At the Existentialist Café: Freedom, Being, and Apricot Cocktails
By Sarah Bakewell
The author of the Montaigne biography “How to Live” has written another impressively lucid book, one that offers a joint portrait of the giants of existentialism and phenomenology: Sartre, Beauvoir, Camus, Jaspers, Merleau-Ponty, Heidegger and a half-dozen other European writers and philosophers.
Around the early 1930s, the story divides between the characters who eventually come out more or less right, like Beauvoir, and the ones who come out wrong, like Heidegger.
Some of Bakewell’s most exciting pages present engaged accounts of complex philosophies, even ones that finally repel her. And the biographical nuggets are irresistible; we learn, for example, that for months after trying mescaline, Sartre thought he was being followed by “lobster-like beings.”