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

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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 will create his own extraordinary philosophy of real, experienced life–of love and desire, of freedom and being, of cafés and waiters, of friendships and revolutionary fervour. It is a philosophy that will enthral Paris and sweep through the world, leaving its mark on post-war liberation movements, from the student uprisings of 1968 to civil rights pioneers.

At the Existentialist Café tells the story of modern existentialism as one of passionate encounters between people, minds and ideas. From the ‘king and queen of existentialism'–Sartre and de Beauvoir–to their wider circle of friends and adversaries including Albert Camus, Martin Heidegger, Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Iris Murdoch, this book is an enjoyable and original journey through a captivating intellectual movement. Weaving biography and thought, Sarah Bakewell takes us to the heart of a philosophy about life that also changed lives, and that tackled the biggest questions of all: what we are and how we are to live.

440 pages, Hardcover

First published March 3, 2016

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About the author

Sarah Bakewell

21 books722 followers
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, University of Oxford. She lives in London.

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Profile Image for William2.
745 reviews2,960 followers
April 27, 2019
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 to Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir and their crowning achievements at the start in writing that is engaging and at times amusing. Then we learn of the others who contributed to the development of phenomenology and its offspring, existentialism, in ways large and small. These include Søren Kierkegaard, Friedrich Nietzsche, Franz Clemens Brentano, Edmund Husserl, Martin Heidegger, Karl Jaspers, Emmanuel Levinas, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Simone Weil and Jan Patočka.

2. It was Husserl's conception of phenomenology that first excited Sartre. "The word phenomenon has a special meaning to phenomenologists: it denotes any ordinary thing or object as it presents itself to my experience, rather than as it may or may not be in reality." (p. 40)

3. The section detailing the removal of the Husserl's unpublished manuscripts from a Germany on the precipice of war is pure cloak and dagger. The papers were kept in a big house by Husserl's widow, "officially classed as Jewish despite her Protestant faith," whose civil rights were by this time almost nonexistent. Adding to the urgency was the fact that the papers (40,000+ pages!) were written in an minuscule shorthand that to the untrained eye would probably look like secret code. Fortunately, a small coterie comprised of clergy, Husserl's colleagues and protégées and several nuns eventually got the papers to Louvain, Belgium—by way of Berlin!—where they remain today.

4. When Albert Camus arrives upon the scene in 1942, we learn of the "important philosophical differences" that divide his work from Sartre's.
As Sartre argued in his 1943 review of The Stranger, basic phenomenological principles show that experience comes to us already charged with significance. A piano sonata is a melancholy evocation of longing. If I watch a soccer match, I see it as a soccer match, not as a meaningless scene in which a number of people run around taking turns applying their lower limbs to a spherical object. If the latter is what I'm seeing, then I'm not watching some more essential, truer version of soccer; I am failing to watch it properly as soccer at all.

Sartre knew very well that we can lose sight of the sense of things. If I am sufficiently upset at how my team is doing, or undergoing a crisis in my grasp of the world in general, I might stare hopelessly at the players as though they were indeed a group of random people running around. Many such moments occur in Nausea, when Roquentin finds himself flummoxed by a door knob or a beer glass. But for Sartre, unlike for Camus, such collapses reveal a pathological state: they are failures of intentionality, not glimpses into a greater truth. (p. 151)

5. The philosophy of Heidegger, one of Husserl's protégés, is compared and contrasted with actions in his life, like joining the Nazi party. This is Bakewell's method with all her philosophers, but with Heidegger the approach is especially gripping. Did any of Bakewell's subjects' words diverge more from their actions than Heidegger's? Jaspers spent the immediate postwar years writing The Question of German Guilt. In it:

Jaspers inner voice calls to mind Heidegger's [early] authentic voice of Dasein, [which] calls from within and demands answerability. But Heidegger was now refusing answerability and keeping his own voice to himself. He had told Marcuse he did not want to be one of those who jabber out excuses, while carrying on as though nothing had changed. Jasper similarly felt that facile or hypocritical excuses were no good. But he would not accept Heidegger silence either. (p. 192)

6. Postwar France was an uneasy place. Much of it centered around personal allegiance to the Soviet Union, while the Gaullist's party, Sartre felt, "had become almost fascist in style." The justification for the USSR in those days was that, yes, while Stalin may appear to be running a police state—complete with show trials; prison camps; no human, much less civil rights; state-sanctioned terror, etc. (See Robert Conquest's The Great Terror)—these methods were mere bagatelles, crude, temporary stop gaps in support of the coming socialist paradise. It was a means-justifies-the-ends argument. One might ask how the Existentialists, for whom freedom was a key philosophical pillar, reconciled matters. It's a very good question.

When the Korean war broke out our philosophers and many of their countrymen expected Russia to occupy Paris, much as Germany had done, all as a prelude to the global holocaust of World War III. North Korea's invasion of the South so shocked Merleau-Ponty that he "...thought it showed the Communist world to be just as greedy as the capitalist world and just as inclined to use ideology as a veil." He ultimately turned away from Communism. Never one for the Soviet Union's roughshod methods of expediency, especially if they cost lives, Albert Camus published The Rebel, a theory of political activism that was very different from the Communist-approved one. The book appeared at a time when Sartre was turning more resolutely toward Communism. It proved the end of their already strained friendship.


This is just the sort of writing that I prize. Bakewell has been aware of existentialism ever since picking up Sartre's Nausea at age sixteen. One feels she's lived the material here. At The Existentialist Café is foremost a tracing out of existentialism's lineage in a biographical format, but it is also a valuable grounding in its literature. The span of human lives—the philosophers' lives—is the armature on which the principles of phenomenology and existentialism are arrayed and thus given meaning. In that structural sense the book reminds me of Walter Kaufmann's fine Nietzsche: Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist, though Café is the better written book. Highly recommended.

PS: This was a surprise to me, though perhaps it shouldn't have been, Jean-Paul Sartre apparently loathed the novels of Marcel Proust. No doubt the latter's tales of fin de siècle society cut too close to the bone for someone who'd grown up bourgeois and was now dedicating his life to helping the workers of the world unite.
Profile Image for Always Pouting.
568 reviews715 followers
February 28, 2020
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 is perfect for me and I loved it. I really love Simone de Beauvoir and I might actually try to sit and read The Second Sex because it sounds excellent. I also thought that a lot of Camus' novels sounded really interesting. However Sartre seems like he'd be harder to read especially his later works when he stopped editing. I honestly did think that the existentialists were just emotional cry babies in black turtle necks but now I have a much more nuanced understanding of the philosophy of existentialism and I really am glad. I think the idea of one having to take responsibility for their own life is really powerful and one that really resonates with me. I dont really agree with any of Martin Heidegger, and he seems like a massive dick. Despite all that I ddid learn I however hope I can personally retain the right to be an emotional cry baby in a black turtle neck regardless of whether the existentialists are.
Profile Image for Ahmad Sharabiani.
9,566 reviews56.6k followers
October 25, 2021
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 the second world war.

The book discusses the ideas of the phenomenologist Edmund Husserl, and how his teaching influenced the rise of existentialism through the likes of Martin Heidegger, Jean Paul Sartre, Simone De Beauvoir, who are the main protagonists of the book.

In fact, the beginning itself piques the interest of the reader in a unique manner, whereby Sartre's close friend and fellow philosopher Raymond Aron startles him when they are sitting in a cafe, by pointing to the glass in front of him and stating, "You can make a philosophy out of this cocktail."

تاریخ نخستین خوانش: روز هفتم ماه نوامبر سال 2016میلادی

عنوان: در کافه اگزیستانسیالیستی: آزادی، وجود و نوشیدنیهای زردآلو با حضور: ژال پل سارتر، سیمون دوبوار، آلبر کامو، مارتین هایدگر، کارل یاسپرس، ادموند هوسرل، موریس مرلوپونتی و بقیه؛ نویسنده: سارا بیکول؛ مترجم: هوشمند دهقان؛ تهران، پیام امروز، سال1395؛ در560ص، مصور، شابک9789645706928؛ موضوع: فلسفه، اگزیستانسیالیسم - فرانسه - از نویسندگان بریتانیا - سده 21م

کتاب در چهارده فصل است: «اگزیستانسیالیسم چه وحشتناکه آقا!»؛ «به سوی خود چیزها»؛ «ساحری از مسکیرش»؛ «داس مان»، «صلا»؛ «قرچ قروچ خوردن درختان شکوفه زده بادام»؛ «دلم نمی‌خواهد که دست‌ نوشته‌ هایم را بخورم»؛ «اشغال، آزادسازی؛ تخریب»؛ «مطالعات زندگی»؛ «فیلسوف رقّاص»؛ «اینجوری صلیبی»؛ «نظر کسانی که کمتر مورد حمایت قرار گرفته‌ اند»؛ «روزگاری طعم پدیدارشناسی را چشیده‌ ایم»؛ «شکفتن محاسبه نشدنی»؛

کتاب در کافه «بک-دو-گاز پاریس»، با زایش فلسفه‌ ای نوین آغاز می‌شود؛ جاییکه «ژان پل سارتر» و «سیمون دوبوار»، به همراه «رمون آرون»، گرد میزی بنشسته‌ اند، و کوکتل زردآلو می‌نوشند؛ در این بین «آرون» به آن دو خبر می‌دهد، که در «آلمان» فیلسوفی با نام «ادموند هوسرل»، فلسفه‌ ای آورده، که پدیدار شناسی نام دارد، و می‌تواند از همین لیوان‌های کوکتل، برای شما ��لسفه‌ ای را بیرون بکشد؛

این گفتگو انگیزه می‌شود، تا «سارتر» به شوق تحصیل پدیدار شناسی، راهی «آلمان» شوند؛ اینک «آلمان» آخرین ماه‌های پیش از آغاز جنگ جهانی دوم را، سپری می‌کند؛ در گوشه‌ ای از جنوب «آلمان»، در «فرایبورگ»، «مارتین هایدگر» جوان، به تازگی به «هوسرل» پیوسته، و مشغول پی‌ریزی فلسفه ی خویش است؛ «سارتر» پیش از آنکه، نخستین شعله‌ های جنگ، «آلمان» را، به سرنوشتی شوم فراخواند، آنجا را ترک گفته، و به «فرانسه» باز می‌گردد، تا براساس آنچه، از پدیدارشناسی آموخته، و با پیشینه‌ ای از فلسفه ی «کیرکگور»، و چاشنی ادبی ویژه ی خودش، فلسفه‌ ای نو را بیافریند، که اینک با عنوان: «اگزیستانسیالیسم مدرن»، می‌توان از آن یاد نمود؛ «سیمون دوبوار»، همدم همیشگی «سارتر»، و «مرلوپونتی» نیز از رفقای قدیمی اش به او می‌پیوندند؛

در آنسو، در پایتخت پدیدارشناسی، یعنی در «فرایبورگ»، میانه ی استاد و شاگرد، «هوسرل»، و «هایدگر»، شکراب می‌شود؛ «هایدگر»، که قرار بود نقش فرزند خوانده ی پدیدارشناسی را، ایفا کند، با نگارش «هستی و زمان»، راه خود را از پدیدار، به سوی «دازاین (واژه ای آلمانی به معنی: آنجا بودن، آنجا هستی)» کج می‌کند؛ در این میانه، جنگ درمی‌گیرد، و «آلمان» و بخش‌های وسیعی از «اروپا» را ویران، و نظام و ایدئولوژی‌های حاکم را در هم می‌ریزد؛ «هایدگر» نیز، که به «نازی‌»ها پیوسته، و بدنام شده، و کم‌ کم رفقای خود، نظیر «کارل یاسپرس» نیمه یهودی (گرترود همسرش یهودی بود) و «هانا آرنت» یهودی را، از دست می‌دهد؛ «آرنت» می‌گوید: مسئله این نیست که «هایدگر» شخصیت بدی دارد، مشکل آن است که «هایدگر» اصلاً شخصیت ندارد؛

خانم «بیکول» ضمن تأیید این قضیه، می‌نویسند: برای همین است که از میان کسانیکه در این کتاب معرفی شده‌ اند، تنها «هایدگر» است، که برای شرح‌ حال نویسی، بهایی، قائل نبود؛ بهر تقدیر، در روزهای پس از جنگ جهانی، پدیدارشناسی تضعیف شده، و فلسفه ی «هایدگر»، بدنام گشته، و حالا همه چیز آماده بود، برای فلسفه‌ ای تازه، و اندیشه‌ ای نوین، که به انسان‌ها امید دوباره، و نوید سازندگی را بدهد؛ لذا از خاکستر جنگ، «اگزیستانسیالیسم سارتر»، با نوید به آزادی برمی‌خیزد، و جوانان گمگشته، و آزادی‌ طلب اروپا، از فلسفه ی او، پیشوازیی گسترده می‌کنند…؛

کتاب «در کافه اگزیستانسیالیستی» را می‌توان آمیزه‌ ای از سرگذشت‌نامه، و فلسفه دانست، که نگارنده زبردست آن «سارا بیکول»، به خوبی و مهارت، این دو مقوله را در هم می‌آمیزند، و مطالب و مضامین دشوار فلسفی را، از میان رخدادهای تلخ و شیرین تاریخی، عبور داده، و برای خوانشگر قابل فهم و گیرا می‌سازند؛ حتی فصلهایی که مربوط به فیلسوف دشوارگوی «آلمان»؛ «مارتین هایدگر» است، با زبانی گویا، و همه کس فهم و گیرا، عرضه می‌شود؛ از نکات خواندنی این کتاب، روابط متقابل و دو به دوی این غولهای فلسفی «اروپا» است؛ روابطی که گاه سر از زندگی خصوصی آنها نیز درمی‌آورد، و نقاط ضعف‌شان را بر ملا می‌سازد، و تنش‌ها، هیجانات، و تلاطمهای یک سده ی کامل «اگزیستانسیالیستی» را، به نمایش درمی‌آورد

کتاب پر از اندیشه‌ های دلرباست، و گاه در رودررویی با کسانی، همچون «آلبر کامو»، «کارل یاسپرس»، «مرلوپونتی»، «سیمون دوبوار»، «هایدگر»، و «سارتر» و دیگران است؛ «ژانت مسلین» می‌نویسند: شاید بهترین ستایش این کتاب را، بتوان در عبارتی از خانم «بیکول» یافت، که در آن می‌نویسند: (با خواندن دیدگاه «سارتر»، درباره ی آزادی، نظر «دوبوار» درباره ی «مکانیسم بنیادین سرکوب»، رویکرد «کیرکگور» درباره ی تشویش، نگاه «کامو» به نافرمانی، تفسیر «هایدگر» از تکنولوژی، و بحث «مرلوپونتی» در مورد علوم شناختی، تو گویی در حال شنیدن آخرین خبرها هستیم)؛

در پایان کتاب نیز، رخداد جالبی است، که خود نویسنده، خانم «بیکوِل» نیز، همراه با دگرگونی‌های «اگزیستانسیالیستی»، دگرگون می‌شوند؛ ایشان می‌نویسند: (سی سال گذشته است، و من به نتیجه‌ ای خلاف باور پیشینم رسیده‌ ام؛ ایده‌ ها جذّابند، امّا افراد خیلی جذّاب‌ترند)؛

تاریخ بهنگام رسانی 11/09/1399هجری خورشیدی؛ 02/08/1400هجری خورشیدی؛ ا. شربیانی
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Author 22 books25.4k followers
November 6, 2020

عندي عشراتُ الأسباب لكي أحبّ هذا الكتاب، لكن من الحكمةِ أن نكتفي بثلاثة.

1) لقد شعرتُ دائمًا بانجذابٍ إلى الوجوديين دون أن أفهمهم تمامًا، وهذا الكتاب قدّم لي التعريف اللازم؛ الانشغال بالوجود الإنساني (العيني والملموس) الساعي إلى الحرية ضمن مواقف ومحددات وسياقاتٍ. إنها فلسفة "شوارعية" على نحوٍ آسِر، وهي على حد تعبير المؤلفة "قصة سياسية وتاريخية"؛ لأنها تعيدُ التفلسف إلى الحياة بدلا من السقوط في لعبة التجريد مع أسئلة من قبيل؛ كيف أعرفُ بأنني أعرف ما أعرفه؟

2) أنه كتاب عن الفلسفة من 415 لكنه شيق في كل صفحة، لأن الأفكار المجردة والمعقدة تم تقطيعها إلى نتفٍ وخلطِها بالمرق [الروائي!] الذي يتألف منه الكتاب؛ نسيج من خيوط ملونة - سياسة وتاريخ وس��رة ونقد، ناهيك عن توظيف المؤلفة للاستعارات لمقاربة معنى مجرد بلغة محسوسة. كاتبة مثلي لا يمكن ألا تقدم تحية إجلال لبراعة من هذا النوع.

3) أنَّ كل فلسفة، على ما يبدو، هي بمثابة سيرة ذاتية لصاحِبها. يمكنني أن أفهم أفكار سارتر وكامو وهيدغر وميرلوبونتي وبوفوار على نحوٍ أكبر عندما أعرف بأن هيدغر لم يغادر كوخه في الغابة تقريبًا، وأن سارتر كان يصير شديد الجاذبية عندما يتكلم، رغم كل ما قيل عن "قبحه" وعلاقة كل ذلك بضرورة أن "يخلق الإنسان نفسه" وأن "يختار ما يكونه". أفهم كل ما مرت به بوفوار من تنشئة محافظة، حتى انتهى بها الأمر إلى تأليف "الجنس الآخر" الذي شكل نقطة ارتكاز فارقة في نشوء الفكر النسوي. ولكن المفاجأة أن لكامو جدة "عنيفة" وأم "صماء" وأب توفي في سنته الأولى. إن تفاصيل ناعمة، روائية جدًا، من هذا القبيل تجعلني أفهم ما أسماه الكتاب "تعدد المنظورات" للفكرة الواحدة، لأن المنظور الفلسفي لا يمكن فصله عن سياق صاحبه.

منحني الكتاب فرصة لاختبار أفكاري. أحيانًا كنت أسمح لسارتر بأن يملأ عروقي بالأدرينالين براديكاليته. وأحيانًا كنتُ أميل إلى ميرلوبونتي بقوله بأننا لا يمكن أن نكون أحرار خارج "الموقف". لم أتعلق بـ كامو الروائي، ولكن كامو الإنسان كان أكثر أبطال الكتاب جاذبية، وقد وجدتُ نفسي أردد مثله بأنه ينبغي على الفلاسفة ومسؤولي الدولة عدم تبرير العنف مهما حدث (حتى لو أصر سارتر بأن الأيادي القذرة ضرورية). لكن كيف لا أحب رجلًا يقف ضد عقوبة الإعدام في وقتٍ نزعت فيه أوروبا كلها إلى تطهير نفسها من النازية؟

وأخيرًا، أعتقدُ بأنني استمتعت بالكتاب على نحوٍ مضاعف لأنني سبق وقرأتُ لأبطاله؛ الذباب والغثيان لـ سارتر. الغريب والطاعون لـ كامو. اللا منتمي لـ كولن ولسون. قرأتُ القليل من هيدغر وحنة أرندت وميرلوبونتي وبوريس فيان وبوفوارفأصبحت تجربة القراءة أحيانًا تشبه ترديد أصداء مألوفة، أو الغناء مع حنجرة رؤوم، أو اكتشاف مجاهل جديدة في أرض زرتها مرارًا.

شكرًا دار التنوير. وشكرًا للمترجم العظيم حسام نايل. كتاب مبهج جدًا.
Profile Image for Trish.
1,352 reviews2,412 followers
February 9, 2016
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 pervaded our world view that we have incorporated their philosophies into our art, literature, rebellion, and social movements, often without knowing exactly where those ideas have come from.

Bakewell makes the point that we need to revisit the genesis and development of those philosophies again, not because they were necessarily right, but because they make us think. At a time when people are questioning the notion of “freedom” to act, of whether we have any agency in the direction of the world or whether we are cast about by forces against which we can only react, Bakewell believes that revisiting the record of the lives, friendships, and scholarship of the existentialists will show us the ways in which they were both acting and reacting to the world around them.
“…freedom may prove to be the great puzzle for the early twenty-first century…Science books and magazines bombard us with the news that we are out of control: that we amount to a mass of irrational but statistically predictable responses, veiled by the mere illusion of a conscious, governing mind...Reading such accounts, one gets the impression that we actually take pleasure in this idea of ourselves as out-of-control mechanical dupes of our own biology and environment. We claim to find it disturbing, but we might actually be taking a kind of reassurance from it—for such an idea lets us off the hook. They save us from the existential anxiety that comes with considering ourselves free agents who are responsible for what we do. Sartre would call that bad faith. Moreover, recent research suggests that those who have been encouraged to think they are unfree are inclined to behave less ethically, again suggesting that we take it as an alibi.”

Bakewell looks at an impressive list of writers and philosophers, some of whom are Sartre, Beauvoir, Merleau-Ponty, Camus, Husserl, and Heidegger. Bakewell calls them “hopelessly flawed.” Heidegger removed himself from public life after his support of the Nazi regime made him reexamine phenomenology. Sartre in later years recanted his support of violence, and his support of the Soviet state. Beauvoir in her autobiography writes in wonder, “I might not have met Sartre; anything at all might have happened.”

But Bakewell makes another look at the existentialists and phenomenologists relevant and interesting. We need to think about these things, she suggests, because it has been a long time since anyone has come up with ideas which attempt to define and shape our presence and interactions in the world. Her extraordinary lucidity in explaining the nub of the phenomenology and existentialism, and her vast research into the lives of the philosophers who brought these ideas into consciousness allow her to describe, even illustrate, “character” and “goodness,” two traits towards which we strive. Bakewell makes us think again about our responsibility in the world, and where the use of technology fits in with our lives as authentic, ethical beings. “Computers are bad phenomenologists.”

This is no dusty, boring tome filled with outdated ideas. Bakewell packs the book with details of the lives and conversations of some of the most charismatic and influential thinkers of the twentieth century. This is philosophy lived, not just talked about. If you have not taken your brain out for a run lately, this fascinating discussion of philosophical principles and principals is a terrific trail in the woods.
Profile Image for Sawsan.
1,001 reviews
July 17, 2022
واحد من أجمل الكتب الفلسفية للكاتبة الانجليزية سارة بِكويل
تتناول الوجودية ومفكريها وتمزج بين الفلسفة والسير الشخصية والأحداث التاريخية في سرد ممتع ومثير للاهتمام

في جلسة على مقهى في باريس يسمع سارتر عن الفينومينولوجيا من صديق ألماني
يسافر لألمانيا بداية الثلاثينيات لمزيد من معرفة الفينومينولوجيا وهي منهج فلسفي لدراسة ووصف الظواهر
والظاهرة هنا هي أي شيء أو خبرة أو تجربة يمر بها الانسان في حياته
وبعودته لفرنسا بعد عام من سفره تكون أفكاره وفلسفته الوجودية قد اكتملت
وجود الانسان في هذا العالم على أساس الحرية المطلقة في الفعل والاختيار والمسئولية الفردية

تتتبع الكاتبة بدايات الفكر الوجودي لدى فلاسفة القرن التاسع عشر .. سورين كيركيجارد ونيتشه
وصولا لسارتر الذي يُعتبر الأب المؤسس لفلسفة الوجودية في القرن العشرين
ورواج الوجودية كأسلوب حياة خاصًة بين الشباب بعد انتهاء الحرب العالمية الثانية
عرضت بِكويل بمهارة سير موجزة ووافية ومتداخلة للشخصيات الرئيسية في الكتاب
الحياة الخاصة والعامة بكل جوانبها العملية والفكرية والأدبية لكل من سارتر وسيمون دي بوفوار وموريس ميرلوبونتي
وتنتقل لمؤسس الفينومينولوجيا إدموند هوسرل وواحد من تلاميذه مارتن هيدجر
حياة وفكر وكتابات كل منهما والعلاقة القوية التي نشأت بينهما وانتهت بالخلاف ورفض كل منهما لفلسفة الآخر
وتمر على العلاقات الأخرى لهيدجر التي ساءت وانقطعت بسبب أفعاله ومواقفه المتوافقة مع النازية
بجانب الأحداث التاريخية بدءا من ثلاثينيات القرن الماضي حتى الحرب العالمية الثانية وما تبعها من فوضى أيديولوچية

الكتاب غني بالتفاصيل ��لشخصية والتاريخية والفلسفية والسرد التحليلي للأفكار والمصطلحات
والتعريف بالكثير من شخصيات وأعمال الفلاسفة والمفكرين والأدباء الوارد ذكرهم خلال السرد
لكنه مكتوب بأسلوب واعي وواضح والترجمة سلسة للمترجم حسام فتحي نايل
Profile Image for Paul Bryant.
2,194 reviews9,453 followers
August 20, 2018
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 or Heidegger. What there is time for as we rush along is remarks along the lines of “What? That doesn’t make the least bit of sense!” and “Huh? Was Sartre out of his mind?


What Sartre and his pals did was they got fed up with Kant and the type of philosophy which grinds away at the big one which goes I THINK I KNOW SOMETHING, BUT HOW CAN I KNOW THAT I KNOW WHAT I KNOW? When they came across phenomenology they thought well, now we can put that question into the TOO DIFFICULT box and jump off in a completely new direction. I get that. I would prolly have done the same.

Sarah thinks she is able to serve up poptastic breezy descriptions of the essence of phenomenology. But she can’t.

A phenomenologist’s job is to describe. It meant stripping away distractions, habits, cliches of thought, presumptions and received ideas in order to return our attention to what he called “things themselves”. We must fix our beady gaze on them and capture them exactly as they appear, rather than as we think they are supposed to be.

The example she gives is a description of a cup of coffee. The first thing to throw out is any scientific information about it, also any information you may have about the coffee trade, how it arrives in your house, where it comes from, all these facts, out they go. Also out go any “abstract suppositions” and any “intrusive emotional associations” – out they go. Now – describe the experience of you and the coffee.

Apparently Husserl and other phenoms filled giant books with their phenom descriptions of things themselves. Sarah fails to establish what the reason for all this was. Why did they do it? What was the result? I don’t know. But she says “The result is a great liberation”. It just sounded to me as if the point was to describe precisely your subjective experience of this or that. If so, novelists and autobiographers have been attempting this since Don Quixote perceived windmills subjectively. Sarah describes Nicholson Baker’s novel The Mezzanine as “a rivetting phenomenological account of one man’s lunch break” . I thought, aha, I knew it!


Sartre was only five feet tall and had a wall-eye but Sarah says that women swooned. They never swooned for Heidegger even though he was also quite short and had better eyes. But he was grumpy and Sartre never stopped talking. Heidegger was Sartre’s next obsession. The unfortunate thing was that he was a German who became a Nazi during the 30s, he attended book burnings, and booted Jews out of the university where he worked. When his notebooks from the time were discovered it was found he wasn’t a career Nazi, he was a conviction Nazi. Oops.

Heidegger believed in vigilance – he was determined to shock people out of their forgetfulness. But for him, vigilance did not mean calling attention to Nazi violence, to the intrusion of state surveillance, or to the physical threats to his fellow humans. It meant being decisive and resolute in carrying through the demands history was making upon German, with its distinctive Being and destiny. It meant getting in step with the chosen hero.

(He got the tache too!)

The philosophers have had a bad time with him ever since, trying to rehabilitate him (he never apologised, he thought it would be trite and insincere – what is an apology anyway? Those philosophers, hey.)

Heidegger invented his own terminology and wrote vast books. Sarah says

Rereading him today, half of me says “What nonsense!” while the other half is re-enchanted…. Even the keenest Heideggerians must secretly feel that, at times, he talks through his hat.


a philosophy of expectation, tiredness, apprehensiveness, excitement, a walk up a hill, the passion for a desired lover, the revulsion from an unwanted one, Parisian gardens, the cold autumn sea at Le Havre, the feeling of sitting on overstuffed upholstery, the way a woman’s breasts pool as she lies on her back, the thrill of a boxing match, a jazz song, a glimpse of two strangers meeting under a street lamp, vertigo, voyeurism, shame, sadism, revolution, music and sex.


You might think you’re constrained to act in particular ways by circumstance of birth, of race, of sexual orientation, of contract to appear at a certain place and time, or by moral laws, and this that and t’other thing, but Sartre says phooey, that’s just your situation :

perhaps you are facing execution, or sitting in a Gestapo prison, or about to fall of a cliff – you are still free to decide what to make of it in mind and deed. Starting from where you are now, you choose.

So, when the nails are being hammered in, instead of writhing in pain, sing “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life”; and when the preacher turns to you and says “Do you take this man to be your lawful wedded husband?” you say “Well, I do understand this is a particular circumstance, but I still have the existential freedom to make a choice here. So, you know, maybe. Give me a minute.”

It sounds like applesauce to me.


Then Sartre will tell you that you are failing to meet the demands of human life and choosing a fake existence, cut off from your own “authenticity”.

Note : Sartre never had kids, neither did Simone de Beauvoir.


Mrs Premise: Well I personally think Jean-Paul's masterwork is an allegory of man's search for commitment.
Mrs Conclusion: No it isn't.
Mrs Premise: Yes it is.
Mrs Conclusion: Isn't.
Mrs Premise: 'Tis.
Mrs Conclusion: No it isn't.
Mrs Premise: All right. We can soon settle this. We'll ask him.
Mrs Conclusion: Do you know him?
Mrs Premise: Yes, we met on holiday last year.
Mrs Conclusion: In Ibiza?
Mrs Premise: Yes. He was staying there with his wife and Mr and Mr Genet.
Mrs Conclusion: What was Jean-Paul like?
Mrs Premise: Well, you know, a bit moody. Yes, he didn't join in the fun much. Just sat there thinking. Still, Mr Rotter caught him a few times with the whoopee cushion. (she demonstrates) Le Capitalisme et La Bourgeoisie ils sont la meme chose... Oooh we did laugh.
Mrs Conclusion: Well, we'll give him a tinkle then.
Mrs Premise: Yes, all right. She said they were in the book. (shouts) Where's the Paris telephone directory?
Mrs Inference: It's on the drier.
Mrs Premise: No, no, that's Budapest. Oh here we are Sartre ... Sartre.
Mrs Varley: It's 621036.
Mrs Premise: Oh, thank you, Mrs Varley. (dials) Hallo. Paris 621036 please and make it snappy, buster... (as they wait they sing 'The Girl from Ipanema) Hallo? Hello Mrs Sartre. It's Beulagh Premise here. Oh, pardon, c'est Beulagh Premise ici, oui, oui, dons Ibiza. Oui, we met... nous nous recontrons au Hotel Miramar. Oui, a la barbeque, c'est vrai. Madame S. - est-ce que Jean est chez vous? Oh merde. When will he be free? Oh pardon. Quand sera-t-il libre? Oooooh. Ha ha ha ha (to Mrs Conclusion) She says he's spent the last sixty years trying to work that one out. (to Madame Sartre) Tres amusant, Madam S. Oui absolument... a bientot. (puts the phone down) Well he's out distributing pamphlets to the masses but he'll be in at six.


a sickening mixture of philosophic pretentiousness, equivocal dreams, physiological technicalities, morbid tastes and hesitant eroticism

A copy of Sartre’s magnum opus Being and Nothingness was sent to Heidegger. The American Hubert Dreyfuss saw in on his desk and asked what he thought. The great man snapped “How can I even begin to read this dreck?”


by feeding feminism, gay rights, the breaking down of class barriers, and the anti-racist and anti-colonial struggles, it helped to change the basis of our existence in fundamental ways


Sarah Bakewell tells how the philosophers fared as history dragged them through the horrible 1930s and the world on fire that was the 1940s and the crushing weight of Communism that was the 1950s. If Heidegger was a Nazi, Sartre was a Communist, or became one in the 30s – the perfect example of the intellectual who defended Stalin, defended the gulags, said that Russians did not want to travel because they were too engaged with building the workers’ paradise, then later supported Mao Zedong and even had nice things to say about the Khmer Rouge. Camus was a big pal of Jean-Paul and Simone until he figured that Stalin was a monster; then they fell out.


Lack of good nutrition made them weak and accident-prone. Sartre once somersaulted over his handlebars, and Beauvoir collided with another bike, falling hard on her face, and sustaining a swollen eye and a lost tooth. Weeks later, back in Paris, she squeezed a boil on her chin and felt a hard white nubbin emerge. It was her tooth, which had buried itself in the flesh of her jaw.


While the males where philosophising abstractly Simone de Beauvoir wrote The Second Sex in 1949 and kick-started the second wave of feminism. Dig this : French women only got the vote in 1944. French married women could not open a bank account in their own name until 1965. The Second Sex became vastly the most influential existential work ever.


English-language paperback editions of the book through the 1960s and 1970s tended to feature misty-focused naked women on the cover, making it look like a work of soft porn. Her novels got similar treatment. Strangely this never happened with Sartre’s books. No edition of Being and Nothingness ever featured a muscle-man on the cover wearing only a waiter’s apron.


In 1958 John Huston in a fit of madness hired Sartre to write the screenplay for a biopic of Freud he wanted to do. They didn’t hit it off.

Sometimes, after leaving the room, Huston would hear Sartre still raving on, apparently having failed to notice his listener’s departure. Sartre was just as puzzled by his host’s behaviour : “suddenly in mid-discussion he’ll disappear”.

Sartre turned in a huge screenplay which would have lasted 7 hours if it was filmed. Huston explained that it needed to be cut down to two hours. Sartre revised his work and came back with a screenplay which would have taken 8 hours to film. Huston fired him.

So many anecdotes, so little being and time.

Profile Image for Ilse.
456 reviews2,945 followers
February 18, 2023
Blazingly brilliant & fabulous fun.

Worthy of every superlative.

Heidegger without headache.

Looking forward already to reread.

Lives up the hype.

Profile Image for Jan-Maat.
1,546 reviews1,821 followers
February 16, 2020
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 reader is caught up in both her then youthful enthusiasm and the pleasures of rediscovery from a more critical perspective – most notable in her treatment of Heidegger who she still finds alluring but now is repelled by his Nazism and that in his post Nazi years that he neither apologised nor tried to explain himself (and perhaps certain things are impossible to communicate, or appear to be so difficult that one never makes the attempt).

The book is the biography of an intellectual movement and we see each person as a cog who perhaps only once comes into interlocking contact with another and then moves on, inspired, into a new direction. At the heart of the book are two cogs who remain interlinked – Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre. Sartre dominates the book by means of his massive output – fuelled for years by medication and alcohol, he abandoned revision and correcting his own writing and churned out words almost with out limited – John Huston invited him to write a script for a bio-pic of Sigmund Freud, the script would have made a film eight hours long, Huston tried to work with Sartre to reduce the potential running time but at night Sartre would simply write more. Eventually Huston found a new script writer. On another occasion Sartre was invited to write the forward to a book, it grew so long that the publisher agreed to release it was a book in its own right. For Bakewell, Beauvoir is the heavyweight of the two, she sees The Second Sex as particularly important – but misrepresented in translation into English. Beauvoir herself was fatally flawed in Bakewell’s view by her desire to be second fiddle to a perceived greater man, first Merleau-Ponty, who was too mild mannered for her, and then the more extreme Sartre.

Bakewell draws attention both to the wave that Sartre and Beauvoir washed over popular culture - Existentialist themed films, Norman Mailer standing for election in New York as an Existentialist candidate, and the divergence that their thought made from the concerns of Heidegger and Husserl, but also the potential for later revitalisation - some of the Czech dissidents she holds were inspired by Husserl's Phenomenology, finding in Husserl's epoche a technique to put aside extraneous issues to concentrate purely on the existential ones.

For myself the most interesting characters were those on the periphery of Bakewell’s story, Karl Jaspers, Hannah Arendt and Simone Weil. This is one of those books which could open to door to a quarter of a lifetime of further reading. It is the engaging tale of friendships made and broken, late nights and early mornings, furious typing, bitter break ups, failed reconciliations, and a certain amount of smuggling manuscripts in diplomatic bags.
Profile Image for Chrissie.
2,735 reviews1,469 followers
October 21, 2022
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 Nietzsche are cited as some of the earliest, but the book does not focus on them. It begins instead with the German philosopher Edmund Husserl (1859-1938) and phenomenology.

We follow closely the lives and thoughts of Husserl, whom I had never heard of and found to be one of the most interesting, along with Martin Heidegger (1889 – 1976) , Karl Jaspers (1883 – 1969), Maurice Merleau-Ponty (1908 - 1961) and of course Jean-Paul Sartre (1905 – 1980) and Simone de Beauvoir (1908 – 1986). The radical ethical thinkers Gabriel Marcel (1889 – 1973), Emmanuel Levinas (1906 – 1995) and Simone Weil (1919 – 1943) as well as others such as Albert Camus (1913-1960) and Iris Murdoch (1919 – 1999), although not covered as thoroughly, are discussed in relation to how they influenced the central theorists. The book moves forward chronologically showing how each of these thinkers influenced each other and how history, politics, place of birth and religion shaped them. Both the similarities and differences in the philosophers’ thinking are drawn. The book follows the thinkers to their respective demise. That existentialism blossomed during and after the war years is no coincidence. Heidegger’s Nazi ties are discussed without bias. Not only are the books and essays of the central figures thoroughly discussed, but also the political and cultural milieu citing the films, clothing, trends and lifestyle of the era.

The author has since her youth been drawn by philosophy. She explains her own thoughts about each respective philosopher as well as those of others. She guides, clarifies, questions and opines. One feels as though you too are sitting at that table in the café with these theorists discussing ideas, throwing out questions and contemplating what being and living and experiencing life is all about. This book offers a fascinating discussion of ideas, to which there are of course no definitive answers. Yet the book goes further. It looks at the thinkers’ lives because “ideas are interesting but people (and their relationships) are vastly more so”. This is a quote from the book, but I have added that inside the parentheses because this book is about how the thinkers influenced each other. None stood alone. The author makes each of these individuals come alive. She makes what they were thinking about relevant still today.

The audiobook is superbly, fantastically, magnificently read by Antonia Beamish. She makes what could have been a difficult to book to follow simple. She reads so you understand. She emphasizes and pauses enhancing the written text. You hear the questions, laugh at the humor and her pronunciation of French and German words are perfect. She manages to produce a reading that is clear and beautiful. I am going to have to classify her as one of my favorite narrators.

Books on philosophy can be so esoteric. This isn't.
Profile Image for Gabrielle.
996 reviews1,129 followers
April 15, 2021
Early in this fantastic introduction to existentialism/historical biography of it’s most prominent thinkers, Bakewell mentions that for a while, existentialism had fallen out of fashion with academics. This gave me pause. I struggled to remember if one of our many philosophy professors had covered the existentialists when my bestie and I were in college – I couldn’t remember any of them every mentioning it. I checked with her, because she is my second brain, and she confirmed that I am not senile, and that over the course of our 2-year Liberal Arts degree, the entire existentialist movement had been gracefully glossed over by the faculty. Before I fell in love with Simone de Beauvoir a couple of years ago (https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...), all I had ever known about her, Sartre and Camus had been learned pillaging my mother’s library, and not at all from an academic context. But I found myself agreeing wholeheartedly with Bakewell: while the existentialists were put on the shelf for a while, I find their history and their thinking more relevant than ever, and well-worth exploring – or re-exploring!

“At the Existentialist Café” is one of those fantastic non-fiction book that is so well-written that it proves hard to put down, that explains complicated events and ways of thinking in simple terms yet does not talk down to the reader who may not be a phenomenology expert, and where the obvious love the author has for her subject does not make her forget it's darker facets.

Most people know the names of Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Maurice Merleau-Pointy and Martin Heiddeger, but not much about their lives, their ideas and their impact on culture. Sarah Bakewell discovered Sartre’s fiction as a teenager, and has clearly never fallen out of love with existentialism. With wit and compassion, she puts the philosophers in their social and historical context to illustrate how they came to develop their philosophy and how the course of history, especially World War II, influenced their thinking and their work. The biographies are not deep dives, but go a long way to make the work easier to relate to and make sense of.

Bakewell is also quite honest about her subjects’ ambiguities, contradictions and struggles to apply their philosophic principles to their lives as honestly as possible – which obviously opened the doors to may conflicts, fights and serious falling outs between them. But as she points out herself, people are often more interesting than idea, and these people were exceptionally interesting, partially because of their flaws.

As mentioned previously, I think that Bakewell is right to argue that the existentialists’ emphasis of authenticity and freedom are issues that concern us now more than ever, in the hyper-connected yet bizarrely shallow world we live in. But I also understand how mis-understandings and clichés have been factors that put the entire movement out of fashion in the 1990s and early 2000s. I feel like those years were less cynical, less morally confusing and less dangerous than the point we are at now, and that it must have felt like a bummer to think about being in bad faith and being responsible for one’s existence at a point where we were just excited about the new millennium.

To me, this is a fascinating subject, and I find significant overlaps between existentialism and many aspects of Zen Buddhism (both of which can be described as philosophies of action), and also with the ideas behind what one might call "punk philosophy" (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p0w4O...).

Reading this made me shift “Nausea”, “The Mandarins” and “The Second Sex” a little closer to the top of my pile, and appreciate the Beauvoir and Camus books I’ve gobbled up over the past few years even more. If you have ever felt hazy about what existentialism is about, or if you are simply interested in the lives of Beauvoir, Sartre and their colleagues, I can’t recommend this book enough.
Profile Image for Mohammed.
430 reviews530 followers
March 12, 2022
رائعة هي الكتب التي تمزج أكثر من لون من بين ألوان الأدب أو المعرفة بشكل متقن.

تجمع سارة بيكويل في هذا الكتاب ما بين الفلسفة والسيرة الشخصية والتاريخ.

محور الكتاب هو الفلسفة الوجودية، ويتنوع طرحها ما بين مناقشة أفكارها الرئيسية، وتحليل الأحداث الشخصية لأبرز رموزها مع ما يكفي من التفاصيل التاريخية التي واكبت حياة تلك الرموز. تلك المسارات تتداخل وتتقاطع بشكل متزن ومتناغم، بحيث لا تشعر بالملل مع الطرح النظري للمبادئ الفلسفية، وفي النفس الوقت لا تنأى بك الأحداث الشخصية والتاريخية عن فهم هذه الفلسفة المؤثرة والفريدة. هذا لا يعني أني فهمتها بتعمق على أي حال، فلها مذاهب متعددة ويختلف طرحها باختلاف شخصية الفيلسوف والنهج الذي يتبعه. يمكننا القول بأن الوجودية ترتكز على حرية الانسان في تقرير المغزى من حياته وعن وجوب تحمله لمسؤولية اختياره. تشدد الوجودية أيضا على الوعي بحقيقة الموت، على ضرورة تعزيز الأفكار بالعمل الفعلي وعلى أهمية محافظة الفرد على أصالته بدلاً من خداع النفس ومسايرة القطيع.

يتضمن الكتاب وصفاً للمناخ السياسي والاجتماعي في تلك الحقبة، من تداعيات الحرب العالمية الأولى إلى أتون الحرب الثانية ثم إلى بداية تصدر الولايات المتحدة للمشهد السياسي والثقافي. جميع الأحداث وردت في سياق تأثيرها على الفكر الوجودي، وعلى ردود الأفعال المتنوعة التي صدرت عن الفلاسفة الوجوديين، مثلا كان سارتر يشجع العنف لدى الثوار الجزائريين، بينما كان كامو ضد العنف مهما كانت مبرراته.

أما المسار الثالث فربما هو الأكثر إمتاعاً وهو حياة الفلاسفة أنفسهم، ومن أهمهم سارتر وبوفوار، كامو وهيدجر وغيرهم. وأيضاً في هذا السياق لا ندخل في كل تفاصيل حياتهم إلا ما يمكن نقاشه على ضوء الوجودية، مثلاً لا نعرف سوى القليل عن نشأتهم المبكرة. يخوض أولئك الفلاسفة نقاشات ويكونون صداقات تنقلب إلى عداوات أو العكس. هناك حيز في الكتاب لانعكاس فلسفة الوجودية على أسلوب حياة كل فيلسوف. ولا ينسى الكتاب تسليط الضوء على النقاط المثيرة للجدل في حياة المفكرين مثل تماهي هيدجر مع النازية والعلاقة المتحررة بين سارتر ودي بوفوار. وفي نهاية الكتاب نودع كل فيلسوف وهو يغادر الحياة بطريقة مختلفة فنشعر وكأننا عاصرناهم فعلياً بل وتجاذبنا معهم أطراف الحديث.

كتاب شيق ويقدم الفلسفة بقالب ممتع ولكن ليس بالطريقة التسويقية الهشة. يظل النص غير خفيف، لا من حيث الحجم –أكثر من 400 صفحة- ولا من حيث المحتوى الفلسفي الموزع بين الفصول. في بعض الأوقات استعصى عليّ استيعاب بعض المفاهيم، ولكن بعد الانتهاء من الكتاب شعرت بأنني استوعبت أغلب أفكاره.

التقييم 4.5/5
Profile Image for David Katzman.
Author 3 books451 followers
May 18, 2021
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 literary theory. Simply put...worldviews. So as the early inspiration of Existentialism, according to this book, what was Phenomenology? Basically...a command to experience stuff as it is in the moment. Detached from history and culture with the focus on physical and literal qualities. So...this is to my mind identical with what is also called "defamiliarizing"—a literary technique. NOT PHILOSOPHY.

Existentialism is pretty cool. It's a vague but intriguing way to think about life. Existentialism inspires you to lead a purpose-driven, social life of freedom. Existentialism was not absolute and contained several diverse perspectives. Like Camus asked how to live in face of the absurdity of life. But Sartre denied life as absurd, that it is has meaning. Although...he seemed to define meaning as the purpose you give to life, which also provides you freedom. Seems kind of hocus-pocus in a way. So is life absurd if you lack purpose? Absurd from what perspective?

One positive aspect of Existentialism is that it takes into account the gaze of the socially oppressed and considers it valuable and meaningful. But the philosophers seemed to neglect the question of who gets to define themselves as oppressed. All you have to do is turn on the Fox propaganda network to hear fascist oppressors claiming they are victims. Existentialism fails to take into account the subjectivity of all sides and human's unlimited capability for both self-deception, the desire to convert others to one's worldview at all costs, and the susceptibility to brainwashing. It neglects to account for what Wittgenstein clearly puts his stake into--the argument of worldviews.

One of my favorite aspects of this book was the discovery of how early feminism was an outgrowth of Existentialism. Simone de Beauvior, who was apparently Sartre's closest friend and often lover (with an open polyamourous relationship), was a key Existentionalist thinker. Her feminist book The Second Sex is sometimes overlooked as an important perspective in the voices of Existentialism.

The author Bakewell's favorite book by all of these Existentialists? Simone de Beauvoir’s autobiography. This reinforces my POV that most of these thinkers are literary writers rather than philosophers. Which I think hits home for me that Existentialism, like Phenomenology, is not philosophy. It's a view of life.
Profile Image for Roy Lotz.
Author 1 book8,177 followers
June 22, 2019
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 method especially revealing and rewarding, while at the same time adding a subtle, highbrow self-help aspect to her books—life lessons with the imprimatur of big names and fine prose.

Bakewell attempts to tell the story of the existentialist movement from its twentieth-century beginnings (skipping over precursors such as Dostoyevsky and Kierkegaard) to its apparent end, with the deaths of its principle architects. The four main protagonists are Martin Heidegger, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Simone de Beauvoir, and Jean-Paul Sartre (who, unsurprisingly, is the dominant personality), along with shorter appearances by other thinkers: Husserl, Camus, Raymond Aron, Karl Jaspers, and Simone Weil, to name the most prominent. When you consider the sheer amount of biographical and philosophical material this list represents, you realize the magnitude of the task set before Bakewell, and the consequent skill she demonstrated in producing a readable, elegant, and stimulating book.

I am sorry to say that I have read very little of the writings of the principle actors, with the exception of Heidegger. Bakewell’s account of him mostly confirmed my own experiences with the infuriating metaphysician, especially in his disturbing lack of character and, indeed, of basic humanity. Sartre comes across as far more human, if not exactly more likable. Few people could hear of Sartre’s enormous philosophical, biographical, journalistic, and literary output, over so many years, without feeling a sense of awe. Nevertheless, Sartre’s opinions rarely struck me as measured or reasonable. Though I often mourn the decline of the public intellectual, Sartre’s example gives me pause, for his influence on contemporary politics was not necessarily salubrious. Perhaps it is true that intellectuals, seeking consistency and clarity, are naturally inclined towards extreme positions. Sartre was, in any case, and it led him into some foolish and even reprehensible positions.

By contrast to these two giants, Beauvoir and Merleau-Ponty come off rather well in this story. The former tempered her political opinions with a greater subtlety, thoroughness, and empathy; while the latter lived a quietly productive and happy life, while creating a philosophy that Bakewell argues constitutes the greatest intellectual legacy of the bunch.

Just as Bakewell argued that Montaigne’s writings are newly relevant for his sense of moderation, so she argues that the existentialists are newly relevant for exploring the questions of authenticity and freedom. Not having read most of their work, I cannot comment on this. But what I found most inspiring was their burning desire to think and to write—and to write like mad, for hours each day, in every genre, for decades on end. Though most of this writing was born today to die tomorrow, each one of them produced a magisterial tome for future readers to beat their heads against. I suppose I will have to pick them up sometime soon.
Profile Image for Christy.
113 reviews275 followers
December 6, 2016
"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 this again, I'm taken with how nonchalant these great thinkers were a century ago towards the rising ethno-nationalist fascism in Europe, not taking the rise of Hitler seriously. It's hard not to make the obvious connections to Trump, as well as to the global rise of ethnic nationalist populism and what is may bring.

The best thing about this book is that a handful of philosophy profs I know (including the one I currently share a home) who aspired to write "historical fiction" with real-life philosophical and social biographical knowledge, have had highly enthused but also tortured reactions to this. As a group, some longing and with some jealousy, perhaps, that THEY didn't author such a creative interplay of personalities and ideas! It really is a masterpiece. I predict other philosophers and social thinkers will be portrayed in future works in similar "human" settings with informal and "real life" interaction. There are probably some instructional implications that we are just beginning to fathom for teaching from this type of model, too, I'm thinking as an "old" EDU prof...

UPDATE: at a brunch party of 8 progressives (mostly academics) last Sunday, the first in December '16, a retired English prof friend brought this book out from his lap as we sat to dine, and for our real sustenance read a paragraph from it from Jan Patocka on the result of social-political upheaval as the "solidarity of the shaken". That is what many of us are trying to do, and largely by necessity.
Profile Image for فايز غازي Fayez Ghazi .
Author 2 books3,596 followers
July 23, 2022
أذكر ان استاذ الفلسفة كان يقول لنا -بما معناه- اننا حين نقرأ لأفلاطون او زينون الرواقي، فإن الفيلسوف ذاته، الذي طوى الموت جسده، ما زال حاضرًا يخاطبنا بما كتبه. فكنت افكّر بمتعة المشي الى جانب أرسطو او الجلوس في رواق زينون او حلقات سبينوزا والإستماع لهم. ومن هنا كان من الممتع الجلوس مع سارتر وبوفوار وكامو وميرلوبونتي في مقاهي باريس والتعريج على كوخ هيدجر المطلّ على الغابة السوداء في رحلةٍ فكرية فلسفية ممتعة، مفيدة وشيّقة جدًا.

"عندما نقرأ ما كتبه سارتر عن الحرية او بوفوار عن ميكانيزمات القمع الماكرة او كيركجارد عن القلق او كامو عن التمرد او هيديجر عن التكنولوجيا او ميزلوبونتي عن علم الإدراك نستشعر اننا احيانًا نطالع آخر الأخبار. ففلسفتهم لا تزال تحظى بأهمية، ليس لأنها صحيحة او خاطئة، بل لأنها تهتم بالحياة وتثير أكبر سؤالين انسانيين: من نحن؟ ماذا ينبغي ان نفعل."

بدأت الكاتبة كتابها بتعريفنا على فلسفة الفينومينولوجيا [علم الظواهر]، نشأتها في ألمانيا على يدّ هوسرل، تطويرها وتغيّرها على يد هيدجر، قراءة سارتر للفينومينولوجيا ودراسته لها في المانيا وتحويلها الى فلسفة وجودية تتعاطى مع الواقع والوجود بعيدًا عن التجريد وتدور حول مركز واضح: الحرية. المسارات المتعددة التي اخذتها الفينومينولوجيا مع سارتر من جهة وبوفوار من جهة اخرى، مع هيدجر وخلافه مع هوسرل، مع كامو وخلافه مع سارتر وبوفوار ازاء موقفهم من العنف...

""أنت حرّ، ولذا اختر، وهذا يعني: ابتكر".. لا توجد علامات ارشادية متاحة في هذا العالم. ولا يمكن لأي سلطة مرجعية من السلطات القديمة التقليدية ان تخفف عنك عبء الحرية. تستطيع ان توازن بين الاعتبارات الاخلاقية او العملية بعناية قدر ما تحب، ولكن عليك في النهاية ان تقامر وتبادر الى القيام بفعل، وإليك وحدك يرجع ما سيكونه هذا الفعل."

"رغم حب سارتر وبوفوار لشخص كامو، لم يتقبلا رؤيته العبثية. فالحياة عندهما ليست عبثًا، حتى عند رؤيتها وفق معيار كوني، ولا شيء يمكن كسبه بقوله. الحياة عندهما مفعمة بالمعنى الحقيقي، ولكن هذا المعنى يظهر لكل واحد منا بطرق مختلفة"

الكاتبة تسرد أيضًا سيرة الفلاسفة، نشأتهم، طفولتهم، بمن تأثروا.. ثم تسرد العلاقات التي تجمعهم او تنفرهم من بعض بتأثير الأحداث السياسية التي عصفت في العالم ايامها: تأثير صعود النازية، تأثير الحرب العالمية الثانية فيهم وفي آرائهم، تأثير الثورة الجزائرية، تأثير الاجتياح السوفياتي لبودابست ومن ثم لبراغ، الصداقات التي تتحول الى عداءات، المناظرات الفلسفية واللقاءات الحامية والباردة، كتابات معظم الفلاسفة (الذين ركّزت عليهم) كيف بدأت، بماذا تأثرت، كيف تطورت، من يقرأ لمن..الخ

سارتر هو الجسر الى كل التقاليد التي اغتنمها وحدّثها وشخصنها وأعاد اختراعها. ولكنه أصّر طيلة حياته على ان المهم ليس هو الماضي اطلاقًا، بل المستقبل. يجب على المرء ان يتحرك دومًا ويبدع ما سيكون: أن يكون فاعلًا في العالم ويحدث اختلافًا فيه."

كتاب ممتع ودسم يقرأ مرة ثانية وثالثة، وأختم مراجعتي بهذا الإقتباس المقصود لهيدجر:

""العقل، فسحة منبسطة منيرة في الغابة"
Profile Image for Luís.
1,858 reviews513 followers
March 26, 2023
A good piece of writing that takes up the whole history of phenomenology and existentialism, mixing the lives of intellectuals and ideas. It is, in fact, difficult to separate the two in philosophies that had precisely based on personal experience. This book is well-written, clear, and straightforward. It is easy to read, and contrary to what one might think, I put it in the category of pleasure reading. I recommend this reading, whether it is exciting or responds to a curiosity (well placed).
Profile Image for Marc.
3,067 reviews1,086 followers
September 3, 2018
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 wind would come, and I was much more attracted by the ethical humanism of Camus. As far as the latter is concerned, I still am, but Bakewell corrected the negative image of Sartre, presenting him a bit as a sympathetic anarchist. I could also appreciate her upgrading of Simone De Beauvoir: Bakewell emphasizes the enormous impact of her book 'The Second Sex”, and rightly so. Heidegger as a person does not get a good press, and that is no surprise, but – as Bakewell states – it does not make sense to ignore this 'most brilliant and most hated philosopher of the 20th century'. Only the recurring positive comments on Merleau-Ponty ('the dancing philosopher') remain a mystery to me: her argument that he was the real revolutionary of the bunch, did not really convince me.

Finally, the reader will especially notice how detailed Bakewell deals with the many discussions, quarrels and even outright feuds between the existentialists; from a distance it looks like they were not doing anything else. Maybe Bakewell focuses a bit too much on these differences and perhaps she is sometimes too biographical in her approach, but never mind, I learned that even my existentialist 'heroes' turn out to be people of flesh and blood.

PS. Bakewell does a good job in presenting the existentialist message and in showing it had a tremendous impact on our culture. But she does not really explain why after the 1960's existentialism seemingly was swept of the planet by anti-humanist waves of structuralism and postmodernism. Perhaps these waves in retrospect were just rimplings on the surface and did the deep current of existentialism have a more lasting impact? Or is this just wishful thinking?
Profile Image for Margarita Garova.
426 reviews164 followers
March 5, 2020
Existentialism for dummies, или как да разберем изключително влиятелното през 20 век философско течение, ни ��ава отговор книгата на Сара Бейкуел. Или поне, в духа на тази философия, задава умни въпроси.

Мисля, че книгата е еднакво подходяща, ако вече сте имали челен сблъсък с произведенията на екзистенциализма, така и ако не сте се потапяли досега в тези води. Но все пак, това е обзорна книга и като такава изисква някаква предварителна представа за това философско течение, ключовите му фигури и основните събития от историята на 20 век.

Не искам да плаша никого, но това е книга, която ви хвърля в дълбокото още от втората страница. И това е чудесно, защото и��ах нужда от такава сложна и задълбочена книга, която да ме захвърли в непознати територии. Четивните, лесно смилаеми книги, може да са храна за душата, но книги като тази, са храна за ума. Преди нея, моят читателски опит с екзистенциалистите се ограничаваше с няколко романа на Симон дьо Бовоар („Лъскави картинки“, „Недоразумение в Москва“, „Кръвта на другите“ и „Сломената жена“, от които последните две силно препоръчвам), „Погнусата“ на Жан-Пол Сартър (Сартр?) и „Чужденецът“ на Албер Камю. Кое разбрала, кое не, реших набързо, че екзистенциалистите са предвзети същества в черни прилепнали поло блузи, които философстват безгрижно за леви идеи от някое слънчево кафене на левия бряг на Сена, докато други хора, с много по-малко късмет от тях, изпитват на практика левите идеи на гърба си.
Прибързано и повърхностно заключение, както се оказа. Да, доста от екзистенциалистите са имали дългогодишен флирт с марксизма, социализма и дори сталинизма (изключение прави Камю), но тяхната философия е същевременно едно от най-пленяващите, комплексни и непроницаеми интелектуални течения от миналия век.

Представата за философа като брадясало окаменено същество, което съзерцава света от безопасно разстояние в хралупата си, е напълно оборена от биографичните портрети, които Сара Бейкуел обрисува в книгата си. Сартър, Камю, Бовоар, Морис Мерло-Понти, Габриел Марсел са били дълбоко ангажирани личности, в социален и политически план, и то дотам, че да поставят личната си безопасност и физическия си интегритет в риск. По различно време активно и наивно прегръщат каузи, много от които от днешна гледна точка са напълно морално компрометирани. Слепият възторг на Сартър от Съветския съюз или нацистките убеждения на Хайдегер са малка част от най-фрапантните примери. Наред с това обаче, екзистенциалистите не се боят да застанат на страната на онеправданите, потиснатите и малтретираните, като надигат глас срещу расизма, колониализма и половото неравенство. Въобще, противоречиви личности.

Сара Бейкуел успява да улови тази противоречивост в комплексните им философски натури и дори да намери обяснения за нея. Пише за героите си ту шеговито, ту почтително. Редува биографични моменти, като ги вплита в историческия контекст на времето, с размисли за същността на екзистенциализма като философско течение, с опит (според мен успешен) да извади есенциалното от него. Бейкуел познава героите си твърде добре, изучила е идеите им в дълбочина, която й открива широко поле за свободна игра с понятия, личности, паралели и събития. Което е изключително трудна задача, стане ли дума за философи, чиито идеи се преплитат, но и самите те еволюират идейно многократно (Сартър е идеален пример). Проследява корените на екзистенциализма в идеите на мрачните Киркегор и Ницше, преминава през феноменологията на Брентано и Хусерл, Хайдегер и Ясперс, успява да открие очарователното във всяко течение и разклонение на философията им. Извежда на преден план въпроси за моралната отговорност на интелектуалеца в избора на каузи, които да отстоява (говорим за времена, в които въпросните личности са имали статут ако не на звезди, то на инфлуенсъри, само че с мозък).

Влиянието на екзистенциалистите и техните идейни бащи феноменолозите в интелектуалния живот на 20 век е огромно. Няма да е преувеличено, ако се твърди, че съпротивителните движения срещу комунизма в Чехословакия са вдъхновени от феноменологиятана Ян Паточка, която съдържа в себе си зрънцето на бунта, бидейки антидогматична по своята същност. Да не говорим за ролята на Бовоар за отстояване правата на жените.

Невероятна е заслугата на Сара Бейкуел, че е успяла да оживи портретите на тези закоравели интелектуалци, да ни ги поднесе по човешки начин, да преведе на достъпен език неразбираеми за повечето хора идеи и концепции. Книгата й дава добра представа не само какво е да си екзистенциалист, но и какво е да си философ въобще. След прочитането й се убеждавам все повече, че философията е изключително важен компонент от арсенала на добре образования човек, а не празни и отнесени плямпания на интелектуалстващи безделници. Тя ни дава инструментите, с които да мислим, свежи перспективи към разбирането за света и противно на наложеното клише – не го усложнява, а го опростява. Няма да се учудя, ако всеки добре образован, мислещ и интелигентен човек в някаква част от живота си е бил екзистенциалист, дори без да го знае.
Profile Image for Rebecca.
3,602 reviews2,575 followers
March 14, 2016
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 years later, I have come to the opposite conclusion. Ideas are interesting, but people are vastly more so.”

Some of the interesting characters herein, apart from Sartre and de Beauvoir (always referred to in these pages as “Beauvoir,” which irked me unduly), are Edmund Husserl, Martin Heidegger, Karl Jaspers, Hannah Arendt, Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Albert Camus. It’s a large cast; you may well find yourself flipping back and forth to the helpful who’s who list in the back of the book. I was amused to see that Freiburg, Germany is the seat of phenomenology (which gave rise to existentialism) – I’m heading there in June to stay with friends at the start of a mini European tour. Husserl was the chair of philosophy at Freiburg, and Heidegger his colleague.

The best I can make out, Heidegger’s philosophy was about describing experience to get to the heart of things. Disregard peripherals and focus on the self’s knowledge of the world, he advised. His best known work, Being and Time, contrasted individual beings with Being itself (i.e. ontology). Think of him as an experimental, modernist novelist, Bakewell advises; understanding what he’s doing with his philosophy is difficult otherwise. Existentialism built on this framework but emphasized freedom and how it is exercised in particular situations.

World War II, especially the year 1945, was a turning point for many of the philosophers discussed. Sartre was held in a POW camp but his eye troubles gave him a way out. Many left Europe for America due to anti-Semitism, including Hannah Arendt and Bruno Bettelheim. Although Heidegger contrasted “the they” (das Man – more similar, perhaps, to the English phrase “the Man”) with the voice of conscience in such a way that suggested one should resist totalitarianism, he would later be exposed as a Nazi. In the following years, the United States became very popular culturally: jazz music, film noir, Hemingway. At the same time, the French were shocked at America’s racial inequality. Sartre believed that one should always take the opinion of the “least favored” or most oppressed party in any situation, which would lead him to speak out for minorities and the colonized, as in the Algerian liberation movement of the 1950s–60s. In the meantime, the rise of the Soviet Union and the development of the atom bomb would emerge as imminent societal threats.

Sartre and de Beauvoir had an open relationship but clearly relied on and felt deeply about each other, especially when it came to their writing. Bakewell convinced me of Sartre’s surprising sex appeal, despite his unprepossessing appearance: “down-turned grouper lips, a dented complexion, prominent ears, and eyes that pointed in different directions.” Apparently he had a silly side and would even do Donald Duck impressions. At the same time, he had rock-solid convictions, as evidenced by his refusal of the Légion d’Honneur and the Nobel Prize. I also learned that he was a biographer of Jean Genet and Gustave Flaubert; his biography of the latter, in three volumes, stretched to 2800 pages! Bakewell waxes anti-lyrical in her account of the disheartening experience of reading it: “Occasional lightning flashes strike the primordial soup, although they never quite spark it into life, and there is no way to find them except by dredging through the bog for as long as you can stand it.”

From the title and subtitle, I expected this book to be a bit more of a jolly narrative than it was. The frequent Left Bank Paris setting is atmospheric, but the tone is never as blithe as promised. I would also have liked some additional autobiographical material from Bakewell, who grew up in Reading, England (where I currently live) and met the existentialists through Sartre’s Nausea at age 16.

In the end the fault may not be her book’s but mine: I wasn’t up for fully engaging with a multi-subject biography packed with history and hard-to-grasp philosophical ideas. I’d recommend this to readers who long for bohemian Paris and have enjoyed either an existentialist work or a philosophical novel like Sophie’s World (Jostein Gaarder) or 36 Arguments for the Existence of God (Rebecca Goldstein).

With thanks to Chatto & Windus for the review copy.

Originally published with images at my blog, Bookish Beck.

Further reading: If anything, I think I’m likely to try de Beauvoir’s autobiographical works – the descriptive language Bakewell quotes from them sounds appealing, and of course she was fundamental in paving the way for modern feminism.

You can read an excerpt about de Beauvoir’s composition of The Second Sex, at Flavorwire. See also Bakewell’s Guardian list of 10 reasons why we should still be reading the existentialists.
Profile Image for Z. F..
297 reviews94 followers
February 11, 2021
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 overview of ideas I could instead simply access at their source. If I wanted to learn about existentialism I'd read the existentialists, damn it, and that was that.

Well that was stupid, and I'm grateful that I whimfully picked up Bakewell's book when I was scrambling for quarantine reading material back in March. Because despite the caricatured philosophers on its bright purple cover, Existentialist Café is not just Baby's First Sartre; instead it's a lucid, thoughtful introduction to the major tenets of existentialist thought, and also a surprisingly riveting historical work about the people who first formulated these ideas and the turbulent world they did it in. I should have started here rather than with Kaufmann's dusty tome, and if you have any inclination towards existentialist philosophy you should do the same.

At its core, Existentialist Café is a web of interconnected intellectual biographies. Rather than sticking to one individual thinker, Bakewell follows all the major existentialists (and their predecessors, the phenomenologists) pretty much from adolescence to death. (Not all at once, mind you—she takes it chronologically, periodically checking in with each "character" as she progresses through the decades.) Sartre, Beauvoir, and Heidegger are the major focal points—they kind of have to be—but she also devotes plenty of page-space to the likes of Edmund Husserl, Karl Jaspers, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Albert Camus, Richard Wright, Simone Weil, and others. This is a detailed book, full of biographical facts and philosophical explanations, but it's also a disciplined and thoughtfully-structured one. Bakewell never subjects her reader to more of one thing than they can reasonably be expected to handle in the course of a chapter, and the biographical and philosophical bits always reverberate off of one another.

And hey, maybe that still sounds boring. I suspect not many English-language readers are clamoring for a detailed summation of the thinking of Maurice Merleau-Ponty. But fortunately Bakewell is also an elegant and even entertaining writer, with a novelist's sensitivity alongside her scholar's brain. Even the most mundane details or convoluted ideas spring to life in her hands, and there are images from this book I can still easily call to mind months later. Unlike many popular nonfiction writers, she manages to make her personal investment in this material clear without boring her readers with semi-relevant anecdotes from her own life. Instead she brings out the richness of her subject's stories, makes us give a damn for them and for the things they gave a damn about. Sartre and Beauvoir are relatively easy—they lived exciting and subversive lives—but as it turns out, even the most unassuming figures here dealt with their share of wartime exploits, authoritarian regimes, secret missions, censorship, activism, and interpersonal intrigue. I was most impressed with Bakewell's treatment of Martin Heidegger, who is as central to this story as he is hateable. Bakewell lays out his life with fairness but makes no excuses for his fascist leanings, and in the end she can only denounce him for his moral cowardice even as she acknowledges the influence of his ideas.

And the philosophy itself? I won't say that Bakewell will "turn you into an existentialist," because probably she won't; I don't think even she would identify that way in the end. But it would be difficult to read this impassioned book and not feel at least the allure of this bold and often-misrepresented way of thinking, a school of philosophy which—unlike so many before and after it—is concerned primarily with the actual lived experiences of ordinary human beings. Existentialism is a philosophy not of cold rationality or detached analysis, not even (as it's so often portrayed in pop culture) one of hopelessness in the face of cosmic indifference, but rather of the choices we make and the things we experience in our hearts and bodies. When taken seriously it's an emboldening way of thinking, and its best spokespeople were the ones—like Beauvoir, like Sartre—who sincerely tried to live it out. I've noticed that most people who are invested in philosophy today don't take the existentialists very seriously, often don't take them into account at all. On the other hand, existentialist thought is a perennial inspiration for writers and other artists, and many of the key existentialists themselves produced serious and enduring art. These facts would seem to suggest that the existentialists did exactly what they set out to do: they escaped the stuffy parameters of the academy, and made their ideas livable.

Whether you think you're interested in such things or not, At the Existentialist Café is a lovely, rigorous, multifaceted, brilliant hybrid of a book. I used to have a mental block about giving nonfiction titles five stars. After reading this, I don't.
Profile Image for Nikos Tsentemeidis.
405 reviews205 followers
January 26, 2018
Όπως το περίμενα άλλωστε, απόλαυσα πολύ αυτό το βιβλίο. Πρόκειται για μια εξιστόρηση της ζωής φιλοσόφων που ασχολήθηκαν με την φαινομενολογία και τον υπαρξισμό και κάποια βασικά στοιχεία της φιλοσοφίας τους σε πολύ ευχάριστο ύφος. Το μεγαλύτερο μέρος καταλαμβάνουν ο Σαρτρ και η ντε Μποβουάρ.

Βιβλίο γεμάτο με πληροφορία, χωρίς να κουράζει καθόλου καυ φυσικά με πάρα πολλές και ενδιαφέρουσες βιβλιοπροτάσεις, όπως του Colin Wilson: "Ο ξένος", επηρεασμένος από τον ξένο του Καμύ.

Αυτό που μου άρεσε είναι η εξέλιξη στις ιδέες του καθενός σε σχέση και με τα ιστορικά γεγονότα της εποχής και κατά βάση τον Β' Π.Π. Η προσπάθεια των οικείων του Husserl να φυγαδευτούν τα γραπτά του από τη Γερμανία του Χίτλερ δημιουργεί αντίθεση με το γεγονός ότι μετά το τέλος του πολέμου όλοι αυτοί που εκτιμούσαν σαν φιλόσοφο τον Heidegger περιμένανε μια επιστολή απολογίας για την σχέση του με τους ναζί, η οποία φυσικά ποτέ δεν ήρθε.
Profile Image for Jacob Overmark.
204 reviews9 followers
August 12, 2017
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 of Existentialism, where it came from, how it worked, its background in Phenomenology and the early sources of inspiration.
We also get a good knowledge of the people circling around Sartre and Beauvoir, how they were influenced or repelled by the many changes that were significant of the Existentialist period.
I am judging a solid 4 stars for the performance and the massive effort it has taken to sum up all sources, clear up all the built-in contradictions and end up with a consistent book and even making it edible by throwing in anecdotes of the cast to soften up this otherwise rather dry topic.
Thumbs up for the full annotations as well.

Going back to my opening question, I can only answer it if I was able to go back to my adolescent years, before I acquainted myself with first the classical and then the 18th and 19th philosophers.

At first the questioning is directed at the being itself. What does it mean.
Not being satisfied with the simple answer; I´m born, I grow, I live, I´ll die, the early and mid-20th century philosophers took the speculations to extremes.
I may offend some, but there is a certain amount of overthinking involved in the philosophical thinking of this era.

The theories about identity, what forms it, how significant is it and does it change with social impact are everyday knowledge today.
Today we talk about reference frameworks, knowing well that we behave differently within different frameworks. You fill in one role in your family, another one on your job, a third one on your soccer team and so on. This does not make you a “false being” it only demonstrates that the human is a many facetted being, adaptable to many social frameworks.

The personal freedom which brought out such anguish, can be said to be what drives the ability to make yourself passable within all the frameworks of which you are part.
It is no coincidence that Existentialism was born and thrived in the years between WWI and the 60ties.

Having experienced to be unfree in mind and body there was a call to explanation of the sudden freedom after WWI. Today we would talk about coping strategies in a broader sense, but that term was not yet available and hardly established as a set of – relatively – predicable patterns.
So, we are presented to a group of people who sit down and think. “We have been through Hell. Some have come out alive but at a terrible cost. Many did not survive and our trust in our fellow human beings are destroyed. How will we regain our self-esteem, how do we look at the future. How do we see ourselves in this”.

To keep it simple, we have the reactive and the proactive.

Those who walk back to the beginning of all things, the days when the mind was open to any impression and you just had to learn to feel the world around you. A tree is not only a tree, it is the leaves, the flowers, the smell of a fireplace, the house you could build from it. The thought of expressing everything “technically” is repulsive and it barres the conscious mind and restrains it.
Interesting as Phenomenology is as a way of perception, it does not resolve everyday tasks, but in this time of history is a way back into oblivion and tends to romanticize rather than look for solutions to life´s big question.

The Existentialism is much more extrovert.
Essentially man only exist when absorbing the world around him, thus mirroring himself in the world. This mean you should take part, play an active role in your life in order to exist. I am sure you will agree that, without any interaction with an outside world a person will to the outsider seem shallow and almost nonexistent.
Having this established, the terms of interaction can be discussed. Being by definition free, your choices are infinite. You may choose anything that makes you happy and bear the consequences.

That said, one of Sartre´s favorite examples; the waiter balancing a tray with bottles and glasses expertly, is not freedom. The waiter is “in bad faith” as he only “pretends” to be a waiter to earn a living.
I once was a waiter, and quite good at it, I could easily balance a tray of bottles and glasses. At the same time, I was the son of my parents, I was a boyfriend, I was a student and filled in a lot of other roles

Maybe that is one of my pet peeves when it comes to Sartre. Advocating the total freedom, but not accepting it when he saw it with others. With exception of his lifelong relationship with Simone de Beauvoir, Sartre fell out with so many friends that took their freedom of mind seriously. Lesson to be learned; Do as I say, not as I do.

To value the core message of Existentialism, you must be unfree. This is why it hit nearly 4 decades so hard and attracted a lot of followers. When ultimate freedom is available there is no longing – instead you may experience the Kirkegaard anguish, faced with the responsibilities of so much freedom.

This could easily turn into something very long and boring …
I hereby set you free to read on – at your own risk and responsibility.

Profile Image for Banafsheh.
175 reviews115 followers
August 29, 2019
اسم کتاب بهترین توضیح در مورد محتواشه.
کافه اگزیستانسیالیستی: سارتر، دوبوار، هوسرل، هایدگر، یاسپرس، لویناس و بقیه

من کتاب رو به امید آشنایی با فلسفه‌ی اگزیستانسیال شروع کردم ولی همونطور که نویسنده در بخش آخر گفت: این کتاب بیشتر روی اشخاص مانور میده تا ایده‌ها.
یعنی به نظر شخص من «بیشتر حال و هوای اگزیستانسیالیست رو مشخص میکنه تا خود فلسفه رو»

البته که بسیار کتاب جذابیه ولی اونچه من ازش میخواستم رو بهم نداد. شاید اگر من مطالعات بیشتری روی آثار فردی این فلاسفه داشتم و دانش کافی در مورد ایده‌ها، خوندن اینکه هر کدوم از این تفکرات توی چه بستری به ذهن اون فیلسوف اومده یا چی باعث تغییر نگرش و چرخش فکریش شده برام خیلی خیلی جذابتر میومد.

البته کتاب دیگه‌ای که از این نویسنده خوندم راجع به مونتنی هم همین احوال رو داشت. فلسفه کاربردی با طعم خودزندگی‌نامه. هر دو کتاب بسیار شیرین بودن در نوشتار. اما این یکی به علت تعدد شخصیتها (که خدایی اسم بعضیهاشون انقدر سنگینه که تریلی نمیکشه) اون تمرکز کافی روی پیشبرد ایده و زندگی کنار رو نداشت و بیشتر روی جزئیات زندگیشون مانور میداد مثلا در حد اینکه فلان نیمه شب تو فلان کافه سارتر به دوبوار چی گفت یا فلان تاریخ سر چی کامو گرفت کستلر رو کتک زد (به قدری از خوندن این مورد تعجب زده شدم و البته خندیدم که حد نداشت)

یه خوبی بزرگ کتاب برای من کم سواد فلسفی این بود که با کلی فیلسوف آشنا شدم که چیزی ازشون نمیدونستم !! هوسرل، یاسپرس، لویناس، مرلوپونتی. خوبی دوم دیگه این بود که یه لیست از کتابهایی که باید بخونم (چه داستان چه ناداستان) برام به ارمغان آورد. از تهوع سارتر تا مردی با کت فلانل خاکستری ویلسون.

خلاصه کتابیه که باعث میشه به دانسته‌های آدم اضافه بشه و خوندنش خالی از لطف نیست. اما چه بسا خوندنش برای کسایی که با این فلسفه آشنایی دارن جذابتر هم باشه.
ولی اگه دنبال این هستین که بفهمید اگزیستانسیالیت چیه به نظر من این کتاب کافی که نیست هیچ حتی گیج کننده هم هست چون خیلی از این شاخه به اون شاخه میپره.
دیگه مطمئن شدم برای فهم درست فلسفه باید تاریخ فلسفه رو بخونم و بس.

ترجمه کتاب قابل قبول بود ولی واقعا اگر ویراست میشد خیلی قابل فهم‌تر می‌شد.
قیمت کتاب هم بالاست واقعا !! برای ۵۰۰ و خورده‌ای صفحه، شصت هزار تومان، نمیدونم با این وضعیت دیگه میشه کتاب خوندن رو ادامه داد؟
Profile Image for Ellie.
1,475 reviews372 followers
March 21, 2016
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 book is bursting with life and an appreciation of the thought and lives of others.

The Existentialist Cafe contains biographies of the various players in the existentialist drama and how their lives and personalities connected with their thinking. Although I had a slight familiarity with some of the figures, I was amazed at Blakewell's portrayal of their lives, personalities, and philosophy. She made me want to read Sartre and even Heidegger (I think I'll refrain) by bringing them to life as amazing and forceful characters.

And as a whole the book left me feeling appreciative of life itself, of being alive and all the richness of experience that involves. I never expected that from a book about philosophy but Blakwell is full of unexpected pleasures.
Profile Image for Semjon.
638 reviews326 followers
November 26, 2022
Der stumpfsinnige Titel, insbesondere Untertitel, lassen es kaum vermuten, aber das war für mich ein wirklich gutes und lehrreiches Buch über die Philosophie im 20. Jahrhundert, vor allem die Phänomenologie und den Existenzialismus. Ich bin allerdings auch nicht besonders bewandert in der Philosophie, insofern kann man nicht schnell begeistern, wenn man es als Autorin hinbekommt, mir die komplexen Gedankengänge über das Sein, das Nichts und die Zeit verständlich zu machen. Im Mittelpunkt von Sarah Bakewells Sachbuch steht das Quartett de Beauvoir, Sartre, Camus und Heidegger. Mit unserem erzkonservativen Philosophen aus dem Hochschwarzwald hatte ich mich vor kurzem erst beschäftigt, nachdem ich zwei Bücher über Hannah Arendt gelesen hatte. Da konnte ich schon die Faszination für Heideggers Gedanken nicht nachvollziehen und nach Bakewells Buch ist die Abneigung noch gewachsen. Gar nicht mal ausschließlich wegen seiner Nähe zum Nationalsozialismus, sondern wegen seiner kompletten Verneinung jeglichen Fortschritts. Dagegen ist meine Interesse an Simone de Beauvoir gewachsen, mit der ich mich bislang noch nie auseinander gesetzt habe.

Sarah Bakewells erzählt berichtet über viele Verästelungen in denen der Existenzialismus auch heute noch in anderen Werken der Kunst und des alltäglichen Lebens zu finden ist. Insbesondere die Einflüsse auf die Filmindustrie ist beeindruckend geschildert. Mir war auch nicht klar, wie wesentlich das Denken dieser Menschen für die 68er Bewegung war. Gelegentlich fragte ich mich, was denn so besonders daran war, das eigene Denken so zu huldigen und das Individuum und seine Existenz so in den Mittelpunkt zu stellen. Für uns sind viele Gedanken heute so selbstverständlich, dass sich die Faszination erst dann erschließt, wenn man vor Augen geführt bekommt, wie gering der Existenz des Einzelnen in der ersten Hälfte des 20. Jahrhunderts geschätzt wurde. In der Psychologie wurden nicht mehr Symptome behandelt, sondern das Individuum und seine Vita betrachtet. Wie kann man Psychologie betreiben, ohne den Menschen als Individuum zu betrachten? Welche bahnbrechende Gedanken diese Menschen hatten. Sehr lesenswert.
Profile Image for Ken.
Author 3 books925 followers
March 26, 2016
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 wish about a wide range of "existentialist-style" thinkers, many you don't know, such as Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Karl Jaspers, Edmund Husserl, etc. Of the ones you DO know, you'll learn more than you need to: Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, Simone de Beauvoir, and Martin Heidegger.

Philosophy like this can give me a headache. The philosophers themselves seem to struggle, constantly banging their heads against the realities of the world and politics. Case and point: Sartre's championing of Communism and how hard he fought against backing down in the face of Soviet camps and Soviet aggression against Eastern European independence movements (e.g. Hungary and Czechoslovakia).

One thing I like, though, is existentialism's emphasis on freedom and Bakewell's final reminder that it is more relevant than ever in our Age of Technology. Addiction to the Internet, to cellphones, to texts, to social networking sites. The existentialists are rolling in their graves as this unanticipated, figurative fascism takes over with abandon. My sympathies, for sure.

Nevertheless, they thought a lot, perhaps too much, and argued like children at times, further proof that, even among the highest intellects, life is middle school and remains so (a rather depressing take-away for a middle-school teacher like me).

Am I the better for reading it? Sure. I know more than I did. But will it lead me to further explore the existentialists and their writings? Unlike the case of Montaigne (whose Essays I at least tackled), the answer is no.

That said, no regrets. And I still admire Sarah Bakewell, author and thinker.
Profile Image for Algirdas Brukštus.
268 reviews116 followers
January 19, 2021
Gera ekskursija į nemenką XX a. mąstymo erdvę - fenomenologiją ir egzistencializmą. Patinka, kai mąstytojų mintys pateiktos greta jų biografinių faktų, kultūrinės ir gyvenamosios aplinkos. Dar noriu palygint šią knygą su balta mišraine, sumaišytą iš pikantiškų filosofų gyvenimo detalių, jų meilių, baimių, intrigų, neištikimybių ir kažkiek minčių. Prieš tai nebuvau egzistencializmo gerbėjas, netapau juo ir perskaitęs šią knygą, tačiau skaityti buvo tikrai smagu, vos ne kaip kokį nuotykinį romaną.
Beje, įdomią vietą knygoje užima Heideggeris, kaip koks ramus, tvirtas fonas tam visam egzistencialistų šurmuliui išryškinti. Va juo gal ir norėčiau pasidomėti daugiau, tik abejoju, kad esu tam jau pasiruošęs.
Profile Image for Sebastien.
252 reviews287 followers
December 14, 2016
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 hard since I have no background in this subject, and I'm not well-versed enough to be able to decipher who are honest deep thinkers adding valuable contributions and theories (that I just can't understand) to those who are merely intellectual obfuscators using philosophy as a selfish tool to deliberately try to show people how smart they are (well, how smart they think they are!). Sometimes it's a mix, people fall along a wide spectrum, even great thinkers can be intellectual snobs who fall into pushing empty ideas dressed up by a bouquet of verbal garbage.

I guess you could say I do somewhat subscribe to the following quote, although I don't think it is universally applicable but I do think it is appropriate for most cases in life, and it can apply to philosophy:

"If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough." - Albert Einstein

Anyways, all that to say that the author, Sarah Bakewell, is absolutely fabulous. She explains things simply. I loved her writing, I loved her thinking, I loved her explanations. She makes philosophy, at least existentialism, incredibly accessible. That is a huge selling point. The other thing I love with this book is how she delves into the biographies of all these philosophers (starting with a variety of German phenomenologists to the French existentialists) as a means of illuminating their ideas and thinking.

So I said I've never been into philosophy, not in an academic sense. Which is totally true. But like a lot of disaffected suburban kids, I discovered and was mesmerized by the French existentialists when I was in HS. I romanticized them and lionized them, although I only knew and read and understood their ideas in the most superficial manner. Camus was always my favorite mostly because he seemed so cool, haha! But as I've gotten older I've gotten a deeper appreciation of those writers/philosophers who focused on the absurdity of life, specifically Camus. It's something that rings true to me, not necessarily in its universality but because it mirrors some of my own personal life experiences.

Bakewell gives treatment to a wide range of philosophers, some notable ones that stick in my mind are Husserl, Heidegger, Camus, Sartre, Beauvoir, Merleau-Ponty, Levinas. There were many others as well. What struck me was how well she described them, their ideas, their lives. None were perfect, each had personal flaws and errors in judgment, grievous deviations and errors in ideas (which to be fair is bound to happen when you are working on countless ideas!). Sartre was a fascinating character to me, and via Bakewell's analysis as much as he made certain errors in philosophy or politics I came to see him as she did, a man who operated in "good faith." I really want to further explore the schism that took place between Camus and Sartre regarding politics. Politically/morally I skew more towards Camus, but I don't know all the nuances of their argument. I'd like to read Camus' The Rebel for a deeper insight into his thinking.

An interesting aspect to all these thinkers is that many were friends, deeply connected. It's amazing how many of these relationships disintegrated due to politics. It's sad, and terribly relevant imo. For example, Beauvoir (whom I deeply respect) and Sartre basically excommunicated certain friends (whom they had had loving relationships with for years upon years) because of a difference in politics. On the one hand I get it, these are people who trafficked in thinking, in ideas, and politics encompasses all these moral, intellectual values, the deep fundamentals of one's personal matrix. And yet it speaks to today, this is killing us as a society, the lack of ability to connect with those who hold different political values.

Personally I do not think friendships should end because of politics, unless it is under the most radical circumstances. I guess I was somewhat disgusted by Sartre and Beauvoir's attitude on this count, because as thinkers I would think they would want to engage in relationships with people who would push their thinking, challenge their thinking, and that they would appreciate intellectual adversaries who were able to show them where their arguments might lack logic or manifest weakness. Because that is how I TRY to approach these conversations with people who think completely differently from me. If we can engage in honest good faith dialogue, and if you are able to successfully show me where my logic, my argument lacks fundamentals, where the weak spots are, then you are doing me a favor! you are helping me see. You are forcing me to think more deeply, dig into a deeper more nuanced analysis where I have to craft a rebuttal, or shift and evolve my stances and thinking...

Not only does Bakewell beautifully show us these philosophers' thinking, their ideas, and their personal biographies, she also expertly presents the backdrops of their societies, the political, historical, and economic forces that played a role in shaping them. This is hugely important, we are all products of our time, and this is never more true than for these German and French philosophers who came of age in a time of insane nationalism, war, nihilism, despair, political upheavals within their societies, racism, colonialism, bigotry, etc. To see how they acted within this backdrop, how they manifested (and evolved) their morals/personal philosophy within this context helped me see who they really were, what they stood for, what ideals they were willing to live up to (or not live up to).

This book brought up some great moral and philosophical questions that are relevant in all of our lives. The cool thing was much of the existential philosophy was not just abstract mumbo jumbo, but it had direct implications and questions for how we as individuals choose to live our lives. Questions of freedom and personal choice/free will and individual moral accountability. Sure there are weak points within the philosophy of existentialism and yet there are many relevant questions and thinking grounded within reality that can help push us in analyzing and thinking about our own lives and how we live them. So near the end of the book when it got into questions of personal freedom, ability of the individual to act within larger historical forces, I couldn't help but think of Westworld. We all operate within "loops," life habits that are comforting, that keep us anchored and free from too much freedom. I think it was Sartre who said that true freedom is frightening, and I do agree. Many of our actions are based in habit, it is difficult and tiring to practice true freedom in thinking and actions. Plus there are the larger forces holding us back from practicing true freedom including society, culture, our hardware/biology, life necessities... But sometimes we have to rise to the challenge, and live life with greater consciousness in an attempt to pierce through our habits that keep us from exercising greater personal agency. It cannot always be done, but it is important to try and recognize our trappings so that we can better decide when it is necessary to break through our habits and exercise greater personal imperative. (Tbh I do not think a 100% deep true freedom is possible as I think such freedom would break our minds haha! habits are actually good for us, they anchor us, but the key is picking and choosing when to break the habits, that is the freedom we have imo)

Last note. I did think that existentialism seems to have certain similarities with Buddhism. Specifically the idea of practicing greater awareness and consciousness in every moment, both philosophies seem to be focused on the power of the individual and freedom.

Ack, ok last last note of something that totally fascinated me. Bakewell brought up a study that said that for those who believe that there is little freedom, personal choice, those that believe we are destined by our society/culture/historical forces to make certain decisions, guided and controlled by fate if you will... well these people are more likely to act more cruelly. The hypothesis is that they feel less personal accountability for their actions, their belief in a lack of freedom is an alibi for them, it allows them to distance themselves from personal accountability and blame their actions on destiny/larger forces. For those who believe we have greater freedom, greater choice in life, well they act less cruelly, since they see greater personal accountability within their own actions. I just thought that was so interesting. I need to see if I can find this study this is based on. I mostly listen to audiobooks so unfortunately I can't dog-ear these sections that strike me, I wish I could cite that study and look further into it, check out the methodology and fundamentals of the study... google here I come!

Long story short. I love love loved this book. Recommend it for everyone.
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