Understanding Albert Camus; Novelist, Playwright and Philosopher

John Tommasino, Cybernaut, Van Nuys Branch Library,
Colorized photo of Albert Camus and his novel, The Stranger
Photo credit: United Press International, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

November 7, 1913, is the birthdate of Albert Camus, one of the most important writers and philosophers of the 20th century.

Born in Algiers to an impoverished family, Camus rose from poverty with the help of a teacher to attend the University of Algiers. Camus spent the war years in Paris, where he was a member of the French Resistance and the editor of an underground newspaper, Combat.

Although he is often referred to as an Existentialist, the school of philosophy that examines existence and man’s search for possible meanings of life, Camus preferred the term Absurdist, the belief that reality is irrational and meaningless. His 1942 novel L’Estranger (The Stranger or The Outsider) conveyed Camus’ philosophy of the absurd and the alienation of modern life. The novelist won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1957, the second youngest winner, at age 44, of that prestigious award. Camus was also active in politics as a member of the left that opposed Joseph Stalin and the Soviet Union for their totalitarianism.

Camus was killed in an automobile accident in 1960. His final novel, The First Man—an autobiographical tale, was not published until the 1990s. The work of Camus is varied and takes years of study to fully grasp and appreciate. Here are some must-read Camus titles to read in honor of the writer’s birthdate.

Camus Recommended Reading List

Book cover of The stranger
The Stranger
Camus, Albert

The definitive Camus novel, The Stranger, follows the character of Mersault in Algiers following the death of his mother. The character inexplicably commits murder and is tried for his crime. The novel explores, in Camus’s words, "the nakedness of man faced with the absurd."

Book cover of The myth of Sisyphus, and other essays
The Myth of Sisyphus, and Other Essays
Camus, Albert

Camus examines the problem of suicide in a philosophical light using the Ancient Greek Myth of Sisyphus, the man condemned to push a rock up a mountain only to see it fall back down endlessly throughout eternity.

Book cover of The first man
The First Man
Camus, Albert

Camus revisits his early life in the abject poverty of Algeria's slums, how he meets a kind teacher who opens up his life to a world of learning and books. A page-turning coming-of-age tale based on the writer’s formative years.

Book cover of The plague
The Plague
Camus, Albert

The Algerian city of Oran is faced with the bubonic plague. The novel calls on the Absurdist viewpoints of the author in the face of a life and death situation. A chilling read from cover to cover.

Book cover of The first man : based on the novel by Albert Camus
The First Man, Graphic Novel
Ferrandez, Jacques

In this graphic novel adaptation, author and illustrator Jacques Ferrandez beautifully illustrates the story based on Camus’s youth.

caligula book cover
Camus, Albert

In this Camus play, the mad Roman Emperor and his cruel acts are shown in the light of both Existential and Absurdist philosophy. First published in 1944, the drama showcases Camus’s skill with both dialogue and characterization.

the rebel book cover
The Rebel
Camus, Albert

In this book-length essay, Camus examines the roles of rebels and rebellions throughout Western history. A compelling read that will prompt the reader's own thoughts on rebellion and revolt.