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The Denial of Death [Paperback]

Ernest Becker
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
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Book Description

May 8 1997 Free Press Paperback
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 the nature of humanity and issues a call to life and its living that still resonates more than twenty years after its writing.

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Product Description


Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, M.D. Author of On Death And Dying 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...

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

Albuquerque Journal Book Review read it is to know the delight inherent in the unfolding of a mind grasping at new possibilities and forming a new synthesis. The Denial of Death is a great book -- one of the few great books of the 20th or any other century.

The Chicago Sun-Times It is hard to overestimate the importance of this book; Becker succeeds brilliantly in what he sets out to do, and the effort was necessary.

About the Author

After receiving a Ph.D. in Cultural Anthropology from Syracuse University, 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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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
"The Denial of Death" is one of the most brilliant books I've ever read, without a doubt. It is a work of absolute passion and brilliance, and it is obviously Becker's 'magnum opus', the product of a lifetime's worth of study and reflection on the mystery and underlying meaning of human existence. First, Becker courageously faces what he knows to be true: that human culture and everyday activitity is a 'frantic sedative' of sorts and is not at all what it appears to be. Second, he admits that the human condition is in some ways terrifying and maddeningly paradoxical, in that human beings are quite vulnerable animals unfortunate enough to have the capacity to reflect on their horrid fate:death. He has no illusions about what so called 'neurosis' actually is--Becker knows that the people society call 'neurotic' or 'weird' are precisely those who have a deeper philosophical insight into the nearly paralyzing fundamental questions of human existence. His 'answers', (although as Sam Keen puts it, they are really only palliative solutions) are mostly pragmatic in nature and require what Kierkegaard (to whom a chapter is devoted)termed 'the leap of faith'. The only consolation Becker offers, really, is the acknowledgment that these agonizing ultimate questions are what all the great souls in the history of man (Tolstoy, Peguy, Nietzsche are just a few of those mentioned), have struggled with. The book's reputation as being depressing and heavy handed is not entirely unjustified, but this in no way detracts from its beauty or undeniable importance. Sometimes chilling, but nonetheless a supreme work of perfection, beauty, and authenticity.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Helps you be human June 27 2003
Book Review / The Denial of Death by Ernest Becker
Nearly 60 reviews have already been posted on this book, many delving into the ins and outs of the psychological theories Becker proposes. So, I simply want to report the impact this book had on me.
Over decades of reading, I have sought authors who will admit the truth. Becker does.
To find a book that insightfully examines -- with a clear, steady gaze -- the profoundest fundamentals of human existence is quite rare. I have read thousands of books in my life, and Becker's is one of the few that genuinely qualifies. He dares go where many fear to tread. But, death and our denial of it, he establishes, is at the core of human existence and a root force shaping both human personality and human society. I imagine it is impossible to understand life without grasping this. Becker brilliantly analyzes why and how we avoid acknowledging this fact at all costs.
If you have the courage to look at the core of things; to examine your own denial of death and how it has -- and currently is -- shaping your life; then this book is for you. It is for readers who find the truth fundamentally more liberating, than intimidating.
Becker helped me become more honestly human. He also helped me feel less weird, ( i.e. neurotic) by acknowledging that much neurosis stems from being constantly and painfully aware of the actual facts of existence.
Despite the "heavy" topic, Becker's overall writing style is lucid, accessible, even engaging, and without posturing. Only occasional sections lapse into rather turgid debate of psychological theory.
If you want a book that calmly stares you straight in the face, while dissecting what really matters; if you are looking for a book that can help ground you in the center of reality, here it is.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best books I have ever read March 18 2010
As a psychologist, I believe this book should be essential reading for my profession. Unfortunately, existential and psychodynamic ideas continue to remain unpopular within the field of clinical psychology. I believe I have become a more rounded clinician as a result of being exposed to this piece of work and I would recommend it to anyone in the helping profession and anyone wanting to learn more about what makes us human and about becoming more aware of our existential realities and learning to live a more open life. Unlike many academic works that I have read, Becker's synthesis and style of writing is engaging and soaked with meaning. Every word serves puropose and some sentences, paragraphs, and ideas will leave one's spine tingling.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars most important book i've ever read Dec 6 2003
I think all the reviews say this but I will reiterate it again: this book changed my life. It forced to ponder every important question in life, for me and for all of mankind, in new, difficult yet enlightening ways. I think it's completely undervalued and underrated by academia (at least at the school I teach at) not only as psychological text, but as a philosophical and spiritual text as well. It's writing is both honest and impassioned, written with the ardous care of a man who has forced himself to face life and death in a magnanimous and sober way. This is easily my favorite book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars HONESTY: a terrifying black well, even for Becker. March 26 2004
In Becker's The Denial Of Death, death, as it turns out in the book, equals ultimate helplessness , that is to say, man is a creature who lives in fantasizing denial of the fact that he is incapable of freeing himself from the cage of his mortality which is not only physical, but ontological, without a transcendent escape-hatch.
Throughout the book Becker skillfully and powerfully accumulates empirical and logical evidence, including a very strong analysis of infant and child psychology as well as one of adult society, to support his premise. As one approaches the end of the book the effect of all this is quite powerful and I enjoyed it immensely, but the conclusion of the book was for me rather anti-climactic and somewhat annoying and I will give the precise reason for why I feel this way. I would ask any reader who admires and takes Becker's book seriously, to please consider my viewpoint and understand that I too take very seriously what Becker struggled with in this book which, in spite of my qualification, I highly recommend.
First of all, my problem is not that Becker did not supply an 'answer' for all the dark difficulties he heaped up in front of us throughout the book. If he had attempted such an answer, I don't know how it could have looked anything but ludicrous. The word ludicrous comes from the Latin, ludus (game) and implies that one is playing a game. Becker carefully avoids the game of facile answers and prides himself on this. In fact, I think he prides himself a little too much and this pride hides what is a deeper game.

Please note how frequently Becker speaks favorably, positively and admiringly of the 'fall from grace' metaphysics of Augustine and Kierkegaard as representatives of a certain strain of Christian belief.
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Most recent customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Cultural denial
This book should be required reading for medical students and physicians. It is not a new book but as "the aging population" allegedly puts pressure on the health care... Read more
Published 19 months ago by Meridale M Dewar
2.0 out of 5 stars Out of date...
I bought this book because Elizabeth Kuhbler Ross reviewed it with such a positive spin. I was anticipating a book that would help this generation approach death a little more... Read more
Published 22 months ago by L. Brubacher
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic Read ... The Best Ever!
This is the most incredible book I have ever read or will ever hope to read. It is a book everyone must plan to read in their lifetime. Read more
Published on Oct. 13 2010 by K. Jolly
2.0 out of 5 stars Only reflective of psychology as it existed in 1973
At the risk of being labeled "unhelpful" by the readers of Amazon's book evaluations, I feel I must offer a less naive and more experienced review of "The Denial of Death" than... Read more
Published on March 24 2010 by Ronald W. Maron
5.0 out of 5 stars The appetizer is quite the pleaser. (Worm Food)
This book was highley recommended by a professor of mine and I first read it a good eight years ago, only to pick it up again recently. Read more
Published on April 27 2004 by M. Hand
5.0 out of 5 stars ...
I ve read lots of books i dont understand and quite a few wich were "cool" to Read (neitche) this is probably the only book i have read wich is almost always in my mind and in my... Read more
Published on July 2 2003 by Jonathan Fantucchio
5.0 out of 5 stars Life Changing
The book changed my life. Truly.
Published on May 25 2003 by David Debow
5.0 out of 5 stars Life-Changing
This is one of the most important books I've ever read.
My father was dying. I nearly had a breakdown. Read more
Published on March 29 2003
5.0 out of 5 stars A great summary of psychology
Reading this book I was floored time and time again at how accurately Becker describes the condition of the modern man.Chapter Eight alone is worth the price of the book. Read more
Published on June 12 2002 by timothy hilliard
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