The Worm at the Core:

On the Role of Death in Life

A transformative, fascinating new theory that reveals how our unconscious fear of death powers almost everything we do, shining a light on the hidden motivations of human behavior.

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.

Editorial Reviews

“A neat fusion of ideas borrowed from sociology, anthropology, existential philosophy, and psychoanalysis…death informs practically every aspect of human existence. From the way we organize our societies to the moral codes we live by, even down to how we have sex and what rituals and emotions we ascribe to it, death is the bedrock.”

Herald (United Kingdom)

“An intriguing and impressive summary of terror management theory and research suited to intellectually inclined general readers and students.”

Library Journal

“Deep, important, and beautifully written, The Worm at the Core describes a brilliant and utterly original program of scientific research on a force so powerful that it drives our lives, but so frightening that we cannot think clearly about it. This book asks us to, compels us to, and then shows us how—by shining the light of reason on the heart of human darkness.”

Daniel Gilbert, Edgar Pierce Professor of Psychology, Harvard University, and author of Stumbling on Happiness

Author Biography

Jeff Greenberg is a social psychology professor at the University of Arizona. He is notable for coining the concept of Terror Management Theory, with two of his colleagues, Sheldon Solomon and Tom Pyszczynski. He is also featured in the 2003 documentary Flight From Death, a film that investigates the relationship of human violence to fear of death, as related to subconscious influences.

Reader Biography

John Pruden is an Earphones Award–winning audiobook narrator. His exposure to many people, places, and experiences throughout his life provides a deep creative well from which he draws his narrative and vocal characterizations. His narration of The Killing of Crazy Horse by Thomas Powers was chosen by the Washington Post as a Best Audiobook of 2010.

Titles by Reader > See all

  • Summary
  • Reviews
  • Editorial Reviews
  • Related
  • Author Biography
  • Reader Biography
Digital Audiobooks With Zero Restrictions