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Simone de Beauvoir: A Biography

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This definitive biography is based on five years of interviews with de Beauvoir, and is written with her full cooperation. Bair penetrates the mystique of this brilliant and often paradoxical woman, who has been called one of the great minds of the 20th century, and surely, one of the most famously unconventional figures of her generation. "As a reference work . . . Simone This definitive biography is based on five years of interviews with de Beauvoir, and is written with her full cooperation. Bair penetrates the mystique of this brilliant and often paradoxical woman, who has been called one of the great minds of the 20th century, and surely, one of the most famously unconventional figures of her generation. "As a reference work . . . Simone de Beauvoir can be considered definitive."--The Atlantic. 16-page photographic insert.


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This definitive biography is based on five years of interviews with de Beauvoir, and is written with her full cooperation. Bair penetrates the mystique of this brilliant and often paradoxical woman, who has been called one of the great minds of the 20th century, and surely, one of the most famously unconventional figures of her generation. "As a reference work . . . Simone This definitive biography is based on five years of interviews with de Beauvoir, and is written with her full cooperation. Bair penetrates the mystique of this brilliant and often paradoxical woman, who has been called one of the great minds of the 20th century, and surely, one of the most famously unconventional figures of her generation. "As a reference work . . . Simone de Beauvoir can be considered definitive."--The Atlantic. 16-page photographic insert.

30 review for Simone de Beauvoir: A Biography

  1. 5 out of 5

    Gina Herald

    An expansive read, but well worth the time. To touch on the author, Bair’s, actual construction--it read in journalistic style but was sectioned into chapters that left you with whole ideas and themes within Beauvoir’s life. I appreciated that, as some biographies I've read often resigned to bait-and-switch, and though that approach may propel you throughout fiction, in biography you lose some of the sense of growth, change and large periods of time building upon each other to create a complete An expansive read, but well worth the time. To touch on the author, Bair’s, actual construction--it read in journalistic style but was sectioned into chapters that left you with whole ideas and themes within Beauvoir’s life. I appreciated that, as some biographies I've read often resigned to bait-and-switch, and though that approach may propel you throughout fiction, in biography you lose some of the sense of growth, change and large periods of time building upon each other to create a complete portrait of the subject. As for Beauvoir herself, this book is very keen to emphasize that Beauvoir was very much philosophically dependent on Sartre for most of her life. However, I interpreted Beauvoir’s firm role as reminding Sartre of the ideas of Being and Nothingness as her own philosophy--the fact that she did not constantly move with his own philosophical fluctuation shows that she has convictions of her own, and that in many ways the ideas of Being and Nothingness were created at the pinnacle of his respect for her, when they were constantly in dialogue, and therefore she exists as a thinker within that existential system to a very great extent. The book, or their life together really, raises another good point for dialogue also, in that she was fine doing Sartre’s social dirty work as well as giving him all the credit for the existential basis of The Second Sex. Though the author seems convinced that Simone was a man “eluded the usual duties of her sex”, in that she did not “suffer fools and [was] never to be bound by the traditional constraints of marriage, family or housework”, Simone did suffer Sartre’s foolery often, compromised her relationship with Algren to remain available constantly to Sartre (constraints, if not traditional), replicated child relationships in Slyvie (and Sartre in Arlette) and truly was constantly doing his housework--running Les Temps Modernes in its entirety because he simply grew bored. Though I was surprised to see this, I feel it is in direct contrast to the author’s assumption that she never *succumbed* to womanhood, as she constantly makes it seem. Simone adopted if not as recognizable the predictable female role. So, unfortunately, my initial question of whether a woman can be in tune with this tendency and also create an identity for herself unafraid to be in conflict with and exist without those for which they care goes unanswered in Simone’s life. She only put herself into her singular work outside of Sartre, feminism, when he was dead. “However in reality it should be considered separately from the decade of the 1970s when it was first of all a way of evading Sartre’s drawn out process of dying, and only after that a source of personal and professional pleasure.” However, to read about a woman of such intellectual power, self-possession, and commitment to freedom was refreshing. She continues to be a model for both women and myself personally, in that she never faltered in confidence regarding her skills and never completely let anything subsume her until there was simply no Simone de Beauvoir left. That is a feat, and maybe over time I can begin to see she had a clearer sight into realism than I--her life attests to the constant and very real balance of both existential wholeness as well as the sacrificial nature of love. All in all, a well documented account of her life. I'll probably write an essay on in it and leave it somewhere on the dregs of the internet because there are so many interesting both political and philosophical questions raised by such a fascinating person's life. (Also, spoiler, piles of dry journalistic pages and turning Sartre into a cold-hearted, somewhat hedonistic egoist did not prepare me for "'The real world,' he tells her in once instance, 'That was what I lived in with you," as if to say that all other people and things mattered less to him.' Wah, it still hurts)

  2. 5 out of 5

    James Murphy

    Earlier in the year I read Deirdre Bair's memoir of writing the biographies of Samuel Beckett and de Beauvoir. I enjoyed her accounts of the pleasures and difficulties of biography and her generous portraits of the 2 subjects, and I decided to read her book on de Beauvoir (I'd read the Beckett biography years earlier). It was important to me to read it along with the latest biography of Nelson Algren. For me Algren and de Beauvoir go together. I'd already read other biographies of both plus the d Earlier in the year I read Deirdre Bair's memoir of writing the biographies of Samuel Beckett and de Beauvoir. I enjoyed her accounts of the pleasures and difficulties of biography and her generous portraits of the 2 subjects, and I decided to read her book on de Beauvoir (I'd read the Beckett biography years earlier). It was important to me to read it along with the latest biography of Nelson Algren. For me Algren and de Beauvoir go together. I'd already read other biographies of both plus the de Beauvoir-Algren letters and knew about their affair begun during her tour of America in 1947. The more I learned about that affair the more interesting it became. And I was intrigued by Bair's judgment in the memoir that Algren had been the love of de Beauvoir's life. Famously she had Jean-Paul Sartre, too. Early on they were lovers. Marriage was out because her family couldn't provide a dowry, but she and Sartre preferred the unconventional relationship which over the years morphed into the literary/philosophical partnership they're known for. By the end of WWII Sartre had become the leading French existentialist. While de Beauvoir walked in philosophic lockstep with him, she was more open to other European thought and was even an influence on Sartre's thinking. When she turned to feminist issues in 1949, that wider European vision combined with her existentialism to produce The Second Sex, the seminal work of feminism she's best known for. She was a novelist, too, and a good one. Her The Mandarins (1954) is highly revelatory about the group of philosophers and writers around Sartre, called the Family, and is still well-regarded today. That book and her decision to not leave the Family and Sartre is what damaged her romance with Algren. His perception of her portrayal of their relationship had a lot to do with the end of it. He'd been important to her because he showed her how passion and reason could combine in a man. He therefore gave her the traditional male-female romance she'd not known she wanted. Algren made her question everything about herself except her professional bond with Sartre. Algren even helped give The Second Sex an American flavor. Pulled between the 2 men and the lives they represented, Sartre the social politics and philosophy, Algren fiction writing and the personal, in the end she chose Sartre, though she was also choosing Paris over Chicago. This is a wonderfully rich biography and loving portrait of a woman whose rightful place we'd once thought was discipleship to Sartre but who, since their deaths, is regarded by many as the half of the duo whose ideas are of the most importance. Her feminism and social politics have overtaken Sartre's existentialism. Bair tells it all well. She's an engaging storyteller, as we learned from her memoir, and de Beauvoir gave her many stories to tell.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Kayla

    This biography was written with the full cooperation of the subject, which I suspect perhaps unconsciously softens some of the hard edges. For instance, Ms. Beauvoir was not comfortable, for a variety of reasons, with discussing her passion for women in sexual terms but had a variety of women in love with her and sleeping with Jean Paul Sartre because of their connection to her, originally. She pimped out her young philosophy students and then justified her actions with existentialism (my interp This biography was written with the full cooperation of the subject, which I suspect perhaps unconsciously softens some of the hard edges. For instance, Ms. Beauvoir was not comfortable, for a variety of reasons, with discussing her passion for women in sexual terms but had a variety of women in love with her and sleeping with Jean Paul Sartre because of their connection to her, originally. She pimped out her young philosophy students and then justified her actions with existentialism (my interpretation, not the author's). Quite a trick. This book was quite complicated for me because of the feelings that emerged when reading about her one-down relationship with Sartre which I then juxtaposed against her title of being the mother of feminism. Books should make you think and reexamine what you hold true...this one did. Now, I need to read more of her original works.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Tilden

    I thought the biography was well written and kept me very interested, mainly because Beauvoir was a fascinating woman. I was especially intrigued by her contradictions and her being so apolitical until the 1960's. How can one write a book "The Second Sex" published in 1949 and not be political? The section during WWII was interesting in that Beauvoir did nothing to resist the German occupation of Paris and her country. She essentially hunkered down, continued to write and publish, and simply sur I thought the biography was well written and kept me very interested, mainly because Beauvoir was a fascinating woman. I was especially intrigued by her contradictions and her being so apolitical until the 1960's. How can one write a book "The Second Sex" published in 1949 and not be political? The section during WWII was interesting in that Beauvoir did nothing to resist the German occupation of Paris and her country. She essentially hunkered down, continued to write and publish, and simply survive. I would think that as an intellectual, a strong person with strong convictions, and her love of Paris would have made her join the resistance, but she did not. Her devotion to Sartre was confusing to me. I don't understand how she could totally sublimate her life, her needs, her intellectual expression and development to Sartre. She was a woman of brilliant intelligence, yet she constantly deferred to him in almost all facets of her life. This ultimately led to the ending of her relationship with Nelson Algren. The book also shed an unflattering light on Sartre. What a womanizer! And it was creepy how many of the younger women who hung around Beauvoir and students of Beauvoir ended up as Sartre's lovers. It also bothered me how Beauvoir kept saying she had never been discriminated against because she was a woman. Patently not true! She gave many examples of how when she was with Sartre she and her opinions were totally ignored because she was a woman. She even pointed out instances where Camus and even Sartre said women couldn't effect change politically, they didn't count because they were women. I am also puzzled why Beauvoir didn't like Betty Friedan's "Second Stage." I remember when the book came out. It created quite a sensation in the US and helped start the Women's Liberation Movement in the US. Me and my friends bought a copy and we became feminists. I've tried twice to read "The Second Sex." I didn't get very far in it. I am now willing to give it another try. I highly recommend this biography. It's well written and gives a good account of a fascinating woman's life.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Michael Horan

    It is no easy task, to write such an accomplished biography on a philosopher and novelist, who in their own lifetime wrote so extensively of themselves, and with such candid and unflinching self-appraisal. Deirdre Bair's portrait of Simone de Beauvoir is highly informative and provides a great deal of insight in to the wider socio-political context from which she was both enthroned and vilified at several turning points in her distinguished career. I enjoyed the revealing way Bair weaves the per It is no easy task, to write such an accomplished biography on a philosopher and novelist, who in their own lifetime wrote so extensively of themselves, and with such candid and unflinching self-appraisal. Deirdre Bair's portrait of Simone de Beauvoir is highly informative and provides a great deal of insight in to the wider socio-political context from which she was both enthroned and vilified at several turning points in her distinguished career. I enjoyed the revealing way Bair weaves the perspectives of Beauvoir's 'Family' in to the narrative, systematically prying apart the distinctions between what was of-Beauvoir and what was inextricably linked to Jean-Paul Sartre. I found the critical analysis of Beauvoir's ideology and behavior somewhat lacking at points, perhaps a compromise for the unprecedented access she had to Beauvoir (who authorized the book) before her death. Still, a well-pitched and must-read for existential scholars and fans of both Beauvoir's writing and celebrity.

  6. 5 out of 5

    pippi

    i've read this book a few times but it's really big. it's a really great look into a life that's so cast in the shadows of jean paul sartre. the book gets real about her relationship with sartre (like how sartre never gave her an orgasm). it starts from the beginning.... and by beginning i mean her grandparents and ends with her death.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Jarome

    An absolutely amazing, sad and at times tiring read. I have a number of French friends and simply wanted to know more about this particular individual. Well written, it kept my interest even when there weren't interesting things going on.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Suz Moses

    What a whirlwind! Not my usual genre but fascinating look at an unusual woman--brilliant, radical, unfettered and yet bound, open and yet closed emotionally and intellectually. Great portrayal of a complex personality.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Chessa

    Tough but ultimately gratifying biography.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Wendyjune

    it was a big chewy book, that often repeated itself. I ploughed through it though, and maybe while not deeply entertaining it had great value.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth Schurman

    I loved this, and I will miss it. Being an existentialist is all fun and games until your liver gets bad. Ah, well.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Joshua

    unethical non monogamy. what an amazing biography. I feel like I just lived several whole lives. being in love with sartre sounds like hell and although I’m a fan of beauvoir I’m sort of glad I’ve never had the chance to get on her bad side. I hope everything I've ever written ends up destroyed and that my love letters aren't published for an international audience against my explicit will? #olgadeservedbetterfriends

  13. 4 out of 5

    Cristine

    life changing

  14. 4 out of 5

    Marietje

    One of the best biographies I ever read. It is very thoroughly researched and well written story of an exceptional life.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Daniela

    3 1/2 stars

  16. 5 out of 5

    Francine

    This book is fascinating and reveals why Simone de Beauvoir spent her life with Sartre, despite his many betrayals. Based on five years of interviews with de Beauvoir.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Laura

    This was really more of a 2.5 than a 3, but I'm feeling a bit generous. I'd been interested in reading this because I've read a number of her works, all while I was much younger, in college (and she was alive). Learning more about the woman who'd informed some of my philosophy and women's studies classes was interesting - the problem is, Simone de Beauvoir just seems like a not nice person. Her life, at least the way it's presented here, was a series of squabbles and justifications for her though This was really more of a 2.5 than a 3, but I'm feeling a bit generous. I'd been interested in reading this because I've read a number of her works, all while I was much younger, in college (and she was alive). Learning more about the woman who'd informed some of my philosophy and women's studies classes was interesting - the problem is, Simone de Beauvoir just seems like a not nice person. Her life, at least the way it's presented here, was a series of squabbles and justifications for her thoughts and work. In a way, this is bold because there's no sense of hagiography but 600+ pages of an unlikable person... The writing also was slightly problematic. Most of the time this is straight chronology, but then there's a weird jag in the timeline that lends itself to repetition.l Events were occasionally covered more than once, with a different emphasis (for example, the end of her affair with Algren or relationship with Sylvie le Bon). I was also surprised to see several obvious typos (for example, "writng" and "att hat").

  18. 4 out of 5

    Miranda

    Whew! It took months but finally finishing Deirdre Bair's biography of the inimitable Simone de Beauvoir gave me a great feeling of satisfaction. I enjoy biography as a very focused and constructed means to gaining knowledge of a wide scope of culture and history; now I'm a great deal more familiar with early 20th-century France as well as the life of Jean Paul Sartre and even Nelson Algren. Biggest revelation: Simone de Beauvoir had no fashion sense. Her iconic turban came about because she did Whew! It took months but finally finishing Deirdre Bair's biography of the inimitable Simone de Beauvoir gave me a great feeling of satisfaction. I enjoy biography as a very focused and constructed means to gaining knowledge of a wide scope of culture and history; now I'm a great deal more familiar with early 20th-century France as well as the life of Jean Paul Sartre and even Nelson Algren. Biggest revelation: Simone de Beauvoir had no fashion sense. Her iconic turban came about because she didn't wash her hair regularly and wanted to conceal its unkempt state. This only substantiates my favorite expression of hers: "Few tasks are more like the torture of Sisyphus than housework, with its endless repetition: the clean becomes soiled, the soiled is made clean, over and over, day after day."

  19. 4 out of 5

    Marmite

    Just like most of de Beauvoir's work a bit too lengthy, but worthwhile. Personally, I was disappointed to get to learn the woman behind the influential (feminist) philosopher. Especially her relationship with Sartre put me off, since she was so much not in control. But that's the risk of reading biographies I guess. It does give you a beautiful picture of Paris back in the days, full of art and philosophy, and it also leaves you with a clearer understanding of de beauvoir's work.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Lex

    I don't remember the month that I read this. It was cold and I must have been bored. This book is huge and exhausting. But it REALLY helps you understand Simone de Beauvoir and modernity better. Do we really need to? I dunno.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Donna Kusuda

    Have been reading this over the past few months between other things. Probably the best biography I have ever read about an awesome woman leader, a mass of contradictions but in spite of that is considered "the mother of us all". What a life.

  22. 4 out of 5

    sosser

    it is inconceivable how anyone could make simone de beauvoir's life seem boring, but after 163 pages (out of 679) i can not continue to devote any more reading time to this hefty biography. bleh.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Allison

    A fascinating read about this dynamic women. Though dry at times, Simone's life more than makes up for the slow sections.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Rachel

    She's an amazing woman. Inspiring, intellectually and emotionally. I'm determined to read everything she's ever written now.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Carla

    very interesting woman. i just love the french culture and reading about their customs etc.

  26. 4 out of 5

    miso miso

    awesome background material on sartre's drug habits. got my copy at the strand. boy was sartre a wanker. slash hot.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Sarah Ben Chikha

  28. 5 out of 5

    Onechordwonder

  29. 4 out of 5

    Serena

  30. 4 out of 5

    Angela

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