Book Review: At the Existentialist Cafe

At the Existentialist Cafe: Freedom, Being and Apricot Cocktails — Sarah Bakewell

This book has rekindled my love of early Sartre, Husserl, existentialism and phenomenology. It also sparked new loves of de Beauvoir and Merleau-Ponty, who I had never given direct consideration before. Given the ongoing culture wars, I think society could do with a large dose of existentialism and phenomenology. Individual responsibility combined with a determination to see things as they are in the here and now could cure much of what ails us.

Bakewell does an excellent job of situating thinkers and their ideas in their historical context in a way that brings both the thinkers and their ideas to life, giving greater depth and perspective to the concepts under discussion. She is even handed and there does not appear to be any drastic misinterpretation or reinterpretation. If you’ve ever been curious about existentialism and its roots this is an excellent overview. However, you may, like me, find you need to wade through the first few chapters involving Heidegger to get to the more central themes. Heidegger is important for context, but, in my opinion, little more, and it would have been a shame if I had put the book down and not come back, as I nearly did, as the focus seemed to be so much on him at the start.

One I will be reading again, as I found a lot to be inspired by, as an artist and a writer, as well as a human being. 5/5

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