Existentialism is a humanistic approach that emphasizes the existence of the individual person. It determines the meaning of life, freedom of choice, life scripts, being present, etc. Also, it focuses on the help of past experiences that mankind had faced. These experiences do not refer to the thoughts of human beings, rather their actions and feelings. According to existentialists, an individual’s initial stage is identified as “the existential angst” or existential attitude. This is a feeling of confusion, anxiety, or disorientation when faced with an absurdity. We will show you the best existential books in this article.
What are the basic themes of existentialism?
The main themes of existentialism are –
- Importance of the individual Importance of choice
- Anxiety-related to life, death, and critical situations
- Meaning and absurdity
- Social criticism
- Importance of personal relations
- Atheism and religion
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10 Best Existential Books to Read
Here is a list of some best existentialism books that will provide you a better understanding of the subject matter:
1. Man’s Search for Meaning, by Viktor E. Frankl
Viktor Emil Frankl was an Austrian psychiatrist and neurologist. He established logotherapy, a school of psychotherapy that heals people through the meaning of life. Logotherapy is considered to be the Third Viennese School of Psychotherapy.
Man’s Search for Meaning is one of the best existential books. Its main focus is on finding a drive to fight back the odds in times of hopelessness. In this book, Frankl shares his personal experiences in the Nazi concentration camps. He portrays how people were still looking to find the meaning of life in times of grave danger.
Frankl explains that human beings do not find pleasure in their primary drives. But rather, what they discover and find meaningful gives them pleasure. Frankl uses his theory of logotherapy to inspire the new generations facing numerous challenges every day. This book is recognized as one of the best philosophy books in the world.
2. Existentialism is a Humanism, by Jean-Paul Sartre
Jean-Paul Sartre was a French philosopher, playwright, and novelist. He was an important figure in existential philosophy and phenomenology. His works have contributed to the fields of sociology, postcolonial theory, critical theory, and literary studies. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1964 for literature. He is one of the best existentialist philosophers in the world.
Existentialism is a Humanism is based on the 1945 lecture of Jean-Paul Sartre on existentialism. He expressed his thoughts and philosophy in existentialism, which was a very popular term during that time. At that time, it was thought that existentialism was only for the philosophers. Through this speech, Sartre made the term public for the general people.
In this book, Sartre’s philosophy mainly focuses on the idea of freedom. He says that man builds up his own self and being through the selection of his choices.
3. Irrational Man, by William Barrett
William Barrett was an American professor of philosophy at New York University. He was an editor of Partition Review and also a literary critic of the Atlantic Monthly magazine. He wrote several books that focus on existential philosophy. This is one of the best philosophy books for beginners.
Irrational Man introduced existentialism to America in 1958 and is one of the best existentialism books. In this book, Barrett talks about the absurdities of the 1990s that endangered humankind. At that time, human beings did not even know the meaning of existence.
The book discusses the ancestries of existentialism through the thoughts of Aquinas, Baudelaire, Tolstoy, Augustine, and many more. The book also brings the views of famous existentialists, including Sartre and Nietzsche, to the readers. It explains the impact of existentialism on our life.
4. Existentialism For Dummies, by Christopher Panza and Gregory Gale
Christopher Panza is a New York City-based philosopher and author. He was a professor of philosophy at Drury University in Springfield. His specialization area includes Existentialism, Confucianism, Asian and Western ethics, Logic, and much more. He wrote this book on existential psychotherapy. This book is most popular among mental health professionals. So, this is one of the best existential therapy books.
Do you want an existentialism definition for dummies? Existentialism for Dummies discusses how existentialist ideas have influenced human life. It focuses on the irrationality of human life. We can see the impact of existentialism everywhere, starting from arts, literature, movies to different world events.
This book will provide readers with the history of existentialism in philosophy. This complete guide will give the readers an insight into how existentialism controls politics, religion, solidarity, and respect for others. Also, this book will provide the meaning of the phrase “God is dead.” It consists of a list of ten existential movies, existential aphorisms, and ten general misapprehensions about existentialism.
5. No Excuses, by Robert C. Solomon
Robert C. Solomon was an American philosopher and author. He was a professor of philosophy at the University of Texas. He was awarded several awards, including the Standard Oil Outstanding Teaching Award and the University of Texas President’s Associates Teaching Award.
No Excuses is one of the best books on existentialism that contains 24 analytical lectures on existentialism. The book shows how existentialism has influenced modern thoughts. These thoughts have created waves of debates on the existence of existentialism.
The book helps the readers to explore a wide range of existentialist thoughts from a different perspective. This book gives an insight into the thoughts and ideas of Kierkegaard, Camus, Sartre, Martin Heidegger, and many more.
6. Existentialism, by Thomas Flynn
Flynn explains the main themes of individuality, free will, and personal responsibility. He mainly focuses on the ideas and thoughts of Sartre, Heidegger, Nietzsche, de Beauvoir, Camus, and many other existentialists. Flynn enlightens the readers with how existentialism affected human thoughts and changed the way of living.
The book also explains existentialism’s connection with National Socialism, Feminism, and Communism.
7. The Existentialist’s Survival Guide, by Gordon Marino
Gordon Marino is a professor of philosophy at St. Olaf College in Minnesota. He is the director of the Hong Kierkegaard Library. He is a former boxer and currently working as a boxing coach. Also, he had received the Richard J. Davis Ethics Award for his extraordinary contribution to ethics and law-related writings.
In The Existentialist’s Survival Guide, Marino discusses the impact of existentialism in the 21st century. According to several existentialists like Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, human beings are vulnerable to their emotional ups and downs. But these feelings also teach them some valuable life-long lessons and make them stronger from the inside. This will help them in their personal transformation and spiritual development. This book will introduce you to famous existentialists around the world.
This book will guide you through fighting your depression, misery, and anxiety and rebuild faith, love, and morality. Marino describes how to face the most challenging situations of our existence with a strong heart and mind.
8. Existentialism From Dostoevsky to Sartre, by Walter Arnold Kaufmann
Walter Arnold Kaufmann was a German-American philosopher and poet. He used to be a professor of philosophy at Princeton University. His writings primarily focus on moral philosophy, authenticity and death, theism and atheism, Judaism, Christianity, and literature.
Existentialism From Dostoevsky to Sartre is one of the best existential books. In this book, Kaufmann explores the idea of existentialism from different existentialist perspectives. He says that the origin of existential thinking does not lie with Jean Paul Sartre. He mentioned a lot of existentialism examples with practical experience.
The origin of existentialism has a previous religious, literary, and philosophic background. According to Sartre, existentialism is a metaphysical doctrine. Man must follow his heart and spirit rather than leading them. Heidegger says existentialism is the totality of human beings. Kierkegaard gives a religious background of existentialism. In this book, the author has presented each existentialist’s entire works for reference to make it more understandable.
9. Existentialism, by Thomas Wartenberg
Thomas Wartenberg is a professor of philosophy at Mount Holyoke College. He works with filmmakers to introduce philosophy to children and adolescents through films. He received the Merritt Prize in 2013 for his contribution to the philosophy of education.
In Existentialism, Wanterberg explains existentialism’s fundamental ideas with examples of classic movies, novels, and plays. These ideals include freedom, anxiety, authenticity, absurdity, and much more. He also discusses the perspectives of renowned existentialists like Camus, Nietzsche, and Sartre in this book. Besides, he gives an insight into de Beauvoir and Fanon’s use of existentialism theories to point out gender and colonial oppression.
This book provides answers to all the inquiries related to existentialism that is infused in our modern culture. Also, this book is suitable for people who think life is meaningless.
10. The Ethics of Ambiguity, by Simone de Beauvoir
Simon de Beauvoir was a French philosopher, writer, political activist, and feminist. She played a significant role in feminist existentialism and feminist theory. She wrote several essays, novels, biographies, and autobiographies on philosophy, politics, and social issues.
The Ethics of Ambiguity is one of the best existential books. De Beauvoir argues with other French philosophers on freedom carrying some ethical responsibilities in existentialism in this book. She points out some ways on how to be an adventurer, passionate person, lover, artist, and intellectual.
Also, she mentions how each role overcomes the former’s deficits. As a result, they can enjoy the responsibilities of freedom. De Beauvoir also argues that we have to fight against the suppressors to achieve freedom. Overall, the philosopher explained the idea of liberty in existentialism through her knowledge of feminist and existential philosophy.
Existentialism is a very misunderstood field of philosophy. Different existentialists view it from different perspectives of religion, politics, freedom, philosophy, and literature. All these thoughts and ideas have made existentialism very complicated to understand. The mentioned books might help the readers to get an elaborative idea of existential philosophy and its impact on human beings.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. When did existentialism begin?
Existentialism is a philosophical and psychological practice that focuses on the nature of human existence. The term “existentialism” was first coined by Gabriel Marcel in the mid-1940s. But Søren Kierkegaard, a Danish philosopher, theologian, and social critic, is considered as the first existential philosopher. Existentialism became widely popular post World War II and influenced many disciplines besides philosophy. These include drama, art, theology, psychology, and literature.
2. Who is the father of existentialism?
Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard is considered the father of existentialism. He was a philosopher and a satirist, religious writer, journalist, psychologist, and literary critic.
3. Does existentialism believe in God?
Existentialism is an idea of the philosophy that focuses on individual existence, freedom, and a wide range of choices. According to existentialism, human beings define their own lives in a meaningful way. They try to make logical decisions living in an absurd world. Existentialism believes in the existence of a human being. It considers that there is no God or any other superior force. Thus, existentialism believes that human beings are completely free. But they have to take their own responsibilities for themselves.
4. What are the types of existentialism?
The following are the different types of existentialism:
- Kierkegaard’s existentialism
- Nietzschean existentialism
- Camus’ absurdism
- Sartrean existentialism
- Heideggerian existentialism
5. What is Existential nihilism?
Existential nihilism is a philosophical theory which states that life has no inherent meaning. It is also termed optimistic nihilism. According to existential nihilism, human beings have no significance if there is no purpose in their life. So the whole point of human existence or a meaningful life is to have a purpose. If there is no purpose, the human race will cease to exist.
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