The most recommended existentialism books

Who picked these books? Meet our 72 experts.

72 authors created a book list connected to existentialism, and here are their favorite existentialism books.
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Book cover of Imperial Bedrooms

Mike Thorn Author Of Shelter for the Damned

From my list on descent into existential darkness.

Why am I passionate about this?

Mike Thorn is the author of Shelter for the Damned, Darkest Hours, and Peel Back and See. His fiction has appeared in numerous magazines, anthologies, and podcasts, including Vastarien, Dark Moon Digest, and The NoSleep Podcast. His books have earned praise from Jamie Blanks (director of Urban Legend and Valentine), Jeffrey Reddick (creator of Final Destination), and Daniel Goldhaber (director of Cam). His essays and articles have been published in American Twilight: The Cinema of Tobe Hooper (University of Texas Press), Beyond Empowertainment: Exploring Feminist Horror (Seventh Row), The Film Stage, and elsewhere. He is currently pursuing his PhD in Creative Writing at the University of New Brunswick.

Mike's book list on descent into existential darkness

Mike Thorn Why did Mike love this book?

With Imperial Bedrooms, Bret Easton Ellis channels many of his career-long obsessions into a nihilistic work of Hollywood noir, written in a minimalist prose style that evokes both Raymond Chandler’s staccato brutalism and Joan Didion’s haunting lyricism. Imperial Bedrooms takes a razor to Hollywood’s beautiful surfaces while drawing the reader deeper and deeper into protagonist Clay’s misanthropic paranoia. The writing is masterful, existential horror frozen into sentences so spare and focused they often resemble haiku. It features what might be my favorite closing line in fiction: “The fades, the dissolves, the rewritten scenes, all the things you wipe away—I now want to explain all these things to her but I know I never will, the most important one being: I never liked anyone and I’m afraid of people.”

By Bret Easton Ellis,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Imperial Bedrooms as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Clay is a successful screenwriter, middle-aged and disaffected; he's in LA to cast his new movie. However, this trip is anything other than professional, and he's soon drifting through a louche and long-familiar circle - a world largely populated by the band of infamous teenagers first introduced in Bret Easton Ellis's first novel Less Than Zero. After a meeting with a gorgeous but talentless actress determined to win a role in his movie, Clay finds himself connected with Kelly Montrose, a producer whose gruesomely violent death is suddenly very much the talk of the town.

Imperial Bedrooms follows Clay as…


Book cover of The Sheltering Sky

Jessica Stilling Author Of The Beekeeper's Daughter

From Jessica's 3 favorite reads in 2023.

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Novelist Poet Fitness freak Viking enthusiast Mother

Jessica's 3 favorite reads in 2023

Jessica Stilling Why did Jessica love this book?

I have always loved things (books, films, museum exhibits) that make me feel that the universe is so very, very big, and I am so very, very small. The awe that comes with eternity and such vastness has always had a place deep, so deep, in my soul.

During the summer of 2007, I read Albert Camus’ The Stranger and that book hit a place in my soul so hard, I don’t think it’s come loose. The bleak existentialism, the rawness of the narration, the concrete and abstract images of North Africa, were like nothing I’d ever read before – part philosophy, part travel literature, all high art.

Since that summer, I have been searching for a way to return to that feeling I felt when I first read The Stranger. I read Camus’ other works, and they were fine, but not The Stranger. I tried Jean-Paul Sartre since…

By Paul Bowles,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Sheltering Sky as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'The Sheltering Sky is a book about people on the edge of an alien space; somewhere where, curiously, they are never alone' Michael Hoffman.

Port and Kit Moresbury, a sophisticated American couple, are finding it more than a little difficult to live with each other. Endeavouring to escape this predicament, they set off for North Africa intending to travel through Algeria - uncertain of exactly where they are heading, but determined to leave the modern world behind. The results of this casually taken decision are both tragic and compelling.


Book cover of The Mandarins

Mike James Ross Author Of Intention: The Surprising Psychology of High Performers

From my list on books to help you find meaning in your life.

Why am I passionate about this?

I have been interested in purpose and meaning since I snuck into a high school philosophy class when I was 10 years old. Since then, I have not only worked on my own quest for meaning in my life but also helped dozens of others through these types of questions as an executive coach and business leader. I believe that having an answer to the question “why am I here?” is the crucial ingredient to living a happy and fulfilled life, and I’ve been working for years to distill all that I have learned on the subject into a useable and accessible collection of insights.

Mike's book list on books to help you find meaning in your life

Mike James Ross Why did Mike love this book?

What I love about The Mandarins is that in describing the life of de Beauvoir, Sartre, Camus and their contemporaries in Paris at the end of the Second World War, it provided me with greater insight into how an existentialist approach to meaning in life can be put into practice.

I also really enjoyed the book for the quality of its writing and its interesting plot. It is fiction, but so close to what actually happened as to almost be history.  

By Simone de Beauvoir,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Mandarins as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In her most famous novel, The Mandarins, Simone de Beauvoir takes an unflinching look at Parisian intellectual society at the end of World War II. In fictionally relating the stories of those around her - Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, Arthur Koestler, Nelson Algren - de Beauvoir dissects the emotional and philosophical currents of her time. At once an engrossing drama and an intriguing political tale, The Mandarins is the emotional odyssey of a woman torn between her inner desires and her public life. "Much more than a roman a clef . . . a moving and engrossing novel." - New…


Alpha Max

By Mark A. Rayner,

Book cover of Alpha Max

Mark A. Rayner Author Of Alpha Max

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Human shaped Pirate hearted Storytelling addict Creatively inclined

Mark's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

Maximilian Tundra is about to have an existential crisis of cosmic proportions.

When a physical duplicate of him appears in his living room, wearing a tight-fitting silver lamé unitard and speaking with an English accent, Max knows something bad is about to happen. Bad doesn’t cover it. Max discovers he’s the only human being who can prevent the end of the world, and not just on his planet! In the multiverse, infinite Earths will be destroyed.

Alpha Max

By Mark A. Rayner,

What is this book about?

★★★★★ "Funny, yet deep, this is definitely worth venturing into the multiverse for."

Amazing Stories says: "Snarky as Pratchet, insightful as Stephenson, as full of scathing social commentary as Swift or Voltaire, and weirdly reminiscent of LeGuin, Alpha Max is the only multiverse novel you need this month, or maybe ever."

Maximilian Tundra is about to have an existential crisis of cosmic proportions.

When a physical duplicate of him appears in his living room, wearing a tight-fitting silver lamé unitard and speaking with an English accent, Max knows something bad is about to happen. Bad doesn’t cover it. Max discovers…


Book cover of Waiting for Godot: A Tragicomedy in Two Acts

Lee Braver Author Of Heidegger: Thinking of Being

From my list on everything you want to know on existentialism.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a professor of philosophy because when I got to college, philosophy sounded like what Gandalf would study—the closest thing we have to the study of magic. It turns out, I wasn’t far from the mark. Philosophy shows you entire dimensions to the world that you never noticed because they exist at weird angles, and you have to change your way of thinking to see them. Entering them and seeing the world from those perspectives transforms everything. A great work of philosophy is like having the lights turn on in an annex of your mind you didn’t know was there, like an out-of-mind experience—or perhaps, an in-your-mind-for-the-first-time experience.

Lee's book list on everything you want to know on existentialism

Lee Braver Why did Lee love this book?

Existentialism spilled out of the ivory tower into heated conversations in cafes and smoky dorm rooms at 2:00 am all over the world, where it continues to be intensely discussed today (albeit, with more vape than smoke nowadays). It had an enormous influence on art, especially literature, inspiring many masterpieces. From the multitude I could point to (Kafka’s The Trial, Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, Vonnegut’s, I don’t know, Slaughter-House 5, sure), I’ll pick Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, a play where, as an early critic wrote, nothing happens. Twice. One of the first US performances took place in San Quentin State Prison, where the prison newsletter wrote one of the most insightful reviews it ever received. After all, who knows more about waiting than those doing time? And, in the end, what else are we doing?

By Samuel Beckett,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Waiting for Godot as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From an inauspicious beginning at the tiny Left Bank Theatre de Babylone in 1953, followed by bewilderment among American and British audiences, Waiting for Godot has become of the most important and enigmatic plays of the past fifty years and a cornerstone of twentieth-century drama. As Clive Barnes wrote, “Time catches up with genius … Waiting for Godot is one of the masterpieces of the century.”

The story revolves around two seemingly homeless men waiting for someone—or something—named Godot. Vladimir and Estragon wait near a tree, inhabiting a drama spun of their own consciousness. The result is a comical wordplay…


Book cover of Working: People Talk about What They Do All Day and How They Feel about What They Do

Adrian Wilkinson Author Of Human Resource Management: A Very Short Introduction

From my list on managing people and working lives.

Why am I passionate about this?

My grandfather was a labour activist in Hull in the UK and my father had many classic labour texts such as the book by Tressell, listed below. That got me interested in the world of work and later more specifically in managing people. I moved from studying economics to employment relations /human resource management. Given that most of us (workers) spend 80,000 hours of our lives at work - more time than we are likely to spend on any other activity during our lifetimes - how we spend these lives has remained a source of fascination

Adrian's book list on managing people and working lives

Adrian Wilkinson Why did Adrian love this book?

It is a rich and memorable oral history of America told by more than a hundred workers across a huge slice of American working life including those of paperboys, photographers, switchboard operators, actors, writers, executives, barbers, sanitation truck drivers, stockbrokers, professional athletes, teachers, grave diggers, lettuce pickers and many more.

It shows how work is a search for both a daily crust and meaning. The book inspired a musical and a recent Netflix series with Obama as the host.

By Studs Terkel,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Working as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Perhaps Studs Terkel's best-known book, Working is a compelling, fascinating look at jobs and the people who do them. Consisting of over one hundred interviews conducted with everyone from gravediggers to studio heads, this book provides a timeless snapshot of people's feelings about their working lives, as well as a relevant and lasting look at how work fits into American life.



Book cover of The Mezzanine

Daniel Orozco Author Of Orientation and Other Stories

From my list on the existential violence of work.

Why am I passionate about this?

The first story I ever wrote was set among warehouse pickers and stockers; the second, a bridge maintenance crew; the third and fifth, office workers, and the sixth, cops on the beat. I’m fascinated by the drama of work. For most people the workplace is a highly structured environment—you can’t wear what you want, you can’t say what you want, you can’t avoid that guy who drives you nuts. Who-You-Really-Are and Who-You-Are-At-Work are not always in harmony, and the tension between those two identities is richly revelatory. I live and write in Moscow, Idaho, and have taught creative writing at the University of Idaho, Stanford University, and the Iowa Writer’s Workshop.

Daniel's book list on the existential violence of work

Daniel Orozco Why did Daniel love this book?

This is the drama of a twenty-second escalator ride, during which the narrator, returning to the office from lunch, ponders his morning at work and his just-ended lunch hour, and reflects upon just about everything that he has observed or handled on this day (sunlight, shoelaces, staplers, doorknobs, carpet, rubber stamps, popcorn, and yes, escalators), and on every seemingly insignificant and fleeting human activity he has engaged in (tying his shoelace, signing a co-worker’s get-well card, replacing a wastepaper basket bag, avoiding another co-worker, ending a conversation). Though an office drone with a boring job, he remains undefeated, and engages the mundane and the routine around him with joy and renewal and wonder. A very funny and heartfelt book.

By Nicholson Baker,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Mezzanine as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Mezzanine is the story of one man's lunch hour. Pondering life's littlest questions - why does one shoelace always wear out before the other? Whatever happened to the paper drinking straw - our narrator interrogates the inner-workings of corporate living as he traipses his way down escalators to the first floor and through the mundaneness of office life.

Mixing humour with the existentialism that surrounds all our working lives, The Mezzanine is a classic work of modern American literature.


Book cover of Waste and Want: A Social History of Trash

John H. Sibley Author Of Being and Homelessness: notes from an underground artist

From my list on understanding homelessness and existentialism.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a Chicago-based artist, author, veteran, and teacher. I studied at the American Academy of Art in Chicago before enlisting in the United States Air Force in 1968 during the bloody Tet Offensive during the Vietnam era. Upon my discharge I got my BFA in 1994. I got convicted for a crime I did not commit, and I became a homeless-existential artist on Chicago’s mean streets for six months. I got hired by an Acoustic company, and I married and worked for twenty-seven years while raising a family. I now work as an art teacher. All my nonfiction books chronicle different episodes in my life. 

John's book list on understanding homelessness and existentialism

John H. Sibley Why did John love this book?

Years ago, I was a janitor. When I would take a shower, it was like I could never get the stench off my body. I like Susan Strasser’s book because it reminds me of the waste I use to clean up daily. She examines the most unprecedented commonplace act of throwing things out and how it has transformed American society.

Her classic book about trash world culture is fascinating to me because, in the last hundred years, the way of life has been replaced by mass consumption, disposable goods, and waste on an unimaginable scale. Her book could easily be used as a metaphor for the ‘homeless,’ whom some view as “disposable’ goods. Her book illustrates that what counts as trash depends on who counts it, and what we throw away defines us as much as we keep it.

Strasser argues that in Western society, popular understanding of cleanliness, gender,…

By Susan Strasser, Alice Austen (photographer),

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Waste and Want as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An unprecedented look at that most commonplace act of everyday life-throwing things out-and how it has transformed American society.

Susan Strasser's pathbreaking histories of housework and the rise of the mass market have become classics in the literature of consumer culture. Here she turns to an essential but neglected part of that culture-the trash it produces-and finds in it an unexpected wealth of meaning.

Before the twentieth century, streets and bodies stank, but trash was nearly nonexistent. With goods and money scarce, almost everything was reused. Strasser paints a vivid picture of an America where scavenger pigs roamed the streets,…


Book cover of The Concept of Anxiety: A Simple Psychologically Oriented Deliberation in View of the Dogmatic Problem of Hereditary Sin

Thomas Cathcart and Danny Klein Author Of Heidegger and a Hippo Walk Through Those Pearly Gates: Using Philosophy (and Jokes!) to Explore Life, Death, the Afterlife, and Everything in Between

From my list on a taste of philosophy.

Why are we passionate about this?

Thomas Cathcart and Daniel Klein have been thinking deep thoughts and writing jokes for decades, and now they are here to help us understand philosophy through jokes, and jokes through philosophy. They like philosophy and they like jokes, not necessarily in that order. Best of all, they like combining them. 

Thomas' book list on a taste of philosophy

Thomas Cathcart and Danny Klein Why did Thomas love this book?

The acknowledged father of existentialism actually makes anxiety interesting (if you’re into that sort of thing.) Not for sissies.

By Alastair Hannay, Søren Kierkegaard,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Concept of Anxiety as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

First published in 1844, Soren Kierkegaard's concise treatise identified-long before Freud-anxiety as a profound human condition, portraying human existence largely as a constant struggle with our own spiritual identities.


Book cover of The Stranger

Angel Dionne Author Of Sardines

From my list on Books that depict the existential pains of human existance.

Why am I passionate about this?

I like to believe that my own characters struggle with being human. They struggle with their bitterness, their relations to others (or lack thereof), and their unresolved guilt. What happens when guilt is left unresolved? What happens when someone enters into a state of self-imposed isolation? These are topics I enjoy exploring in my work. I’ve enjoyed writing since I was a child. My mother deserves all the credit. At bedtime, rather than reading bedtime stories to me from a book, she would make up a story and then ask me to do the same. This helped me to develop a lifelong love for reading and writing.

Angel's book list on Books that depict the existential pains of human existance

Angel Dionne Why did Angel love this book?

I first read the English translation of this book during my undergraduate studies. The first time I read it, I couldn’t stop thinking about it for days. Something about it disturbed me, made me feel sick, and made me question what it means to be human.

I felt myself called to read it again years later and, just recently, I picked it up a third time. Mersault’s indifference in relation to his experiences and to society forced me to question my own views concerning the meaning of life.

By Albert Camus,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked The Stranger as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

With the intrigue of a psychological thriller, The Stranger—Camus's masterpiece—gives us the story of an ordinary man unwittingly drawn into a senseless murder on an Algerian beach. With an Introduction by Peter Dunwoodie; translated by Matthew Ward.

Behind the subterfuge, Camus explores what he termed "the nakedness of man faced with the absurd" and describes the condition of reckless alienation and spiritual exhaustion that characterized so much of twentieth-century life. 

“The Stranger is a strikingly modern text and Matthew Ward’s translation will enable readers to appreciate why Camus’s stoical anti-hero and ­devious narrator remains one of the key expressions of…


Book cover of The Culture of Make Believe

John H. Sibley Author Of Being and Homelessness: notes from an underground artist

From my list on understanding homelessness and existentialism.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a Chicago-based artist, author, veteran, and teacher. I studied at the American Academy of Art in Chicago before enlisting in the United States Air Force in 1968 during the bloody Tet Offensive during the Vietnam era. Upon my discharge I got my BFA in 1994. I got convicted for a crime I did not commit, and I became a homeless-existential artist on Chicago’s mean streets for six months. I got hired by an Acoustic company, and I married and worked for twenty-seven years while raising a family. I now work as an art teacher. All my nonfiction books chronicle different episodes in my life. 

John's book list on understanding homelessness and existentialism

John H. Sibley Why did John love this book?

I liked the book because it is not just about racism, but it grapples with how hate manifests itself in our Western world.

Jensen paints on a huge canvas detailing American racism from the genocidal slave trade through lynchings to the 2000 murder of Amadou Diallo by NYC police and covers a wide range of other cultural horrors as well: the massacres of Native Americans, the Holocaust, the 8,000 deaths from the 1984 Union Carbide gas leak in India and the deaths of 500,000 children in Iraj. 

By Derrick Jensen,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Culture of Make Believe as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Derrick Jensen takes no prisoners in The Culture of Make Believe, his brilliant and eagerly awaited follow-up to his powerful and lyrical A Language Older Than Words. What begins as an exploration of the lines of thought and experience that run between the massive lynchings in early twentieth-century America to today's death squads in South America soon explodes into an examination of the very heart of our civilization. The Culture of Make Believe is a book that is as impeccably researched as it is moving, with conclusions as far-reaching as they are shocking.