8 Best Books About Existentialism Update 05/2022

What is life? What does it mean to be a person? Having been “thrown” into a world that doesn’t seem to have any real purpose, how can we live our lives authentically when we didn’t even ask to be alive? Is it important that we live? Suppose they don’t. What should we do?

In general, these are the questions that people who use the term “existentialist” have tried to answer over the last 200 years or so of existentialist thought. To learn more about existentialism before reading some of its best books, check out our short introduction to existentialist philosophy, which lays out its three main ideas. If you want to learn more about the philosophy of existentialism, this list has the eight best books about and about it. It’s a mix of primary and secondary literature, including introductions and anthologies, as well as the original texts of the people who were very important to existentialist thought. Let’s do this!

At the Existentialist Café, by Sarah Bakewell

Sarah Bakewell’s At the Existentialist Cafe came out in 2016. It’s a great place to start for anyone who wants to learn more about existentialism. Bakewell tells a great story about the lives and ideas of some of the most important existentialists, including Sartre, de Beauvoir, Merleau-Ponty, Husserl, Heidegger, and Camus. When Bakewell introduces the main thinkers of existentialism in a clear way, he also puts their ideas in the context of the difficult times they lived in. This gives a lot of insight into why different types of existentialism came about the way they did. There are 464 pages in At the Existentialist Cafe, but they go by quickly and are a lot of fun to read. This book is a good way to learn about existentialism.

Existentialism from Dostoevsky to Sartre, by Walter Kaufmann

During the 20th century, Walter Kaufmann was a philosopher, poet, and a well-known translator of Friedrich Nietzsche’s work. Existentialism from Dostoevsky to Sartre was written by Kaufmann in 1956. In it, he collects excerpts from some of the most important existentialist thinkers and writers, like Dostoevsky, Nietzsche, Rilke, Kafka, Ortega, Jaspers, Heidegger, Sartre, Camus. Beyond the great selections, what makes this collection so important is Kaufmann’s great introductions that help you understand each extract. A classic anthology, this book should be on the bookshelf of anyone who wants to learn more about existentialism.

The Cambridge Companion to Existentialism, by Steven Crowell

If you want to add some critical analysis to Kaufmann’s existentialist anthology, look no further than Steven Crowell’s The Cambridge Companion to Existentialism, published in 2012. In this collection of original essays, Crowell brings together a group of well-known commentators to talk about the ideas of Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Sartre, Merleau-Ponty, and de Beauvoir. They show how their focus on existence can be used to look at modern issues in moral psychology, the philosophy of mind, language, and history. At 428 pages, this book is for people who want to learn more about existentialism and go even further in their understanding.

Either/Or: A Fragment of Life, by Søren Kierkegaard

Turning from introductions and anthologies to the main existentialist texts, where better than with the philosopher who is often thought to be the first one? In his 1843 book, Either/Or: A Fragment of Life, the Danish philosopher Sren Kierkegaard talks about the search for a meaningful life through the voices of two different people. One of the most interesting works on dualities, this book’s first section is written from the point of view of A, a young man who is both aesthetic and a little narcissistic. The second is written by Judge Vilhelm, who is both reasonable and ethical. Kierkegaard wants us to look at things like boredom, romance, meaning, and culture from two very different perspectives. It makes him write heartbreaking, witty, and memorable prose as well. Either/Or: A Fragment of Life is a great place to start if you want to learn more about the history of existentialist thought.

Being and Nothingness, by Jean-Paul Sartre

Jean-Paul Sartre’s epic 1943 book Being and Nothingness, which clocks in at over 800 pages, is a dense, vivid, and challenging depiction of human life. It’s also the most explicit expression of existentialist philosophy on this list. If you’re looking for a less intimidating introduction to Sartre’s ideas, he gave a lecture in 1945 that was later turned into a short text called Existentialism Is a Humanism. This is the work that made Sartre famous around the world. His philosophical novel Nausea, which came out in 1938, does a great job of conveying the main existential themes of alienation, anxiety, and authenticity.

The Ethics of Ambiguity, by Simone de Beauvoir

De Beauvoir is a French philosopher who wrote The Ethics of Ambiguity in 1947. In it, she talks about how she thinks about Sartre and Merleau-Ponty and says that in order to be truly free, we have to fight against the choices and actions of people who don’t want us to be free. The book that started de Beauvoir’s feminist and existential philosophy, The Ethics of Ambiguity, is a short but thorough look at existence and what it means to be human. It should be on the bookshelf of anyone who wants to learn more about existentialism.

Being and Time, by Martin Heidegger

Martin Heidegger, a German philosopher, says that in the history of philosophy, we’ve all missed something: We haven’t really thought about what it means to exist, to be. People in the philosophical branch of metaphysics haven’t paid much attention to this question. Instead, they have looked at things like substance and the categories we use to describe our experiences. But behind these things, says Heidegger, is the very essence of existence. When we say something is real, what do we mean? As part of his 1927 book Being and Time, Heidegger tries to make up for the lack of focus on what it means to be. He does this by focusing on this question for hundreds of pages. What is the nature of our lives as we live them? Only if we pay enough attention to this question, says Heidegger, can we hope to get anywhere. This book isn’t for the faint of heart. It has had a huge impact on philosophy, art, literature, and existentialism since it was written, and those who read it get a lot out of it.

The Myth of Sisyphus, by Albert Camus

Though Albert Camus didn’t want to be called a “existentialist,” his writings are thought to be important in the tradition of existentialist thought. His style of existentialism, which he calls “absurdism,” looks at how even in the face of the outrageous absurdity of the human condition, we can still find meaning and happiness. In his famous 1942 essay, The Myth of Sisyphus, Camus says that the most important question people have to answer is not whether there is a God or whether certain actions are good or bad, but whether life is worth living. Using poetic language, Camus gives advice on how to get out of despair. He says that personal existence is important and that a life lived with dignity and authenticity is possible. The Myth of Sisyphus is one of the most important works of the 20th century. Anyone who wants to learn more about existentialism or the meaning of life will not be disappointed by reading this book.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.