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The Myth of Sisyphus , a philosophical essay by Albert Camus (book review and recommendation )

Today something a bit different, instead of a work of literature, I'm going to review a philosophical essay by Albert Camus. I listened to this book in audio form and I must have listened to it at least three times, because I remember being hungry for more and putting it on repeat. I listened to it in Italian for no particular reason other than not being able to read it in French because sadly this beautiful language is unknown to me. Bellow you can see that I even took notes while I was listening to this book. I even did some research on it. Clearly, the book, that is, Camus' philosophical essay impressed me.  It turned out to be one of the best finds last January.

I was quite surprised to learn that Camus wrote this book before he was even thirty. It is, in every way that I can think of, such a mature work. It feels more like a work of an old University professor, than a young man (as intelligent as he might be), but hey maybe some people have old souls? Maybe Camus was one of those people? It is as good as time as any to warn you to not expect this review to be fabulously informative or even very informed. Philosophy is not my strongest point, i.e., I'm no more knowledgeable about it than an average Western person with a (humanist) higher education. I'm only starting to realize that modern philosophy has a lot to offer. 

Most of the philosophical reading (Aristotle, Socrates, Plato and the usual stuff) I did was back when I was a student, so it is definitely something I need to be work on. I've decided to read more non-fiction this year, so I might tap into more philosophical works. Feel free to warn me if I totally embarrass myself while trying to say something about philosophy, like my husband did a few moments ago, when he pointed out that I'm pronouncing Camus wrongly. My lack of substantial philosophical education taken into consideration, I have to say that all the philosophical ideas that Camus presents here are, in my view, extremely well developed and written. Probably it helps that Camus was also a writer, but it is not all. This is a great philosophical book. 

Does a philosopher needs to be a writer? According to Bryan Edgar Magee, he absolutely doesn't have to be. Moreover, Magee is of the opinion that one can suck at writing but still be a great philosopher (he said it more eloquently than me). I haven't actually read anything by Maggee, but I listened (and watched) a BBC interview/program (titled Philosophy and Literature) he made featuring Iris Murdoch. As long as we are on the subject, I have to admit that I have only read literary works by Iris, never her philosophical ones ( I feel bad about it now, because it would be utterly fascinating to be able to compare the two, don't you think?). Still, Murdoch is the first person that comes to my mind when I try to put the words 'philosophy' and 'literature' together. I'm going to share the link of this interview in case anyone else wants to listen to Iris comparing the two ( ).

Back to the topic, that is, this wonderfully wonderful book. Perhaps the most famous sentence in this book is the one in which Camus states that the question of suicide is the only true philosophical question. As bold as this statement may seem, I don't think it was put into solely to make us raise our eye-brows. There is legitimate writing to back up this infamous claim (that seems to get everyone's attention). When Camus says: “I see many people die because they judge that life is not worth living. I see others paradoxically getting killed for the ideas or illusions that give them a reason for living (what is called a reason for living is also an excellent reason for dying). I therefore conclude that the meaning of life is the most urgent of questions.”, I can do nothing but agree with him. Furthermore, I think it's rather brave that he tackled suicide from so many different angles. Suicide is still a rather controversial theme, isn't it? 

You know, I think that I like Camus the philosopher even more than I do Camus the writer. Not that I don't like him as a writer. Now, that I think about it, I rather liked The Stranger. Nevertheless, I always had this feeling like I was missing out on something. It may be that I have read it too young, so perhaps it is time to return to it. While I'm at it, I need to remember to explore more of Camus literary works. This year I will make more time for classics, because I want to read more books like this one, books that make me ponder life, books that I feel challenge me. I have to say that The Myth of Sisyphus really made me think. This philosophical essay feels absolutely timeless. I have to admit that it also made me a bit jealous. Why I can't be so rational and organized in my cognitive processes as Camus seems to be? The way Camus does philosophy seems so effortless. Can I have another serving, please? 

There are so many thoughts from this book that I will take with me, perhaps especially this one: “We get into the habit of living before acquiring the habit of thinking.” Now, isn't that true? This is such a beautiful, beautiful book. I'm giving it four stars for now, but I may come back to this review. I feel I need to read The Myth of Sisyphus one more time to be able to rate it more accurately. At the moment, I'm crushing on it, but I like to reserve five stars for books that stand out in more ways than one. I really like this one, but I'm not exactly a philosophy geek (as I confessed) so establishing a deeper connection/relationship with this book might take some time. So, I gave it 4 out of 5 stars at goodreads. I do warmly recommend it, though.

There is no doubt in my mind that this is high quality writing and might very well be high quality philosophy. Camus as the philosopher is wonderfully fluent but what I will really take with me is his honesty. Camus writers with so much integrity. When he admits that we cannot know practically anything for certain, you can see he has put a lot of thought into it. Camus is not a moral relativist, he is not saying that anything goes, he is not making excuses, rather he is warning us against fantastic and absolutist thinking.  I have a feeling that Camus is urging us to keep an open mind with this essay and he does such a wonderful job. I'm really impressed with Camus the philosopher. I can't wait to read more of him. 


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