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At The Existentialist Cafe

At The Existentialist Cafe US cover

Paris, near the turn of 1932/1933. 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 philosophical method known as phenomenology. Pointing to his drink, he says, ‘You see – with phenomenology you can make philosophy out of this cocktail!’

At the Existentialist Cafe UK cover

From this moment of revelation, Sartre will be inspired to create his own extraordinary philosophy of real, experienced life – a philosophy of love and desire, of freedom and being, of cafés and waiters, of friendships and rivalries and political revolutions. His philosophy will fascinate Paris and sweep through the world, leaving its mark on post-war liberation movements from the student uprisings of 1968 to the pioneers of civil rights.

At the Existentialist Café explores modern existentialism as a story of encounters between ideas and between people – from the ‘king and queen of existentialism’ (Sartre and Beauvoir) to their wider circle of friends, followers and adversaries, including Albert Camus, Martin Heidegger, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Iris Murdoch and many more.  Weaving biography and philosophy, it investigates a philosophy that concerned life, but that also changed lives – and that tackled the biggest questions of all: what we are and how we are to live.

U.K.: Chatto & Windus, March 2016

U.S.: Other Press, March 2016

Canada: Knopf, March 2016.

Available at your local bookshop, or via Amazon (U.K. here, U.S. here, Canada here).


Dutch: De existentialisten (Ten Have, 2016)

German: Das Café der Existenzialisten (C.H. Beck, 2016)

Spanish:  En el café de los existencialistas (Ariel, 2016)

Other translations are coming soon and will be added as they appear.

Reviewers say ..

“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’.” (Katy Guest, The Independent).

At the Existentialist Café takes us back to…when philosophers and philosophy itself were sexy, glamorous, outrageous; when sensuality and erudition were entwined… Vivid, humorous anecdotes are interwoven with a lucid and unpatronising exposition of their complex philosophy… Tender, incisive and fair.” (Jane O’Grady, Daily Telegraph)

“Both warm and intellectually rigorous … Perhaps the aphorism that best captures the book is one of Bakewell’s own: ‘Thinking should be generous and have a good appetite.'” (Julian Baggini, Financial Times)


Read more by me on existentialism …

Think big, be free, have sex .. ten reasons to be an existentialist“(The Guardian, 5 March 2016). The polemical-sounding format is not meant to be taken too seriously; just read and (I hope) enjoy.

Back in 2013, I suggested five books to read on existentialism for the excellent Five Books series. Follow the link to read the interview, and have fun exploring their other lists too.