I've recently picked up reading and want to start learning about philosophy but more particularly existentialism. My first exposure to existentialism and philosophy as a whole was through reading Dostoevsky's novels where I've read been working through his books starting with Notes from Underground all of which I've really liked.

I have also done some reading online into the field of existentialism but have only so far picked up Plato's The Republic as people recommended to read it first to get a better introduction to philosophy as a whole. While I can manage reading it, I find it very time consuming and am not particularly interested in his ideas as I am with existentialists such as Kierkegaard, Camus, Heidegger and Nietzsche so I'm wondering if its really essential for me to read the Republic first.

So my question really is should I read other books first, or can I just jump into something like Fear and Trembling. Also any recommendations into which specific books I should read to get a basic understanding of the different perspectives would be greatly appreciated.

1 Answer 1


One of the most highly regarded books on Existentialism at the survey or overview level is Existentialism from Dostoevsky to Sartre by Kaufmann. It is relatively easy to read (as far as these things go), and it covers a nice array of thinkers.

Being and Nothingness by Sartre might be a tough starting point, but I find it to be surprisingly readable - at least compared to Heidegger or non-fiction Camus.

Novels can also serve as a gateway into existentialism. The Stranger, The Plague, and The Fall by Camus are all quite good, but the mileage you get from them will probably depend on what you use to help you interpret them.

I find The Unbearable Lightness of Being and Immortality by Milan Kundera to provide a less orthodox and perhaps more enjoyable existential experience - though I think they are much improved by having a some other existential learning as a backdrop.

Whoever told you you need to read The Republic first is either mean or misinformed. If The Republic interests you, by all means, but is not a necessary nor a sufficient prerequisite (a prerequisite for learning about existentialism is curiously and a willingness to think outside the box - but if we were to say you needed some book learning prerequisite, the Republic wouldn’t suffice).

An alternative for an overview of philosophy as a whole would be any well regarded philosophy 101 textbook.

But, really - start with what interests you. You’ll come full circle and if you pursue philosophy deeply, you’ll end up rereading many books at different points, and your knowledge will deepen and new ideas will resonate differently and take on wholly different meanings at different points in your life.

Good luck.

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    Just to add. As for Sartre, I find it very useful to read (it is half documentary, half philosophical - very balanced) "War Diaries: Notebooks from a Phony War 1939-40", before turning to Being and Nothingness.
    – ttnphns
    Commented Jan 22, 2021 at 11:25

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