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Irrational Man

4.08 of 5 stars 4.08  ·  rating details  ·  1,125 ratings  ·  81 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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Szplug
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
Glenn Russell
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
...more
M. Sarki
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.
Grant Fairbairn
Apr 03, 2008 Grant Fairbairn rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  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
...more
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
...more
matt
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Erik Graff
Oct 05, 2013 Erik Graff rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  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
...more
Don Robertson
Barrett's work was highly praised when it came out in 1958. I was eight years old when this book was published.

Barrett's work is well-dated now. Though buried within its pages is a good definition of Existentialism.

Existentialism is a philosophy that does not deal with the problem of how human knowledge is crafted from observations about an infinitely complex reality. Nor is existentialism aware that steeped within this infinite complexity is an infinite variety of possible knowledge studies, an
...more
John Doe
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
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.
David
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
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
Clara
May 19, 2008 Clara rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  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
Tom
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
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!
James
Jun 24, 2007 James rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  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
...more
Bradley
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.
AC
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.
Sarah
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.
Jen Hsieh
The intro book to Existential philosophy. Profoundly influential for me personally, prior to exploring Christianity.
m. soria
i think this is my favorite of all introductions into existential philosophy.
Sarah
Fab, fab, fab. Opened up my disseratation to a whole new level.
Lindsey
soooooooo good. referred from dr. enssle--thank you!
James
One of my favorites from my school days.
Doug
I don't know what Barrett's editor was on when he/she let this book be published as is, but this book was borderline incoherent for me. His style of obscurity is two-part: First, Barrett makes references to several epistemologies, pieces of art, historical authors, cultural beliefs, and pretty much "ideas" in general without so much as a footnote or preface. The plus side of this is that I did not realize how worldly and quick-thinking I've become until I read this book and was able to say, "Oh, ...more
Aaron
I originally read this book in college and was very impressed with it at time. I think I was more impressed with what it promised than what it delivered. I don't know why this is still taught because it's just not very good. It's historical significance is that in the 1950s it was the flagship text that introduced mainstream Americans to the curious European philosophy "Existentialism." This book probably did more to perpetuate "Existentialism's" status as something mysterious, novel and inacces ...more
Barak
At the risk of doing a disservice to a book whose philosophical originality, wealth, and depth are truly aspiring, I shall try nevertheless to briefly summarise the main theme as I see it.

Western man, from the Greeks era and up to at least when the book was written, is consistently undergoing a process by which his existence is being objectified; from Plato, seeing the real in the realm of ideal forms, while reality as a mere imitation of these essences, through Hegel with his "objective idealis
...more
Dana Miranda
as an introduction to existentialism this work tends to allow for Barrett's preferences to take hold of actual facts. not that his notions and opinions are clouded, but simply for an introduction it is opinionated. such as, a clear dislike of sartre is exposed via his adamant dismissal whereas heidegger amounts to a personal loved-one. nevertheless it still holds as a profound and enormous project in pinpointing the meaning of this errant philosophy; Irrational Man holds as worth reading and dec ...more
Kenneth
One of the best introductions to existential thought. Barrett covers the foremost thinkers that fall under the general category. Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Sarte, each contributed major works to the subject.

The first part describes the central themes from alienation, to anxiety, to every significant irrational aspect of mankind beyond the rationalism of modern thought.

The importance of existence over essence is, I suppose, one of the most common axioms. “I exist” is more substantial th
...more
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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.”
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“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?” 1 likes
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