At the Existentialist Cafรฉ by Sarah Bakewell

The book’s full title isย At the Existentialist Cafรฉ: Freedom, Being, and Apricot Cocktails with Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Albert Camus, Martin Heidegger, Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Others. Strike the “apricot cocktails” and that pretty well sums it up.

Sarah Bakewell found some fame and fortune with her previousย bookย How to Live: Or A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer. I read and enjoyed that one. As usually happens, it made me want to read some of the subject’s writings: the 16th century essays of Michel de Montaigne.ย 

At the Existentialist Cafรฉย made me curious about the writings of some of its subjects, but less optimistic about enjoying or even making sense of what they had to say. Reading Bakewell’s descriptions, explanations and quotations of works by Merleau-Ponty, Heidegger and Sartre left me relatively clueless about what readingย hundreds of pages of phenomenology or existentialism would be like.

In addition, except for Albert Camus and Simone de Beauvoir, I didn’t find the life stories orย idiosyncrasies of these thinkers especially interesting, certainly not as interesting as Bakewell does.