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Irrational Man

4.08  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,542 Ratings  ·  107 Reviews
Widely recognized as the finest definition of existentialist Philosophy, this book introduced existentialism to America in 1958. Barrett discusses the views of 19th and 20th century existentialists Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Sartre and interprets the impact of their thinking on literature, art, and philosophy.

From the Trade Paperback edition.
ebook, 320 pages
Published January 26th 2011 by Anchor (first published 1958)
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Thomas Yes indeed. It was very important and powerful in my life.
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Glenn Russell
Jul 07, 2014 Glenn Russell rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I first read William Barrett's Irrational Man back in college 45 years ago and was inspired to spend the next several years reading Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Dostoyevsky, Kafka,, Berdyaev and Shestov. Quite a rewarding experience.

Having also participated in the arts and music and the study of aesthetics for many years, I revisited Barrett's book with an eye to what he has to say about existentialism's connection to modern art. Again, a most rewarding experience. So, with this in mind, and also rec
Apr 18, 2012 Szplug rated it it was amazing
Ah, fuck it. I've tried several times now, and I simply do not seem to be (cap)able to put together what I wanted to say about Irrational Man—and nor do I feel right leaving as testament to Professor Barrett a mere one line encomium stating that I'd read him again, dude! Sure would! Hence, I'm reinstating the following unfinished and astray review that was rather sourly wiped-away the week past, with the recognition that I've depleted myself of the will and energy to pen anything further about B ...more
Ian Vinogradus

Woody Allen's "Irrational Man"

I can't wait to see Woody Allen's 2015 film, which could almost be based on a fictitious novelisation of this work.

Joaquin Phoenix plays a philosophy professor called Abe (originally Martin in the novel), who overcomes an existential crisis by having a relationship with his student (Emma Stone)(Hannah in the novel).

I don't know where they get these names! Talk about crazy stupid love!



All That Is, Is One, Here and Now, Retrospectively

Sep 07, 2015 Forrest rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: chained-books
I am not adequate to the task. I look at this . . . monument to Existential philosophy, and I face a void of thought yawning wide in the dark depths beneath my skull. How could I ever capture the thoughts and feelings I experienced while immersed in this sea of emotional and intellectual self-realization? This book is a startling revelation, and I am no prophet. Still, I will try to relate the unrelatable.

Barrett starts with a section entitled "The Present Age," relating the present-history of t
Well I know I read a good part of this book, there's a fair amount of underlining in it. The underlining was done ~45 years ago. And the cover is very cool (Giacometti's Tall Walking Figure).

I've also used the index to help me put books on my "existentialism-wide" shelf.

So it rates four stars on those facts alone I think.

Perhaps someday I'll read it again, I know I'd like to.

And perhaps then I'll write a real review.

Or perhaps I'll write a real review without reading it again.

And thanks to Ian f
M. Sarki
Sep 10, 2014 M. Sarki rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 5-star-wonders
One of the most enjoyable and rewarding books on philosophy I have ever read. Next to Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia a most important book still for our time.
Ken Moten
Though a little intermediately dated this is still a good book to introduce you to Existentialism or at least what it looked like in 1958 when Sartre and Camus...and de Beauvoir were active. This is the book that introduced much of the english-speaking world (not just the academy) to Existentialism in detail.

It is 11 Chapters divided into four parts, one on the present (1958) state of existentialism, the sources of existentialism in the "western tradition", 4 Existentialist that William Barrett
Grant Fairbairn
Apr 03, 2008 Grant Fairbairn rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Grant by: found it in my Dad's rotting book collection
The most understandable and engaging intro to Existential philosophy I've read/attempted to read.

I think that this book is a must for anyone who thinks and has ever found themselves frustrated by the inadequacy of philosophy as it's understood in American academia, i.e. by philosophers firmly seated in the Analytic tradition.

I majored in philosophy in college due in largest part to a desire to better understand the world and my place in it, but oftentimes I just found myself sitting in class try
Erik Graff
Oct 05, 2013 Erik Graff rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: existentialism beginners
Recommended to Erik by: Howard Burkle
Shelves: philosophy
This book was assigned reading for Howard Burkle's Philosophy 215 class, "Existentialism", at Grinnell College. It was also the first class I ever took with him and a reason I switched majors from History to Religious Studies, the new department he chaired.

Although I had read a good deal of Camus, both fiction and non-fiction; of Nietzsche and of Sartre, I really didn't know much about existentialism approached philosophically. Indeed, I had only taken a miserable Introduction to Philosophy and
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Sep 07, 2012 David rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A lively, coherent, and--most importantly--comprehensible overview of Existential philosophy. I've read almost nothing by the four biggies Barrett discusses in detail (Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Sartre) so I can't comment on the accuracy of his assertions: if they're near the mark, I'd raise the rating to five stars. He doesn't just summarize their main points, he also isn't shy about raising issues he thinks each philosopher has missed, or when they seem to have lost the thread entirely ...more
May 19, 2008 Clara rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone who wants to know what "existentialism" means
This book is probably the best introduction to existentialism that I've ever read. Barrett presents the central ideas in a clear manner which are easy to grasp for someone who's relatively new to philosophy and existentialism. The introduction to the four key philosophers is a good point, but as a previous reviewer remarked it's clear that Barrett favours some more than others. At times it gets a little dense and you feel you have to keep a number of abstract ideas in your head to keep up with B ...more
Irrational Man, published in 1958, provides a survey of existential philosophy, its roots, and its place history. As cover proudly claims, it does indeed handle these topics in a "lucid" way. William Barrett comes off as the kind of guy you would like to have as your introductory philosophy professor, able to explain elusive concepts in a clear (yet not condescending) manner, summarizing such massive works of thought as Aquinas's Summa Theologica, Kierkegaard's Either/Or, Heidegger's Being and T ...more
John Doe
Jan 28, 2012 John Doe rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reviewed
What would it mean to exist without context? Meaning would be forever under-determined. Multiple interpretations of the same event would be possible. It would also be so much harder to understand what we see (or read). Barrett argues that modern man lives without context, and he argues that contemporary literature and philosophy prove it.

It was marketed as the finest definition of Existentialism ever written. I don't know about that, but it is the best I have ever read.
Kilburn Adam
Mar 03, 2013 Kilburn Adam rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is good and bad. Good because it explains lots of things. Bad becuase it mentions a ludicrous amount of books, that I want to read. Maybe that's what makes it good. Was going to read Being and Time. But now I will read something completely different.
Thomas Baughman
Old as this book is, it is still one of the best introductions to Existential Philosophy. Barrett knew many of the twetieth century existentialists and understood their philosophy quite clearly.
Mar 15, 2016 Cristhian rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2016-rc-grupo
¿Qué tan difícil es entender que existimos?
Desde tiempos inmemoriables el ser humano se ha cuestionado su existencia (quizá no el hecho de estar presente -es decir, de existir- si no el POR QUÉ de su existencia) siendo que la explicación más simple suele ser la correcta (¡pum! Navaja de Ockham) que en este caso (al menos como lo entiendo) es porque no tenemos la necesidad de buscar una razón. Existimos y ya. No hay una misión especial para la vida de todos, no hay una razón fundamental con meta
Jan 11, 2015 Domhnall rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: philosophy
Published in 1958 this remains an excellent and lively read. In order to make the case for Existentialism, Barrett finds it necessary to establish the limitations and the false leads of alternatives, and he looks both to the rational and the religious for the roots of the problem to which Existentialism is a proposed solution. As a result, his book contributes to many debates that remain topical and significant.

In selecting quotes, however, I have arrived at a position described in a short stor
Arjun Ravichandran
Decent introduction to existential philosophy. The prose is conversational and friendly, without the usual sour academic quality one associates with philosophy books. The first half of the book is a lead-up to the actual discussion of the 4 main existentialist thinkers (Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Sartre), and was illuminating. The author dissects the roots of existential thought in early Christianity, in Eastern religions and systems of thought, and shows how existential pathos/angst ...more
Theresa Leone Davidson
Terrific book detailing the belief systems of philosophers like Sartre and Nietzsche, their writing, and perhaps most importantly, how they have affected writers and thinkers up to the 21st century. Barrett's writing flows. Highly recommend!
Jun 24, 2007 James rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Philosophers or those interested in existentialism
Shelves: recently-read
Irrational Man is an introduction to the basic principles of existentialism by means of examination of some of the subjects it discusses, as well as biographies and commentary on its most prominent philosophers. Specifically discussed are Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Sartre. This book shows its age a bit, and one might get the impression that the author is rather critical of Sartre simply because he is a contemporary.

This is a good, short read that can open one up to the idea that man
Jul 19, 2016 Tom rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
To go beyond rationality... to face the death of God, the dissolution of traditions, and to face the darkest corners of our own soul—to face the Abyss. And to come out of this fragmented modernity with a new sense of being that will not succumb to the products of rationalism, technology and bureaucracy. That is the purpose of existentialism. While it is dangerous territory, the individual who faces their own evil and dishonesty, who indeed faces the evil of the whole Western tradition, might the ...more
Apr 25, 2016 Eric rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Fans of western culture
Recommended to Eric by: Brandon Wolfram
This book is considered a standard text on Existentialism, even though written now almost 60 years ago, and it deserves its status. William Barrett does a good overview of the developments in the West leading up to the Existentialists movement, tracking may of the same cultural phenomena as Francis Schaeffer in The God Who Is There. The main strength of the book was the extended discussion of Soren Kierkegaard and Friedrich Nietzsche. Barrett integrates their various views into mid-Twentieth Cen ...more
Bob Nichols
Mar 31, 2015 Bob Nichols rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Barrett traces existentialism – generally, despair about a meaningless world and existence – back at least in part to Socrates and Plato* and specifically to their celebration of mind, the abstractions of reason and the denigration of the body. That “rational theology” was reinvigorated by Descartes and then expanded upon by renaissance and enlightenment thinkers. Throughout, we have been on a march toward perfection and progress and Barrett says that we, in the West, particularly in Europe, are ...more
John Kaufmann
Dec 22, 2013 John Kaufmann rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The best summary of existentialism I have read. I first read this in college in the 1960s, and have re-read it twice since and still get something out of it. The book explores several (most?) of the existential themes. In addition to providing a good overview of existentialist philosophy, the author actually succeeds in conveying some of the existential "feeling" - which is really what existentialism is about, i.e., concrete experience.
Sep 29, 2010 Bradley rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
His explanation of Nietzsche's Will to Power is worth the price of the book. Definitely a great tool for introducing the main concepts and the major players of existentialist philosophy. Heidegger says, "We cannot hear the cry of Nietzsche unless we start thinking," such a great line! But what's more, the philosophical emphasis on Reason, according to Heidegger, actually serves to the detriment of thinking.
Aug 06, 2015 Thomas rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book was very significant in my life during my college years (1968-1972). I majored in physics but minored in philosophy. It was in my knapsack when I hitchicked through Europe in 1970, and somehow survived dirt-poor in California during the 70s. It's worn, dogeared, and full of annotations, stars, and hand-written exclamations. Nietzsche, Kirkegaard, Heidegger, Sartre. I've moved on (matured) from existentialism. I am more interested in science, epistemology, and art now. But it still sits ...more
Mixed feelings about this. Not sure I feel like finishing it any longer. Too leisurely and too 1940's literary in his prose, which doesn't work (for me) in doing philosophical analysis. Others may find this more to their taste, of course.
Sep 06, 2007 Sarah marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
My friend Johnny, a philosophy major at Brooklyn, highly recommended this book. I find his thoughts on religion, philosophy, and existentialism fascinating, so I am really looking forward to reading this.
Jul 22, 2016 Chad rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Barrett provides a helpful summary of his book's purpose and structure . . . in one of his final chapters. These observations could also be gleaned from studying the table of contents, but it's helpful to read Barrett's summary of his own text:

"This book began with a look at the present situation of man and of philosophy; then outlined the historical background against which this situation must be understood; and moved on to a view of four philosophers who have given explicit formulation to the
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William Christopher Barrett (1913 – 1992) was a professor of philosophy at New York University from 1950 to 1979. Precociously, he began post-secondary studies at the City College of New York when 15 years old. He received his PhD at Columbia University. He was an editor of Partisan Review and later the literary critic of The Atlantic Monthly magazine. He was well-known for writing philosophical w ...more
More about William Barrett...

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“Man's feeling of homelessness, of alienation has been intensified in the midst of a bureaucratized, impersonal mass society. He has come to feel himself an outsider even within his own human society. He is trebly alienated: a stranger to God, to nature, and to the gigantic social apparatus that supplies his material wants.

But the worst and final form of alienation, toward which indeed the others tend, is man's alienation from his own self. In a society that requires of man only that he perform competently his own particular social function, man becomes identified with this function, and the rest of his being is allowed to subsist as best it can - usually to be dropped below the surface of consciousness and forgotten.”
“If a man has learned to think, no matter what he may think about, he is always thinking of his own death. All philosophers were like that. And what truth can there be, if there is death?” 5 likes
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