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At the Existentialist Café: Freedom, Being, and Apricot Cocktails

At the Existentialist Café: Freedom, Being, and Apricot Cocktails

Sarah Bakewell


To the extent that one can have an introduction to existentialism, this is it.

Part extended biography and part philosophical exploration, this book weaves the tale of existentialism into a readable and comprehensible form. It manages to do justice to the philosophy <>and the philosophers, both the big names and the more minor players whose contributions have perhaps been unfairly forgotten.

The towering figure in the narrative is inescapably Sartre, with all his inconsistencies and personal weaknesses set again his intellectual and written power. Bakewell doesn't try to make him appear better than he is: his willingness to tie himself in knots to support a cause he felt he should justify doesn't detract from the clarity of some of his other contributions. But for me the most interesting figure is Simone de Beauvoir, who – while by no means forgotten – often seems to be almost a bit-player rather than a powerful (and in some ways more consistent) exponent in her own right. There's certainly enough of a temptation here to read her work in its own right.

5/5. Finished 26 December 2016.

(Originally published on Goodreads.)

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