Book review: At The Existentialist Cafe: Freedom, Being, And Apricot Cocktails

SARAH BAKEWELL is the author of How To Live, in which she mined the essays of Montaigne to create a self-help manual for the 21st century. 

Sarah Bakewell

Chatto & Windus, £16.99 (£10.99 PB)

With this new book, she goes in for another popularising assault on the French highbrow.

Her brisk stroll through the annals of existentialism traces the movement back to its origins in Husserl’s phenomenology and forward to outliers like the British writer Colin Wilson and the American novelist Richard Wright, both of whom penned books titled The Outsider.

But the focus of the story is of course Jean-Paul Sartre and his life-long companion-of-ideas Simone de Beauvoir, along with co-stars Heidegger, Camus, and Merleau-Ponty.

Baker presents a beguiling blend of anecdote, quotation and philosophical explication, in which de Beauvoir emerges as the under-sung heroine, and the Jewish Husserl suffers at the hands of his one-time protege, the Nazi-sympathising Heidegger.


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