From the best-selling author of How to Live, a spirited account of one of the 20th century's major intellectual movements and the revolutionary thinkers who came to shape it.
Paris, 1933: Three contemporaries meet over apricot cocktails at the Bec-de-Gaz bar on the rue Montparnasse. They are the young Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, and longtime friend Raymond Aron, a fellow philosopher who raves to them about a new conceptual framework from Berlin called phenomenology. "You see," he says, "if you are a phenomenologist, you can talk about this cocktail and make philosophy out of it!"
It was this simple phrase that would ignite a movement, inspiring Sartre to integrate phenomenology into his own French humanistic sensibility, thereby creating an entirely new philosophical approach inspired by themes of radical freedom, authentic being, and political activism. This movement would sweep through the jazz clubs and cafés of the Left Bank before making its way across the world as existentialism.
Featuring not only philosophers but also playwrights, anthropologists, convicts, and revolutionaries, At the Existentialist Café follows the existentialists' story from the first rebellious spark through the Second World War to its role in postwar liberation movements such as anticolonialism, feminism, and gay rights. Interweaving biography and philosophy, it is the epic account of passionate encounters - fights, love affairs, mentorships, rebellions, and long partnerships - and a vital investigation into what the existentialists have to offer us today, at a moment when we are once again confronting the major questions of freedom, global responsibility, and human authenticity in a fractious and technology-driven world.
©2016 Sarah Bakewell (P)2016 Audible, Inc.
This book has won first place in my Audible library (and I have 2 years worth of it). The ease of the performance and content kept me so engaged that I had to find excuses to keep headphones on. Although I am only relatively new to existential thought, I didn't feel disconnected. The story of the individual lives were so well entwined with their respective philosophies that (as well as intertwined) that I felt like I always took away some new insight. Bravo to the author and performer.
l'enfer c'est les autres
The author uses biography and the context of the times to explain the development of Existentialism. She mostly stays within the 20th century but does make an exception with Kierkegaard (the father of Existentialism) and details the influence that Phenomenology had on the development of Existentialism.
The author excels when she is describing Philosopher's ideas. In the first half of the book, she probably spent two hours on Heidegger's "Being and Time" and what it meant. She actually did one of the best summaries of the book that I've ever come across. She did it so good, she probably should put a warning label in the book because that might lead the listener to hunt down a copy of the book and read the most abstruse and frustrating book ever written (it's well worth suffering through and I hope this book inspires some people to hunt it down and suffer through it).
I'm more interested in ideas than I am in people's lives. The author really does a good job at explaining the philosophy and putting it into the context of the time period. For me, the book is most fun when she's talking about esoteric fine points of the Philosophy under discussion. During the last 3 hours of the book, she's getting away from the ideas and focus more on the people, and even makes the statement that she thinks "ideas are less important and the life of the philosopher is just as important for discovering their philosophy". She's right, but I still prefer to focus on the ideas not the person. Heidegger was a raging Nazi, but I still like "Being and Time". (It's just a personnel thing and I realize the author in general is probably right).
The author gives a consistent look at what at times can be an incoherent philosophy with its mutually exclusive set of beliefs. I would say, the way the author put the book together this book was much more informative on the philosophy of Existentialism (and Phenomenology) then a Great Course lecture series on Existentialism that I've previously had listened to because the power of story with a narrative ties various aspects of a story together more coherently even when the philosophy can be incoherent.
[Usually I zone out the narrator, but for me Antonia Beamish is perfect for Sarah Blackwell's books. She narrates so well that I instantly think it's the author reading the book herself}
No. Different use. I find quotes in the hard cover, but enjoyed the audio book.
Waiter, another round.
Well researched and engaging description
This fascinating overview of the lives and thinking of the principal modern existentialists is even more relevant now than when it was written. It was heartening to learn that a philosophy that champions freedom and responsibility was forged in the fire of a time when authoritarianism and mass violence threatened to destroy the world as we know it. Inspiring and very enjoyable.
This philosophical biography definitely leans more heavily towards biography but it seems indispensable for figures who stressed bringing back attention to the experience of life. Does a good job of conveying ideas of many interesting figures.
I particularly liked that it didn't approach each individual philosopher in their own section but continued with the story of the older ones even after they were out of the spotlight.
I loved getting to know the major characters of the existentialist generation. I can't wait to dive deeper into this world and learn more!
thank you Sarah Bakewell!
I can't imagine a better introduction to Jean Paul Sartre, his fellow existentialists, and their forerunners.
This is perhaps the best book I've "read" in years. The way the author weaves the biographical narratives of these philosophers together with explanations and interpretations of their individual philosophies is masterful! What could have been an unbearably dull book is anything but thanks to the talent of the author. I really felt like I knew these luminaries after reading; something which is rare in my experience of biography. The author is fair in her portrayals of the figures she focuses on, neither overly sympathetic or overly critical, and therefore creates a realistic and relatable cast of characters.
It should be noted that the narrator is beyond excellent. Her accents sound natural and unaffected, while her "narrator voice" is pleasant to listen to on its own. While the book is wonderful on its own terms, it is undoubtedly enhanced by the masterful narration.
I am a university professor & author. I teach courses in media theory & psychology. I live in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania.
The text is incredible as an historic introduction to the existentialists and existentialism. The narrator would have been perfect had she not sunk into forced "American" accents every time an American was quoted. This detracted from my experience.
early modern historian
The author did a very good job by introducing us to the major people and ideas of 20th century philosophical thought. she attempted to focus supposed to be on phenomenalism but she often went off to discuss more the biographies of leading thinkers including Camus and Sartre.
Beside de Beauvoir Merlau-Ponty was her favorite person because of his Pleasant demeanor and easier-to-read writings. I enjoyed listening to the book very much and I hope to dig into the book more and start reading some of the original authors and more depth.
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