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Escape from Evil Paperback – 1 Mar 1985

5.0 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 212 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; Reissue edition (1 Mar. 1985)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0029024501
  • ISBN-13: 978-0029024508
  • Product Dimensions: 14 x 1.3 x 21.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 198,358 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

About the Author

Dr. Ernest Becker (1924-1974) taught at the University of California at Berkeley, San Francisco State College, and Simon Fraser University, Canada. He is survived by his wife, Marie, and a foundation that bears his name -- The Ernest Becker Foundation.


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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Reading this book after reading Fustel de Coulange's "The Ancient City" had a very powerful effect. The two works rather go together, I think. It's a difficult book to read, but well worth it. I was a little skeptical about the idea that people can so easily be driven by their fear of death, but there is also a documentary about the work of Becker that demonstrates scientifically that this is a testable phenomenon. However, I still think that this isn't the whole banana. Becker mentions people who drive the masses this way and that, evil leaders and shamans and so forth, and we certainly have such in our own day. But he didn't develop this angle as he could have. In all times and places they are the psychopaths among humanity who lack the capacity to fear anything. So reading Andzrej Lobaczewski's "Political Ponerology" adds more pieces to the puzzle. Then, if you factor in cosmic catastrophes as described in the works of Victor Clube and Bill Napier, you have a pretty good picture of the forces that have shaped human culture.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
If I where marking this mans assignment, I would tell the student to listen to both sides. It's fine writing gruelling literature but this is like a gangster rapper rhyming all day long. It rhymes brilliantly and it makes perfect sense, but where is the melody? There is no melody.

I recommend Rudy Rucker's book, the Forth Dimension, as a counterweight to nihilism. After all, nihilism is only this sensory reality we live inside. There is another World!

On watching the interviews of devotees of indian God-men on You Tube, you at first think 'brainwashed'. The people speaking are mostly middle aged, suit and tie, and highly cerebral. But some seem as they have had ingested an ecstatic drug, like MDMA.

These very intelligent Western men and women are talking in an excited manner. It is this excited fast talk that seems at odds with their middle class outer appearance.

Some are CEO's and scientists and psychiatrists, so this can't be a case of deluded, or brainwashed, men and women, right?

Ernest Becker wrote the Denial of Death as a diagnostic manuel for these people. But it isn't that we deny death. Modernity has taught us all that we will die and there is nothing beyond. Becker writes that our behaviour is moulded by this melancholy conviction that life is indeed meaningless. It is all unconscious. No matter how much we try and convince ourselves, we hold the smart phone in our hands and the science which invented the smart phone has also convinced us that life has no meaning.

The trouble with Becker is that he thinks we deny death when in fact we have unconsciously embraced death. This is a new phenomenon. For thousands of years people acted very differently to modern people.
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I bought this as a present for my husband and am told it is brilliantly written, so five stars it is!
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Good book, great conditions, thanks. Got here in time.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 4.3 out of 5 stars 30 reviews
125 of 127 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Explaining the Dark Time 23 Dec. 1999
By Jonathan - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
In our dark time, where ethno-nationalism and militant fundamentalism have lead to hatred and genocide, we are all what Robert J. Lifton calls "survivors (p. 235, Lifton, R. J. "The Future of Immortality", Basic Books, Inc., Publisher, New York, NY, 1987.)." As "survivors" we cannot help but search for an explanation of the violence and destruction that have plagued our century. In his book "Escape from Evil", Ernest Becker proposes a very convincing, and often harrowing, explanation of this destruction. He writes,
"Since men must now hold for dear life onto the self-transcending meanings of the society in which they live, onto the immortality symbols which guarentee them indefinite duration of some kind, a new kind of instability and anxiety are created. And this anxiety is precisely what spills over into the affairs of men. In seeking to avoid evil, man is responsible for bringing more evil into the world than organisms could ever do merely by excercising their digestive tracts. It is man's ingenuity, rather than his animal nature, that has given his fellow creatures such a bitter earthly fate (pg. 5, Becker)."
From this point, Becker attempts to define how man's ingenuity, hopes, and desires have lead to an incredible amount of trouble in the world. Becker is at once cultural analysist, religious scholar, and social psychologist. "Escape from Evil" is an amazing inquiry, exploring the frightening needs of diverse social groups, looking into the deep inner fears of man, explaining Hitler and the origin of guilt, delving into the meaning of culture and the origins of inequality. These are not small subjects and they will challenge the ideas of any reader.
His writing is precise and he integrates important thinkers into his work with the greatest of ease. Ernest Becker is a must read, and "Escape from Evil" is a good place to start. It will deconstruct the mind and then rebuild it again, leaving the reader feeling both enlightened and confused.
57 of 59 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A book to haunt your bookshelf 10 April 2006
By R. Fanning - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
"Man is an animal...moving about on a planet shining in the sun. Whatever else he is, is built on this." So begins the opening pages of Becker's "Escape". "Existence, for all organismic life, is a constant struggle to feed--a struggle to incorporate whatever other organisms they can fit into their mouths and press down their gullets without choking. Seen in these stark terms, life on this planet is a gory spectacle...in which digestive tracks fitted with teeth at one end are tearing away at whatever flesh they can reach, and at the other end are piling up the fuming waste excrement as they move along..." Becker's "Denial of Death" dealt with the way man controls his basic anxiety by keeping it unconscious, "Escape from Evil", once again, tracks man from his organismic beginning to his emphatic end--detailing man's various ways he USES culture, ritual, power, inequality, money, etc as modes to achieving an expansiveness of meaning in the limited form of his physical body. Becker: "Man is an organism who KNOWS that he wants food and who KNOWS what will happen if he doesn't get it. This translates into a principle of prosperity...Once we have an animal who recognizes that he needs prosperity, we also have one who realizes that anything that works AGAINST continued prosperity is bad." Other insights: Becker's great insights into the primitive economy as religious because nature always gave freely to man, causing man to sacrifice food to remove his basic guilt...which may solve the dilema as to why native people were not content to just "exist" in paradise and be happy: Primitve life was a rich and playful dramatization of cosmic flirtation until Western man, who had long ago forgoten how to "play", came into the picture. Becker: "Society...is a dramatization of dependence and an exercise in mutal safety by the one animal in evolution who had to figure out a way of appeasing himself...We can conclude that primitives were more honest about these things---about guilt and debt---because they were more realistic about man's desperate situation vis-a-vis nature. Becker's insights unfold in front of you like a nasty animal you shine light on in your basement in the darkness. Read "Escape from Evil" along with "Denial of Death" and be prepared to either deny it all...or sit upright in the silent confines of your home and wonder what to do next...
59 of 64 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Cracking the Cosmic Egg" 16 Oct. 2002
By John F. McBride - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Decades ago I read a book by Joseph Chilton Pierce titled, 'The Crack in the Cosmic Egg'. That book used an egg inside an eggshell as a metaphor for the state of the average human being living inside his or her eggshell world of ideas, traditions, beliefs, and thoughts. It went on to discuss how that 'eggshell' of ideas, traditions, beliefs, and thoughts can be false or misleading, and talked about the manner in which one can escape that shell in the interest of building an 'eggshell' unique to the individual and not necessarily inherited or imposed. Of course, to not remain open to change and to cease to challenge one's 'shell' is to run the risk of simply reconstructing another that is equally misleading.
No two books have affected my beliefs and thoughts any more than have Becker's 'Escape from Evil' and 'The Denial of Death'. I read the latter in college and have since read it again on several occasions. I read 'Escape from Evil' nearly as a sequel to 'Denial of Death' and recommend it as a companion work.
I would in retrospect probably read 'Escape from Evil' before 'Denial of Death.' But to say that is of course quantum mechanics. I've already performed the experiment the results of which I've measured but whose effects have now altered my 'quantum state' of thinking. My opinion might have been the reverse had I read 'Escape...' first. C'est la vie.
So read them as you will, but please, do read them. The language is somewhat dated, his statements are at times prone to the same errors of logic that most of us are prone to and he focuses on only those authors and works that support his thesis, but it is very likely 'Escape from Evil' will crack the shell of your beliefs about your world as well as our shared world and will change the way you think, perhaps, even hopefully, for the remainder of your life.
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Becker completes his own Immortality Project 27 Mar. 2008
By Herbert L Calhoun - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This, the sequel to Becker's masterwork, "The Denial of Death," expands upon and completes that earlier project. Together they constitute Becker's own personal "immortality project": his quest for a Super-ordinate Science of Man.

Like "The Denial of Death," "Escape From Evil" (EFF) too is an analysis of how man has tried to grappled with his own confusing and often paradoxical existence, and in the process, it is additionally a story of how, as a byproduct, he also invented evil. And then it is also about how man's pursuit of his own cosmic theater of heroism required scapegoats to close the circle and complete his own immortality project, the most obvious fallout of which has been the evolution of evil itself.

The book thus, is not only about how the formula for evil in man's activities evolved, but also about how it can be resolved. And as is usual for Becker, EFF is intellectually robust and complete: we get the full story of man's attempt to come to grips with his world, from beginning to end. When the dust finally settles and the parts are pulled together in the last chapter, the reader is left with a panoramic view of what makes man tick.

As is typical for him, Becker begins with a series of questions that require a proper probing and interrogating of history and psychology in order to find, not just the correct, but the best synthesis. The over-arching question that animates this work is: What is it in man's psychological nature that propels him towards evil? Becker answers this question by saying that man comes into the world free, but becomes un-free later, and does so willingly, giving up his freedom in exchange for safety and a feeling of redemption.

Leaning heavily on the Anthropologist A.C. Hocart, and using Rousseau and Nietzsche more or less as straw men, against which he bounces his ideas, the author answers his own question by updating a notion central to his previous work: There he argued that man was basically a "self-esteem maintenance machine." Substituted here is a larger more robust concept of "man in pursuit of prosperity." It is used to update, the earlier concept. Thus, in the final analysis, it is "the pursuit of prosperity" rather than "self-esteem maintenance" that serves to answer the questions that Becker poses, and that does most of the heavy lifting for this project. It does so by expanding and greatly refining the former concept, and indeed it is this refinement that is most efficacious in demonstrating more clearly how the process of evil actually comes about.

Greatly summarized, Becker's story goes something like this: Man is inherently a "religious being" due in large measure to the fact that he is born into a hostile world naked, with only his mind and his fears with which to negotiate his survival. Ultimately it is his fears (and the guilt that they engender and the associated need for redemption) that are at the base of "socialized man." For the most part, it is the colonization of fear, guilt and the need for redemption that organizes society and culture.

The earth, which provides man with most of his sustenance, still remains a little understood cosmic force, a gift from the gods, as it were, that man imagines must be returned in kind if the life cycle, the cosmic life force and man's own prosperity and ultimately, which his very life depends on, is to continue. Thus the cosmic force is the primary source of all power in the world. And since time immemorial, man has seen as one of his primary tasks of survival: that of accommodating, or at the very least not antagonizing or offending, this invisible source of power and cosmic force.

However, whether invisible or not, returning the "offerings," became a rather complex psychological task for man. It required the bureaucratization and management on earth of an invisible or superior cosmic force. The most efficacious way of doing this was through representatives who could act openly and visibly as indirect agents of the gods. And here Becker of course means the Shamans, the Priests, the Popes, the Chiefs, the CEOs, the Presidents and Prime Ministers, and the Magicians. With primitive man (and of course in a much more sublimated sense) even with modern man, a system and process of rituals including an altar and rules, ceremonies, customs and traditions for invoking the pleasure of the gods, (and avoiding their approbations) was required in order to properly make sacrifices to them; sacrifices that would of course ensure continued prosperity.

The whole process of ritualization still amounts to a technology of social psychology; one that is co-terminus with all cultures that attempt in their own way to ensure that the sustained gifts of the cosmic force continues the cycle of life and prosperity. Ritualization as a technic of religion and of society, becomes a new sacred modality for vicariously extending the life giving forces, and thus of taming and bringing the mysterious power of the cosmos down to earth; and of course, most importantly, of making it available to ensure the continued success of man's earthly "prosperity projects."

It is axiomatic in human nature that anything that represents the gods, also represent an indirect contact with the power of the cosmic forces that the gods bestow. Such central source of power must at all times be respected. Ultimately, it is the indirect delegation of, and amplification of this power downward to the lowest levels, coupled with the personal tendencies already inherent in man's psychological makeup (to give over his power and freedom to a leader with special powers attached to the cosmic force) that is responsible for providing the motive force for the machinery of evil: Men asked to be mystified, they wanted and needed kings and leaders, and that is the great weakness in man's nature: Ultimately man is scared of operating alone within the confines of his own freedom.

Once the refracted and reflected power of the gods is delegated, bureaucratized, socialized, and eventually colonized, taken together with man's inherent tendencies towards self-subjugation, the turning of the gears towards evil has already been set fully into motion. It is but a short hop, skip and jump through history before god's designated representative's quest for personal power has irretrievably corrupted man's otherwise pristine and free nature. Without being aware of it, man has slid into an unholy "freedom stripping" quid pro quo: trading in his freedom for the comfort and the tyranny of a community invariably based on shared fears and insecurities, shared guilt and shared hopes of redemption -- all orchestrated and ruled by powerful representatives with mandates from their gods. As Becker puts it on page 51 "Men fashion un-freedom as a bribe for self-perpetuation."

In rapid evolutionary succession, personal property acquisition, inequality, greed and all other known forms of social corruption follow: First in the name of the sacred and the divine, and then in the name of the less divine: that is, in the name of ideology and eventually in the name of the state. Once it has evolved to this last stage, of the state, man has irretrievably lost all control of the corrupting machinery. From there on, his descent into evil is all but automatic. Oppressive power, corruption and inequality have always taken place in the service of the legitimate and all too often, in the service of the religious order. As Hegel has put it: Men cause evil out of good intentions not out of wicked ones."

So what is the correct route to Escape From Evil?

Becker is not so arrogant as to proffer such advice because he believes it fits into the same existential trap of other failed Enlightenment projects: It too becomes just more dead end advice from another failed hero system: psychology. But he leaves us with this important thought, put forth in part by Elie Wiesel that "Man is not human." He is just a frightened creature trying to secure a victory over his limitations, but a creature that is continually failing at this task.

Five Stars.
19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Becker's Brave Pessimism 21 Mar. 2003
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
I wish Ernest Becker were still around, telling us what he thinks of the world. He'd certainly be able to shed some light on what's going on now. ESCAPE FROM EVIL, while not as rigorous as his earlier work (it was published after his death, against his wishes) transposes the more individual explorations of death in DENIAL OF DEATH to larger society. What he finds is not necessarily encouraging, but it is always enlightening, invigorating, and truthful. He works hard to look at hard realities and, further, though he is not optimistic, he is interested in a rigorous hope, a hope without illusion. Becker helps you lose your illusions with aplomb.
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