At the Existentialist Cafe : Freedom, Being, and Apricot Cocktails with Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Albert Camus, Martin Heidegger, Mauri
by Sarah Bakewell

Overview - A New York Times "Ten Best Books of 2016"

From the best-selling author of How to Live , a spirited account of one of the twentieth century's major intellectual movements and the revolutionary thinkers who came to shape it

Paris, 1933: three contemporaries meet over apricot cocktails at the Bec-de-Gaz bar on the rue Montparnasse.  Read more...

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More About At the Existentialist Cafe by Sarah Bakewell
A New York Times "Ten Best Books of 2016"

From the best-selling author of How to Live, a spirited account of one of the twentieth century's major intellectual movements and the revolutionary thinkers who came to shape it

Paris, 1933: three contemporaries meet over apricot cocktails at the Bec-de-Gaz bar on the rue Montparnasse. They are the young Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, and longtime friend Raymond Aron, a fellow philosopher who raves to them about a new conceptual framework from Berlin called Phenomenology. "You see," he says, "if you are a phenomenologist you can talk about this cocktail and make philosophy out of it "

It was this simple phrase that would ignite a movement, inspiring Sartre to integrate Phenomenology into his own French, humanistic sensibility, thereby creating an entirely new philosophical approach inspired by themes of radical freedom, authentic being, and political activism. This movement would sweep through the jazz clubs and cafes of the Left Bank before making its way across the world as Existentialism.

Featuring not only philosophers, but also playwrights, anthropologists, convicts, and revolutionaries, At the Existentialist Cafe follows the existentialists' story, from the first rebellious spark through the Second World War, to its role in postwar liberation movements such as anticolonialism, feminism, and gay rights. Interweaving biography and philosophy, it is the epic account of passionate encounters--fights, love affairs, mentorships, rebellions, and long partnerships--and a vital investigation into what the existentialists have to offer us today, at a moment when we are once again confronting the major questions of freedom, global responsibility, and human authenticity in a fractious and technology-driven world.

  • ISBN-13: 9781590514887
  • ISBN-10: 1590514882
  • Publisher: Other Press (NY)
  • Publish Date: March 2016
  • Page Count: 448
  • Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.2 x 1.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.65 pounds

Related Categories

Books > Biography & Autobiography > Philosophers
Books > Philosophy > Movements - Existentialism
Books > Biography & Autobiography > Literary

Publishers Weekly Reviews

Publishers Weekly® Reviews

  • Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
  • Review Date: 2016-01-04
  • Reviewer: Staff

Bakewell (How to Live) brilliantly explains 20th-century existentialism through the extraordinary careers of the philosophers who devoted their lives and work to “the task of responsible alertness” and “questions of human identity, purpose, and freedom.” Through vivid characterizations and a clear distillation of dense philosophical concepts, Bakewell embeds the story of existentialism in the “story of a whole European century,” dramatizing its central debates of authenticity, rebellion, freedom, and responsibility. Albert Camus, Martin Heidegger, Edmund Husserl, and Maurice Merleau-Ponty all strut and fret across the stage, with cameos from Richard Wright, James Baldwin, and Iris Murdoch, among others. Casting his shadow over all is Jean-Paul Sartre, perhaps existentialism’s most famous face, and beside him Simone de Beauvoir, whose feminist masterpiece The Second Sex, was as “revolutionary in every sense” as Sartre’s Being and Nothingness and Heidegger’s Being and Time. Bakewell illustrates how existentialism contributed to “almost all the great liberation movements” of the 1950s and ’60s, arguing persuasively for its continued relevance. This ambitious book bears out Bakewell’s declaration that “thinking should be generous and have a good appetite,” and that for philosophers and the general reader alike, “ideas are interesting, but people are vastly more so.” Photos. (Mar.)

BookPage Reviews

Audio: Scorched earth

“You lied. Luke lied. Be at the funeral.” That brief note from Luke’s father brings Aaron Falk, now a federal agent in Melbourne, back to the small Australian farming town of Kiewarra, where it hasn’t rained for two years. Tempers have become as combustible as the brittle leaves crackling under the cruel sun that glowers over Jane Harper’s debut thriller, The Dry, narrated by Stephen Shanahan in a strong, evocative Aussie accent. The funeral is for Luke Hadler, Aaron’s boyhood best friend, who murdered his wife and young son before taking his own life. Or so it seems. And where does the “lie” fit in? Harper deftly weaves two strands of revelations together, moving the plot seamlessly from now to then and back, from the time when Aaron was accused of murdering a teenage girl, to the growing possibility that Luke and his family were massacred by someone else. Film rights to this chilling tale have been optioned by Reese Witherspoon.

Sarah Pinborough’s Behind Her Eyes, read by a foursome of excellent performers, is this season’s hottest domestic thriller. It’s told in the voices of two women: Louise, an attractive, blond 30-something divorced mother, and Adele, the gorgeous, charming, wealthy, obsessive (to put it mildly) wife of David, a brilliant psychiatrist. Louise seems to be a reliable narrator, while Adele fills the requisite bill of the unreliable one. Louise and David meet accidentally in a bar, and have some drinks and a snog before she realizes that he’s her new boss at a psychiatric clinic. Adele, who somehow knows everything her adored husband does, arranges to bump into Louise and establish a clandestine friendship. So begins a skillfully choreographed pas de trois that ends with a wow of a double-twisted finale. Inklings of impending doom are cleverly woven in, as is Adele and David’s backstory. I have to add a non-spoiler warning: A tad, or more, of suspension of disbelief is necessary to savor this story. But by the time you reach that point in the tale, you’ll be so involved you may not even be aware that you need it.

Most of us brushed up against existentialism in college or a bit before, and we certainly know the names Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, though their lengthy oeuvres might not be at our fingertips. Do they still matter? Sarah Bakewell’s answer is a resounding yes. And her lucid, brilliant evocation of how they and their group lived and loved and laughed and argued, At the Existentialist Café, narrated by Antonia Beamish, is fascinating and intensely relevant. Bakewell explores existentialist ideas, as well as those of Edmund Husserl, Martin Heidegger and Karl Jaspers (major 20th-century philosophers whose works were integral to existentialist thinking), and places the rise of this intellectual movement in the brutal context of Europe in the 1930s and ’40s. The basic questions of how to live, how to be free and how to engage with political reality—questions the Paris café-dwelling existentialists wrestled with—hover over our daily lives again. Listen, be entertained and look at our world with freshly curious eyes.

This article was originally published in the March 2017 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

BAM Customer Reviews