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From the bestselling author of How to Live, an enthralling and original new book about a group of young thinkers, the birth of existentialism and some of the biggest questions of all

Paris, near the turn of 1932-3. Three young friends meet over apricot cocktails at the Bec-de-Gaz bar on the rue Montparnasse. They are Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir and their friend Raymond Aron, who opens their eyes to a radical new way of thinking…

‘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... 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 copy’ Independent on Sunday

‘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’ 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’ Mail on Sunday

Reviews

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 Café. 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

My book of the year is Sarah Bakewell’s At The Existentialist Café, a marvellously rich and evocative journey through one of the most powerful philosophical movements of the twentieth century… This graceful book speaks to our parochial and inward-looking age.

Sudhir Hazareesingh, Times Literary Supplement, Book of the Year

A wonderfully readable combination of biography, philosophy, history, cultural analysis and personal reflection.

John Walsh, Independent

At the Existentialist Café 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 Oâ??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

[Bakewell] writes well, with a lightness of touch and a very Anglo-Saxon sense of humour… Bakewell is a skilful and nuanced teacher. Her explanation of the mysteries of phenomenology, clear and succinct, is as brilliant as any I’ve heard in a French university classroom… Fascinating insights.

Andrew Hussey, Observer

A riveting narrative.

Caroline Sanderson, The Bookseller

A book that is a kind of collaboration between [Bakewell’s] exhilarated younger self and the more measured, adult writer she has become… A work that is both warm and intellectually rigorous… Bakewell has not written a textbook — but anyone looking for one on phenomenology and existentialism would be advised to read this instead. She has a knack for crystallising key ideas by identifying choice original quotations and combining them with her own words… Her book is a clearing in a dense philosophical thicket few of us have the ability or inclination to navigate alone.

Julian Baggini, The Financial Times

A surprisingly sparkling book… Interesting and amusing… Pleasant and entertaining.

Philip Hensher, The Spectator

At the Existentialist Café is a bracingly fresh look at once-antiquated ideas and the millennium in which they flourished… Ms. Bakewell’s approach is enticing and unusual.

Janet Maslin, New York Times

Bakewell has a wonderful skill in expressing complex ideas in simple terms.

Suzi Feay, Independent on Sunday

Engaging and wide-ranging.

Andy Martin, Prospect

Enjoyable and authoritative group biography of the existentialist movement.

Roger Lewis, The Times

Bakewell has a gift for making philosophy come alive through an engaging blend of memoir, biography and cultural history.

Bookseller

A spritely and invigorating introduction to Sartre, de Beauvoir and Co. mixes philosophy, history and biography.

Christopher Bray, The Tablet

It is crammed with interest and rich in atmosphere. At its heart is a clear understanding of the relation between philosophy and biography.

Ruth Scurr, Wall Street Journal

Bakewell is a judicious quoter and lucid explainer. It is as rich and as satisfying as a slice of your granny’s fruitcake.

UK Press Syndication

Bakewell is a judicious quoter and lucid explainer. It is as rich and as satisfying as a slice of your granny’s fruitcake.

UK Press Syndication

Absorbing and enjoyable book’

John Gray, Literary Review

This beautifully written book is an enjoyable journey through a captivating if slightly naive and pretentious intellectual movement.

Rebecca Wallersteiner, Lady

This beautifully written book is an enjoyable journey through a captivating if slightly naive and pretentious intellectual movement.

Rebecca Wallersteiner, Lady

The most engaging work of philosophy I have read… Bakewell is brilliant at describing her philosophers’ sensibilities… Bakewell movingly celebrates thought itself as a sensual, passionate act… Bakewell is also very strong on the relationship between existentialism and the political and historical currents that shaped it.

Lara Feigel, Guardian

A sort of collective biography, full of detail, and unexpected humour.

Hannah Shaddock, Radio Times

An intelligent, refreshingly witty history of existentialism

Pete Naughton, Daily Telgraph

Bakewell’s smart, unconventional approach – snappy biographical details, telling anecdotes and a breezy prose style – makes it entirely accessible and wholly entertaining.

Eithne Farry, Psychologies

A strong, sometimes disorienting, case for the inextricability of philosophy and biography.

New Yorker

Impressively lucid descriptions… Deserves to be read.

Edward Mendelson, International New York Times

Bakewell shows, in vivid and colourful prose, how the existentialists’ ideas were interwoven with their personal and political histories… In addition to being an excellent writer, Bakewell is also a very adept teacher. She affords her reader a refreshingly accessible introduction to some of Continental philosophy’s most daunting concepts.

Terri Murray, Spiked Online

Witty history

Metro

Well-written study.

Sunday Times

Bakewell vividly recounts the exchanges, conversations and disputes… What greatly adds to the book’s charm is that it also reads as a personal intellectual memoir.

Sudhir Hazreesingh, Times Literary Supplement

A wonderfully rich, informative, quietly learned and delightfully humorous study of a fascinating period in the troubled history of the 20th century. Bakewell finds just the right combination of enthusiasm, admiration and irreverence.

John Banville, Irish Times

I’d warmly recommend At the Existentialist Café… She is always very readable.

Geoff Dyer, Guardian

[An] entertaining tour of existentialist ideas.

Gentleman's Journal

A rich, highly readable exploration of the mid-century Paris of Simone de Beauvoir, Jean-Paul Sartre and their existentialist friends… Bakewell deftly weaves the colourful lives of these thinkers into stimulating explications of their ideas.

Tanya Sweeney, Irish Independent

Sarah Bakewell is a skilful storyteller, effortlessly placing examinations of existentialist books and lectures within their personal and historical contexts… Bakewell packs a lot into a book that is readable and enjoyable throughout.

Stephen Cox, Totally Dublin

[A] wonderfully engaging and readable book… The book is a joy to read. Bakewell shows enormous skill in bringing to life not only the leading figures, but also the times and places in which they lived… There is an awful lot of research packed into it which extends far beyond the literary and philosophical writings of her chief protagonists.

Ray Monk, New Statesman

A marvellous group biography… Complex philosophical ideas are limpidly examined amid gripping, juicy accounts of the thinkers’ remarkable lives.

Rob Doyle, Irish Independent, Book of the Year

This book is guaranteed to provide the reader with excellent material for a post-Christmas dinner debate.

Upcoming, Book of the Year

Bakewell brilliantly illuminated how the ambitious philosophical analyses of a handful of writers have helped to shape the West’s cultural and political development since the war.

Jonathan Webber, Times Higher Education, Book of the Year

A book about existentialism may sound insufferably dry, but Bakewell writes with wit and verve and explains complex ideas with a light touch.

Simon Shaw, Mail on Sunday

Sarah Bakewell pulls off the difficult feat of making Heidegger, Camus and Sartre accessible, while sprinkling the text with personal reminiscences. It is all carried off with an admirable lightness of touch too often missing from its subject.

Choice

With this splendidly conceived and exquisitely written double biography - of both Montaigne the man and Montaigne the book - Sarah Bakewell should persuade another generation to fall in love with Montaigne

Sunday Times

How to Live is a superb, spirited introduction to the master, and should have its readers rushing straight to the essays themselves

Adam Thorpe, Guardian

Sarah Bakewell has written a marvellously confident and clear introduction to Montaigne...a rare achievement. Sarah Bakewell deserves congratulations for opening Montaigne to new readers so very appealingly

Evening Standard

Illuminating and humane book... It's rare to come across a biographer who remains so deliciously fond of her subject... How to Live will delight and illuminate

Independent

Bakewell writes with verve. This is an intellectually lively treatment of a Renaissance giant and his world

Daily Telegraph

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Formats & editions

  • Paperback

    9780099554882

    February 27, 2017

    Vintage

    448 pages

    RRP $24.99

    Online retailers

    • Abbey's Bookshop
    • Angus & Robertson Bookworld
    • Booktopia
    • Boomerang Books
    • Collins Booksellers
    • Dymocks
    • Books Kinokuniya
    • The Nile
    • QBD
    • Readings
    • Robinsons Bookshop
    Or

    Find your local bookstore at booksellers.org.au

  • Hardback

    9780701186586

    March 15, 2016

    Chatto & Windus

    448 pages

    RRP $42.99

    Online retailers

    • Abbey's Bookshop
    • Angus & Robertson Bookworld
    • Booktopia
    • Boomerang Books
    • Collins Booksellers
    • Dymocks
    • Books Kinokuniya
    • The Nile
    • QBD
    • Readings
    • Robinsons Bookshop
    Or

    Find your local bookstore at booksellers.org.au

  • EBook

    9781473545328

    March 3, 2016

    Vintage Digital

    448 pages

    Online retailers

    • iBooks
    • Amazon Kindle
    • Booktopia
    • eBooks
    • Google Play
    • Kobo
    Or

    Find your local bookstore at booksellers.org.au

Also by Sarah Bakewell

How to Live
The English Dane
The Smart

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