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Irrational Man: A Study in Existential Philosophy

4.09  ·  Rating details ·  1,855 Ratings  ·  132 Reviews
Widely recognized as the finest definition of existentialist philosophy ever written, this book introduced existentialism to America in 1958. Barrett speaks eloquently and directly to concerns of the 1990s: a period when the irrational and the absurd are no better integrated than before and when humankind is in even greater danger of destroying its existence without ever u ...more
Paperback, 314 pages
Published July 1st 1962 by Anchor Books (first published 1958)
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Virginia Hoyt Like Thomas, this book was exceptionally powerful in my life, and very important. I read (and finished) it twice; first in 2013, then again this year…moreLike Thomas, this book was exceptionally powerful in my life, and very important. I read (and finished) it twice; first in 2013, then again this year 2017

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Glenn Russell
Jul 07, 2014 rated it it was amazing

I first read William Barrett's Irrational Man back in college and was inspired to spend the next several years reading Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Dostoyevsky, Kafka,, Berdyaev and Shestov. Quite a rewarding experience.

Having also participated in the arts and music and the study of aesthetics for many years, I revisited Barrett's book with an eye to what he has to say about existentialism's connection to modern art. Again, a most rewarding experience.

So, with this in mind, and also recognizing many
This review is about the book by William Barrett, not the 2015 movie by Woody Allen.

Irrational Man: A Study In Existential Philosophy is a 1958 book by philosopher William Barrett, in which Barrett explains the philosophical background of existentialism and provides a discussion of several major existentialist thinkers, including Søren Kierkegaard, Friedrich Nietzsche, Martin Heidegger, and Jean-Paul Sartre. Irrational Man helped to introduce existentialism to the English speaking world and
Mar 30, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Ah, fuck it. I've tried several times now, and I simply do not seem to be (cap)able to put together what I wanted to say about Irrational Man—and nor do I feel right leaving as testament to Professor Barrett a mere one line encomium stating that I'd read him again, dude! Sure would! Hence, I'm reinstating the following unfinished and astray review that was rather sourly wiped-away the week past, with the recognition that I've depleted myself of the will and energy to pen anything further about B ...more
Ian "Marvin" Graye

Woody Allen's "Irrational Man"

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

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

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



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

Apr 25, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: chained-books
I am not adequate to the task. I look at this . . . monument to Existential philosophy, and I face a void of thought yawning wide in the dark depths beneath my skull. How could I ever capture the thoughts and feelings I experienced while immersed in this sea of emotional and intellectual self-realization? This book is a startling revelation, and I am no prophet. Still, I will try to relate the unrelatable.

Barrett starts with a section entitled "The Present Age," relating the present-history of t
M. Sarki
Apr 22, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 5-star-wonders
One of the most enjoyable and rewarding books on philosophy I have ever read. Next to Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia a most important book still for our time.
Ken Moten
Though a little intermediately dated this is still a good book to introduce you to Existentialism or at least what it looked like in 1958 when Sartre and Camus...and de Beauvoir were active. This is the book that introduced much of the english-speaking world (not just the academy) to Existentialism in detail.

It is 11 Chapters divided into four parts, one on the present (1958) state of existentialism, the sources of existentialism in the "western tradition", 4 Existentialist that William Barrett
Grant Fairbairn
Feb 26, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Grant by: found it in my Dad's rotting book collection
The most understandable and engaging intro to Existential philosophy I've read/attempted to read.

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

I majored in philosophy in college due in largest part to a desire to better understand the world and my place in it, but oftentimes I just found myself sitting in class try
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Erik Graff
Aug 01, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: existentialism beginners
Recommended to Erik by: Howard Burkle
Shelves: philosophy
This book was assigned reading for Howard Burkle's Philosophy 215 class, "Existentialism", at Grinnell College. It was also the first class I ever took with him and a reason I switched majors from History to Religious Studies, the new department he chaired.

Although I had read a good deal of Camus, both fiction and non-fiction; of Nietzsche and of Sartre, I really didn't know much about existentialism approached philosophically. Indeed, I had only taken a miserable Introduction to Philosophy and
Jan 06, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: philosophy
Published in 1958 this remains an excellent and lively read. In order to make the case for Existentialism, Barrett finds it necessary to establish the limitations and the false leads of alternatives, and he looks both to the rational and the religious for the roots of the problem to which Existentialism is a proposed solution. As a result, his book contributes to many debates that remain topical and significant.

In selecting quotes, however, I have arrived at a position described in a short stor
Feb 19, 2008 rated it liked it
Irrational Man, published in 1958, provides a survey of existential philosophy, its roots, and its place history. As cover proudly claims, it does indeed handle these topics in a "lucid" way. William Barrett comes off as the kind of guy you would like to have as your introductory philosophy professor, able to explain elusive concepts in a clear (yet not condescending) manner, summarizing such massive works of thought as Aquinas's Summa Theologica, Kierkegaard's Either/Or, Heidegger's Being and T ...more
Aug 25, 2012 rated it really liked it
A lively, coherent, and--most importantly--comprehensible overview of Existential philosophy. I've read almost nothing by the four biggies Barrett discusses in detail (Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Sartre) so I can't comment on the accuracy of his assertions: if they're near the mark, I'd raise the rating to five stars. He doesn't just summarize their main points, he also isn't shy about raising issues he thinks each philosopher has missed, or when they seem to have lost the thread entirely ...more
Apr 28, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Anyone who wants to know what "existentialism" means
This book is probably the best introduction to existentialism that I've ever read. Barrett presents the central ideas in a clear manner which are easy to grasp for someone who's relatively new to philosophy and existentialism. The introduction to the four key philosophers is a good point, but as a previous reviewer remarked it's clear that Barrett favours some more than others. At times it gets a little dense and you feel you have to keep a number of abstract ideas in your head to keep up with B ...more
John Doe
Apr 26, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: reviewed
What would it mean to exist without context? Meaning would be forever under-determined. Multiple interpretations of the same event would be possible. It would also be so much harder to understand what we see (or read). Barrett argues that modern man lives without context, and he argues that contemporary literature and philosophy prove it.

It was marketed as the finest definition of Existentialism ever written. I don't know about that, but it is the best I have ever read.
Kilburn Adam
Feb 26, 2013 rated it really liked it
This book is good and bad. Good because it explains lots of things. Bad becuase it mentions a ludicrous amount of books, that I want to read. Maybe that's what makes it good. Was going to read Being and Time. But now I will read something completely different.
Simo Ibourki
Feb 28, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: philosophy
A good introduction and analysis of existential philosophy and the continuing war between the rational and the irrational man.
Thomas Baughman
Old as this book is, it is still one of the best introductions to Existential Philosophy. Barrett knew many of the twetieth century existentialists and understood their philosophy quite clearly.
Phoenix Rises
Jan 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Love this book. A very rich history of existentialist philosophy, and the reasons why existentialism emerges in our present era. Barrett talks about various topics, such as art and religion, and relates it to his exegesis of existentialism. Barrett himself is a stylistic writer, and very philosophical, and that makes this text interesting. While critical of Sartre and not critical enough of Heidegger, I find this book to be very knowledgeable and worth reading. Highly recommended.
Jul 26, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: re-read-books
Barrett’s “Irrational Man”, published in 1958, was an influential introduction of Existentialism to American public. Although my current focus is only on a narrower strand of philosophers under the Existential banner, this book provided a useful intellectual history of ideas from ancient Greece to present-day, which exceeds Existentialism itself.

Irrationality, as opposing the classic rationalism in human, is the center theme of this book. Chapter Four is the actual beginning in this intellectua
Feb 11, 2015 rated it it was amazing
¿Qué tan difícil es entender que existimos?
Desde tiempos inmemoriables el ser humano se ha cuestionado su existencia (quizá no el hecho de estar presente -es decir, de existir- si no el POR QUÉ de su existencia) siendo que la explicación más simple suele ser la correcta (¡pum! Navaja de Ockham) que en este caso (al menos como lo entiendo) es porque no tenemos la necesidad de buscar una razón. Existimos y ya. No hay una misión especial para la vida de todos, no hay una razón fundamental con meta
Arjun Ravichandran
Feb 12, 2013 rated it liked it
Decent introduction to existential philosophy. The prose is conversational and friendly, without the usual sour academic quality one associates with philosophy books. The first half of the book is a lead-up to the actual discussion of the 4 main existentialist thinkers (Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Sartre), and was illuminating. The author dissects the roots of existential thought in early Christianity, in Eastern religions and systems of thought, and shows how existential pathos/angst ...more
Oct 01, 2013 rated it it was ok
A very basic introduction to existential thought which does not provide much apart from a general summary of the works of Kierkegaard, Heidegger, Nietzsche, and Sartre. The summary of Nietzsche is not particularly thorough or informative, and Barrett's dislike of Nietzsche comes through in the writing, rather than providing a balanced account of his work. He also seems to have an affinity for Kierkegaard and particular 'issues' with Sartre, which again detracts from the idea of an 'objective' re ...more
Jun 24, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Philosophers or those interested in existentialism
Shelves: recently-read
Irrational Man is an introduction to the basic principles of existentialism by means of examination of some of the subjects it discusses, as well as biographies and commentary on its most prominent philosophers. Specifically discussed are Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Sartre. This book shows its age a bit, and one might get the impression that the author is rather critical of Sartre simply because he is a contemporary.

This is a good, short read that can open one up to the idea that man
Nov 06, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Paraphrasing Pascal: ...Solidly ensconced in habit the good citizen, surrounded by wife and family, secure in his job, need not cast his eye on the quality of his days as they pass, and see how each day entombs some hope or dream forgotten and how the next morning wakes him to a round that becomes ever narrower and more congealed. Both habit and diversion, so long as they work, conceal from man his nothingness, his forlornness, his inadequacy, his impotence and his emptiness. Religion is the onl ...more
Sep 29, 2010 rated it really liked it
His explanation of Nietzsche's Will to Power is worth the price of the book. Definitely a great tool for introducing the main concepts and the major players of existentialist philosophy. Heidegger says, "We cannot hear the cry of Nietzsche unless we start thinking," such a great line! But what's more, the philosophical emphasis on Reason, according to Heidegger, actually serves to the detriment of thinking.
John Kaufmann
Dec 22, 2013 rated it really liked it
The best summary of existentialism I have read. I first read this in college in the 1960s, and have re-read it twice since and still get something out of it. The book explores several (most?) of the existential themes. In addition to providing a good overview of existentialist philosophy, the author actually succeeds in conveying some of the existential "feeling" - which is really what existentialism is about, i.e., concrete experience.
Mixed feelings about this. Not sure I feel like finishing it any longer. Too leisurely and too 1940's literary in his prose, which doesn't work (for me) in doing philosophical analysis. Others may find this more to their taste, of course.
Theresa Leone Davidson
Sep 14, 2014 rated it really liked it
Terrific book detailing the belief systems of philosophers like Sartre and Nietzsche, their writing, and perhaps most importantly, how they have affected writers and thinkers up to the 21st century. Barrett's writing flows. Highly recommend!
Sep 06, 2007 marked it as to-read
My friend Johnny, a philosophy major at Brooklyn, highly recommended this book. I find his thoughts on religion, philosophy, and existentialism fascinating, so I am really looking forward to reading this.
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William Christopher Barrett (1913 – 1992) was a professor of philosophy at New York University from 1950 to 1979. Precociously, he began post-secondary studies at the City College of New York when 15 years old. He received his PhD at Columbia University. He was an editor of Partisan Review and later the literary critic of The Atlantic Monthly magazine. He was well-known for writing philosophical w ...more
More about William Barrett
“Man's feeling of homelessness, of alienation has been intensified in the midst of a bureaucratized, impersonal mass society. He has come to feel himself an outsider even within his own human society. He is trebly alienated: a stranger to God, to nature, and to the gigantic social apparatus that supplies his material wants.

But the worst and final form of alienation, toward which indeed the others tend, is man's alienation from his own self. In a society that requires of man only that he perform competently his own particular social function, man becomes identified with this function, and the rest of his being is allowed to subsist as best it can - usually to be dropped below the surface of consciousness and forgotten.”
“If a man has learned to think, no matter what he may think about, he is always thinking of his own death. All philosophers were like that. And what truth can there be, if there is death?” 6 likes
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