and re-read, though I wonder whether it would give comfort to someone who knew they were facing death in the near future. I found it less sombre than the writings of Elisabeth Kuebler-Ross - though she's good, too.

Incidentally, if you have a religious faith that posits an afterlife, this might not be the book for you, as Yalom definitely believes there is none.
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on 21 September 2011
I started reading Staring at the Sun and was very quickly drawn in by Yalom's warm, conversational writing style.

Yalom shows us how ancient Greek philosophers approached life and death, with particular emphasis upon the work of Epicurus. He also talks about the relevant ideas of more recent philosophers such as Nietzsche and Heidegger. He provides literary examples of attitudes towards death including the works of Tolstoy.

Whilst I found this part of his book interesting, it was little too long for me. As a therapist myself I was fascinated by Yalom's case studies and the healing therapeutic relationships that he forms with his patients. I learnt from his examples of self-disclosure and I appreciate that Yalom is prepared to include his less helpful interventions as well as those that have enhanced his therapeutic relationships and enabled patients to live more comfortably with what is inevitable for us all.

As someone who believes that death is not the end, I was able to accept Yalom's views. He is respectful of religious beliefs and considers anything that can reduce death anxiety as valuable. I did not find Yalom's perspective difficult or offensive, I respect his position as I think that he would respect mine.

I would recommend Staring at the Sun to anyone who would like to explore and address their own anxieties about death and dying and to therapists, whether or not they have an existential approach.
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My clinical supervisor recommended this book to me recently, following a bereavement. Although I was not completely sure what I would make of it, I trust her opinion and so decided to read it. Yalom is quick to ascertain that the main focus of the book is to explore his theory that people generally have a tendency to repress their "whole creaturely self and especially its finite nature." He was also quick to reassure us as the reader that confronting death does not have to end in despair. Instead, he says that it can be a way of awakening our experience to a fuller life. So, "though the physicality of death destroys us, the idea of death saves us." In order to highlight this thesis, Yalom goes on to examine philosophical thought, literature and examples from his own practice.

To a certain extent, I did get something out of STARING AT THE SUN. I think mainly, for me, it was the idea of rippling: that people can have an influence on others (often unknown to the person who has had the positive effect) that they meet throughout their lives, and these ripples of influence continue long after that person has been deceased. That, for me, gave me comfort. Too often people think about what material things they will inherit from others once they have gone - this idea suggests that people have so much more to give and leave to those around them.

However, I did not feel that I could read the book in its entirety like I would others. Of course, due to the very nature of the book, it is going to be hard going at times. Although my grief had not brought up issues in regards to my own mortality, reading STARING AT THE SUN forced me to confront it.
I would also have preferred to have had less of the examples from Yalom's own practice. Although some of these were enlightening, I preferred the passages of the book where Yalom was 'speaking' to me directly. Perhaps only one or two examples would have sufficed in each section, rather than the small handful you sometimes got. That is only a small gripe, however.

Please don't take me wrong - I do think that STARING AT THE SUN has helped me in some way. I just think that this will be a book I return to, perhaps a little later in life.
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I very much value this book, where 'existentialist humanist' psychotherapist Yalom explores the belief that it is the awareness of our own mortality, and the mortality of all around us, which is at the root of much of our deepest insecurities and anxieties. It is this which he looks to explore rather than the more day to day, personality based concerns which may be brought to the therapeutic encounter.

Two major strands which I found intensely moving in this book. Firstly Yalom's willingness to be deeply honest, personal and authetic with his clients, rather than taking a god-like position assuming his own rightness. This leads to his willingness to share of himself with clients. This is something which can be seen as a bit of a no-no, in some schools, as of course the session is for and about the client, not the therapist, although of course the relationship between the two is crucial. However, if in therapy the client is always the one who is vulnerable, and the therapist never, it could be said there is an inauthenticity going on. Yalom is willing - WHERE THIS WILL BE OF USE FOR THE CLIENT - to reveal his own messy humanity. Willing to admit his wrongness. Willing to admit his difference and the client's difference.

Secondly, and carrying on from the last sentence - I was particularly moved by his recounting of sessions with someone who had strong, what Yalom terms - 'paranormal beliefs' Yalom is an atheist, and expresses his disbelief in what might be thought 'New Age' thinking. Through his recognition and respect for the human being in his treatment room, he was able to acknowledge that the client's beliefs were not ones he could share, but deeply recognise the health, not just the pathology, that caused his client to hold those beliefs. In other words, Yalom can work with paradox.

He is also a humane, warm and tender writer, able to communicate ideas with coherence and with clarity. The book feels like someone having a conversation with you, not someone preaching at you
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on 14 May 2011
I am a bit of a Yalom fan and love his easy yet intimate writing so enjoyed this from the start. Admittedly the subject, that of facing and coming towards an acceptance of mortality was, as an atheist, right up my street. Yalom deals with examples of the individual's processes and struggles in a such a readable and eloquent way that this book is a delight.

Overall, it's perhaps has a bit of an essay feel but that's fine. I would also recommend "Love's Executioner" but I found this to be a profound and uplifting book. And at £5.17 it's an absolute snip!
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on 5 December 2007
The fear of death confronts all human beings at some stage in life, especially the old age. This fear is as old as the evolution of human beings. The author is an eminent psychiatrist, and he discusses the results of some of his case studies, and provides some insights in this area. The book is described in seven chapters. After a brief introduction (chapter 1), the author describes the symptoms of death anxiety (chapter 2), and how to confront it (chapter 3). Chapters 4 and 5 describes how the thoughts of some philosophers and therapists could be combined cooperatively to overcome the fear of death, and in chapter 6 he offers a memoir of his personal experiences with death and mortality. The author is very candid about this fear. The last chapter offers some instruction to clinical psychologists who counsel patients on death anxiety since very few professional schools offer training in this area.

There is an interesting case of a 29 year old woman who was wrongly diagnosed by several therapists for sexual abuse instead of her fear of death. As a child she experienced her father's unpredictable episodes of rage which caused her insecure feelings and death anxiety (pages 16-21). The case of "Susan" a middle aged professional woman is another interesting case whose death anxiety is masked by her distress at her son's run in with law for drug offenses and being jailed (pages 23-30). Based on the data provided it is unclear to the reader if "Susan" is fearful of getting old or she is afraid of death. It is very common among middle aged women to be fearful of getting old and this is not the same as death anxiety. While discussing about sudden realization or awakening experience about human mortality the author refers to the story Ebenezer Scrooge and his remarkable transformation. In many case studies urgent life events such as death in the family or terminal cancer or recurring dreams cause a person to be transformed and reevaluate one's life and start realizing the uncertainties of life. In this regard the story of "Alice," a grieving widow is very interesting. The author counseled this patient for over 30 years and he chronicles a remarkable transformation from grief due to her husband's death to a new person; when she realizes that she has strong affinity for worldly possessions, and she "frees" herself. The affliction due to loosing a loved one or a material possession in life will have lasting effect and securing the mind from these losses and understanding life in a "new light" is essential. This is synchronous with Buddhist ideals and Buddhist thought, but the author has not made this connection. The author has discussed several case studies in chapter 3. The power of ideas (chapter 4) is somewhat diffused; he narrates some philosophical ideas but does not focus on overcoming the death anxiety. Rippling is a good example to overcome distress in life perhaps not universally successful. The case study of Jack, an attorney illustrates an interesting method of overcoming the fear of death; by strengthening connections with other people or with an activity by focusing on obstacles that avoid making these connections (pages 140-145).

The sixth chapter is the most interesting personal document of author's real feelings about God, life and mortality. The author describes his experience with death, such as witnessing the deaths of his father, mother, his close relatives, mentors and friends that adds a level of depth to feelings of the reader. It makes the reader relate his/her experiences with death in their own way. The dreams that follow the death of a friend or family member and how they are correlated with each other in an abstract way are interesting. The author discusses his feelings about faith, but he doesn't discuss the effect of prayers on a person's death anxiety, although there are many books in the literature that shows positive effect of faith. The author clearly states that he is not religious and his objective interpretation of mortality stems directly from his thoughts as a psychiatrist, in this regard he gives several clinical examples and case studies (chapter 6, and page 248). One interesting example is when Dalai Lama visited Stanford in 2005; eminent professors including many Nobel laureates rushed to greet him by calling him "Your Holiness." The author notes it is the lust for submission that generates faith (page 163). In this chapter the author concedes that he has avoided writing extensively about religious consolation; he reasserts that he respects the faith of a person, but may not share his views. His work is rooted in secular, existential worldview that has no room godly phenomenon. This is somewhat debatable as the author himself notes that much of human's fear of God emanates from religious upbringing or life events that change a person profoundly only to turn him/her to faith and hope. This is tremendous amount of psychological power that virtually removes a person from despair and fear of death into peace!

The last chapter highlights some key elements of therapist - patient relationship. The author obviously likes more therapists to be trained in dealing with patients about death anxiety, but he also offers some insights into the profession. There are several case studies reported in this chapter and some of his patients are other practicing therapists (pages 206, 257). A reader wonders how secure these therapists are in comprehending the psychological factors confronting their patients. It is frightening for some readers to know that some therapists are sexually attracted to their patients (pages 210 & 217). While the author promotes the idea of a therapist to be honest in dealing with patients but offers some advise on how to entertain personal questions from patient to a therapist, especially those that may have negative impact on patients (pages 241-244.)

Note: The page numbers refer to the "advanced uncorrected proof (galley)." This copy was made available under the Amazon Vine program.
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on 15 December 2011
As I move into my mid to late 30s I've found myself thinking about death more, sometimes this has caused panic attacks and after some searching for how I could resolve this issue I stumbled across this book.

The writer seems like a very kind and caring chap and I think is a brilliant therapist - even just by the written word.

Yalom also has no belief in an afterlife which I think makes this book a very brave attempt at trying to calm people without giving them some kind of hope of a hereafter.

I'm 50/50 on whether we continue on in some conscience form after this life but I think you could get a lot from this book whatever your beliefs.

The author admits that he'll never completely resolve you from fear of death but does do a very good job of removing the terror.

I did have a few questions left over by the end of the book but I don't think the author deliberately tries to dodge any difficult issues.

Having finished this over a few days I can honestly say it has affected my life in a very positive way and I am able to use much of Yalom's advice to enrich my time on earth.

Without over stating this, I think that anyone who has ever worried about death, and that's surely everyone, should read this book.
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on 13 December 2008
One irritated quibble out of the way: a previous reviewer said that as a Christian he "knows" that death is not the end. I can only assume that this is the sort of parapraxis all too frequently encountered in the religious who actually mean to write "believe" and mistakenly write "know." Some people, for reasons best known to themselves, believe that death is not the end of personal consciousness, which is entirely their right: they do not know as much, however much the religionist likes to conflate these two entirely different and separate concepts.

Anyway. Yalom's latest book is a delight - much as one would expect from so engaging a writer of both fiction and non-fiction. Trying to tackle the human existential terror of annihilation is a tall order for even the most ably qualified of people, but Yalom, as an existential therapist with nearly half a century of experience, is superbly placed. This is not necessarily to say that Yalom could succeed or has succeeded where innumerable philosophers past and present have failed (in reconciling the human existent to the end of life and consciousness): but it is no disservice to so wise and engaging a man or his book to say that it is a beautifully attractive whistle-stop tour of what both ancient thinkers such as Epicurus (something of a hero to Yalom, as well he might be) and contemporary psychotherapy can do to speak to the human condition vis a vis death - finite and mortal creatures, we all have to face up in one way or another, reality-based or not, to the end of our individual lives and those things which we have created within those lives.

Contrary to what the previous reviewer may think, countless people outside his own atypically religious society and culture do indeed face up to the end of life (their own and that of others) without the dubious alleged 'benefits' of death-denying religious stories. Yalom, as an existential psychotherapist, reminds us not just how but more importantly why such an effort is made. One might say that the entire book is in a sense an expansion of the famous remark of Bertrand Russell, paraphrased roughly as saying that looking hard reality square in the face may be chilly at first, but ultimately becomes bracing. I cannot recommend this book highly enough - a lovely, lyrical and at times highly personal meditation from a true humanist.
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on 1 February 2013
This book really helped me in a mental crisis and I would recommend it to anyone, not just those thinking about mortality. It is a subject we should talk about more and be more open about.This book could start that conversation.
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on 21 March 2013
Brilliant book, good for all to read. Yalom wrties beautifully as always. The thing I took away from this book was the importance of living life now so that we don't look back and be full of regrets.
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