At the Existentialist Cafe

At the Existentialist Cafe

Freedom, Being and Apricot Cocktails

Book - 2016
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Great philosophy meets powerful biography in this entertaining and immensely readable portrait of mid-20th century Paris and the fascinating characters of Sartre, de Beauvoir, Camus, and their circle, who loved and hated, drank and debated with each other--and forever changed the way we think about thinking.

At the Existentialist Caf#65533; is a thrilling look at the famous group of post-war thinkers who became known as the Existentialists: Sartre, de Beauvoir, Camus, Heidegger, and their circle. Starting with Paris after the devastation of the Second World War, Sarah Bakewell (winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for her previous book) takes us inside the passionate debates and equally passionate lives of these brilliant, if flawed, characters. Here is a wonderful, vibrant look at the social, artistic and political currents that shaped the existentialist movement--a mode of thinking and being that, as Bakewell vividly shows, deeply affects us today.
     Never has the story of this influential group, and especially that of the legendary relationship between Sartre and de Beauvoir, been told with such verve and sweep, weaving personal life with social upheaval and the universal quest for understanding.

Publisher: Toronto : Alfred A. Knopf Canada, [2016]
Copyright Date: ©2016
ISBN: 9780345810953
Branch Call Number: 142.78 Bak
Characteristics: 440 pages : illustrations ; 22 cm


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At the Existentialist Cafe

Sarah Bakewell promises freedom, being and apricot cocktails at this here café, but I think what we get is actually - and I kid you not - a love story. Which is not to say that love stories and freedom, being, and apricot cocktails are mutually exclusive – least of all that last one, I’m sure! (more)

From Library Staff

A love story (except not solely, because Bakewell actually does cover existentialism quite well, from pre-existentialism to existentialism to beyond the age of the founders). Whether you think you know what existentialism is or you're interested in finding out, this is a great introduction!

From the critics

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Oct 19, 2020

A great and absorbing intellectual history of the existentialists and fellow travelers. Sartre and de Beauvoir are the stars of the book, but there are incisive, opinionated looks at Camus, Heidegger, whose philosophy is compromised by his association with Nazis, Husserl, Hannah Arendt, Karl Jaspers, and others. What is striking is how many of these philosophers were working in/engaging with the real world, at odds with our usual impressions of great thinkers. Bakewell's book on Montaigne is also very good.

May 01, 2019

I'd give this book 10/5 if I could! It's definitely one of the best books I have ever read. Existentialism isn't a very easy or straightforward philosophy to grasp, and its history is even more complicated. I've tried reading some other books that go into the history of existentialism itself, but they were un-readable!

This book is beautifully written and truly comes from the heart. I was captivated by Sarah Bakewell's passion and desire to make existentialism, and its philosophers, more understandable to the modern age. This is almost like a public service she has provided for today's thinkers to re-discover existentialism.

I borrowed the book from the library but will be buying a copy for myself. This is a book that I plan to re-read several times over. It's also a wonderful resource for discovering some of the lesser-known, but equally important existential thinkers, such as Hannah Arendt, Haval, Merleau-Ponty, and Karl Jaspers just to name a few. I added lots of new books from these philosophers to my list and am excited to delve deeper into the world of existentialism!

Sep 28, 2017

"War broke out on the Korean peninsula, with both China and Russia backing the North." "Brazil was where Austrian writer Stefan Zweig had gone to exile, in World War 2, and then he committed suicide there." Sartre disagreed: if war is imminent, how can you keep silent? Merleau-Ponty differed: 'because brute force will decide the outcome. who speaks to what has no ears?'" "on 29 August 1949, after years of espionage and development, Russia explodes an atom bomb." "deBeauvoir and Sartre went to Scandinavia and saw beautiful things there: 'dwarf forests, earth the color of amethysts planted with tiny trees red as coral and yellow as gold.'" "French communists disapproved of Existentialism because of its insistence on personal freedom." "For Camus, the immediate lesson after Hiroshima was that humanity 'must develop a true international society, one in which the great countries will not have superior rights over small and middle-sized nations, where such ultimate weapons will be controlled by human intelligence rather than by the appetites and doctrines of various states.'" this sounds much like JFK was to sound, before he was assassinated.

Feb 16, 2017

Highly readable bios of intellectuals we've all heard of and read some of. Bakewell puts one
right at the "cafe" in the 40s and 50s.

Oct 27, 2016

This is the second book I have read by Bakewell and I continue to be pleased with her writing and subject matter: Philosophy. Her book about Montaigne, “How to Live” was a pleasure, full of information about the history of France, Montaigne’s life, and how his Philosophy was unique and timeless. The “Café” is much the same but hundreds of year later, though the times are not any brighter, and the Philosophers’ continue to examine their world, make moral choices, and be reviled or celebrated by those choices. Not a primer like “Sophie’s World” by Gaarder; much more complex and interesting, full of memorable characters and excellent insights.

Sep 20, 2016

For me "At the Existentialist Café" was a provocation and a refresher for years-ago reading and study in existentialist philosophy and phenomenology. At that time I really did not pull together the connections between them and the German intellectual giants (Husserl , Heidegger & later) to (Gasp!) Norman Mailer. The reading here is a wonderful narrative centered on the Paris café group entered around Sartre and de Beauvoir and extended to the routes of their worldview and lives. Don't be afraid of philosophy here (although I can't extend the same review to many other philosophy tomes)!

Manateestarz Jun 23, 2016

I actually finished this book. I highly recommend this as an introduction to one of the most important movements of the 20th century. Bakewell's writing style is passionate, engaging and clear. She gives the reader a survey of Existentialism and its roots in phenomenology. Her approach shows how the existentialists and proto existentialists examined the big problems of life. "What is meaning?" "Why am I here." "What does it mean to be ?" "What is existence" A really compelling and lively book. Very accessible.

May 14, 2016

This is an excellent survey of phenomenology and existentialism and the major thinkers in these fields. Bakewell makes the case for the relevance of existentialism in to-day's world.

Mar 24, 2016

Fun read even if you don't have a background in philosophy.

Mark_Daly Mar 11, 2016

As its title implies, reading this book is like sitting in a Left Bank café and eavesdropping on a lively group of philosophers as they debate, quarrel and fall in and out of love. Satisfying on its own, but also handy as a starting point for further reading.

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Apr 12, 2017

PoeticallyA thinks this title is suitable for All Ages


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