The upside to the 90 minutes I spent in a traffic jam with a top speed of 7km/h this afternoon is that I was able to finish this most excellent book.
At the Existentialist Café: Freedom, Being, and Apricot Cocktails is a comprehensive look at the overall existentialist movement and its major players from the 1920's through the 1950's and 60's. Part biographical, part exploration of the different facets of phenomenology and existentialism as advocated by Sartre, de Beauvoir, Aron, Camus, Heidegger, Husserl et. al, the book and narrative both are outstanding.
I am at best a dabbler in philosophy, and considering how easy it is to tie one's brain into knots musing over the philosophical aspects of life, Bakewell had her work cut out for her making such dense material comprehensible - and she did. Most of the time when I got bogged down trying to follow, it was when she was relating concepts that are widely acknowledged to be amongst the most labyrinthine.
My takeaways after finishing this is that I am, by and large, an existentialist (though I'm interested in learning more about Epicurean philosophy), but there were many areas where I diverge, especially if we're talking about Heidegger's existentialism. That man ... I swear he just made stuff up just to see how inaccessible he could get and still be considered a genius. Also, Bakewell makes a pretty convincing argument that he was a nazi. I also was left with a distaste for Sartre in spite of his profound early-career work, although I give him credit for living a "good faith" life until the very end. The existentialist whose work I most connected with was Husserl; he felt the most rational and accessible, and his life the one that seemed the most authentic.
I listened to this on audio, as narrated by Antonia Beamish and I cannot say enough good things about her narration. She read this like she wrote it, understood it and lived it, with a voice I just wanted to listen to no matter what she was reading. Imagine the best, most engaging, professor you've ever had the pleasure of listening to and learning from, and you'll have a good idea of what this book, and this narration, holds in store for you.
Needless to say, I'll be chewing on this book and its contents for a very long time to come.