Natality: Toward a Philosophy of Birth (Paperback)

Natality: Toward a Philosophy of Birth By Jennifer Banks Cover Image

Natality: Toward a Philosophy of Birth (Paperback)

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“A gripping exploration of some of society’s biggest contradictions.… [Natality] is a fascinating read.” —Dana Suskind, MD, author of Parent Nation



An exhilarating exploration of natality, a much-needed counterpoint to mortality, drawing on the insights of brilliant writers and thinkers.


Birth is one of the most fraught and polarized issues of our time, at the center of debates on abortion, gender, work, and medicine. But birth is not solely an issue; it is a fundamental part of the human condition, and, alongside death, the most consequential event in human life. Yet it remains dramatically unexplored. Although we have long intellectual traditions of wrestling with mortality, few have ever heard of natality, the term political theorist Hannah Arendt used to describe birth’s active role in our lives. In this ambitious, revelatory book, Jennifer Banks begins with Arendt’s definition of natality as the “miracle that saves the world” to develop an expansive framework for birth’s philosophical, political, spiritual, and aesthetic significance.


Banks focuses on seven renowned western thinkers—Arendt, Friedrich Nietzsche, Mary Wollstonecraft, Mary Shelley, Sojourner Truth, Adrienne Rich, and Toni Morrison—to reveal a provocative countertradition of birth. She narrates these writers’ own experiences alongside the generative ways they contended with natality in their work. Passionately intelligent and wide-ranging, Natality invites readers to attend to birth as a challenging and life-affirming reminder of our shared humanity and our capacity for creative renewal.



Jennifer Banks is senior executive editor at Yale University Press. Her work has appeared in the Boston Review and?Pleiades, among other publications. She lives in Massachusetts.
Product Details ISBN: 9781324076070
ISBN-10: 1324076070
Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
Publication Date: May 7th, 2024
Pages: 272
Language: English
Unusually thoughtful.… [Jennifer] Banks is a lively writer of capsule biographies and a deft interpreter of thorny philosophical concepts.… [Natality is] fresh and reflective.

— Becca Rothfeld - Washington Post

Banks’s insights are nothing short of revelatory. Using Arendt’s concept of natality, she charts a counter-philosophy to our traditionally death-bound thinking, reminding us of the prominence of creation stories and past traditions that link birth to creativity, change, and renewal.
— Anna Katharina Schaffner - Los Angeles Review of Books

Natality electrified me. It is one of the most perspective-altering, radical, empowering, and beautiful books I have ever read. It is strong and strengthening, brave and enlivening, and does what I am always hungry for, but rarely find—it enables us to think differently, newly.

— Lucy Jones, author of Matrescence: On the Metamorphosis of Pregnancy, Childbirth and Motherhood

Thought-provoking.… [S]o human, so humane, and so lovely.… I stand in awe of Banks’ accomplishments in grappling in a unifying way with such deep and passionate thinkers.
— Dixie Dillon Lane - Current

In her fascinating new book, Natality, Jennifer Banks…lets her own sense of maternal astonishment lead her where wonder has led thinkers for millennia, to philosophy. The wisdom she uncovers has much to do with birth, as the book’s subtitle promises, and even more with what the irreducibly strange miracle of our entrance into the world tells us about the gift we have been given, not only of life but of free will.

— Cassandra Nelson - Comment

Banks offers a sweeping view of ‘birth’s full spectrum and diversity.’ …Natality acts first to provoke and to suggest the open-endedness of our potential.… Banks shows us how others have exerted themselves in new ways, and allows us to imagine the possibility of such breakages and makings.

— Ron Slate - On the Seawall

[This] provocative debut explores what it might mean to center human experience in natality.… Banks highlights moments when her subjects’ writings were in dialogue [and] builds those connections herself through unusual biographical juxtapositions, making for a layered, introspective study. This is an enlightening look at ‘what it means to be born human.
— Publishers Weekly

Birth is humanity’s greatest unexplored subject, Jennifer Banks writes in her excellent Natality.… [A]n investigation of birth itself—not just childbirth, but birth as creation and creative renewal.… [Natality is] an important and beautifully written read.

— K.C. Compton - Early Learning Nation

Jennifer Banks rightly affirms that Arendt’s concept of natality is important for everyone, biological parents or not: Arendt challenges us to accept our agency, the possibility of the new, the insight that we’re not born to die but to live.… Banks lays out questions that, if we follow them, might uncover wisdom that can inform mundane practice and policy alike to help us live well in such a world.
— Sarah Beth V. Kitch - Law & Liberty

Jennifer Banks has brought to light a dimension of experience that is both universal and weirdly neglected. This is a lucid, provocative, and groundbreaking book.
— Christian Wiman, Yale University professor and author of My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer

With poetic precision, Jennifer Banks moves deftly through various literary, living, and intellectual cultures to tell us about our beginning at a time when the gradient of most narratives dips toward our end. I will read Natality again and again to feel alive, to be reborn.

— Sumana Roy, author of How I Became a Tree

To describe the revelation of Jennifer Banks’s Natality, I find myself reaching for words like original, fertile, generative—words to describe not only the book but the way it acts upon you, and upon the world. Natality is a work of astonishing brilliance, beauty, hope, and generosity. I know I’ll be buying it for everyone.

— Devorah Baum, author of On Marriage

Natality is not just one way to think about the human condition, but an indispensable way, without which nothing else makes much sense. This gripping, hopeful, and inspiring book, written in a spirit of fellowship that gives the whole book a human glow, is a splendid antidote to the nihilistic temptation.

— Anthony Kronman, Sterling Professor of Law at Yale Law School

In this resplendent tapestry, each chapter a riveting discovery, Jennifer Banks witnesses the hidden gestations within the wombs of literary history. Natality is not just about giving birth. Natality is at the heart of culture care, of all generative making, and it opens paths uncharted.
— Makoto Fujimura, artist and author of Art and Faith: A Theology of Making

In Natality, Jennifer Banks addresses what I think it fair to call a conspicuous oversight in most of our philosophical reflections on what constitutes human nature and the human condition: to wit, childbirth. This is a fascinating and illuminating extended essay.

— David Bentley Hart, author of That All Shall Be Saved: Heaven, Hell, and Universal Salvation

Natality is a quietly disruptive book. At a time when public discussion of motherhood and childbirth too quickly devolves into political talking points, Jennifer Banks unearths voices from the past that challenge us to consider the profound and inscrutable nature of birth. Natality reminds us that there has never been a singular conversation around childbirth, but by tending to the mystery, beauty, and contradictions of birth, we contemplate humanity itself.

— Kristin Kobes Du Mez, author of Jesus and John Wayne