• The Denial of Death

  • By: Ernest Becker
  • Narrated by: Raymond Todd
  • Length: 11 hrs and 46 mins
  • 4.2 out of 5 stars (1,653 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

Critic Reviews

"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)  

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What listeners say about The Denial of Death

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

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.

98 people found this helpful

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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.

32 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    1 out of 5 stars

Bored to Death

While perhaps timely in its day, Becker's attempt at answering "why" left me asking, "Why did I buy this book?" Esoteric and uninspired, Becker loses his audience in the first 30 minutes, where he discusses not his subject but himself - at great length. Readers would do better to leave this fossil in the navel-gazing '70's and instead read the classics of the genre, those which Becker proudly boasts he ignores.

24 people found this helpful

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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.

23 people found this helpful

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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.

23 people found this helpful

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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.

22 people found this helpful

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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.

22 people found this helpful

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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.

19 people found this helpful

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It's no longer 1973 (Thank Goodness)!

This prize winning book from 1973 has immense value today because it captures how very smart people explained the world in those days and it is amazing we ever got out of the self referential tautological cave that was being created to explain who we are. There is nothing more dangerous than using just intuition and strong arguments without empirical data to reach your conclusions. That's what this author does.

He ties existential and psychoanalytical thought and the necessity for beliefs in God in to a worldview. He will tell us that it is our repression and our denial that end up giving us our neurosis. He does not use the psychoanalytical system developed by Freud because he makes our neurosis more than just dependent on sexual repressions, but nevertheless his system ends with 'castration', 'transference', and other such psychoanalytical belief systems. (That's why I feel comfortable characterizing his system as self-referential tautological. He's creating a system, some what like mathematics, by assuming truths within the system and using the system to justify the system. There's no way to refute the system unless one steps out of the system. That is to say, there is now way to show the system is incoherent within the system itself and there are things within the system which can neither be shown true or false).

He's just taking a pseudoscience and working within the system and uses the same techniques to develop his similar system of pseudoscience but he's going to call it post-Freudian. He will conclude things such as the schizophrenic and psychotic are 'neurotic' principally because they see the true reality better, the reality of the absurdity of life, the fact that we live with the certainty of death, and the inadequacy of life, the inability to live with the freedom we our given.

He will go into a whole host of reasons why we are inadequate. He'll even explain how LGBTQ people are perverted because fetishes created while growing up has led to that extreme denial of themselves (probably something to do with their lack of character).

The author emphasizes that character, culture and values determine who we become. Those who lack any of those three end up with 'neurosis', because under his psycho-dynamic system we know everyone is neurotic to some degree because one who denies his own repression must be neurotic and out of touch with reality. (There is a beautiful tautology within his belief system).

Unfortunately, to understand the 1970s one must understand how smart people did embrace the kind of thinking presented in this book. It's amazing that we as a society got out of that psychoanalytical trap. Now days, neurosis is not used as a category in the DSM for a reason.

I can highly recommend this book since it gives such an interesting window that psychoanalysis mistakenly provided to human understanding in 1973. It clearly gives a great peak into how psychiatry got off the rails. I would highly recommend reading "Shrinks: The Untold Story of Psychiatry" before attempting this pseudo-scientific book. "Shrinks" documents how psychiatry got so far off the rails and how it found itself by becoming a real science by including the empirical. This book, "Denial of Death", marks the start of the beginning from which a new era for human understanding began to finally find itself and jettison junk like this book contains.



15 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars

Somewhat disappointing

I don't know exactly what I was expecting, but this was not it, unfortunately. I was there with the author through his explanations of humanity's quest to live forever, but was less interested as he went on to delve into Freud's theories on love, sex, and fetishism. Finally, when the author gave credence to Freud's view that homosexuality is a character flaw and a disease, I lost all respect.

15 people found this helpful

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