Bakewell won a National Book Critics Circle award for her innovative 2010 biography How to Live: A Life of Montaigne. Her equally idiosyncratic new At the Existentialist Café takes on the intellectual movements of the 20th Century and the philosophers who shaped them. She opens in1933 in Paris, when Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir and Raymond Aron drink apricot cocktails at the Bec-de-Gaz bar on the rue Montparnasse.
Aron is excited about phenomenology, a new concept coming out of Berlin. “If you are a phenomenologist, you can talk about this cocktail and make philosophy out of it!” he says. Bakewell follows the growth of Existentialism through the decades, adds the influences of Albert Camus, Martin Heidegger, Edmund Husserl and others, and shows how its emphasis on authenticity, freedom, and responsibility are relevant today.