Author(s): Sarah Bakewell
AS READ ON BBC RADIO 4 BOOK OF THE WEEK. Paris, near the turn of 1933. Three young friends meet over apricot cocktails at the Bec-de-Gaz bar on the rue Montparnasse. They are Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir and their friend Raymond Aron, who opens their eyes to a radical new way of thinking. Pointing to his drink, he says, "You can make philosophy out of this cocktail!" From this moment of inspiration, Sartre will create his own extraordinary philosophy of real, experienced life - of love and desire, of freedom and being, of cafes and waiters, of friendships and revolutionary fervour. It is a philosophy that will enthral Paris and sweep through the world, leaving its mark on post-war liberation movements, from the student uprisings of 1968 to civil rights pioneers. At the Existentialist Cafe tells the story of modern existentialism as one of passionate encounters between people, minds and ideas. From the 'king and queen of existentialism' - Sartre and de Beauvoir - to their wider circle of friends and adversaries including Albert Camus, Martin Heidegger, Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Iris Murdoch, this book is an enjoyable and original journey through a captivating intellectual movement. Weaving biography and thought, Sarah Bakewell takes us to the heart of a philosophy about life that also changed lives, and that tackled the biggest questions of all: what we are and how we are to live.
From the bestselling author of HOW TO LIVE, a personal journey through the story of modern existentialism, blending philosophy with biography, and asking what existentialist ideas might have to offer us today.
"It's not often that you miss your bus stop because you're so engrossed in reading a book about existentialism, but I did exactly that while immersed in Sarah Bakewell's At the Existentialist Cafe. The story of Sartre, Beauvoir, Camus, Heidegger et al is strange, fun and compelling reading. If it doesn't win awards, I will eat my proof copy" -- Katy Guest The Independent on Sunday "A riveting narrative." -- Caroline Sanderson The Bookseller "At the Existentialist Cafe takes us back to...when philosophers and philosophy itself were sexy, glamorous, outrageous; when sensuality and erudition were entwined... [Bakewell] shows how fascinating were some of the existentialists' ideas and how fascinating, often frightful, were their lives. Vivid, humorous anecdotes are interwoven with a lucid and unpatronising exposition of their complex philosophy... Tender, incisive and fair." -- Jane O'Grady Daily Telegraph "This lucid study of the existentialists picks out some overlooked figures and exposes the sexual hypocrisies of Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre." -- Jane O'Grady Sunday Telegraph "A book that is a kind of collaboration between [Bakewell's] exhilarated younger self and the more measured, adult writer she has become... A work that is both warm and intellectually rigorous... Bakewell has not written a textbook - but anyone looking for one on phenomenology and existentialism would be advised to read this instead. She has a knack for crystallising key ideas by identifying choice original quotations and combining them with her own words... Her book is a clearing in a dense philosophical thicket few of us have the ability or inclination to navigate alone." -- Julian Baggini The Financial Times
Sarah Bakewell was a teenage existentialist, having been swept off her feet by reading Sartre's Nausea, aged 16. She is the author of three biographies, including the bestselling How to Live: A Life of Montaigne, which won the Duff Cooper Prize for Non-Fiction and the National Books Critics Circle Award for Biography in the US, and was shortlisted for the Costa Biography Award and the Marsh Biography Award.