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At the Existentialist Café: Freedom, Being, and Apricot Cocktails

4.24  ·  Rating details ·  11,294 ratings  ·  1,537 reviews
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
Hardcover, 440 pages
Published March 3rd 2016 by Chatto & Windus
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Katherine Ramsland I used to teach Existentialism at Rutgers, so I have enjoyed this blending of personalities. It is not heavy philosophy, but it does show how the play…moreI used to teach Existentialism at Rutgers, so I have enjoyed this blending of personalities. It is not heavy philosophy, but it does show how the players influenced one another. Very well done. (less)

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Very readable! Author Bakewell brings all the pieces of the existentialist puzzle together here. This is more of what she did so well for Montaigne in How to Live: A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer, which I admired. Bakewell's deft touch makes the turgidities of philosophy dissipate like so much fog over oncoming terrain. The book is so tremendously rich, so filled with great stuff that one wants to memorize it, so just a few highlights here.

1. We're introduced
Always Pouting
Jun 10, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
I don't know that I can really summarize this book and what it's about because I think the title is pretty self explanatory. It follows the existentialist movement and focuses a lot on Sartre and Beauvoir but also spends a significant amount of time on other major thinkers. I personally hate reading influential works because I don't have the patience. I really applaud anyone who can sit and digest and interpret things like that but I'm not really cultured or smart enough to do it. So this book i ...more
Ahmad Sharabiani
At the Existentialist Café: Freedom, Being, and Apricot Cocktails with Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Albert Camus, Martin Heidegger, Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Others, Sarah Bakewell

At the Existentialist Cafe: Freedom, Being, and Apricot Cocktails is a 2016 book written by Sarah Bakewell that covers the philosophy and history of the 20th century movement existentialism.

The book provides a very accurate account of the modern day existentialists who came into their own before and during th
There are times in every person’s life when one desires to know the essence of things. It often happens when we are young, and if it does, it may hang around in the back of our minds all our lives, breaking through into real questioning and investigation at different stages, when we need to know how to understand events, either personal or public. Sarah Bakewell makes the argument that the ideas of the European phenomenologist and existentialist philosophers of the twentieth century have so perv ...more
Paul Bryant
Mar 07, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography
Sarah Bakewell was and pretty much still is besotted with philosophy, she loves the stuff, if it was up to her it would be added to the water supply like fluoride so that all may benefit, even itty bitty babies. Her particular enthusiasms are for phenomenology and existentialism. Yeah, jawbreakers. Even so, I bet she has lots of friends, because she is very good company. She bowls this story of 20th century intellectuals along at a fast clip and there’s no time to dawdle or get fed up of Husserl ...more
For me this book was one great, sunny, smile.

And I say that as somebody who had no prior interest in the Existentialists or mid twentieth century philosophy. I was drawn to this book purely because I had thoroughly enjoyed Sarah Bakewell’s book about Montaigne How to Live: A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at An Answer.

I feel that the joy of the book came from the fact that Bakewell makes a joyful return to a subject that she loved and which excited her as a youth and the r
Does existentialism confuse you? It did me. Every time it was used a different idea was expressed. This is because the "existentialist philosophers" had divergent views and because their respective views changed with time. To be clear, when one speaks of existentialism one should state according to whom and when! The term itself began to be used in the 1940s. The existentialist thinkers date from the 19th and 20th centuries. Most were European. Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Søren Kierkegaard and Friedrich ...more
Dec 06, 2016 rated it it was amazing
"The Solidarity of the Shaken"

I read this last summer and I think Jaspers was the only philosopher I'd not read anything in the original beforehand. All existentialists and phenomenologists, with the rich addition of de Beauvoir's feminism, and most all influential across the humanities and the social theory side of the social sciences. Husserl, in particular, was vogue in sociology and influenced both theory and research method. Such great gossip with the heady conversations, too! Reflecting on
Roy Lotz
Ideas are interesting, but people are vastly more so.

Sarah Bakewell has followed her lovely book about Montaigne with an equally lovely book about the existentialist movement. Comparing the books, one can see an obvious theme emerge in Bakewell’s writing: the interest in practical philosophy. Montaigne and the existentialists share the tendency to write about their own lives and, in various ways, to attempt to live out the tenets of their philosophies. This makes Bakewell’s biographical meth
Britta Böhler
Nov 06, 2016 rated it really liked it
A really great introduction itno the philosophy (and the philosophers) of the early 20th century. Highly recommended!
They were only human, after all…
The positive reviews for this book are right: Sarah Bakewell indeed succeeds in giving a face to the hybrid group of existentialists, making their philosophies comprehensible and valuing them from her personal point of view. Luckily she already has quite some life experience, and that makes her judgment very nuanced and therefore often surprising. For example: before I read this book Sartre to me seemed but a wind-cock spinning around with whatever revolutionary w
Jacob Overmark
Aug 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
The ultimate freedom of mind that comes with responsibilities
How should we define a philosopher?

As of old age, it was someone who asked the clever questions, then took the questions apart, shook the pile of new questions up and defined answers to each one.
The principle of thesis, antithesis, synthesis is not that easy to fathom in the first place, but in the hands of the Existentialists it gets even harder.

Sarah Bakewell takes the reader gently by the hand and walks him/her through the basics
David Katzman
May 18, 2021 rated it really liked it
Phenomenology is stupid. There, I said it.

Existentialism was unique but an outgrowth of Husserl's and Heidigger’s Phenomenology. (Ps. Heidigger was a Nazi.) When I read about Phenomenology, I immediately thought, Wittgenstein was so right. All philosophy is little more than a linguistic debate. An argument about what words mean. And a battle between worldviews. Both Existentialism and Phenomenology struck me as "not philosophy." Rather more like some mash-up of psychology, cultural criticism and
I’ve come away with only a nebulous sense of what existentialism actually means (though Bakewell’s bullet-pointed list of points towards a definition on page 34 is helpful), but certainly with more knowledge about and appreciation for Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, two of her main subjects. This is appropriate given the shift in Bakewell’s thinking: “When I first read Sartre and Heidegger, I didn’t think the details of a philosopher’s personality or biography were important. … Thirty y ...more
Mar 18, 2016 rated it it was amazing
At The Existentialist Café: Freedom, Being, and apricot cocktails with: Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Albert Camus, Martin Heidegger, Edmund Husserl, Karl Jaspers, Maurice Merleau-Ponty and others by Sarah Bakewell is an absolutely delightful examination of existentialism and the people who created it and lived it. It is a wonderful introduction for a lay reader, such as myself. As in her other work, How to Live: A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at An Answer, the b ...more
Khashayar Mohammadi
Nov 25, 2017 rated it really liked it
Hmm... Tough book to review. I enjoyed reading it quite a lot, but it can be best described as "Sophie's World: the Existential years"

I feel it can act as a great introduction to Sartre, Beauvoir and Heidegger; not so much the others whose ideologies breeze by in single paragraphs that one might easily miss. It's a basic introduction to Existentialism and does not claim to be anything more, but it also holds various insightful speculations as a challenge to its readers, while presenting enough g
Z. F.
A couple years ago I plowed through Walter Kaufmann's Existentialism from Dostoevsky to Sartre by sheer force of will. It was very informative and I don't regret it, but it was also 400 small-print pages of decontextualized philosophical excerpts, some of them almost unfollowable for a layman (i.e. me), with one hasty introductory essay by the editor to frame everything. At the time I was already aware of Sarah Bakewell's At the Existentialist Café, but I'd dismissed it as a pop philosophy o ...more
Dec 14, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Philosophy. For some reason that word and subject makes me shudder. Okay, it's not "some reason." It's the fact that I have a stereotype in my mind of those who practice philosophy often times seem to delight in not practicing philosophy but actually practice some dark art of obfuscation and intellectual one-upsmanship that adds absolutely nothing to the conversation or subject. I'm being kind of mean but that's how I feel sometimes, much of it could be chalked up to my own ignorance. It can be ...more
Lyn Elliott
Feb 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
‘Sparkling, tinkling, bustling and quarrelsome’ is the imaginary café that Sarah Bakewell has brought to life in this wonderful book. And her book sparkles with life and wit too – who would have thought that a book on the thought and lives of these existentialist philosophers would make compelling reading? But it does.

It will be one of my standout books for the decade, I think.

Near the end of the book, Bakewell points out why these ‘fundamentally flawed’ writers should be re-read. ‘They remind u
Bill Kupersmith
At the Existentialist Cafe was an almost ideal nonfiction travel audio book, a marvellous example of what the French call haute vulgarisation, which means not upper-class swearing, but writing about complicated technical subjects in a style that even someone as thick as myself can follow. This book is a great introduction to the thought of Martin Heidegger, @ least for me, whose previous knowledge of Heidegger was a picture of an old fellow in funny clothes sitting on a bench in a forest. Final ...more
4.75 Stars — Existentialist the noun is defined ‘as a person whom advocates existentialism - Existentialism is essentially ‘the theory of ones self or the individual having free will’ — A book about this may not sound too inviting at all to many, at first glance.

This however is a grave & truly folly-misnomer, for this cafe is more than just puffed-up-academics sitting around pontificating and cogitating over the ideal garnish for an Apricot cocktail... This is a novel that in a sense, thumbs it
Dec 17, 2016 rated it it was amazing
An immensely enjoyable read, one of those books that can be judged by its ability to pique your interest in other books. Halfway through At the Existentialist Café, and I was itching to read Heidegger's Being and Time, Sartre's Being and Nothingness, and de Beauvoir's The Second Sex. Although I doubt I'll ever get to Heidegger; I mean, come on. ...more
Jay Green
Feb 10, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It would appear that Sarah Bakewell and I discovered the existentialists at the same age (16-17) and in the same year (78-79), responding to them almost identically too: amazement, awe, and wonder that someone could encapsulate so well an experience we had yet to put a name to ourselves. It may therefore come as no surprise that I love this book, which does a great job of recapturing that experience and explaining why it is that the existentialists continue to have such an influence over our con ...more
I was attracted to this book for two reasons. I have always admired existentialism and some of the literary works of Sartre (chiefly his short story, "The Wall") and Camus (chiefly his novel, The Stranger). And Sarah Bakewell's last book, How to Live: Or a Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer, was one of my dark-horse favorite reads of recent years.

This one does not live up to the Montaigne book, alas, but it was passably diverting. You'll learn more than you might
Sep 14, 2016 rated it really liked it
I loved this book, but mostly because I love the subject, existentialism has always been a philosophy that I been drawn to, ever since I was a kid and had ideas that I thought didn't make wasn't until I found the writings of Camus, Sartre and the definition of existentialism in my early teens that I realized that I wasn't alone in the way I thought . This book analyses the movement, its main players (Sartre, Camus, Simone de Beauvoir and Heidegger), It goes on to analyze some of the p ...more
Hanieh Habibi
Apr 25, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book maps the existentialist philosophers and the time periods for me. Before reading it, I knew most of them separately. But now, thanks to Sarah Bakewell, there is a network of them in my mind.
Although it's just an introduction to Existentialism, it gives you more detailed information about the personality of the key characters of Existentialism and as a result, a more clear view of that time.

I enjoyed reading it, and it tells me what to read next: The Second Sex :)
Angie Boyter
In the opening scene of At the Existentialist Café, philosopher Raymond Aron says to his friend Jean-Paul Sartre, “If you are a phenomenologist you can talk about this cocktail and make philosophy out of it”. After reading this book, I say, “If you are Sarah Bakewell, you can take existentialism and make sense out of it.”
The existentialist themes of freedom, political activism, and “authentic being” became watchwords of the middle and late 20th century. When I first encountered existentialist wr
Feb 16, 2017 rated it really liked it
I’ve never been big on reading philosophy. I’ve not read any Camus or Satre and only know the handful of Neitzche quotes every emo teenager learns. As far as I know, existentialists wear all black with a penchant for turtleneck and smoking Gauloises.

Despite that I found the book incredibly interesting. When the current philosophical craze tends to Hyyge or the teachings of Marie Kondo, the idea of Sartre and de Beauvoir sitting in Paris cafes “loudly slaughtering the sacred cows of philosophy,
Jim Coughenour
At the risk of being cruel, this is book you can judge by its cover. It's as intelligently entertaining as Bakewell's book on Montaigne, and fills in some background on lesser known characters in the Existentialist movement like Husserl, Heidegger (who becomes more sinister and less credible with every revelation) and Merleau-Ponty. But the stars of the café are Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir – and by the end of Bakewell's story it's clear she appreciates them as much for their foibles ...more
Dec 24, 2016 rated it really liked it
Fantastic introduction to the existentialist philosophy. Very accessible, as Sarah Bakewell written this book for a beginner, interested in the subject.
The book with a great clarity explains the most important concepts and to make it more "marketable" (I say that as a compliment this time;), those are accompanied with gossips, anecdotes and brilliant presentation of XX century history and its impact on philosophy itself.

Highly recommended. 4.5.
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Sarah Bakewell was a bookseller and a curator of early printed books at the Wellcome Library before publishing her highly acclaimed biographies The Smart, The English Dane, and the best-selling How to Live: A Life of Montaigne, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Biography. In addition to writing, she now teaches in the Masters of Studies in Creative Writing at Kellogg College, Un ...more

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