Fear Book Summary - Fear Book explained in key points
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Fear summary

Joanna Bourke

A Cultural History

3.8 (65 ratings)
17 mins

Brief summary

Fear by Joanna Bourke examines the history and psychology of fear, looking at how it has been used to control societies and individuals. It offers a thought-provoking analysis of a universal emotion.

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    Death is our greatest fear, and one that worsens when poverty strikes.

    Many people grow uncomfortable after spending too long in hospitals, retirement homes and cemeteries. These environments draw our minds toward the greatest human fear – mortality.

    Nearly all human fears can be traced back, in one way or another, to a fear of dying. Those afraid of spiders, snakes and crocodiles don’t fear the creatures per se, but rather the prospect that these animals could kill them.

    Similarly, people who live in fear of losing their jobs struggle with the deeper fear that they might lose their livelihoods, their homes and, in the worst case scenario, ultimately die after being forced to live on the streets.

    For thousands of years, rituals, ceremonies and beliefs celebrating the afterlife negated the human fear of death. But in the nineteenth century, these comforts were taken away from the lower class in the West, exacerbating the fear of death and creating pauperization.

    The bodies of deceased paupers were piled into mass graves, without tombstones or inscriptions to commemorate the dead. In addition, their bodies were covered in a caustic quicklime solution to speed up their decomposition.

    Graves of nineteenth-century paupers were also unprotected, making them easy prey for Victorian bodysnatchers who made a living from selling corpses to anatomists and medical students. Knowing that this was the gruesome fate that awaited their bodies after death, people grew more afraid of dying than ever before.

    Indeed, the fear of dying was enough to kill people in itself – an elderly woman by the name of Susan Starr died from shock in 1871 after social relief services threatened to cut off her financial support.

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    What is Fear about?

    Fear (2005) explores how fear has shaped cities, parenting, and culture over the past centuries. From the role of fear in war and sickness, to the design of public buildings and the response to the threat of nuclear power, these blinks give us the historical context we need to understand the nature of fear in contemporary society.

    Fear Review

    Fear (2021) by Joanna Bourke is a thought-provoking exploration of the power and implications of fear in our lives. Here are three reasons why this book is worth reading:

    • With its meticulously researched insights, it sheds light on the psychological and historical dimensions of fear, offering a comprehensive understanding of this complex emotion.
    • Combining personal stories, historical events, and cultural analysis, the book presents a captivating narrative that keeps readers engaged, making it a compelling read from start to finish.
    • By examining the role of fear in different contexts, such as politics, warfare, and human relationships, the book offers eye-opening perspectives that challenge conventional wisdom and provoke deep reflection.

    Who should read Fear?

    • History buffs
    • Students of sociology and psychology
    • Readers curious about life in the nineteenth century

    About the Author

    Joanna Bourke is a professor of history at the University of London specializing in the history of warfare, and gender and class relations. Her other works include Wounding the World and Working Class Cultures in Britain.

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    Fear FAQs 

    What is the main message of Fear?

    The main message of Fear is understanding the historical and cultural influences on our fears and how they shape our societies.

    How long does it take to read Fear?

    The reading time for Fear varies depending on the reader's speed. However, the Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is Fear a good book? Is it worth reading?

    Fear is a thought-provoking book worth reading. It offers valuable insights into the complex nature of fear and its impact on individuals and societies.

    Who is the author of Fear?

    The author of Fear is Joanna Bourke.

    What to read after Fear?

    If you're wondering what to read next after Fear, here are some recommendations we suggest:
    • The Journey Beyond Fear by John Hagel III
    • The Fear Factor by Abigail Marsh
    • The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker
    • Be Fearless by Jean Case
    • The Federalist Papers by Alexander Hamilton
    • Read People Like a Book by Patrick King
    • The Courage to Be Disliked by Ichiro Kishimi & Fumitake Koga
    • MicroSkills by Adaira Landry & Resa E. Lewiss
    • Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell
    • Think by Simon Blackburn