Existentialism books can help us discover unique perspectives on life, the universe, and well…everything. By exploring the nature of existence, these books can lead us to our own special place in this ever-changing world.
Existentialist literature can be frustrating, confusing, and even depressing. But it can also be enlightening, thought-provoking, and life-changing.
Existentialism: (ethics) An influential movement in 20th-century ethics holding that values are not universal but instead that each person must create his or her own values as a result of living life. Its guiding phrase, formulated by Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980), was “existence precedes essence”.ismbook.com/ism-list/#existentialism
There’s one common thread that runs throughout this genre works: human beings must create their own meaning in life, as there is no inherent meaning to be found.
So if you’re feeling lost or stuck in a rut, consider reading one (or all) of my favorites below. It just might be what you need to find your way.
Existentialism: A Very Short Introduction
If you’re looking for a comprehensive introduction to existentialism, look no further than Existentialism: A Very Short Introduction by Simon Critchley.
Brief Synopsis of this existentialism book
As Critchley shows in this book, existentialism can be funny, absurd, and even optimistic. For instance, Critchley points to the story of existential hero Søren Kierkegaard’s encounter with a beggar. Kierkegaard gives the beggar all the money he has on him, only to be pestered by beggars for the rest of his walk.
As Critchley notes, this story captures the existential dilemma of how to live a good life in an imperfect world. However, rather than wallowing in despair, Kierkegaard (and other existentialists) believed that we should embrace our freedom and make choices with courage and earnestness.
Why I recommend it
This book does an excellent job of explaining the basic concepts of existentialism in clear and concise language. It’s also relatively short, so it won’t take you forever to get through it. So next time you’re feeling down about the human condition, remember that existentialism books can be funny too.
Existentialism from Dostoevsky to Sartre
For a more in-depth exploration of existentialist thought, try Existentialism from Dostoevsky to Sartre by Walter Kaufmann.
What better way to learn about existentialism than by reading one of its most famous texts?
This book is a collection of essays that explore the history of existential thought, from its roots in 19th-century Russia to its modern-day proponents. Kaufmann provides a detailed overview of the history of existential thought, highlighting its major themes and debating its key ideas.
He also offers an accessible introduction to the work of existentialist thinkers like Jean-Paul Sartre and Friedrich Nietzsche.
Why I recommend it
For those who are new to existentialism, Kaufmann’s books offer an excellent starting point for exploring this complex and often misunderstood philosophy.
The Myth of Sisyphus
If you’re interested in existentialism and literature, you should check out The Myth of Sisyphus by Albert Camus.
In this book, Camus uses the story of the Greek mythological figure Sisyphus to explore existentialist themes like the absurd and the human condition.
Existentialism is a tricky beast. On the one hand, you have the school of thought that suggests that life is absurd and meaningless. On the other hand, you existentialists who claim that life is meaningless but we should find our own meaning in it. And then you have poor ol’ Camus, stuck in the middle with his book “The Myth of Sisyphus.”
Camus posits that even though life might be absurd and meaningless, we should still try to find happiness in it.
“But isn’t that what the existentialists are saying?” you might ask.
Well, yes and no. The existentialists would say that even though life is absurd and meaningless, we should still strive to create our own meaning in it.
Camus, on the other hand, is more of a “stoic” existentialist, which means he believes that we should accept life as it is and just try to be happy anyway.
Why I recommend it
It’s a short read, but as you’ve seen, it’s packed with food for thought. Now go out and find your own meaning in life… or don’t, because it’s all ultimately pointless anyway. (But at least Camus thought it was worth trying.)
Looking for something a little more light-hearted? Try The Stranger by Albert Camus.
Existentialism. Absurdism. Nihilism. These are the three big topics that French author Albert Camus covers in this book. The story follows Meursault, a man who seems to lack all emotion or concern for others, as he goes through some of the biggest existential crises a person can experience.
First, Meursault has to deal with the death of his mother. He goes through the funeral and grieving process completely detached from everything, which earns him some judgmental looks from others. But Meursault doesn’t care what anyone thinks; he just goes through the motions because that’s what is expected of him.
Next, Meursault finds himself in a relationship with a woman named Marie. They don’t share any real emotional connection, but they enjoy each other’s company and have sex frequently. Once again, Meursault doesn’t really care about Marie; he just sees her as another person to occupy his time.
Finally, the existential crisis hits when Meursault kills an Arab man for no apparent reason. He goes to trial and is sentenced to death, but even at the end he remains indifferent to his situation.
Why I recommend it
The Stranger is a brilliant examination of human nature and what it means to be alive. Camus forces the reader to question their own existence and whether or not they are truly living in the moment. It’s a thought-provoking book that will leave you questioning your own life choices.
The Existentialist’s Survival Guide
Last but not least, we have The Existentialist’s Survival Guide by Gordon Marino.
This is a fantastic book for anyone who has ever felt lost and alone in the world. Existentialism books are often criticized for being too dense and difficult to understand, but this one is different. It is written in a light and witty style that makes it easy to follow, and it is packed with useful advice on how to live a meaningful life.
The book starts with a brief history of existentialism, explaining what it is and where it comes from.
It then goes on to explore the main themes of existentialism, such as freedom, responsibility, and authenticity.
Finally, it offers practical advice on how to apply these ideas to everyday life.
Why I recommend it
This book is less traditional philosophical work and more practical guide to existentialist thought. It covers topics like anxiety, death, freedom, and meaning in life. If you’re looking for a down-to-earth existentialist perspective, this is the book for you.
Final thoughts on these existentialism books
So there you have it: five existentialism books that are totally worth reading. Whether you’re new to existentialism or you’ve been studying it for years, these books will give you plenty to think about.
So what are you waiting for? Pick up one (or all!) of these books and start your journey into the world of existentialism today!