100 books like The Birth and Death of Meaning

By Ernest Becker,

Here are 100 books that The Birth and Death of Meaning fans have personally recommended if you like The Birth and Death of Meaning. Shepherd is a community of 11,000+ authors and super readers sharing their favorite books with the world.

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Book cover of The Myth of Sisyphus

Peter S. Fosl Author Of The Philosopher's Toolkit: A Compendium of Philosophical Concepts and Methods

From my list on starting out in philosophy.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a philosopher who’s taught mostly undergraduates for over thirty years at small liberal arts colleges in the US, and I’ve held research fellowships at the University of Edinburgh and Williams College. I’ve co-authored three “toolkit” books – The Philosopher’s Toolkit, The Ethics Toolkit, and The Critical Thinking Toolkit. My more scholarly work, however, has focused on skepticism, for example in Hume’s Scepticism. I also like to write about pop culture, especially for collections like my Big Lebowski and Philosophy. Fundamentally, though, I’m just a lover of dialectic and an explorer in the world of ideas. Nothing, for me, is more enjoyable.

Peter's book list on starting out in philosophy

Peter S. Fosl Why did Peter love this book?

This was the first book from the very first philosophy class I took in college (at Bucknell University in 1981), and it had me from its very first sentence: “There is only one truly important philosophical question, and that is suicide.” You know, the big stuff: Is life worth living? What gives it meaning? How ought we to engage the world and others, especially in the face of the apparently meaningless universe in which we’ve been thrown. Existentialist Camus served in the French resistance against the Nazis in World War II and would win the Nobel Prize for literature in 1957. In these pages, the remarkable man and the remarkable life he lived shows. 

By Albert Camus,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Myth of Sisyphus as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

NOBEL PRIZE WINNER • An internationally acclaimed author delivers one of the most influential works of the twentieth century, showing a way out of despair and reaffirming the value of existence.

Influenced by works such as Don Juan and the novels of Kafka, these essays begin with a meditation on suicide—the question of living or not living in a universe devoid of order or meaning. With lyric eloquence, Albert Camus brilliantly presents a crucial exposition of existentialist thought.


Book cover of Man’s Search for Meaning

Ricardo Sunderland Author Of The Energy Advantage: How to Go from Managing Your Time to Mastering Your Energy

From my list on non fiction mastering your energy.

Why am I passionate about this?

My purpose is to help leaders connect to and manage their energy. I help them bring coherence to how they lead and reach their full societal impact. For more than a  decade, I have coached 300 of the most senior leaders at some of the largest and most recognizable companies in the world. My recommended to-read book list represents crucible moments in my life and my calling to learn about human energy. Representing different lenses, which are key to adding to a mix of ingredients, allows the reader to drink a potion that will exalt all your buckets (physical, mental, emotional & spiritual) of energy holistically. 

Ricardo's book list on non fiction mastering your energy

Ricardo Sunderland Why did Ricardo love this book?

Besides being one of the best psychologists in mankind's history, Viktor is a masterful storyteller. It's as if I was transported to Auschwitz at the time, where Viktor was imprisoned along with thousands of Jews; in a very compelling way, he leaves no hint of a doubt that it was thanks to his meaning in life that he was able to survive, and the minute that others let go of theirs, they let go of life itself.

In addition, Viktor also shares his logotherapy framework and how it was updated after his terrible experience. If you doubt the power of doing the work to search for your life’s meaning, this book is a must-read. 

By Viktor Frankl,

Why should I read it?

43 authors picked Man’s Search for Meaning as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

One of the outstanding classics to emerge from the Holocaust, Man's Search for Meaning is Viktor Frankl's story of his struggle for survival in Auschwitz and other Nazi concentration camps. Today, this remarkable tribute to hope offers us an avenue to finding greater meaning and purpose in our own lives.


Book cover of A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster

Daniel P. Aldrich Author Of Building Resilience: Social Capital in Post-Disaster Recovery

From my list on the importance of community during disasters.

Why am I passionate about this?

We moved to New Orleans in July 2005. We had six weeks in our first home, filling it with furniture, buying a new car, and taking advantage of my first job. When Hurricane Katrina collapsed the levees holding back the nearby lakes, our home – and those of 80% of the city – filled with water. As I waited for FEMA and insurance to help us, I saw instead it was our friends, friends of friends, and faith-based organizations that helped us get back on our feet. Using our own experiences as a start, I traveled to India and Japan to study how communities around the world survived and thrived during shocks. 

Daniel's book list on the importance of community during disasters

Daniel P. Aldrich Why did Daniel love this book?

We have all seen disaster movies and TV shows with people screaming and running around as the earthquake, tsunami, or Godzilla strikes. But Rebecca Solnit argues instead that normal people don’t panic during disasters – it is the elite, the wealthy, and the decision-makers who lose their minds. For normal people, altruism and mutual aid help all of us get through shocks, whether fire, car accident or COVID19. Her writing is excellent and she uses examples across time and space, ranging from the San Francisco earthquake at the start of the 20th century to the Mexico City earthquake at its end.

By Rebecca Solnit,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked A Paradise Built in Hell as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"The freshest, deepest, most optimistic account of human nature I've come across in years."
-Bill McKibben

The most startling thing about disasters, according to award-winning author Rebecca Solnit, is not merely that so many people rise to the occasion, but that they do so with joy. That joy reveals an ordinarily unmet yearning for community, purposefulness, and meaningful work that disaster often provides. A Paradise Built in Hell is an investigation of the moments of altruism, resourcefulness, and generosity that arise amid disaster's grief and disruption and considers their implications for everyday life. It points to a new vision of…


Book cover of The Denial of Death

Mordecai George Sheftall Author Of Blossoms In The Wind: Human Legacies of the Kamikaze

From my list on how culture makes us do self-destructive things.

Why am I passionate about this?

On the morning of September 11, 2001, I woke up expecting to spend that day – and the rest of my academic career – leisurely studying the interplay of culture and individual temperament in second language acquisition. As the rest of that terrible day unfolded, however, my research up to that point suddenly seemed very small and almost decadently privileged. Recruiting the rudimentary cultural anthropology toolbox I had already amassed, I took a deep breath and plunged into the rabbit hole of studying the role of culture in human conflict. Twenty-two years later, using my Japan base and relevant language skills, my research has focused on the Japanese experience in World War II.

Mordecai's book list on how culture makes us do self-destructive things

Mordecai George Sheftall Why did Mordecai love this book?

Have you ever read a book that literally changed your life? I have, and that book is The Denial of Death by Ernest Becker, for which he won the Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction in 1974.

Becker’s basic thesis is that the institution of “culture” has evolved not so much to facilitate our physical survival (the orthodox viewpoint), but rather, as an elaborate symbolic framework that psychologically protects us from our species’ unique awareness of our own inevitable mortality, both individually and collectively.

Becker basically blew the top of my head off when I first read him during my PhD work in the mid-Oughts, and he remains a major influence on my teaching and research to this day.

By Ernest Becker,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked The Denial of Death as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

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.


Book cover of Meditations: A New Translation

Lin Wilder Author Of Plausible Liars: A Dr. Lindsey McCall Medical Mystery

From my list on preparing for writing/walking/thinking/acting against the crowd.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a writer who just published a book I didn’t have any interest in writing. I didn’t like the subject matter, so I had no interest in doing the research to create credible characters and a cohesive plot.

Lin's book list on preparing for writing/walking/thinking/acting against the crowd

Lin Wilder Why did Lin love this book?

Back when I was an atheist undergraduate college student, this book, among others, saved my life.

I’d walked away from everything religious and hence lacked all moral grounding. Although I was ambitious, I had no clue what I wanted to do with my life. Only what I didn’t want to do with my life.

My animosity against all things religious was huge, but the stoic philosophy of discipline and self-control kept me from throwing my life away.

By Marcus Aurelius (lead author), Gregory Hays (translator),

Why should I read it?

10 authors picked Meditations as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Nearly two thousand years after it was written, Meditations remains profoundly relevant for anyone seeking to lead a meaningful life.

Few ancient works have been as influential as the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, philosopher and emperor of Rome (A.D. 161–180). A series of spiritual exercises filled with wisdom, practical guidance, and profound understanding of human behavior, it remains one of the greatest works of spiritual and ethical reflection ever written. Marcus’s insights and advice—on everything from living in the world to coping with adversity and interacting with others—have made the Meditations required reading for statesmen and philosophers alike, while generations…


Book cover of Steps to an Ecology of Mind

Corey Anton Author Of Sources of Significance: Worldly Rejuvenation and Neo-Stoic Heroism

From my list on language and symbols and how they relate to the human condition.

Why am I passionate about this?

Corey Anton is Professor of Communication Studies at Grand Valley State University, Vice-President of the Institute of General Semantics, Past President of the Media Ecology Association, and a Fellow of the International Communicology Institute. He is an award-winning teacher and author. His research spans the fields of media ecology, semiotics, phenomenology, stoicism, death studies, the philosophy of communication, and multidisciplinary communication theory.

Corey's book list on language and symbols and how they relate to the human condition

Corey Anton Why did Corey love this book?

Gregory Bateson, an intellectual maverick, had an evolutionary rule named after him when he was a teenager, (his father was a famed geneticist), was the formulator, along with Jurgen Ruesch, of the double-bind hypothesis of schizophrenia, and was a pioneer in the field of mammalian communication. Given its wide range of address to issues within evolutionary biology, psychiatry, anthropology, systems theory, cybernetics, and communication theory, this is a classic “must read” collection of short essays. Bateson’s unrelentingly original and provocative analyses provoke thought and defy any easy categorization. At the very least, he shows how mammalian play, as multileveled interaction, paves the way for the evolution of human language, and also, how human interaction, with its multiple logical types and different kinds of learning, occurs at various levels of abstraction.

By Gregory Bateson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Steps to an Ecology of Mind as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Gregory Bateson was a philosopher, anthropologist, photographer, naturalist, and poet, as well as the husband and collaborator of Margaret Mead. With a new foreword by his daughter Mary Katherine Bateson, this classic anthology of his major work will continue to delight and inform generations of readers.

"This collection amounts to a retrospective exhibition of a working life. . . . Bateson has come to this position during a career that carried him not only into anthropology, for which he was first trained, but into psychiatry, genetics, and communication theory. . . . He . . . examines the nature of…


Book cover of Interaction Ritual: Essays in Face-to-Face Behavior

Corey Anton Author Of Sources of Significance: Worldly Rejuvenation and Neo-Stoic Heroism

From my list on language and symbols and how they relate to the human condition.

Why am I passionate about this?

Corey Anton is Professor of Communication Studies at Grand Valley State University, Vice-President of the Institute of General Semantics, Past President of the Media Ecology Association, and a Fellow of the International Communicology Institute. He is an award-winning teacher and author. His research spans the fields of media ecology, semiotics, phenomenology, stoicism, death studies, the philosophy of communication, and multidisciplinary communication theory.

Corey's book list on language and symbols and how they relate to the human condition

Corey Anton Why did Corey love this book?

Erving Goffman was a Canadian sociologist and the founder of the “dramaturgical” tradition within sociology, where metaphors of the stage and theatre are brought to the analysis of everyday life. This particular book is a collection of his early essays concerning “encounters,” or what happens when people, wittingly or unwittingly, come face-to-face and share information, handle interpersonal incidents, and manage identities. With surgeon-like precision, Goffman engages in “micro-sociology” analyses, nuanced descriptions of the ritual expression games in which interactants engage when they come into each other’s presence. The book is a delight to read partly due to Goffman’s uncanny ability to verbally capture the most subtle of expressions and to sum up relevant dynamics within interpersonal interaction; many of his sentences bear the fine-grade clarity of high-definition TV.

By Erving Goffman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Interaction Ritual as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"Not then, men and their moments. Rather, moment and their men," writes Erving Goffman in the introduction to his groundbreaking 1967 Interaction Ritual, a study of face-to-face interaction in natural settings, that class of events which occurs during co-presence and by virtue of co-presence. The ultimate behavioral materials are the glances, gestures, positionings, and verbal statements that people continuously feed into situations, whether intended or not.

A sociology of occasions is here advocated. Social organization is the central theme, but what is organized is the co-mingling of persons and the temporary interactional enterprises that can arise therefrom. A normatively stabilized…


Book cover of Philosophy in a New Key: A Study in the Symbolism of Reason, Rite, and Art

Corey Anton Author Of Sources of Significance: Worldly Rejuvenation and Neo-Stoic Heroism

From my list on language and symbols and how they relate to the human condition.

Why am I passionate about this?

Corey Anton is Professor of Communication Studies at Grand Valley State University, Vice-President of the Institute of General Semantics, Past President of the Media Ecology Association, and a Fellow of the International Communicology Institute. He is an award-winning teacher and author. His research spans the fields of media ecology, semiotics, phenomenology, stoicism, death studies, the philosophy of communication, and multidisciplinary communication theory.

Corey's book list on language and symbols and how they relate to the human condition

Corey Anton Why did Corey love this book?

Susanne K. Langer was a philosopher of aesthetics, and a specialist in the nature of symbolism and language. This classic book, dedicated to Alfred North Whitehead, contains her now somewhat famous distinction between “presentational forms” and “discursive forms,” which refers, roughly to symbolism such as sculpture and architecture which present much-at-once, and symbolism such as music and language which disclose their meaning linearly over time. She also brilliantly lays out her views on “Language,” where in a chapter by that name, she critiques instinct theories, challenges naïve views, and speculates on how human beings are evolutionary descendants of singing, dancing, pantomiming apes.

By Susanne K. Langer,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Philosophy in a New Key as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Modern theories of meaning usually culminate in a critique of science. This book presents a study of human intelligence beginning with a semantic theory and leading into a critique of music.

By implication it sets up a theory of all the arts; the transference of its basic concepts to other arts than music is not developed, but it is sketched, mainly in the chapter on artistic import. Thoughtful readers of the original edition discovered these far-reaching ideas quickly enough as the career of the book shows: it is as applicable to literature, art and music as to the field of…


Book cover of The Rhetoric of Religion

Corey Anton Author Of Sources of Significance: Worldly Rejuvenation and Neo-Stoic Heroism

From my list on language and symbols and how they relate to the human condition.

Why am I passionate about this?

Corey Anton is Professor of Communication Studies at Grand Valley State University, Vice-President of the Institute of General Semantics, Past President of the Media Ecology Association, and a Fellow of the International Communicology Institute. He is an award-winning teacher and author. His research spans the fields of media ecology, semiotics, phenomenology, stoicism, death studies, the philosophy of communication, and multidisciplinary communication theory.

Corey's book list on language and symbols and how they relate to the human condition

Corey Anton Why did Corey love this book?

Kenneth Burke was Shakespeare scholar, biblical scholar, poet, novelist, literary critic, rhetorical theorist, the father of “Dramatism,” and a ferocious homegrown, self-taught intellect, and this book is Burke at his best. It boldly addresses the vital role that language plays in human life and religious thought, advocates a thoroughgoing study of theology not to assess any veracity therein, but rather, as a specimen of language use, for, whatever else theology may be, it is, at the least, verbal, and, the study of religious language reveals much about human motives and self-understanding. This book also touches upon some of the interesting relations between money, guilt, and the Christian notion of redemption. It ends with an “Epilogue: Prologue in Heaven,” which is a lengthy mind-blowing fictional dialogue set in Heaven between “The Lord” and “Satan” regarding “the word-animal,” and it playfully draws out important connections between language, negativity, property rights, time, and…

By Kenneth Burke,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Rhetoric of Religion as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"But the point of Burke's work, and the significance of his achievement, is not that he points out that religion and language affect each other, for this has been said before, but that he proceeds to demonstrate how this is so by reference to a specific symbolic context. After a discussion 'On Words and The Word,' he analysess verbal action in St. Augustine's Confessions. He then discusses the first three chapters of Genesis, and ends with a brilliant and profound 'Prologue in Heaven,' an imaginary dialogue between the Lord and Satan in which he proposes that we begin our study…


Book cover of Otto Rank: A Rediscovered Legacy

Jeff Greenberg Author Of The Worm at the Core: On the Role of Death in Life

From my list on the core desires that guide human behavior.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a Regents Professor of Psychology at the University of Arizona. Ever since I was a child growing up in the South Bronx, I have been interested in why people are so driven to believe they are right and good, and why there is so much prejudice in the world. This has led to me to a lifelong exploration of the basic motivations that guide people’s actions, and how these motivations influence how people view themselves and others, and the goals they pursue.

Jeff's book list on the core desires that guide human behavior

Jeff Greenberg Why did Jeff love this book?

This book summarizes the contributions of Otto Rank, the brilliant and influential psychoanalyst. Rank focused on two core psychological motivations, the desires for psychological security on the one hand, and for stimulation, growth, and creativity on the other. His work illuminates how these desires often work in concert but also often can be in opposition over the course of the lifespan, contributing to guilt, anxiety, and stunting growth. Rank’s analysis inspired the development of both existential psychology and humanistic psychology. Rank’s approach to psychological well-being is based on accepting and even affirming the limitations of life, understanding what you really want in life, and developing the will to move creatively toward achieving those goals so that one can live an authentic and satisfying life.   

By Esther Menaker,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Otto Rank as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


5 book lists we think you will like!

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