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David Drake


I hawe always been puzzled about how people claiming to support freedom can give their support to violent and dictatorial leaders, in particular how some of the intellectuals of the mid-twentieth century supported Stalin. Jean-Paul Sartre was prominent amoung literary intellectuals of this time, and in Sartre (Life & Times) David Drake gives an account of his life which helps to explain this contradiction.

The book tells of Sartre's early life, and his growing fame in the period before the 2nd World War. His politics were essentially anti-authority, and so he was wary of becoming too deeply involved in political organisations. During the War Sartre was involved in the resistance, in particular in writing plays with a subtle political message - it seems that it was subtle enough to get past the censors, but unfortunately too subtle for most of the audience as well. In the post-War period Sartre was active in liberation movements, but found it hard to get his work listened to unless it was in support of Stalinism - there were always plenty of people willing to play 'lefter than thou'.

I found this short book very useful, not only in finding out about the life of Sartre, but also in getting a feel for the nature of intellectual life in the 20th century, including movements which came after Sartre, such as postmodernism.