At The Existentialist Café Book Summary - At The Existentialist Café Book explained in key points
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At The Existentialist Café summary

Sarah Bakewell

Freedom, Being and Apricot Cocktails

4.6 (218 ratings)
27 mins

Brief summary

At The Existentialist Café by Sarah Bakewell traces the lives of existentialist thinkers and analyzes their works. It offers insight into the movement's philosophy and how it influenced cultural, political, and social changes.

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    At The Existentialist Café
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    An apricot cocktail started Jean-Paul Sartre on the road to existentialism.

    For a lot of us, existentialism is a murky term, one that suggests gloomy ideas about the futility of life. But existentialism started with something a lot more cheerful: an apricot cocktail.

    Around the end of 1932, Jean-Paul Sartre, his girlfriend Simone de Beauvoir and his friend Raymond Aron sat in the Bec-de-Gaz bar in Paris, sipping cocktails and catching up. The three had studied philosophy together at École normale supérieure in Paris, and had graduated restless and unsatisfied. The school’s curriculum was dominated by the same questions that philosophers had been asking since Plato’s time, like “How can I know that things are real?” and “How can I be sure that I know anything for certain?” It was hard to see the point in any of it, and the three friends were hungry for a new kind of philosophy, something that spoke to their dissatisfaction with the stale old questions that had bored them in school.

    But what other ways of philosophizing could there be? Sartre and Beauvoir had been teaching in the French provinces since they’d graduated, and neither had any new ideas to report. Aron, though, thought he had found an answer. Studying in Berlin after graduation, he had encountered a new and different philosophy that had originated in Germany: phenomenology. What made phenomenology so exciting was that it put stale metaphysical questions like the ones they’d studied at the École normale supérieure to one side in order to look at the stuff of real, everyday life. With phenomenology, Aron said, he could even use his apricot cocktail to philosophize!

    His friends were astounded.

    Sartre lit up, and went straight to a bookstore. Hungry to know more about phenomenology, he asked for every book on the topic that the shop had. Unfortunately, that only meant a single book. Though Sartre tore through it, he was desperate to know more; soon he was making arrangements to study in Berlin for a year, just as Aron had. There, Sartre created something entirely new, blending the phenomenology books that he read with other philosophers’ ideas and his own literary style and personality. By the time he returned to Paris in 1934, he was ready to found a new philosophy of his own: existentialism.

    Sartre’s year in Berlin had been fruitful. But ironically, a different city in Germany was actually the heart of phenomenology: Freiburg.

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    What is At The Existentialist Café about?

    At the Existentialist Café (2016) recounts the birth of existentialism in the early twentieth century. Both a biography and a philosophical text, it tells the stories of individual philosophers as well as their ideas. Above all, it explores how big philosophical questions can illuminate our lives and the way we live them.

    At The Existentialist Café Review

    At The Existentialist Café (2016) takes readers on a journey through the lives and philosophies of influential existentialist thinkers like Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. Here's why this book is worth reading:

    • Offers a fascinating exploration of existentialism and its impact on society, delving into its key ideas and tracing their development over time.
    • Presents vivid accounts of the personal lives and relationships of these philosophers, giving readers a deeper understanding of their motivations and the context in which they worked.
    • Engages readers with its thought-provoking examination of existentialist themes such as freedom, authenticity, and the search for meaning in an often absurd world.

    Who should read At The Existentialist Café?

    • Philosophers who feel that philosophy has lost touch with everyday life
    • Francophiles looking for insight on their national treasures
    • Curious observers who want to learn how to look more closely at the world around them

    About the Author

    Sarah Bakewell is a writer from Bournemouth, England. She spent her childhood traveling and living in Australia with her parents, before eventually returning to the UK. There, she studied philosophy at the University of Essex and worked as a cataloger and curator of early printed books at London’s Wellcome Library for the History of Medicine. She is the author of four books including The Smart, The English Dane and How To Live: A Life of Montaigne.

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    At The Existentialist Café FAQs 

    What is the main message of At The Existentialist Café?

    The main message of At The Existentialist Café is an exploration of existentialism and its impact on philosophy and society.

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    The reading time for At The Existentialist Café varies depending on the reader, but it typically takes several hours. However, the Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is At The Existentialist Café a good book? Is it worth reading?

    At The Existentialist Café is a thought-provoking read, offering insights into the minds of influential existentialist thinkers. Worth exploring!

    Who is the author of At The Existentialist Café?

    Sarah Bakewell is the author of At The Existentialist Café.

    What to read after At The Existentialist Café?

    If you're wondering what to read next after At The Existentialist Café, here are some recommendations we suggest:
    • On Being and Becoming by Jennifer Anna Gosetti-Ferencei
    • The Ethics of Ambiguity by Simone de Beauvoir
    • The Myth of Sisyphus by Albert Camus
    • Discipline & Punish by Michel Foucault
    • The Little Book of Stoicism by Jonas Salzgeber
    • Becoming Beauvoir by Kate Kirkpatrick
    • The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy
    • Super Human by Dave Asprey
    • The Anxious Generation by Jonathan Haidt
    • Being and Nothingness by Jean-Paul Sartre