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How to be an Existentialist: or How to Get Real, Get a Grip and Stop Making Excuses [Hardcover]

Gary Cox
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
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Book Description

2 Sep 2009
This book presents a concise and humorous introduction to existentialism aimed squarely at a general readership. It shows how existentialism can be an honest, positive and uplifting philosophy - and how it can be applied to our everyday lives. 'How to Be an Existentialist' is a concise, witty and entertaining book about the philosophy of existentialism. It is also a genuine self-help book offering clear advice on how to live according to the principles of existentialism formulated by Nietzsche, Sartre, Camus and the other great existentialist philosophers. An attack on contemporary excuse culture, the book urges us to face the hard existential truths of the human condition. It uncompromisingly counsels us to become tougher and more dignified, less grumbling and irresponsible, to stop chasing rainbows and making excuses and instead to get a grip and get real. By revealing that we are all inescapably free and responsible - 'condemned to be free', as Sartre says - the book aims to empower the reader with a sharp sense that we are each the master of our own destiny. Cox makes fun of the reputation existentialism has for being gloomy and pessimistic, exposing it for what it really is - an honest, uplifting and potentially life changing philosophy!

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How to be an Existentialist: or How to Get Real, Get a Grip and Stop Making Excuses + The Existentialist's Guide to Death, the Universe and Nothingness
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Product details

  • Hardcover: 136 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Continuum (2 Sep 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1441188436
  • ISBN-13: 978-1441188434
  • Product Dimensions: 13.3 x 21 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 422,838 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

More About the Author

I am a British philosopher and the author of several books on Sartre, existentialism and general philosophy. I was awarded my PhD in 1996 from The University of Birmingham, UK, for my thesis on Sartre. I am an honorary research fellow of The University of Birmingham, UK.

Find out more about me, Gary Cox, at

Product Description


'According to existentialists, selecting this book is an active choice for which the reader is responsible. Cox, who earned his doctorate in philosophy in the UK writing on Sartre, presents an accessible overview of this philosophical worldview, its path to living an authentic life, and existential counseling (which sounds akin to cognitive behavioral therapy) as a means to this end. The book includes suggested further reading.' --Eithne, O'Leyne, BOOK NEWS, Inc.

'I have recommended How to be an Existentialist to many people and all have gained a clearer understanding of Sartre than they had before... Cox has achieved something extremely impressive here. He has written something short and simple while not losing any of the depth and subtlety.' --Existential Analysis

About the Author

Gary Cox has a PhD in Philosophy from the University of Birmingham, UK. He lives in Somerset where he teaches and writes philosophy.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
37 of 39 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Choose to read this book... 7 Jun 2010
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I have long described myself as an existentialist. I still do. Existentialism indirectly informs my approach to coaching and my development work with managers, leaders and executive teams. Here at last is a book explaining, even to me, what I have always meant! Often mistakenly thought to be pessimistic or even negative (perhaps because of the central notion that to continue to live is seen as a choice not to end it all), existentialism is in fact a liberating and positive philosophy which informs self development, choice and individual freedom. Instead of a 'handful of certainty', Nietzsche argues that existentialism offers a 'cartful of beautiful possibilities'. Adversity is also seen in a positive light, sustaining action, as Simone de Beauvoir says, 'like air sustains the flight of the dove'. Death is only the ultimate destination because there is no more 'future' to strive toward, and striving toward the future we currently lack is imperative to life. (Although one needn't be an atheist; neither Dostoevsky or Kierkegaard were). The existential truth is that we must all continually create ourselves through choice and action. Put simply, the authentic existentialist must want to be what they make themselves by how they choose to act, rather than make excuses for the way they act and regretting it. How's that for a guiding mantra of self development? Or, as the subtitle to the book puts it, existentialism shows the way to get real, get a grip and stop making excuses. Gary Cox has written the book I'd have loved to have written. But I have no regrets, after all, I chose not to write a book on existentialism! Instead I chose to read Gary Cox's book and wholeheartedly recommend you do the same...
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What a fascinating book! 8 Nov 2010
By Roding
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I received my copy of this book about four weeks ago and have just finished reading it for the second time. I'm not normally a philosophy buff, nor has it inspired me to start wading into the works of Sartre, Nietzsche, Camus and the others, but this is certainly a very accessible introduction to existentialism. Having said that some of it took a bit of careful reading before I started to understand and some of it I am still struggling with.

I didn't know what existentialism was, but as I read I realised that it struck a chord with me. In fact I found it to be in line with a lot of present day attitudes. It seems that Bugs Bunny and the humour of Monty Python are essentially existentialist!

Such ideas also seem, however unintentionally, to form the basis of many of the `self help' books you see around, such as the need to choose your response to situations (rather than just reacting) and taking responsibility for those choices.

The only downside is that I found some of the sentences a bit difficult to interpret in the sense that I couldn't immediately see what the author was trying to say. Nevertheless, I've put Gary Cox's other book "How to be a Philosopher" on my Christmas list.
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20 of 24 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars AUTHENTICITY AND BAD FAITH 6 Nov 2009
This could have been a truly uplifting, intriguing and informative book. It isn't simply because the author cannot make up his mind what sort of a book it should be: an explication of the fundamental tenets and implications of existentialism, a DIY manual of self-improvement or a comic look at the lighter side of existentialism - one of those 'Beginner's Guides' kinds without the graphics.
In this context, the long and rather crass title and subtitle does not help. Indeed, in view of the superior academic quality of some of the text, it is clearly misleading.
The book reviews existentialism, its theories, its origins, its authors - and it does this, for the most part in the first half of the book, in an exemplary manner with scholarship and reasonably good concision.
However, after halfway through the book, there is a dramatic change in style and the author starts to ramble with no good reason and then plunges into what becomes almost an impenetrable text. He does not fully explain the technical terms he uses but, instead, repeats and re-repeats these somewhat clichéd phrases, perhaps in the hope that if he repeats them enough, their meanings will be revealed. They aren't.
This is a hopelessly verbose book written in a circumlocutory style with good intentions and sufficient knowledge but it urgently requires a valiant and committed editor.
Perhaps, the author should identify what sort of readership he is addressing. Or would that limit his choice and thus open him up to critical opinions of bad faith?
The book is definitely worth reading.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
As life gets tougher, choices get fewer and harder we must prepare ourselves for what lies ahead.
Today, too many of us choose to sell-out because its "too hard"...."Not Fair"

Well this books makes you understand and cope with the challenges modern life throws, you smile, keep calm and carry on. Learn to see an opportunity when an unexpected incident happens!

Good read easy read and (for me) in plain easy language.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars What does it want to Be? 7 May 2012
Cox shoehorns a lot of learning into this book (his PhD was on Sartre), but it comes at a price. There's too much crammed into too small a space, which doesn't have room to clearly illustrate the concepts he explains. Instead, there are some rather corny asides, delivered a faux-matey tone (e.g 'the Ancient Greeks, guys like Socrates...' or Bush and Blair suffering from 'Iraqnophobia'). Ultimately, neither writer nor publisher has decided whether this is an introduction to a philosophical movement or a self-help book, so it ends up being both and neither.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book!
I haven't finished this book yet... But what I have read is great... I'm dipping in and out of it! It was recommended to me... So glad I bought it!
Published 14 months ago by EA Thomas
5.0 out of 5 stars I am not authentic
I like the humour, I've read this book twice and will read it again in the future.......take responsibility for your life and get a grip, recommended
Published 15 months ago by Roy Barrett
5.0 out of 5 stars brilliant little text
A brilliant little text on the philosophy of our times, now that God is definitively dead! The book opens with a crystal clear overveiw of Existentialism, its themes,its... Read more
Published 19 months ago by patmac
5.0 out of 5 stars A great read
Brilliantly written by a very talented author, would throughly recommend, look out for more of his books also brilliantly written
Published 21 months ago by Mrs. N. Hawkins
5.0 out of 5 stars Stunning Book - Buy It, Read It, Use It
This is a brilliantly accessible introduction to existentialism for people interested in creating a meaningful life (instead of being told what that should be), and for everyone... Read more
Published on 29 Jun 2012 by B. Towns
2.0 out of 5 stars I'm alright Jack.
If you like Bernard Manning you'll love this book. If you like the welfare state you'll hate this book. Read more
Published on 22 Mar 2011 by Sven Gally
5.0 out of 5 stars The Hitchhikers guide to Phenomonology
I found Gary Cox book an extremely erudite read. Nothing within could be described as arrid, on the contrary, Cox explains his take on 'consciousness' in a very understandable and... Read more
Published on 17 July 2010 by Monk
5.0 out of 5 stars how to live my life? ... this has all the answers
this book has quite literally, in the space of its 113 pages, changed my life!!

existentialism as a concept is surrounded by mystery. Read more
Published on 7 Mar 2010 by Sian Eleanor
2.0 out of 5 stars Sartre for kids
This book does a good job in explaining some of the concepts in Being and Nothingness. In particular, Cox's explanation of Sartre's theory of Ítre-pour-autrui (pages 36-44) is... Read more
Published on 2 Mar 2010 by Alex
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