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

Overview - Named one of the Ten Best Books of 2016 by the New York Times , a spirited account of a major intellectual movement of the twentieth century and the revolutionary thinkers who came to shape it, by the best-selling author of How to Live Sarah Bakewell.  Read more...

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More About At the Existentialist Café by Sarah Bakewell
Named one of the Ten Best Books of 2016 by the New York Times, a spirited account of a major intellectual movement of the twentieth century and the revolutionary thinkers who came to shape it, by the best-selling author of How to Live Sarah Bakewell.

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 caf s 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 Caf follows the existentialists' story, from the first rebellious spark through the Second World War, to its role in postwar liberation movements such as anti-colonialism, 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: 9781590518892
  • ISBN-10: 1590518896
  • Publisher: Other Press (NY)
  • Publish Date: August 2017
  • Page Count: 464
  • Dimensions: 8.75 x 5.63 x 1.19 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.26 pounds

Related Categories

Books > Biography & Autobiography > Philosophers
Books > Philosophy > Movements - Existentialism
Books > History > Modern - 20th Century

BookPage Reviews

Book clubs: Philosophy served here

Sarah Bakewell pays tribute to some of the modern era’s greatest thinkers in the intriguing nonfiction book At the Existentialist Café. Focusing on Paris in the 1930s, Bakewell delivers a fascinating account of philosophers Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir and Maurice Merleau-Ponty, whose careers converged in the City of Light, and whose radical new ideas shaped the existentialist movement. Bakewell skillfully lays out a history of the movement, which espoused individual freedom and personal choice. Appearances by literary heavyweights like Iris Murdoch, Albert Camus, James Baldwin and Richard Wright add to the grandeur of her tale. Unsurprisingly, Sartre—who could be tyrannical and cold-natured—looms largest in this masterful group portrait. As Bakewell demonstrates, his ideas informed both the feminist and gay rights movements. Fans of literary history and philosophy will find much to savor in her elegant chronicle of Paris during its intellectual prime.

Set in Asheville, North Carolina, Ron Rash’s The Risen is a suspenseful Southern tale about fractured families and the ways in which the past infiltrates the present. During the summer of 1969, the lives of brothers Bill and Eugene Watney are forever altered when they meet a free-spirited, fun-loving child of the times named Ligeia. Ligeia has come to North Carolina from Florida to stay with her clean-cut relatives. To the Watney boys—especially younger brother Eugene—she’s a seductive, out-of-the-ordinary figure. When she goes missing, the questions surrounding her disappearance cause ripples throughout their small community. The novel is narrated by a middle-aged Eugene, now a struggling writer with a drinking problem. The experiences of that long-ago summer take on fresh meaning for him when the skeleton of a woman is discovered in a creek. The story of what happened to Ligeia makes for a taut page-turner of a novel. Rash’s many gifts as a writer are on full display in this haunting tale.

In her compelling novel Truly Madly Guilty, Liane Moriarty explores the challenges of relationships through her resonant portrayal of three families. Old friends Erika and Clementine are opposites. Clementine, a cellist and mother of two, leads a somewhat topsy-turvy life, while slightly neurotic Erika works as an accountant. When the women and their families are invited to a barbecue at the home of Erika’s affluent neighbors, the alcohol-infused afternoon is interrupted by an upsetting incident that alters the perspectives of everyone present. As the novel progresses, Moriarty skillfully depicts the sense of guilt and regret felt by the partygoers. Exploring the ways in which seemingly insignificant choices can shape a life, she delivers a convincing, compassionate account of tested friendships and frayed marriages. Fans of Moriarty’s previous bestsellers, including Big Little Lies and The Husband’s Secret, won’t be disappointed by this absorbing, sharply executed novel.


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

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