More than one hundred years ago, the American philosopher William James wrote that the knowledge that we must die is "the worm at the core" of the human condition—a universally shared fear that informs all our thoughts and actions, from the great art we create to the devastating wars we wage.
Using data collected from human subjects, Sheldon Solomon, Jeff Greenberg, and Tom Pyszczynski show conclusively that the fear of death and the desire to transcend it inspire us to buy expensive cars, crave fame, put our health at risk, and disguise our animal nature. The fear of death can also prompt judges to dole out harsher punishments, make children react negatively to people different from themselves, and inflame intolerance and violence.
But the worm at the core need not consume us. This book also reveals how human beings have come to terms with death and learned to lead lives of courage, creativity, and compassion. It infuses our lives with order, stability, significance, and purpose, and these anchors enable us to function moment to moment without becoming overwhelmed by the knowledge of our ultimate fate.