The 5 Best Albert Camus Books You Should Read and Why
Albert Camus is a French writer whose work is known across the globe. Several of his pieces have been translated into English over the years, and you’ve probably already heard of his most famous novel, The Stranger, or, The Outsider.
Camus is known first and foremost for his writings, but he was also a French Resistance fighter and a philosopher. He was born and grew up in Algeria, a French colony at the time. Camus’ early life greatly influenced his writings, and he was famously anti-colonialist. He worked for a leftist newspaper in Algiers until it was eventually shut down, and then decided to move to Paris in 1940.
By the time Camus got to Paris, World War II had officially begun in France. He wanted to join the army but was unable to because he contracted tuberculosis when he was 17 years old. This didn’t stop Camus from serving his country: he became involved with the French Resistance movement as an underground journalist for the Resistance newspaper Combat.
In 1957, at 44 years old, Camus became the second-youngest person ever to win the Nobel Prize in Literature for his “important literary production, which with clear-sighted earnestness illuminates the problems of the human conscience in our times.”
Camus majored in philosophy at the University of Algiers and his interest in philosophy shines through in some of his writing (more on that later!). He also lived a very tumultuous personal life, as most writers do. He was a famous womanizer and was involved in several different women over the course of his life. He was only married twice but had multiple affairs.
He died tragically and unexpectedly in a car accident with his publisher, the well known Michel Gallimard. Gallimard still reigns as a publishing house in France!
I hope I’ve piqued your interest! Keep reading for the 5 best Albert Camus books you should read and why.
1. The Stranger (L’Étranger)
L’Étranger, or The Stranger (sometimes The Outsider, depending upon the publisher), is by far Camus’ most famous novel. Camus was clearly inspired by his own personal experiences when writing the book, as the story is centered around a French man named Meursault who is living in Algeria. It was published in 1942.
The book also touches on the theory of absurdism, which is the idea that the human existence is a result of the attempt to draw meaning from our lives, and the pointlessness of trying to find that meaning, as it doesn’t exist. It’s a mouthful (and honestly quite depressing), I know, but I mentioned that Camus was a philosopher!
As the story goes, Meursault commits a crime and is then treated as an outcast. Its almost as if Camus wants the reader to dislike the main character, as he is depicted as being emotionless and detached. Camus writes in a very simple and easy to understand way, which is a trademark of his writing style.
Read this book if: you like thrillers and also want to better understand the theory of absurdism.
2. The Plague (La Peste)
Next up in famous works by Camus is La Peste, or, The Plague. This novel was published in 1947 and tells the story of a plague that overtakes the Algerian city of Oran.
The novel speaks on the effects that a crisis like a plague can have on humans. As with much of his work, Camus loves showing his readers the absurd things that humans are capable of, whether that be good things or terrible ones.
The book is part of a series by Camus called the “cycle of revolt.” The series focuses on human beings’ struggle with death and the measures we’ll go to to avoid our ultimate fate.
Read this book if: you like dystopian novels.
3. The Myth of Sisyphus (Le Mythe de Sisyphe)
If you think that Camus let his philosophy degree go to waste, you’re wrong! As mentioned, Camus was a big believer in the theory of Absurdism. To quote the author himself, the definition of the absurd is, “that which is meaningless. Thus man’s existence is absurd because his contingency finds no external justification.” To some, this is depressing, but to Camus, it wasn’t!
The Myth of Sisyphus is an essay, published in 1942, in which Camus grapples with the fact that humans must continue to live even though we know that death is inevitable (in other words, the theory of absurdism). The essay compares the myth of Sisyphus, a king from Greek mythology who is condemned to push a rock up a hill for eternity, and the question of human existence.
Read this book if: you want to better understand Camus’ philosophical beliefs and you’re interested in Greek mythology.
4. The Fall (La Chute)
La Chute, or The Fall, is Camus’ last work of fiction, published in 1956. The novel is centered around a lawyer named Jean-Baptiste Clamence who reflects on his life to a complete stranger. The book is filled with monologues by Clamence recounting his rise to success as a lawyer in Paris to his ultimate fall from glory.
Critics say that The Fall is the first book in which Camus’ true self comes out through his writing. The novel is also said to be a comparison of the “fall of man” from the Garden of Eden in the Bible.
Read this book if: you like drama and are interested in themes of innocence, existence, and the truth.
5. The Rebel (L’Homme révolté)
L’Homme révolté, or, The Rebel, is an essay from the “cycle of revolt” series I’ve already mentioned. Published in 1951, the essay focuses on the revolution of rebellion in modern society. Camus also aims to summarize and analyze the various theories he has written on up until this point.
In the essay, Camus argues that humans act the way that we do because we are constantly searching for the meaning of life, even though there isn’t one. According to Camus, we rebel because of this ultimate frustration.
Read this book if: you want to better understand Camus’ theories.
If you were interested in reading some of the French author Albert Camus’ works, you have 5 excellent starting points listed above! I recommend that you read them in the order that they are listed. Head to your local bookstore to stock up, and enjoy!
Several celebrated authors and artists have come out of France. If you’re in Paris and are interested in learning more about them, I suggest that you book one of our walking tours! Our local guides are experts in everything French and you’re sure to learn something! Click here to learn more and make your booking.