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Staring at the Sun: Overcoming the Terror of Death

ISBN: 978-0-7879-9668-0
320 pages
February 2008, Jossey-Bass
Staring at the Sun: Overcoming the Terror of Death (0787996688) cover image


Written in Irv Yalom's inimitable story-telling style, Staring at the Sun is a profoundly encouraging approach to the universal issue of mortality. In this magisterial opus, capping a lifetime of work and personal experience, Dr. Yalom helps us recognize that the fear of death is at the heart of much of our anxiety. Such recognition is often catalyzed by an "awakening experience"—a dream, or loss (the death of a loved one, divorce, loss of a job or home), illness, trauma, or aging.

Once we confront our own mortality, Dr. Yalom writes, we are inspired to rearrange our priorities, communicate more deeply with those we love, appreciate more keenly the beauty of life, and increase our willingness to take the risks necessary for personal fulfillment.

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Table of Contents

Preface and Acknowledgments.

Chapter 1. The Mortal Wound.

Chapter 2. Recognizing Death Anxiety.

Chapter 3. The Awakening Experience.

Chapter 4. The Power of Ideas.

Chapter 5. Overcoming Death Terror Through Connection.

Chapter 6. Death Awareness: A Memoir.

Chapter 7. Addressing Death Anxiety: Advice for Therapists.



About the Author.

A Reader’s Guide to Staring at the Sun.


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Author Information

The Author

Irvin D. Yalom, M.D., is Emeritus Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University School of Medicine. The author of the definitive textbooks The Theory and Practice of Psychotherapy and Existential Psychotherapy, Dr. Yalom also wrote the New York Times best seller Love's Executioner and the international best-selling novel When Nietzsche Wept.

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"Philosophical it is, but never arid with theory. Its lively chapters are populated with patients whose raw angst Yalom refines into vignettes that are always enlightening and often quite moving." (Washington Post, February 24, 2008)

The philosopher Martin Heidegger once remarked that we can live intensely only if we stare death in the face every moment of our lives. Bestselling psychiatrist Yalom (Love's Executioner) attempts to put this principle into practice in a sometimes thoughtful, often repetitious book. Drawing on literature and film, as well as conversations with his patients, Yalom demonstrates how the fear of retirement, concerns about changing jobs or moving to another city, or changes in family status (such as the empty nest) are rooted in our deepest, most inescapable fear: of death. Yet, he says, this anxiety can prompt an awakening to life and help us realize our connections to others and our influence on those around us. Through such experiences we can transcend our sense of “finiteness and transiency” and live in the here and now. In a final chapter, Yalom offers instructions for therapists seeking to help their patients overcome death anxiety. Although in the 1980s Yalom, now 76, provided new insights into the human psyche with his innovative method of “existential psychotherapy,” this book recycles well-known philosophical insights, but Yalom's humane, calm voice may bring them to a new audience. (Feb.) (Publishers Weekly, November 5, 2007)

"Staring at the Sun is neither textbook nor mere self-help. Philosophical it is, but never arid with theory. Its lively chapters are populated with patients whose raw angst Yalom refines into vignettes that are always enlightening and often quite moving." -- Washington Post

"So what to do about the dread of death? ... [Yalom's] key prescriptions are true connections with others, a feeling one has lived well and "rippling" - having positive impacts and memories live on in others after you die. These deceptively obvious goals are, obviously, not easily attained: What thinking and feeling person truly lives a life with no regrets? But they are inarguably worthwhile ones." -- San Francisco Chronicle

"Irv Yalom has written a beautiful and courageous book - a book that comforts even as it explores and confronts death. Yalom helps us understand that we must all come to grips with a paradox: The physicality of death destroys us; the idea of death saves us."
George Valliant, author of Aging Well, and Director of the Harvard Medical School Study of Adult Development

"Staring at the Sun is a thoughtful reinforcement of the stoicism that we all need in a time when babble and denial are all the rage."
Christopher Hitchens, author of God Is Not Great

"Staring at the Sun looks experientially and psycho-dynamically at our deepest fear, and describes with uncommon eloquence and deep humanity how we may arrive at a form of peace. The book is witty and kind and unflinching, a generous mediation that should give comfort to the dying and to those they leave behind."
Andrew Solomon, author, The Noonday Demon, winner of the National Book Award

"Irvin Yalom has written a brave, intelligent book on the last forbidden subject—death. I honor his courage and rare insight."
Erica Jong, author, Fear of Flying, Shylock’s Daughter, Inventing Memory, and Sappho’s Leap

"Yalom is the Scherherazade of the couch, his work a marvelous exercise in storytelling."
Laura Miller, New York Times

"This thoughtful treatment of the ultimate fear has much to offer people of faith, especially Western Christians. Instead of fearing death, which gave birth to religion itself, we can confront it in a true act of faith, and stop denying it through fantasies of immorality. This is a wise book by a wise man about the most taboo of all subjects. Read it, and fear not."
Robin Meyers, minister of Mayflower UCC Church of Oklahoma City, and author of Why the Christian Right is Wrong

"One of America's finest therapists guides us through one of life's most challenging tasks in this profoundly helpful book. It will benefit anyone who reads it."
Rabbi Harold Kushner, author of When Bad Things Happen To Good People

"Irvin Yalom writes like an angel about the devils that besiege us."
Rollo May

"In Staring at the Sun, Dr. Yalom shares with us the problems of his patients linked to their mortality, his compassionate, healing insight into their death anxiety, and perhaps most movingly, his own feelings and personal experiences with death. While the existential realities of death, isolation, and meaningless may seem at first bleak and full of despair, Dr. Yalom's existential approach helps his readers frame these realities in positive and meaningful ways that foster personal growth and intensify our connections to others and to the world around us."
Harold Ramis, Actor, Writer and Director, Ghostbuster, Groundhog Day, and Analyze This

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