This page contains a list of the seven best books on or by Simone de Beauvoir. Finding good introductory philosophy books can be difficult for two reasons. First, searching google for recommendations usually doesn’t bring up anything useful. Second, phrases like “best books by Simone de Beauvoir” are ambiguous. One person may be looking for a short, beginner friendly introduction, someone else may want a comprehensive academic overview, a third person may be looking for classic works by de Beauvoir. This list tries to account for this ambiguity by recommending different types of books on or by de Beauvoir. Here are the best books on or by Simone de Beauvoir in no particular order:
The Second Sex – Simone de Beauvoir
Publisher description: Simone de Beauvoir’s essential masterwork is a powerful analysis of the Western notion of “woman,” and a revolutionary exploration of inequality and otherness. Unabridged in English for the first time, this long-awaited edition reinstates significant portions of the original French text that were cut in the first English translation. Vital and groundbreaking, Beauvoir’s pioneering and impressive text remains as pertinent today as when it was first published, and will continue to provoke and inspire generations of men and women to come.
The Ethics of Ambiguity – Simone de Beauvoir
Publisher description: In this classic introduction to existentialist thought, French philosopher Simone de Beauvoir’s The Ethics of Ambiguity simultaneously pays homage to and grapples with her French contemporaries, philosophers Jean-Paul Sartre and Maurice Merleau-Ponty, by arguing that the freedoms in existentialism carry with them certain ethical responsibilities. De Beauvoir outlines a series of “ways of being” (the adventurer, the passionate person, the lover, the artist, and the intellectual), each of which overcomes the former’s deficiencies, and therefore can live up to the responsibilities of freedom. Ultimately, de Beauvoir argues that in order to achieve true freedom, one must battle against the choices and activities of those who suppress it.
The Ethics of Ambiguity is the book that launched Simone de Beauvoir’s feminist and existential philosophy. It remains a concise yet thorough examination of existence and what it means to be human.
Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter – Simone de Beauvoir
Publisher description: A superb autobiography by one of the great literary figures of the twentieth century, Simone de Beauvoir’s Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter offers an intimate picture of growing up in a bourgeois French family, rebelling as an adolescent against the conventional expectations of her class, and striking out on her own with an intellectual and existential ambition exceedingly rare in a young woman in the 1920s.
She vividly evokes her friendships, love interests, mentors, and the early days of the most important relationship of her life, with fellow student Jean-Paul Sartre, against the backdrop of a turbulent political time.
The Mandarins – Simone de Beauvoir
Publisher description: 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 York Times
A Very Easy Death – Simone de Beauvoir
Publisher description: A Very Easy Death has long been considered one of Simone de Beauvoir’s masterpieces. The profoundly moving, day-by-day recounting of her mother’s death “shows the power of compassion when it is allied with acute intelligence” (The Sunday Telegraph).
Powerful, touching, and sometimes shocking, this is an end-of-life account that no reader is likely to forget.
Simone de Beauvoir: A Biography – Deirdre Bair
Publisher description: This definitive biography is based on five years of interviews with de Beauvoir, and is written with her full cooperation. Bair penetrates the mystique of this brilliant and often paradoxical woman, who has been called one of the great minds of the 20th century, and surely, one of the most famously unconventional figures of her generation. “As a reference work . . . Simone de Beauvoir can be considered definitive”.–The Atlantic.
The Cambridge Companion to Simone de Beauvoir – Claudia Card
Simone de Beauvoir was a philosopher and writer of notable range and influence whose work is central to feminist theory, French existentialism, and contemporary moral and social philosophy. The essays in this volume examine the major aspects of her thought. They explore her views on the role of biology, sexuality and sexual difference, and evil; the influence on her work of Heidegger, Sartre, Merleau-Ponty, Husserl, and others; and the philosophical significance of her memoirs and fiction.
This list was created by following a method that I’ve found to be useful when searching for introductory philosophy books. It involves:
- browsing required reading lists on university course syllabi
- searching for books using the Open Syllabus Project
- browsing the bibliographies of articles on the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
- searching for recommendations on philosophy forums
The following sources were used to build this list:
University Course Syllabi:
- Bibliography for the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Simone de Beauvoir
- Bibliography for the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Simone de Beauvoir
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