The Most Important Books of Albert Camus

Before I went to University I never heard of Albert Camus. And then in a semester, I got to read his book “The Stranger”. It was a profoundly bizarre experience for me to have read such an absurd yet philosophically realistic story. Then everything I have read about Albert Camus gave me a perspective of one being constantly in opposition.

Reading The Stranger for the first time was an intoxicating and strange experience. It was at the same time so foreign and so familiar. The main character Meursault lives as a kind of spectator to his own life. And the whole story is marked by his alienation which is interpreted by the surroundings as indifference and eventually as bluntness.

Already the first sentences set the mood, “Today mother died. Or maybe it was yesterday, I’m not really sure.” Meursault accidentally comes up in a showdown where he ends up killing an Arab. Then he follows his own trial almost uninterested and he is eventually sentenced to death. Meursault is an incredibly fascinating character, and The Stranger can be said to describe the very essence of existentialism.

The Stranger by Albert Camus cover

The Stranger – The Most Important French Fiction Ever?

When I was writing an interdisciplinary thesis on literary studies during my graduation, The Stranger was still one of my core books. I wrote an essay on this novel about existentialism: “An Alienated Hero in A Meaningless World.” The paper was probably more marked by the fact that the author felt alienated than that it gave literary science something new.

Albert Camus as an Author

Albert Camus was born on November 7, 1913, in Algeria, and died too young in a car accident in France on January 4, 1960. He studied in Algeria and moved to France in 1940 where he wrote for the resistance newspaper Combat and among other things met Jean-Paul Sartre. Already two years later he wrote The Stranger and one of world history’s most exciting philosophical essays “The Myth of Sisyphus”. He later wrote two fantastic novels “The Plague” in 1947 and “The Fall” in 1956. The year after The Fall came out, he received the Nobel Prize in Literature.

The Philosophical Environment Around Boulevard Saint Germain

Camus became friends with the great French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre during World War II. But already in 1952, they broke up with each other, and they were very different in many areas. Sartre and Camus had very different backgrounds. Sartre came from a bourgeois Parisian environment, while Camus grew up in poverty in Algeria. And although Sartre was a great womanizer, his could also be referred to as the philosophers’ Quasimodo, “The Hunchback of Notre-Dame“.

Camus, on the other hand, looked like the philosopher Humprey Bogart. After World War II, they were both central to the philosophical milieu of Paris around the Boulevard Saint Germain. The area where a new intellectual generation discussed philosophy and existentialism. But unlike Sartre, Camus was not drawn to the utopias of communism. His main slogan was that no goal sanctifies the means.

Nobel laureate Albert Camus

Now in retrospect, there is no doubt about who is the greatest author, Sartre or Camus, even though they both received the Nobel Prize in literature. (Sartre admittedly refused to receive the award). Camus will remain one of the greatest writers in French literature. After discovering Camus and the Stranger, I read The Myth of Sisyphus which is a philosophical essay that revolves around the Greek myth of Sisyphus.

The Myth Of Sisyphus by Albert Camus cover

The Myth Of Sisyphus – Essay On The Absurd

The Myth of Sisyphus is an article about, Sisyphus who loved his life dearly and defied the gods. Thus, he was sentenced to an infinite and useless work: to roll a stone up a mountain and then see it roll down again, and then roll it up again. According to Camus, this is a picture of human existence and the absurd state we live in – without any god and without any meaning to life without existence itself. Camus believed that man is constantly searching for answers – for answers that do not exist – precisely because there is no deeper meaning, there is no God, and no plan for our existence. The only thing we can do is roll the stone up the mountain and try to enjoy it. 

Albert Camus And the Meaninglessness of Life

Camus believed that man must try to reconcile with meaninglessness because in the big picture we live a meaningless existence. To become a whole human being, you must understand it and try to enjoy it. All the time you have to fight against the urge to give up because all the answers from religion and other overarching ideologies are just opium for the people. If a person manages to reconcile with the fact that life is meaningless, that only the existence you have is the meaning, one can precisely understand that knowledge gives you a form of a meaningful life.

The Stranger, The Plague, and The Fall - Three of The most important books of Albert Camus

The Stranger, The Plague, and The Fall

The Stranger is on my list of the ten books that have meant the most to me throughout my life. I could well have included the Plague and the Fall as well. The Stranger (is only 100 pages) gave me the same magical feeling of reading happiness. With simple sentences and simple actions, Camus has created a text that gives you the feeling of being a little wiser and more reflective. If you fancy three novels that not only give you a wonderful reading experience, but that can give you a new perspective on how you should live, then the choice is easy. Try The Stranger, the Plague, and the Fall. Then you will understand that we must all be heroes to survive in this meaningless world.

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