At the Existentialist Café

  • by Sarah Bakewell
  • Narrated by Antonia Beamish
  • 14 hrs and 43 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

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 cafés 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 Café 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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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Consistent look at incoherent philosophy

The author uses biography and the context of the times to explain the development of Existentialism. She mostly stays within the 20th century but does make an exception with Kierkegaard (the father of Existentialism) and details the influence that Phenomenology had on the development of Existentialism.

The author excels when she is describing Philosopher's ideas. In the first half of the book, she probably spent two hours on Heidegger's "Being and Time" and what it meant. She actually did one of the best summaries of the book that I've ever come across. She did it so good, she probably should put a warning label in the book because that might lead the listener to hunt down a copy of the book and read the most abstruse and frustrating book ever written (it's well worth suffering through and I hope this book inspires some people to hunt it down and suffer through it).

I'm more interested in ideas than I am in people's lives. The author really does a good job at explaining the philosophy and putting it into the context of the time period. For me, the book is most fun when she's talking about esoteric fine points of the Philosophy under discussion. During the last 3 hours of the book, she's getting away from the ideas and focus more on the people, and even makes the statement that she thinks "ideas are less important and the life of the philosopher is just as important for discovering their philosophy". She's right, but I still prefer to focus on the ideas not the person. Heidegger was a raging Nazi, but I still like "Being and Time". (It's just a personnel thing and I realize the author in general is probably right).

The author gives a consistent look at what at times can be an incoherent philosophy with its mutually exclusive set of beliefs. I would say, the way the author put the book together this book was much more informative on the philosophy of Existentialism (and Phenomenology) then a Great Course lecture series on Existentialism that I've previously had listened to because the power of story with a narrative ties various aspects of a story together more coherently even when the philosophy can be incoherent.

[Usually I zone out the narrator, but for me Antonia Beamish is perfect for Sarah Blackwell's books. She narrates so well that I instantly think it's the author reading the book herself}
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- Gary "l'enfer c'est les autres"

Possibly the best book on Audible

This book has won first place in my Audible library (and I have 2 years worth of it). The ease of the performance and content kept me so engaged that I had to find excuses to keep headphones on. Although I am only relatively new to existential thought, I didn't feel disconnected. The story of the individual lives were so well entwined with their respective philosophies that (as well as intertwined) that I felt like I always took away some new insight. Bravo to the author and performer.
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- David A. Wilson Jr.

Book Details

  • Release Date: 06-07-2016
  • Publisher: Audible Studios