Jean-Paul Sartre is one of the undisputed giants of 20th-century philosophy. His intellectual writings popularizing existentialism, combined with his creative and artistic flair, have made him a legend of French thought. His tumultuous personal life - so inextricably bound up with his philosophical thinking - is a fascinating tale of love and lust, drug abuse, high-profile fallings-out and political and cultural rebellion.
This substantial and meticulously researched biography is accessible, fast paced, entertaining, often amusing and at times deeply moving. Existentialism and Excess covers all the main events of Sartre's remarkable 75-year life, from his early years as a precocious brat devouring his grandfather's library through his time as a brilliant student in Paris, his wilderness years as a provincial teacher-writer experimenting with mescaline, his World War II adventures as a POW and member of the resistance, his postwar politicization, his immense amphetamine-fuelled feats of writing productivity, his harem of women, his many travels and his final decline into blindness and old age.
Along the way there are countless intriguing anecdotes, some amusing, some tragic, some controversial: his loathing of crustaceans and belief that he was being pursued by a giant lobster; his escape from a POW camp; his many affairs; his meetings with Roosevelt, Hemingway, John Huston, Mao, Castro, Che Guevara, Khrushchev, and Tito; his feuds with Aron, Camus, and Merleau-Ponty; the bombing of his apartment; his influence on the May 1968 uprising; his long and complex relationship with Simone de Beauvoir.
Existentialism and Excess also gives serious consideration to his ideas and many philosophical works, novels, stories, plays and biographies, revealing their intimate connections with his personal life. An entertaining, thought-provoking and compulsive book, much like the man himself.