Cover of Sartre, The Philosopher of the Twentieth Century, by Bernard-Henri Lévy
Cover of Sartre, The Philosopher of the Twentieth Century

Bernard-Henri Lévy


The Philosopher of the Twentieth Century

544 pages

Publisher: Polity Press Publishing

ISBN: 9780745630090

Translator: Andrew Brown

Issue date: September 2003

“A whole man, made of all men, worth all of them, and any one of them worth him.” This was how Jean-Paul Sartre characterized himself at the end of his autobiographical study, Words. And Bernard-Henri Levy shows how Sartre cannot be understood without taking into account his relations with the intellectual forebears and contemporaries, the lovers and friends, with whom he conducted a lifelong debate. His thinking was essentially a tumultuous dialogue with his whole age and himself. He learned from Gide the art of freedom, and how to experiment with inherited fictional forms. He was a fellow-traveller of communism, and yet his relations with the Party were deeply ambiguous. He was fascinated by Freud but trenchantly critical of psychoanalysis. Beneath Sartre’s complex and ever-mutating political commitments, Levy detects a polarity between anarchic individualism on the one hand, and a longing for absolute community that brought him close to totalitarianism on the other. Levy depicts Sartre as a man who could succumb to the twentieth century’s catastrophic attraction to violence and the false messianism of its total political solutions, while also being one of the fiercest critics of its illusions and shortcomings.


The book’s enthusiasm is infectious. It delves sympathetically into Sartre’s ideas and makes a strong case for their importance.

This biography of the French guru is brilliant.

Enthralling, absolutely enthralling.

Bernard-Henri Lévy wonderfully resurrects Jean-Paul as a colossus bestriding the age…It would be hard to imagine a better translation of BHL oracular French. Andrew Brown succeeds in bringing Lévy so flamingly to life as a passionately engaged and combative speaker that you can hear him holding forth on the other side of the table in the Flore or the Deux Magots.

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