Sarah Bakewell

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Sarah Bakewell
Sarah Bakewell at the 2010 National Book Critics Circle awards.
Sarah Bakewell at the 2010 National Book Critics Circle awards.
Bournemouth, England
Notable worksHow to Live, At the Existentialist Cafe

Sarah Bakewell (born 1963) is a British author and professor. She currently lives in London.[1] She received the Windham–Campbell Literature Prize in Non-Fiction.

Early life[edit]

Bakewell was born in the seaside town of Bournemouth, England, where her parents ran a small hotel.[1] When she was five, the family began travelling through India in a camper and continued to do so for two years before settling in Sydney, Australia. There, her father worked as a bookseller and her mother worked as a librarian.[1] As a child, she often wrote,[1] and spent some of her young adulthood working in bookstores.[2]

Bakewell studied philosophy at the University of Essex in England.[1] She embarked on a PhD on philosopher Martin Heidegger, but gave it up to move to London, where she initially found work at a tea-bag factory.[3] Bakewell later completed a post-graduate degree on Artificial Intelligence.[3]


Bakewell began writing again during her job at the Wellcome Library in London as a curator of early printed books, which she began in the early 1990s.[1] She spent a decade at the library, where she came across interesting historical fragments and a pamphlet that would inspire her first book.[3]

The Smart, Bakewell's first book, related the story of an 18th-century forgery trial she came across in the Wellcome collection.[1] In 2002, she quit this job to devote more energy to writing. She published The English Dane, the biography of Danish revolutionary and explorer Jorgen Jorgenson, in 2005.

From 2008 to 2010, Bakewell worked as a part-time cataloger of rare books for the National Trust, cataloging historical book collections around England.[1][3] In 2010 she published How to Live, a biography of 16th century essayist Michel Eyquem de Montaigne.[4] The book received rave reviews, with The Guardian calling it a "superb, spirited introduction to the master."[4]

Bakewell published At the Existentialist Café: Freedom, Being, and Apricot Cocktails in 2016, a biography of the existentialist movement and its leaders Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and Albert Camus.[5] Bakewell was drawn to the existentialist movement at a young age; at age 16, she used some of her birthday money to buy a copy of Sartre's Nausea (1938).[5] Bakewell inserted this personal angle into the work; The New York Times critic Janet Maslin wrote, "As someone who came back to this material by rereading it later in life, she has made her responses part of the story."[5] At the Existentialist Café was named one of the Ten Best Books of 2016 by The New York Times.[6]

Awards and honors[edit]


  • At the Existentialist Cafe: Freedom, Being, and Apricot Cocktails (Other Press, March 2016) is about the existentialist movement and its leaders: Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Albert Camus, Martin Heidegger, Edmund Husserl, Karl Jaspers and Maurice Merleau-Ponty. London: Chatto & Windus, 2016, ISBN 978-0-701186586
  • How to Live (Chatto & Windus, 2010; Other Press, 2011) is about the life of 16th-century essayist Michel Eyquem de Montaigne.[4] It was reviewed favourably on both sides of the Atlantic.[8][9][1] In 2010 the book won the National Book Critics Circle Award in the Biography category, and the Duff Cooper Prize.[10]
  • The English Dane (Chatto & Windus, 2005; Vintage, 2006) is about 19th-century Danish adventurer Jørgen Jørgensen, a key player in stirring a revolution in Iceland to break from Denmark's control.[1]
  • The Smart (Chatto & Windus, 2001; Vintage, 2002) is about an 18th-century forgery trial she came across while working at the Wellcome Library.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Patricia Cohen (17 December 2010). "Conversation Across Centuries With the Father of All Bloggers". The New York Times. Retrieved 9 July 2012.
  2. ^ "Blog Archive » Meet Sarah Bakewell". Other Press. Retrieved 9 July 2012.
  3. ^ a b c d "About". Sarah Bakewell. 28 September 2013. Retrieved 4 August 2019.
  4. ^ a b c Adam Thorpe (16 January 2010). "How to Live by Sarah Bakewell | Book review | Books". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 9 July 2012.
  5. ^ a b c Maslin, Janet (2 March 2016). "Review: In Sarah Bakewell's 'At the Existentialist Café,' Nothingness Has a Certain Something". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 4 August 2019.
  6. ^ "The 10 Best Books of 2016". The New York Times. 1 December 2016. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 4 August 2019.
  7. ^ "Yale awards eight writers $165,000 Windham-Campbell Prizes". YaleNews. 7 March 2018. Retrieved 7 March 2018.
  8. ^ Ruth Scurr, 'How to Live: A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer by Sarah Bakewell', The Observer, 24 January 2010. Retrieved 13 June 2012.
  9. ^ Michael Bywater, 'How to Live, By Sarah Bakewell', The Independent, 29 January 2010. Retrieved 14 June 2012.
  10. ^ Awards All Past National Book Critics Circle Award Winners and Finalists NBCC website ( Retrieved 14 June 2012.

External links[edit]