Books by Albert Camus

Released: May 6, 2013

"A political footnote to a literary legacy."
In a manner less literary than journalistic but more personal than political, the Nobel Prize-winning existentialist argues for a liberal middle ground between French imperialism and the independence of his native Algeria. Read full book review >
THE FIRST MAN by Albert Camus
Released: Sept. 1, 1995

A voice we thought we'd never hear again speaks out with plangency and clarity in this unfinished novel, found in the wreckage of the car in which its Nobel Prize—winning author perished in 1960. As we learn in an Editor's Note contributed by Catherine Camus, her father's first-draft manuscript was withheld from publication following his death for fear that its inchoate state would be savaged by Camus's literary enemies and rivals, notably Jean-Paul Sartre. Perhaps; but it's hard to believe any reader could have been blind to the work's distinctive merits: vivid impressionistic descriptions of its autobiographical protagonist's childhood and youth in Algeria; a deeply empathetic portrayal of young Jacques Cormery's "ravenous appetite for life...[and] untamed and hungry intellect"; and incisive characterizations of such beloved family members as Jacques's steely paternal grandmother, volatile Uncle Ernest, and beautiful, illiterate, sorrowful mother, grieving all her life—as will Jacques himself—for her young husband, who died at the Marne in WW I. In the most moving sequence, Camus describes Jacques's surprised empowerment by a dedicated teacher, M. Bernard, who fought in that war and acknowledges his special responsibility to students who lost their fathers to it ("I try at least here to take the place of my dead comrades"). Of course, the whole is frustratingly fragmented, unpolished; long unbroken paragraphs dominate, inconsistencies in detail crop up often, and Camus's notes and preliminary sketches are lumped both into footnotes and an extended Appendix. Still, the very incompleteness of the work validates its power: In one heart-stopping sentence, Jacques's mother is identified as "Widow Camus." All honor to Catherine Camus for offering us this invaluable glimpse into the life and art of a writer who may have been greater than we knew then or can know even now. Read full book review >
A HAPPY DEATH by Albert Camus
Released: April 1, 1972

This first of Knopf's Camus "cahiers," actually an unpublished novel from 1936-38, reveals a surprising Mersault-in-embryo. Not yet divorced from conventional sentiment or the unsatisfactory Christian name Patrice, he is a respectable son and a resigned shipping clerk who aspires all the same to that elemental strangeness which a later Mersault will achieve as a matter of course. Here it becomes the object of a quest — a successful quest — when Patrice is offered a fortune for performing the "suicide" of a wealthy and philosophical amputee. Money buys time, the cripple argues, which equals freedom, the necessary condition to happiness; and happiness, hero and victim conclude together, is the only aim worth considering, the ultimate moral good. From its sensational chapter-one killing on, the novel is a melange of autobiography, travel notes, philosophic dialogue, vignettes and epigrams applied like plasters to the original proposition to illustrate its rightness. But what they show instead is Camus in the last phases of a youthful Romanticism (he would conceive The Stranger before this first Mersault was dispatched to his final ecstasy), groping oxymoronically toward a total embrace of existence, but still believing that simplicity could be willed, that the mind could crown the body king. There is little conviction in the tale or the telling: Mersault is an enthusiast of disinterest in a world that seethes but does not live, and the narrative itself is too fervent and comprehensive to suggest much of the cool integrity of the state it idealizes. The fascination lies in comparing the two books: A Happy Death stands as a measure of The Stranger's sudden, artistic and philosophical maturity — and provides a rare, unguarded glimpse of the turbulence that was mastered. Read full book review >
Released: Sept. 18, 1968

In one of his nastier moods, Sartre accused Camus of writing like Chateaubriand. The essay-portraits of Algiers and Oran, the nostalgic evocations of Camus' Mediterranean background, his buoyant, often dramatized philosophical love affair with nature—these were the parts of Camus' temperament that Sartre found at odds with the prevailing existentialist gloom of the post-war period when he and Camus held an uneasy alliance as spokesmen for their age. Sartre represented a soi-disant authentic anguish ultimately leading to social revolt, Camus the enigma of a passionate man who sought to triumph over the innate absurdity of life. Lyrical and Critical Essays comprises Camus' youthful reflections. L'Envers et l'Endroit; his two brilliant summations of the sensual world. Noces and L'Etc. both of which shed much light on the varying landscapes of his major novels; and his stray reviews (including comments on Sartre's fiction), interviews, and assorted marginalia. These newly translated works are of inestimable importance in reaching some understanding of Campus' personality, his relationship with traditional values, and (to return to Sartre) the qualified Romantic animism in Camus' style and feeling. In a sense, Sartre is right. There is something intellectually equivocal, even hortatory, in Camus' paradoxical celebration of lucidity amid nihilism, participation amid withdrawal. But Camus is more the measure of man and man's physical and spiritual union with the universe, however idealized. Read full book review >
NOTEBOOKS 1935-1942 by Albert Camus
Released: July 15, 1963

In these posthumously published notebooks of Camus, written well before he was thirty, one can find the seeds for almost all the later works, from The Stranger and Caligula on to The Fall. The themes, however, present themselves more peripherally than profoundly, and what we have here, often in those clear, classic constructions which so marked the Nobel Prize winner's style, is really genius in its green days: something explorative, something essayistically exuberant, at times very moving. Camus same early to the truth as he saw it: modern man's confrontation between ideals and deologues, the hero as exile in a blank slate of existence, a universe without God, a day-to-day monotony of megalopolis, of alienation both from humanity and from nature. For Camus the experience of the absurd was everywhere— "not only is there no solution, but there aren't even any problems"; yet as the notebooks and the novels show he sought both. Over and over in these pages, filled with a young man's debt to persons (readings n Kierkegaard, Aurelius, Tolstoy), to place (travels in Algeria, France, Italy) and to casual contacts (scraps of overheard conversation; studies in character), it is the "complete awareness" of the facts, of death and of freedom, of love and despair, which he preaches. Sensual fulfillment and stoical objectivity are the weapons, the acceptance of pleasure and of pain the programme. A resolution to live within the limits of the possible, a tragic joy in a "univers absurd", these cahiers are relevant and revelatory, the journey of an era and a man. Read full book review >
Released: Feb. 13, 1960

Biographically speaking, there is nothing as definitive concerning a man's life as the asides he speaks- to himself or while facing an audience. Letters and speeches written at the moment and not organized into a timeless work reveal more of a person's life and thought than any rote biography by an admirer. This is precisely what this book is. It does not explain Albert Camus. It reveals him. This is its first value. Here we find Camus' letters written during the war to a German friend, attempting to sift his love for his country despite its weaknesses and insanities. For himself and France Camus has tried to judge his own land and culture, to tap its vital bloodstream, discover its worth, and thus "absurdly" enter the larger family of mankind. For Americans, the book has an added value. Here is a man who speaks our own language, the traditional language of America in constant criticism of itself. And perhaps this explains the reading public's great affinity for this European. Finally the collected asides give us a greater insight into Camus' thinking. He details his war effort and distinguishes his support of killing from that of murdering. He etches his homeland, Algeria, attempting to preserve the familiar relationship of the past and the independence required of the present. Through his love of justice he exerts a forceful resistance against Christianity and Communism, though he respects both. Yet his passionate love of justice becomes quicksand and unveils his deep religious feeling. After all, as Camus says, "The only real artist then is God...all other artists are, ipso facto, unfaithful to reality". A statement in which he included himself. Certainly this is the most important book written about Camus, by one who knows best. Read full book review >
Released: Sept. 15, 1958

Stuart Gilbert does the translation, and the author contributes an amusing, a little deprecatory, interpretative introduction to the four plays which were written between 1938 and 1950: Caligula, an "actor's and director's play"; The Misunderstanding, an attempt to create a modern tragedy; State of Siege, an allegory which was slashed by the critics; and The Just Assassins, more successful, which has its basis in history. Camus has his claque which creates an assumed audience. Read full book review >
Released: March 10, 1957

...consists of six "short stories". The term must be as loosely applied as was that of "novel" to last year's The Fall. The tales, precise, almost stark, are concerned with illuminating the dispossessed- symbolically projected in the exile of man. Two, "The Adulterous Woman" and "The Renegade" take the deserts for their scenes; its barrenness brings revelation to Janine, madness to the renegade missionary. In "The Artist At Work" he elucidates the encumbrance and distraction which love entails and the failure in flight from love. "The Silent Men" and "The Guest" are stoic statements for compassion, for no other reason than for men's need to draw comfort from one another. The stories have the purity, dignity and involution expected from Camus and will find their own critical audience. Read full book review >
THE FALL by Albert Camus
Released: Jan. 1, 1957

An utterly fascinating book that might with half-truth be called a novel, or a monologue, or a character sketch, but which is largely a philosophical thesis, and inquiry- bristling with wit. "The Fall" is of course the fall of the angels, recorded satanically by Jean-Baptiste Clemence, a former Parts lawyer now following the self-invented vocation of judge- penitent in Amsterdam. He records his change from a most worthy defender of widows and orphans and other "noble" causes, and from a lover of the good things in life, to an associate of thieves, murderers and panderers in the dive where he now makes his headquarters, devoting himself to the conversion of others to his view of life. His progress is both fantastic and quite logical, both full of suspense and paradox. It does not constitute a novel, but rather a metaphysical search in a barely fictional form. It will have a purely intellectual appeal- its implications as well as its references and its analogies are recondite. But if in this case, Camus is the devil- his translator Justin O'Brien is a brilliant advocate. Read full book review >
Released: Sept. 26, 1955

This a book of earlier, philosophical essays concerned with the essential "absurdity" of life and the concept that- to overcome the strong tendency to suicide in every thoughtful man-one must accept life on its own terms with its values of revolt, liberty and passion. A dreary thesis- derived from and distorting the beliefs of the founders of existentialism, Jaspers, Heldegger and Kierkegaard, etc., the point of view seems peculiarly outmoded. It is based on the experience of war and the resistance, liberally laced with Andre Gide's excessive intellectualism. The younger existentialists such as Sartre and Camus, with their gift for the terse novel or intense drama, seem to have omitted from their philosophy all the deep religiosity which permeates the work of the great existentialist thinkers. This contributes to a basic lack of vitality in themselves, in these essays, and ten years after the war Camus seems unaware that the life force has healed old wounds... Largely for avant garde aesthetes and his special coterie. Read full book review >
THE REBEL by Albert Camus
Released: June 15, 1954

Albert Camus, esteemed author of The Plague, The Stranger, and other works outstanding in the contemporary literary scene, clarifies and expands his philosophy in an essay which is at least as literary as it is philosophical. Camus attempts to understand this era through exploring the act of rebellion, and draws from his outlay of historical landmarks a provisional hypothesis which he feels accounts partly for the direction and almost wholly for the frenzy of our time. The history of metaphysical and political revolt, the one a rebellion against creation and the human condition and for order, the other of the slave against the master, merge in our time in the nihilistic Russian revolution and Hitler regime. M. Camus reviews the histories of these movements with a brilliant and fertile interpretation of the concepts of the Marquis de Sade, Baudelaire and the Dandys, Dostolevsky, Nietzsche, Hegel, Marx, and others. He conceives of revolt as an essentially positive act, at once against and for something. Through it man is preparing a renaissance beyond the limits of nihilism. Man's hope lies in the rebel who revolts in the name of moderation and life, who joins through his act in the common fate, who tempers his revolt with a restraint that leads away from the vicious circling to successive dictatorships. This exploration into nihilism and rebellion in which Camus spins the globe of ideas to point out new and stimulating areas of thought will be appreciated by the literary and intellectual as an expression of contemporary thought in the world of letters on the world at large. Read full book review >
THE PLAGUE by Albert Camus
Released: Aug. 2, 1948

By the Frenchman who, with Sartre, shares a leading position in European literature, this is a work of considerable significance and stature, distinguished by its clarity, its composure, and above all, its scrupulous classicism. The story focuses on the outbreak of plague in Oran in the year 194-, as it reaches epidemic proportions. The author traces the crescendo of human emotions from panic to the almost unendurable agony of isolation and death. The argument extends beyond the physical impact of the plague into metaphysical terrain with the realization that each one of us carries within us the plague of injustice, of inhumanity...Distinguished by the precision, the purity of its writing, the dignity of its presentation. It may command critical rather than popular attention. Read full book review >
Released: Nov. 8, 1876

This is really two books: the first, a critical analysis of the literary and personal influences on the young Camus; the second, a selection of his unpublished writings—essay, prose, and verse—produced between the ages of 19 and 21. It is misleading to call Viallaneix' essay "introductory," since it assumes a working familiarity with Camus' oeuvre as well as those of the writers and philosophers he read as an adolescent—Gide, Baudelaire, Nietzsche, and Schopenhauer, among others. The translator has thoughtfully provided explanatory notes for some of the more obscure references, but the reader who approaches this essay cold will find the going rough; those with the requisite background will find it insightful and illuminating. As is often the case with juvenilia, the pieces are more important for what they tell us about the author's mature works than for their intrinsic value as finished works of art. With-in the short span represented here, one follows the development of Camus' conception of literature (which emerges as a fully developed philosophy of art in The Rebel) from the "oblivion" of dreams to a "deliverance." Themes and images that turn up in the later works reveal themselves—the Mediterranean sun, for example, which assumes such an important role in The Stranger. The overall impression is of the young writer's seriousness of purpose, a touching sincerity, and an inveterate lyricism (which he strives to discipline), expressed in an endearingly clumsy style, as Camus attempts to define his task as an artist. Even before opening the book, we know it is significant; we discover that it is also affecting and charming. Read full book review >
NOTEBOOKS 1942-1951 by Albert Camus

Are the journals of writers really significant? One thinks of Goethe or Gide and the answer is an automatic yes. One reads the second volume of Camus' Notebooks: 1942-1951 and , alas, no definite opinion is reached. The first entry offers a Nietzsche quotation: "Whatever does not kill me strengthens me. " And Camus adds: "Yes , but... how painful it is to dream of happiness." Here's the last entry (and by now Camus is 37): "Any fulfillment is a bondage. It obliges one to a higher fulfillment." Such is the nature of progress. Camus died young, relatively speaking. It is customary to think of him as the conscience of an age, and for page after page we are confronted with moral concerns, moral imperatives, and the pressure of events: the Resistance, the Cold War, the themes of Exile and of Absurdity, the question of Ideology. We learn of the philosophic and personal preoccupations behind The Stranger, Sisyphus, Caligula, The Rebel; we get snatches of the existentialist temper within Parisian circles; we view the dramatic break with Marleau-Ponty and Sartre; we follow Camus' political quest, his quarrel with Marxist abstractions, his hatred of totalitarianism. Fully acquainted with modernist negativity, he sought Mediterranean reasonableness, classical "lucidity," and- can it be denied?- romantic individualism. In The Rebel he stated: "Analysis of revolt leads at least to the suspicion that there is a human nature, as the Greeks thought, and contrary to the postulates of contemporary thought. " No wonder he was in conflict with Sartre; actually, he was in conflict with "the age." The appeal of Camus—as the Notebooks show over and over—is a nostalgic one. We respond not to his intellectual, rigor, but to his heroic invocation. In a dehumanized era he held to "boyish" ideals, to giving to life courage, beauty, style. Read full book review >