5 Books By the French Philosopher You Must Read

‘Existence precedes essence,’ that is how Sartre had defined the concept of existentialism. According to the French philosopher, only by existing and acting in a certain way do we give meaning to our lives.

Born on June 21, 1905, Sartre’s early work focused on themes of existentialism as portrayed in his novel and subsequently in the essay Existentialism and Humanism.

Sartre would subsequently go on to explore the meaning of freedom and free will, famously stating, “Man is condemned to be free; because once thrown into the world, he is responsible for everything he does.”

On his 114th birth anniversary, we take a look at five books by and on Jean-Paul Sartre that one must read.


Published in 1938, Nausea is a philosophical novel by the existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre and concerns a dejected historian, who becomes convinced that inanimate objects and situations encroach on his ability to define himself, on his intellectual and spiritual freedom, evoking in the protagonist a sense of nausea.

The Flies

Written in 1943, the play by Jean-Paul Sartre is an adaptation of the Electra myth, previously used by the Greek playwrights Sophocles, Aeschylus and Euripides. The play recounts the story of Orestes and his sister Electra in their quest to avenge the death of their father Agamemnon, king of Argos, by killing their mother Clytemnestra and her husband Aegisthus, who had deposed and killed him.

The Chips are Down

A screenplay written by Jean-Paul Sartre in 1943 and published in 1947, the plot concerns two characters, Pierre Dumaine and Ève Charlier. They are predestined to be soulmates, but this destiny is prevented by their premature violent deaths, and they do not meet until passing into the afterlife.

The Condemned of Altona

One of the last plays Sartre wrote, followed only by his adaptation of Euripides’ The Trojan Women. The title recalls his formulation “Man is condemned to be free.” It is the only one of Sartre’s fictional works which deal directly with Nazism.

The Words

Jean-Paul Sartre’s autobiography, published in 1963, and can be divided into five parts according to French essayist Philippe Lejeune. The book, consisting of Sartre distancing himself from writing and making his farewells to literature was very successful for the author and was hailed nearly unanimously as a “literary success”.

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