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43 of 43 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fantastic introduction to complex ideas, 5 Mar 2003
By A Customer
This book gives an introduction to the concepts put forward by some of the main figures in the Existentialist school of thought and the historical roots from which these ideas came. I bought it because I'm a relative newcomer to philosophy and was very impressed. Barrett has a great eye for detail, whilst retaining a clear and lucid style. His analysis of the lives and thought of four main Existentialist thinkers - Kierkegaard, Nietzsche (forgive me if the spelling is wrong!), Heidegger and Sartre - is full of insight and reveals the linking threads that connect their ideas; and in fact it is this aspect of the book I liked the most. He draws out the links and hidden themes that run through the writings of the four thinkers and Existentialism in general, and places all this in a firm historical context to show how the ideas have developed from various sources - not just philosophy but literature, art, politics and so on. What we end up with is a conception of the world quite different from that put forward by other schools of philosophy; the focus is on our existence in the world, and the nature of this existence as experienced by us, with all our imperfections and limitations. The main question seems to be: 'is there any meaning to human life?' Overall it's very easy to read, provides a lot of food for thought, and fulfils its stated task admirably. I almost don't want to give it five stars because that's what everyone else seems to have done - but it really is that good. Highly recommended.
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43 of 44 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent survey, 18 Mar 2003
By 
This classic study by William Barrett is _the_ most lucid and consistent work I've devoured on the subject of Existentialism. The author approaches the existential tradition by neatly placing it within the broader history of European thoughts and beliefs in an admirably perspicuous way. Not a single word of dispraise - I can only express delight at the unambiguous and sensible manner in which the book is written. Whether you already have some prior knowledge of Existentialism and would like to expand your general knowledge on the subject, or are merely curious, I strongly recommend this book.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Clear, Lucid, Free of Jargon, 15 Jun 2005
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David J. Smith (UK) - See all my reviews
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Alongside Cooper's "Existentialism: A Reconstruction" I rate this as best amongst introductory studies in existential thought. Barrett deals with a few individual philosophers, Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, Heidegger and Sartre, highlighting differences in their outlook and their milieu while underscoring the philosophical constants. The author suceeds in writing in an interesting and engaging way, pacing well to clarify the more difficult concepts. The heart, human affectivity, and its need for meaning, so central to existentialism, is exposed in this work as the throbbing organ that other philosophies tend to disregard.
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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent overview of existentialism, I think., 13 Jan 1999
By A Customer
I'm only a beginner in educating myself on philosophy, but Barret has a brilliant, balanced overview of the defining philosophers of our time, and the thought that produced them: Kirkegaard, Neitzche, Heidegger, and Sartre. I had trouble setting the book down once I started reading.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Handbook on Existentialism, 6 Oct 2007
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M. A. Ramos (Florida USA) - See all my reviews
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This book is well written, even by today's standards. Should be used as a text book. The book book also shows how relevant existential philosophy still is even today - with alienation such a persuasive feature in contemporary society existentialism may be more prevalent now then ever. This book is very readable. It will provide the reader with an understanding of the most obscure exitentialists. This book should be a classic in existentialism.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Indispensable, 29 Jan 2014
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A lucid, ground-breaking exposition of existential thought. A vital work to have at one's fingertips in a schizophrenic world that is hell-bent on crushing individuality into an homogenous pulp. Barrett writes with style and fluency - a joy to read!
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5.0 out of 5 stars An Extremely Thorough Book, 25 Nov 2013
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Mr. R. A. Penney (Gosport Hampshire, England) - See all my reviews
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In such a short space of one book Barrett outlines the origins of Existentialism then of its various forms from Kierkegaard and Nietzsche to Camus and Sartre, through Heideggar and Jaspers.
I recommend this for all students of Existentialism before they go on to read some of the others. One is often confused by the different approaches of the well known names of existentialist writers. Barrett gives us a very readable overview and to my mind a very scholarly, and well written one.
The book is not written in technical language, nor in teh jargonm so beloved of academics.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Impressive on showing ideas behind Literature & Art, 12 July 2013
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Christopher H (Keilor, Australia) - See all my reviews
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This book may have been first published in 1958, yet decades later it is fresh, relevant and readable - surprisingly so. Barrett offers an historical overview that traces the intellectual threads (some centuries old) that came together in Existentialism, setting a context for other more focussed works.

His study is conducted in several parts. The first few chapters dwell on the contemporary outlook, which has not changed all that much despite the rise of postmodernism and shifts in contemporary thought since he penned these words. Next are three historical chapters which trace the development of existentialist doubt over many centuries from Hebrew, Greek and Christian sources.

Then comes the weighty third section, which studies those core Existentialist thinkers: Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Heidegger and Sartre. But for me the book's enduring strength lies in Barrett's ability to move beyond the usual parameters of formal philosophy, and reveal Existentialist values implicit in literature and art.

The most illuminating, and stimulating, sections were in his middle chapters which closely inspected the works of several key 19th century writers, showing Existentialist themes weaving through the poetry and novels of Blake, Coleridge, Wordsworth, Rimbaud, Tolstoy and Dostoyevski. There is fine analysis in those chapters, showing exactly how their works break with traditional ideas of the world and set a new intellectual agenda. Barrett is a perceptive and sensitive reader who brings out an urgent, thoroughly modern outlook in their works.

For a closer look at what happened in Paris in the mid-20th century I found Andy Martin's The Boxer and The Goal Keeper: Sartre versus Camus offers a lively incisive account, but Barrett is outstanding on the big historical picture.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A good experience!, 1 Feb 2013
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This book was as described, arrived within the stated time and as a bonus was a really interesting read. Irrational Man byWilliam Barrett is the right book for anyone with a general interest in existential philosophy.
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10 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A must read, 3 Sep 1998
By A Customer
Barrett makes difficult concepts quite clear, and his style is nothing less than passionate. This book is a classic!
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