Review: At The Existentialist Café

Most of the books I review for the Historical Novel Society have little word of mouth. An unknown gem, I predict, each time I tear open the manila mailer, hoping to find the next best seller.

Screen Shot 2016-06-16 at 11.49.09 AMAnd then there was the time my envelope yielded At the Existentialist Café: Freedom, Being, And Apricot Cocktails. Four dour characters commanded the cover—the men smoking and only the woman making eye contact with her reader. This one’s a loser, I concluded, unless the recipe for apricot cocktails is truly intoxicating.

Soon, my “loser” book began to taunt my flip condemnation. A full page ad in the New York Times was followed by a solid review. The Guardian joined in with a glowing analysis. The LA Times celebrated that “the existentialists come alive (over cocktails.)” flagged the book as the #1 Best Seller in Philosopher Biographies (admittedly a thin category.) Even the Historical Novel Society published a feature review describing Sarah Bakewell’s work as “admirable.”


So, did I agree with the experts? Read my review from the May issue of the Historical Novels Review and find out.

I’d love to read your thoughts in the comments below.

2 thoughts on “Review: At The Existentialist Café

  1. Very much enjoyed your review and the comments about the book. I don’t know that I will read it but I really did enjoy hearing about it. Now when it comes up in conversation, I can add something.

  2. Hard to imagine Sartre (or even Simone) drinking apricot cocktails. Perhaps an umbrella? But interesting to see how the author handled getting a handle. Gotta have something to grab people straight away, even if the content is stellar. Thanks for sharing. Really enjoyed the critique.

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