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The Denial of Death

Written by: Ernest Becker
Narrated by: Raymond Todd
Length: 11 hrs and 45 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (55 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

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 30 years after its writing.
©1973 Free Press, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc. (P)2005 Blackstone Audiobooks

What the critics say

"A brave work of electrifying intelligence and passion, optimistic and revolutionary, destined to endure." (New York Times Book Review)
"Ranks among the truly important books of the year. Professor Becker writes with power and brilliant insight." (Publishers Weekly)

What listeners say about The Denial of Death

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Sadly far to old

So much of it is so incredibly out of date that it has lost it's relevance both scientifically and philosophically

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Good start, but could not continue...

The author is off to a good start but turns his story into musings about Freud's personality and features, which I don't care about. It seemed to me that at the time of writing it was important to refer to some important psych figures like Freud but it's completely irrelevant now. Sadly, I couldn't tolerate listening to these pointless musings...

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Well Researched and Thought Out

I listened to this book almost a year ago. I've been chewing on the ideas ever since. Many of them I intuitively knew since a young age, and my experiences in life and observations of culture have only reinforced them and helped me understand them deeper. As someone who lives to take physical risks and challenges, I've often found myself confused by so many of my peers who seem almost pathetically risk-averse. This book does a good job of articulating how many people busy themselves endlessly in a naive and vain attempt to avoid thinking or coming to terms with the fact that they will one day die. If you've ever experimented with psychedelics and deep introspective thoughts, you'll likely have grappled with the subject matter in this book. This author does a great job of expanding upon and articulating those ideas, with plenty of anthropological support. A must read for anyone who endeavours to live a meaningful life. Also, if you were curious about why so many strange individuals went panic-shopping for toilet paper during the COVID-19 situation, this book elaborates on the psychology behind that type of behaviour.

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Disappointing

Interesting subject in itself, but drowned in psychoanalytic mumbo jumbo. I forced myself to listen to the whole book, only to be left very disappointed. Beside, the narrator is quite annoying.

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Brilliant book

This book surprised me at almost every turn. It frames how we look at the behaviour patterns that define our lives in a new light. There were moments where I found myself having said aloud proclamations of it's brilliance - I will definitely give it another listen at some point. The author gives a lot of credit to another author Otto Rank. He speaks highly of his work and often cites his discoveries. This is the synopsis from Wikipedia... "The Denial of Death is a 1973 work of psychology and philosophy by Ernest Becker, in which the author builds on the works of Søren Kierkegaard, Sigmund Freud, Norman O. Brown and Otto Rank. It was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction in 1974, two months after the author's death" The narrator moves quickly through the material which I appreciate due to the volume of the text. Great book. Don't miss this one. Once it gets going you won't be able to stop listening to it and it will stay with you for awhile afterwards following your first listen.

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got bored near the end

i enjoyed it at the very begining, but after about 5-6 hours i got bored. Guess it wasn't my type

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  • Yhatze
  • 2017-05-27

Not for the closed-minded

I came to this book after finishing The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck where Ernest Becker's work was referenced. I am not a student of psychology, merely a person who is curious about ideas. I needed to slow down the reader's speed just a little because I couldn't comprehend the material fast enough before a new topic was being discussed. The ideas that Becker presented when this book was written were as radical then as they are now. Atheists will have no problem listening, everyone who isn't might find the subject matter incendiary or blasphemous. What I got out of listening to The Denial of Death is a better understanding of why us, as the human animals we are, do what we do to one another in the name of some higher power or our own selfish reasons. I will certainly listen to it again in the future as I know I did not fully absorb all the information presented.

74 people found this helpful

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  • Rory Cooney
  • 2018-03-22

A classic, but...

I missed this book in the 70s but was happy to see an Audible version when it was recently recommended to me. It’s something of a survey of psychoanalytic literature on the subject of death-terror as it impacts the struggle to be fully human, Freud, Adler, Otto Rank, and later lights like Fromm all out in conversation with philosophers and theologians like Kierkegaard and Tillich. Unsettling at times, bewildering at others, sometimes just obtuse, the book is nevertheless well worth the time. However, as a Latin student of seven years I was constantly appalled by the reader’s lack of knowledge of basic Latin conventions, to the extent that every time he pronounced “causa sui” as “causa swee” I’d lose focus long enough to miss a paragraph or two of arcanities about anality. Sorry. Off topic. Good insights, frustrating narrator.

11 people found this helpful

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  • Nils-Michael
  • 2012-09-18

Symbology is central to all human behavior

Where does The Denial of Death rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

The subject is the best, the performance by the reader is OK. Becker's book explains many of the symbols used in society and cultures to attach "meaning" to our lives. It's a fascinating study of human behavior and explains many of the polarizations in the world.

What did you like best about this story?

Becker was on his deathbed when his manuscript arrived at the publisher. The publisher rushed to his home to spend the last few hours with him. The poignancy of this moment is not lost on the publisher, nor the reader. As Becker faced his own death, his insights were enhanced and more clear.

What three words best describe Raymond Todd’s voice?

Subtle. Slow. Unemotive.

What’s the most interesting tidbit you’ve picked up from this book?

That man is basically animal. And, as the knowledge of our differences to animal (thought, emotion, rationale thought, opposable thumbs, design and intention) we created symbols to attach meaning to our lives. As we denied our own mortality the creation of symbols, heros and God's became a necessary coping mechanism. However, those same symbols (religion, nationality, race, gender, sports teams, etc.) became our undoing as we reified them and gave them power. This power has been used and abused over the millennia to manipulate and control the masses.

Any additional comments?

Read this book. So many aspects of the human existence become more clear.

26 people found this helpful

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  • Patrick Mabry, Jr.
  • 2014-06-19

The most significant book I have ever read.

The battle in my mind between my heritage of faith and my deep allegiance to the scientific method found some peace in the main hypothesis of The Denial of Death by Ernest Becker. He hypothesizes that man is driven by a deep fear of dying to build constructs of what happens after death. He suggests that the primal fear of death cause people to convert to religion, leave moments to their lives, and to spend their life in an Epicurean scramble to balance the nothingness of death.

17 people found this helpful

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  • michael solomon
  • 2013-03-21

Most excellent.

What made the experience of listening to The Denial of Death the most enjoyable?

Becker had it right. Freud was right on target except for one small thing, the sex thing. It is DEATH that is the root of all neurosis.

16 people found this helpful

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  • D. Raynal
  • 2013-03-27

Brillant, Timeless and Riveting

Where does The Denial of Death rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

One of the deepest and yet very accessible books that I have ever heard. Since listening to it I have purchased the book and read it cover to cover. Superb.

What was the most compelling aspect of this narrative?

Too many to mention. I believe each person who listens to this book will be moved and permanently changed.

Have you listened to any of Raymond Todd’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

He is very good. Reads quickly and clearly.

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

Loved the stories regarding Freud and Jung. Enlightening

Any additional comments?

A must read if you are interested in the core of our human being. This book absolutely deserved the Pulitzer Prize.

21 people found this helpful

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  • Anonymous User
  • 2018-12-04

A young widower's review

A little heavier on the psychology than I thought it would be. A lot of deep information but I did get a few nuggets out of it. I was hoping this book would help me cope with understanding death, especially since I lost my wife in the last couple years. I don't know that the book did but I hoped it would do but it has opened my eyes to a few new ideas.

4 people found this helpful

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  • Shirley
  • 2017-02-26

A fascinating secular perspective...

... deliberating the most difficult of questions about our humanly existence. thought provoking, insightful, and entertaining throughout. a very lengthy read that occasionally belabours previously covered arguments, and sometimes camouflages content with references, the deep psychology and psychoanalysis may bear (for me at least) a second or third read. as an audio book listened to while traveling, inherent with expected missed material for 15-30 seconds here and there when traffic required attention, the flow and presentation of the material wasn't significantly compromised. enjoy!

9 people found this helpful

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  • Joe Pawlowski
  • 2017-05-10

Seems to go off topic a lot

I understand this is an award-winning study and I was looking forward to digging into the topic but was ultimately disappointed in the book. It starts out well enough, discussing how we humans must cope with the knowledge of our own mortality and offers some thoughtful insights but then it wanders pretty far afield, devolving into Freudian psycho-babble about penis envy, the trauma of defecating and other questionable subjects. This was written in 1973 and in some sections it comes off as somewhat dated and narrow-minded, especially when dealing with topics such as homosexuality. I would love to find a more modern and focused examination of this subject. Guess I'll have to keep looking.

16 people found this helpful

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  • Douglas
  • 2010-06-22

A Classic in Social Psychology

Based on the work of Freud's least credited successor, Otto Rank, The Denial Of Death weaves an irrefutable argument that human aggression stems from an overweening hubris based exactly in the daily repression of the inevitability of our own individual death. In this denial, we attack and metaphorically or actually kill others--this can range from talking about our neighbor behind his back to all-out assassination on the battlefield. There is no easy-breezy solution to this problem, as in many lesser popular works--Becker sees human nature remaining more or less the same--but he does urge the reader toward redirecting hateful energies away from human scapegoats and toward abstractions like human suffering itself. A penetrating and unflinching work completed just before Becker's own demise from cancer. A must read.

11 people found this helpful