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Top 10 Books Dealing With Existentialist Ideas

Published on 18 February, 2013 at 4:00 pm By

Existentialists are those late 19th- and 20th-century philosophers who believe that philosophical thinking begins with individual. Søren Kierkegaard is considered to have been the first existentialist philosopher who proposed that each individual and not society as a whole is responsible for giving meaning to life. Read below to find out about some of the most famous books dealing with existentialist ideas.

10. The Stranger (Albert Camus):

The Stanger or The Outsider (L’Étranger) is a novel written by Albert Camus and was published in the year 1942. Though Camus never considered himself to be an existentialist, this novel of his is often referred as example of Existentialism. The novel has been classed by literary greats as a great work of existentialism while Camus had described it as a story exploiting absurdism. The book is rich and deep with meanings that can only be discovered on reading it completely.

 The Stranger (Albert Camus)

9. The Trial (Franz Kafka):


The Trial or Der Process is a novel which was written by Franz Kafka in the year 1914, but was not published until 1925. It is the story of a man prosecuted by an unapproachable authority for a crime that is never revealed. This book was actually never completed by Kafka. After his death his friend edited the text prior to publishing and hence several disparities exist. However it is undoubtedly one of the best works by Kafka and also one of the finest books dealing with existentialist ideas.

The Trial (Franz Kafka)

8. Thus Spoke Zarathustra (Friedrich Nietzsche):

Thus Spoke Zarathustra is a philosophical novel by the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. It has often been categorized as one of the good novels dealings with existentialist ideas. It was composed in four parts between the years of 1883 and 1885. The will to power of human nature and the apparent self-improvement to achieve power is one of the ideas propagated through this work.

Thus Spoke Zarathustra (Friedrich Nietzsche)

7. Man’s Search for Meaning (Viktor Frankl):

Man’s Search for Meaning is a book written by Viktor Frankl. It was published in the year 1946. The book chronicles the author’s experiences in the concentration camps during the World War 2. It is also regarded as one of the ten most influential books in the United States. The book was originally written in German language and the title of the first English language translation was From Death-Camp to Existentialism.

Man's Search for Meaning (Viktor Frankl)

6. The Brothers Karamazov (Fyodor Dostoyevsky):

It was the last novel which was published by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Like his other works, this book too deals with moral deliberations of God and free will. Again a book very much on existentialist ideas, it is also as magnificent as the works of Sigmund Freud, Albert Einstein, Ludwig Wittgenstein and Kurt Vonnegut. The existential motifs in this book are elegant and have even influence other existentialist writers.

The Brothers Karamazov (Fyodor Dostoyevsky)

5. The Plague (Albert Camus):

The Plague or La Peste is another novel by Albert Camus which is placed in the Existentialist genre in literature. It was published in the year 1947 in French and later in English in the year 1948. Inspite of Camus’ objections to the label, the story is allegorical of the astounding consciousness and the human condition. Again as his previous novel, this too deals with how the world copes with the notion of absurdity.

The Plague (Albert Camus)

4. Waiting for Godot (Samuel Beckett):

Waiting for Godot is the English translation of Samuel Beckett’s own original French version called En attendant Godot. A tragic comedy it has been referred to as the most significant English language play of the 20th century. Another book that advocated existentialism, the book talks about the idiosyncratic existence and core value of an individual. The play laid emphasis on absurdism which in itself is an advanced version of traditional existentialist ideas.

Waiting for Godot (Samuel Beckett)

3. Being and Nothingness: An Essay on Phenomenological Ontology (Jean-Paul Sartre):


Being and Nothingness is a book which was written by Jean-Paul Sartre and published in the year 1943. A book that promotes individual existence over individual essence is another great work in the lineup of existentialist books. The underlying thought process in this book was the stress on the fact that free will dominates human existence.

Being and Nothingness (Jean-Paul Sartre)

2. The Unbearable Lightness of Being (Milan Kundera):

The Unbearable Lightness of Being is another existentialist book that deserves mention in this list. It was published in the year 1984 and was written by author Milan Kundera. The story and the basic idea of the book emphasizes on the fact that there is only one life to live and life occurs only once and never again. The book was also written in Czech and that was published a year after the English version.

The Unbearable Lightness of Being (Milan Kundera)

1. Notes from Underground (Fyodor Dostoyevsky):


Notes from Underground is a novella written by Fyodor Dostoyevsky in the year 1864. It is in fact regarded as the first existentialist novel to have been written in history. It is a tale about a disgruntled and bitter retired civil servant living in St. Petersburg. This work has often been put on the pedestal of the best existentialist ideas by other philosophers who believed in existentialism. Without a doubt thus this is one of the jewels among the books dealing with the subject.

Notes from Underground by Fyodor Dostoyevsky


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