Drawing on history and his own rich imagination for examples, Sartre offers compelling supplements to his more formal arguments. The waiter who detaches himself from his job-role sticks in the reader's memory with greater tenacity than the lengthy discussion of inauthentic life and serves to bring the full force of the argument to life. Even if you're not an angst-addicted poet from North Beach, Being and Nothingness offers you a deep conversation with a brilliant mind--unfortunately, a rare find these days. --Rob Lightner
If you want to learn about existentialism, you might want to bypass this book. Existentialism is not hard to understand, though Sartre goes out of his artsy-fartsy way to make it all but incomprehensible.
I expected better of Sartre, since his plays and fiction are so well done and make for enjoyable reading. And who knows: in the original French, his ideas may have come across much more readily. But in English translation, "Being and Nothingness" is all but unreadable. It is clearly aimed at specialists, snooty philosopher majors who don't mind reading 800 pages of torturous nonsense. My question: of what use is philosophy if those of us in the real world can't comprehend it? One could be forgiven than philosophers are more interested in intellectual snobbery than they are in actually saying anything of consequence. Perhaps that's why Nietzsche is so widely read. He at least knows how to make a point.
It's said that Sartre "moved on" from the views he expresses in his masterpiece, which makes one wonder why we should be bothered to read it.
Makes for a nice doorstop, though, I must say.
Sartre's treatise on Existentialist thought is a revealing, startling, and bold pronouncement of the power of humankind. Many folks pan this type of philosophy as outdated, but I think in contemporary times Sartre's message is particularly salient. I am not sure I have ever encountered a text that possessed so much power that I felt overwhelmed and indebted to its gravity. This is definitely something that takes a few reads, maybe some explanation by a thoughtful philosophy professor (which I was lucky enough to have) and much contemplative, individual rumination on its meaning. But in the end, I might go so far as to say it will change your life.
I have been reading one version or another of this book, off and on, for the last 40 years - mostly off. I finished it once but, of course, one reading is hardly enough for this type book. It is very difficult reading. I keep a philosophy dictionary beside me whenever I pick this book up. Whenever I start reading I am torn between the notion that Mr. Sartre is a philosophical genius or the man is putting me on.
I always recommend this book to friends and associates who brag on their knowledge of philosophy and philosophers. I ask them to get back with me after they have read the book and let me know what they have learned. It's my personal joke on my intellectual friends. I know of no one who has ever finished the book. Nor do I know anyone who could explain what the book has to say.
This book is for those versed in philosophy. You must have an understanding of philosophical terms and certainly beyond a freshman level. If you haven't studied philosophy in college or are not truly interested in the academics of philosophy and well versed in terminology, you will go nowhere with this book.
I haven't read the other reviews on this page but I would guess that there are no detailed analyzes of this book with criticisms of Mr. Sartre ideas and philosophy because I doubt that there are any reviewers who have the background or capacity to truly understand what this man is saying. I think most people would be better off buying a book that explained this book - like Being and Nothingness for dummies or some such thing. But I haven't given up yet. I will find out what this man is trying to say ... one day ... if I live long enough.
Books written by Richard Noble - The Hobo Philosopher:
"Hobo-ing America: A Workingman's Tour of the U.S.A.."
"A Summer with Charlie" Salisbury Beach, Lawrence YMCA
"A Little Something: Poetry and Prose
"Honor Thy Father and Thy Mother" Novel - Lawrence, Ma.
"The Eastpointer" Selections from award winning column.
"Noble Notes on Famous Folks" Humor - satire - facts.
Being and Nothingness is the best known and most comprehensive exposition of Sartre's philosophical system. The following comments pertain to the Washington Square unabridged version of the text.
One of Sartre's objectives in Being and Nothingness is to develop an understanding of knowledge that avoids what he sees as the two extremes of idealism and realism (Cartesian dualism). Very much in the existential/phenomenological tradition of early twentieth century continental philosophy, the starting point for Sartre's system is the public shared world rather than the private world of thought. From this perspective he puts forth a tripartite ontology, consisting of `being-in-itself', `being- for-itself' and `being-for- others'. While Sartre's discussion of being-in-itself and being-for-itself are laborious and not particularly original (heavily indebted to Heidegger), he is most interesting in his phenomenological discussion of what it is like to be a in a shared world with others. At its best, Being and Nothingness provides an interesting and eclectic mix of philosophy and psychology which challenges the reader to recall and interact with an array of thinkers and ideas.
While not without some strength the book is a difficult read on several front, first, the subject matter is dense (the nature of being), and, second, Sartre's awkward and pretentious prose cloud examination of this already challenging subject. Indeed, the combination of poor style and sheer length (800 pages) causes many readers to skim the text or put it away entirely. Potential readers should be forewarned, this is rambling and repetitive text which reads very much like an early manuscript. While Sartre has his followers, to many commentators he is seen more as a political activist and public personality than a serious thinker, often being criticized for misunderstanding and misrepresenting the works of others.
While the Washington Square version is relatively inexpensive, the font is small and the quality of the print is lacking in sharpness - this could be a specific problem with my copy, but, I think that it is likely a wider print issue. Overall, while Sartre's popularity has been eclipsed by other existential thinkers of the period, Being and Nothingness continues to have some historic significance, and, as a result, may be worth a look by students of twentieth century continental philosophy. I would not normally recommend a commentary in place of an original text, however, if ever there was a case to do so, this would be it - Joseph Catalano's commentary is good in this regard, he does a commendable job of summarizing and representing Sartre's ideas.
This book is for the most part tedious and often it will get on your nerves, but nonetheless your effort will be rewarded with some valuable knowledge. Sartre intentionally writes in an academic, obscure, constipated way that makes you wonder whether it is due to your limited mental capacity that you do not understand what he is saying, or that he takes so much pride in his superior self that he does not want to be understood by the many. The trick when you read Sartre is to recognize in his writing those parts that correlate with the experience of your own everyday life. Doing so, you will be able to find some practically useful wisdom in Sartre's thinking. After all, every philosophy of life should fundamentally relate with our everyday existence, otherwise it is not philosophy but some sterile theory destined to fall in limbo.