At the Existentialist Café

At the Existentialist Café

Freedom, Being, and Apricot Cocktails With Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone De Beauvoir, Albert Camus, Martin Heidegger, Karl Jaspers, Edmund Husserl, Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Others

Book - 2016
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A New York Times "Ten Best Books of 2016"

From the best-selling author of How to Live , a spirited account of one of the twentieth 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 caf#65533;s 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 Caf#65533; 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.
Publisher: New York : Other Press, [2016]
ISBN: 9781590514887
Branch Call Number: 142.78 BAKEWELL
Characteristics: 439 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm


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"War broke out on the Korean peninsula, with both China and Russia backing the North." "Brazil was where Austrian writer Stefan Zweig had gone to exile, in World War 2, and then he committed suicide there." Sartre disagreed: if war is imminent, how can you keep silent? Merleau-Ponty differed: 'because brute force will decide the outcome. who speaks to what has no ears?'" "on 29 August 1949, after years of espionage and development, Russia explodes an atom bomb." "deBeauvoir and Sartre went to Scandinavia and saw beautiful things there: 'dwarf forests, earth the color of amethysts planted with tiny trees red as coral and yellow as gold.'" "French communists disapproved of Existentialism because of its insistence on personal freedom." "For Camus, the immediate lesson after Hiroshima was that humanity 'must develop a true international society, one in which the great countries will not have superior rights over small and middle-sized nations, where such ultimate weapons will be controlled by human intelligence rather than by the appetites and doctrines of various states.'" this sounds much like JFK was to sound, before he was assassinated.

Feb 16, 2017

Highly readable bios of intellectuals we've all heard of and read some of. Bakewell puts one
right at the "cafe" in the 40s and 50s.

Oct 27, 2016

This is the second book I have read by Bakewell and I continue to be pleased with her writing and subject matter: Philosophy. Her book about Montaigne, “How to Live” was a pleasure, full of information about the history of France, Montaigne’s life, and how his Philosophy was unique and timeless. The “Café” is much the same but hundreds of year later, though the times are not any brighter, and the Philosophers’ continue to examine their world, make moral choices, and be reviled or celebrated by those choices. Not a primer like “Sophie’s World” by Gaarder; much more complex and interesting, full of memorable characters and excellent insights.

Sep 20, 2016

For me "At the Existentialist Café" was a provocation and a refresher for years-ago reading and study in existentialist philosophy and phenomenology. At that time I really did not pull together the connections between them and the German intellectual giants (Husserl , Heidegger & later) to (Gasp!) Norman Mailer. The reading here is a wonderful narrative centered on the Paris café group entered around Sartre and de Beauvoir and extended to the routes of their worldview and lives. Don't be afraid of philosophy here (although I can't extend the same review to many other philosophy tomes)!

Manateestarz Jun 23, 2016

I actually finished this book. I highly recommend this as an introduction to one of the most important movements of the 20th century. Bakewell's writing style is passionate, engaging and clear. She gives the reader a survey of Existentialism and its roots in phenomenology. Her approach shows how the existentialists and proto existentialists examined the big problems of life. "What is meaning?" "Why am I here." "What does it mean to be ?" "What is existence" A really compelling and lively book. Very accessible.

May 14, 2016

This is an excellent survey of phenomenology and existentialism and the major thinkers in these fields. Bakewell makes the case for the relevance of existentialism in to-day's world.

Mar 24, 2016

Fun read even if you don't have a background in philosophy.

Mark_Daly Mar 11, 2016

As its title implies, reading this book is like sitting in a Left Bank café and eavesdropping on a lively group of philosophers as they debate, quarrel and fall in and out of love. Satisfying on its own, but also handy as a starting point for further reading.


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Apr 12, 2017

PoeticallyA thinks this title is suitable for All Ages


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