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Albert Camus: Elements of a Life Hardcover – January 5, 2010

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Editorial Reviews


"This elegantly written and beautifully paced book will appeal to many readers. Those already in sympathy with Camus's ideas will find extra nourishment; his detractors may want to nuance their criticisms in the light of Zaretsky's contribution, while those who are not familiar with Camus will have to look hard to find a clearer and more stimulating introduction to the man and his perception of the world."―David Drake, Times Literary Supplement, March 26, 2010

"A striking book. . . . One of the great benefits of examining Camus's life through a sequence of key encounters is that it emphasizes the combative, situated nature of his work, and Zaretsky's choice of key elements is perfect. The chaos of empirical details that so often overwhelms the biographer or historian is thereby given an order and intellectual integrity that may otherwise be dissolved by the corrosiveness of raw facts. These vignettes enable Zaretsky to bring out Camus's extreme attentiveness and responsiveness to the warring forces that emerge in particular locales; Camus expresses himself differently in accordance with those situational demands. Zaretsky shows how the diverse forms taken by Camus's work always have a specific ethical import, and the ways in which they don't say things prove as significant as their positive assertions."―Justin Clemens, The Australian, 17 April 2010

"This is Camus the moralist at his most human and humane, rebellious or silent, struggling to make his choices, courageously self-critical, and permanently uneasy. The pleasure of reading Robert Zaretsky's dramatic and often poetic book is heightened by the scholarly range of comparisons from Thucydides to J. M. Synge. It shows how challenging and troubling Camus still is: our own lucidity and attention to others are fundamentally at issue."―Rod Kedward, author of France and the French: A Modern History

"Camus is a writer of great nuance and sensitivity, and Robert Zaretsky interprets Camus in a way that is both intellectually sharp and deeply personal. This is a thoughtful and beautifully written book, and I highly recommend it."―Jeffrey C. Isaac, James H. Rudy Professor of Political Science, Indiana University, Bloomington, author of Arendt, Camus, and Modern Rebellion

About the Author

Robert Zaretsky is Professor of French History in the Honors College of the University of Houston. He is author of several books, including Nimes at War and Cock and Bull Stories: Folco de Baroncelli and the Invention of the Camargue. Most recently, he is coauthor of The Philosophers' Quarrel: Rousseau, Hume and the Limits of Human Understanding.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 200 pages
  • Publisher: Cornell University Press; 1 edition (January 5, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0801448050
  • ISBN-13: 978-0801448058
  • Product Dimensions: 8.7 x 5.8 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #990,224 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
That is from Albert Camus's speech in Stockholm upon being awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. To me, it exemplifies the man.

For anyone interested in Albert Camus and his thinking, this is a very worthwhile book. It is NOT, however, a biography, as is alluded to by the word "elements" in its subtitle and as is expressly stated by author Zaretsky on the second page. (Just two indicia of how the book is not a biography: there is no mention whatsoever of Camus's first wife Simone Hié, nor is there any mention of his closest friend Michel Gallimard, who was driving the car that ran off the road into a tree taking the lives of both him and Camus). Instead, Zaretsky sets out to explore three different popular "ideas" or conceptions of Albert Camus: (a) the thinker who probed the notions of freedom and justice and how they might be reconcilable; (b) the "outsider" who wrote about exile, both from one's homeland and from a world overseen by a god; and (c) a 20th-Century guru of silence. Zaretsky traces the ways these ideas weave through four distinct episodes of Camus's life, which correspond to the four chapters of the book: (1) Camus's tenure as a journalist in Algeria in the late 1930s writing about the oppressed and impoverished conditions of the local Arabs; (2) his decision in 1945 to reverse his position on capital punishment as appropriate "justice" for the worst of the Nazi collaborators; (3) his famous quarrel with Jean-Paul Sartre over communism and whether, in politics, the (theoretical) ends justify the means; and (4) his self-imposed silence, beginning in 1956, over the war in Algeria.
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27 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Bill Hughes on May 6, 2010
Format: Hardcover
"Every author in some degree portrays himself in his works, even if it be against his will." - Goethe

One of Algeria's greatest sons, the late Albert Camus, is back where he rightfully belongs--center stage! Thanks to Elizabeth Hawes' delightful and vibrant book, "Camus, A Romance,"Camus, a Romance and Robert Zaretsky's scholarly and insightful tome, "Albert Camus: Elements of a Life." Camus, a talented writer and philosopher, has again risen from the literary ashes. His clarion call for "limits" in the pursuit of otherwise laudable causes; and for truth-telling in the realm of political injustice and social inequities, is as relevant today, as it was during his turbulent lifetime.

Camus was a French-Algerian. He was born in 1913, and raised in the city of Algiers, in a run-down neighborhood. His father, whose ancestral roots were French, was killed fighting in WWI for France against the Germans; while his mother, of Spanish stock, was half-deaf, uneducated and rarely spoke. Is the latter, the origin of the importance of "silence" in Camus' persona? Zaretsky thinks it played a relevant part and I agree with him.

Algeria, in Camus' days, was a French colony, although its Arab population, was in the majority. Life was hard for the budding writer and for his family, but for many of his Arab contemporaries, discrimination, starvation and illiteracy were often their lot.

When I was in high school, at Calvert Hall, a Christian Brother institution, in downtown Baltimore, I remember mostly counting the bricks on a wall located across the street, I was so terribly bored! One of the exceptions was in my "literature" class with Brother Gregory at the the helm.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Any fan of Camus' writing will appreciate the way this small volume, and for that matter Robert Zaretsky's other works, sheds light on his thought.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Clearly written, cohesive and a helpful insight into the conflicts between Sartre and Camus, which as it turns out were fundamental.
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