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William Barrett's book is a definitive look at existentialism, a subject that can be difficult to define. Barrett emphasizes the basis of the diverse philosophy is the belief that existence precedes essence. This, then, is contrasted to several major Western philosophers, starting with Plato, who believed essence came first. From a self-educated perspective I found the writing clear, and a good overview of six of the most significant authors of existentialism: Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Sartre. While I disagree with many of Barrett's all-encompassing statements about man, I found the book thought-provoking and value it for such. For instance, at one point of zeal in his condemnation of Philistines' condemnation of modern art, he writes, "the last thing he wants to be reminded of is his spiritual poverty." I would argue the so-called Philistine who rejects nihilism may not be spiritually bankrupt, but the artist is.
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