At the Existentialist Cafe: Freedom, Being, and Apricot Cocktails

Author(s): Sarah Bakewell

Culture & Ideas

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 caf 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 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.

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"It's not often that you miss your bus stop because you're so engrossed in reading a book about existentialism, but I did exactly that while immersed in Sarah Bakewell's At the Existentialist Cafe. The story of Sartre, Beauvoir, Camus, Heidegger et al is strange, fun and compelling reading. If it doesn't win awards, I will eat my proof copy" -- Katy Guest The Independent on Sunday "A wonderfully readable combination of biography, philosophy, history, cultural analysis and personal reflection." -- John Walsh Independent "At the Existentialist Cafe takes us back to...when philosophers and philosophy itself were sexy, glamorous, outrageous; when sensuality and erudition were entwined... [Bakewell] shows how fascinating were some of the existentialists' ideas and how fascinating, often frightful, were their lives. Vivid, humorous anecdotes are interwoven with a lucid and unpatronising exposition of their complex philosophy... Tender, incisive and fair." -- Jane O'Grady Daily Telegraph "Quirky, funny, clear and passionate...Few writers are as good as Bakewell at explaining complicated ideas in a way that makes them easy to understand." -- Craig Brown Mail on Sunday "Packed with out-of-the-way knowledge and has a cast of weird characters such as only a gathering of philosophers could supply." -- John Carey The Sunday Times

Sarah Bakewell was a teenage existentialist, having been swept off her feet by reading Sartre's Nausea, aged 16. She is the author of three biographies, including the bestselling How to Live: A Life of Montaigne, which won the Duff Cooper Prize for Non-Fiction and the National Books Critics Circle Award for Biography in the US, and was shortlisted for the Costa Biography Award and the Marsh Biography Award.

General Fields

  • : 9780099554882
  • : penguin random house
  • : Arrow
  • : March 2017
  • : 198mm X 129mm
  • : United Kingdom
  • : February 2017
  • : books

Special Fields

  • : 300
  • : 1
  • : Paperback
  • : Sarah Bakewell