Book Review: Create Dangerously (Albert Camus)

Book Review: Create Dangerously (Albert Camus)

Create Dangerously by Albert Camus

Create Dangerously

Live dangerously, think dangerously, create dangerously. This can be a wonderful way to sum up the life – and writings – of Albert Camus. One of my favorite writers, his works have profoundly touched me in my own writing, in my own way of thinking, and my life in general. One of my biggest inspirations for writing, alongside Kurt Vonnegut, George Orwell, Spinoza, Antonie de Saint Exupery, Aldous Huxley, Philip K. Dick, Nietzsche, and a host of others. Creating dangerously is something that gets to the core of writing, and gets to the core of what writers SHOULD do. It doesn’t mean “no fear or no worries” but it does mean to take risks, to write what needs to be written, to create what needs to be created. Art for art’s sake. To hell with the dictator, to hell with the public, to hell with who might cause you trouble for the creation. Create dangerously. Think dangerously. Live dangerously.

Albert Camus

Portrait of Albert Camus from New York World-Telegram and Sun Photograph Collection, 1957 (photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

Albert Camus was a famous writer, an existentialist writer that helped herald in the existentialist movement alongside Sartre and others. His “brand” of Existentialism was “Absurdism”, insofar as that life has no inherent meaning and it is up to us to find meaning, or to find purpose, or to just live, in an absurd world.

The following comes from his biography on Wikipedia:

Albert Camus (/kæmˈ/[2] kam-OO; French: [albɛʁ kamy] ; 7 November 1913 – 4 January 1960) was a French philosopher, author, dramatist, journalist, world federalist,[3] and political activist. He was the recipient of the 1957 Nobel Prize in Literature at the age of 44, the second-youngest recipient in history. His works include The Stranger, The Plague, The Myth of Sisyphus, The Fall, and The Rebel.

Camus was born in Algeria during the French colonization, to pied-noir parents. He spent his childhood in a poor neighbourhood and later studied philosophy at the University of Algiers. He was in Paris when the Germans invaded France during World War II in 1940. Camus tried to flee but finally joined the French Resistance where he served as editor-in-chief at Combat, an outlawed newspaper. After the war, he was a celebrity figure and gave many lectures around the world. He married twice but had many extramarital affairs. Camus was politically active; he was part of the left that opposed Joseph Stalin and the Soviet Union because of their totalitarianism. Camus was a moralist and leaned towards anarcho-syndicalism. He was part of many organisations seeking European integration. During the Algerian War (1954–1962), he kept a neutral stance, advocating for a multicultural and pluralistic Algeria, a position that was rejected by most parties.

Philosophically, Camus’ views contributed to the rise of the philosophy known as absurdism. Some consider Camus’ work to show him to be an existentialist, even though he himself firmly rejected the term throughout his lifetime.

Albert Camus – Wikipedia


Absurdism is the philosophical thesis that life, or the world in general, is absurd. There is wide agreement that the term “absurd” implies a lack of meaning or purpose but there is also significant dispute concerning its exact definition and various versions have been suggested.[1][2][3][4][5] The choice of one’s definition has important implications for whether the thesis of absurdism is correct and for the arguments cited for and against it: it may be true on one definition and false on another.[6]

In a general sense, the absurd is that which lacks a sense, often because it involves some form of contradiction. The absurd is paradoxical in the sense that it cannot be grasped by reason.[7][8][9] But in the context of absurdism, the term is usually used in a more specific sense. According to most definitions, it involves a conflict, discrepancy, or collision between two things. Opinions differ on what these two things are.[1][2][3][4] For example, it is traditionally identified as the confrontation of rational man with an irrational world or as the attempt to grasp something based on reasons even though it is beyond the limits of rationality.[10][11] Similar definitions see the discrepancy between intention and outcome, between aspiration and reality, or between subjective assessment and objective worth as the source of absurdity.[1][3] Other definitions locate both conflicting sides within man: the ability to apprehend the arbitrariness of final ends and the inability to let go of commitments to them.[4] In regard to the conflict, absurdism differs from nihilism since it is not just the thesis that nothing matters. Instead, it includes the component that things seem to matter to us nonetheless and that this impression cannot be shaken off. This difference is expressed in the relational aspect of the absurd in that it constitutes a conflict between two sides.[4][1][2]

Various components of the absurd have been suggested and different researchers often focus their definition and inquiry on one of these components. Some accounts emphasize the practical components concerned with the individual seeking meaning while others stress the theoretical components about being unable to know the world or to rationally grasp it. A different disagreement concerns whether the conflict exists only internal to the individual or is between the individual’s expectations and the external world. Some theorists also include the metacognitive component that the absurd entails that the individual is aware of this conflict.[2][3][12][4]

An important aspect of absurdism is that the absurd is not limited to particular situations but encompasses life as a whole.[2][1][13] There is a general agreement that people are often confronted with absurd situations in everyday life.[7] They often arise when there is a serious mismatch between one’s intentions and reality.[2] For example, a person struggling to break down a heavy front door is absurd if the house they are trying to break into lacks a back wall and could easily be entered on this route.[1] But the philosophical thesis of absurdism is much more wide-reaching since it is not restricted to individual situations, persons, or phases in life. Instead, it asserts that life, or the world as a whole, is absurd. The claim that the absurd has such a global extension is controversial, in contrast to the weaker claim that some situations are absurd.[2][1][13]

The perspective of absurdism usually comes into view when the agent takes a step back from their individual everyday engagements with the world to assess their importance from a bigger context.[4][2][14] Such an assessment can result in the insight that the day-to-day engagements matter a lot to us despite the fact that they lack real meaning when evaluated from a wider perspective. This assessment reveals the conflict between the significance seen from the internal perspective and the arbitrariness revealed through the external perspective.[4] The absurd becomes a problem since there is a strong desire for meaning and purpose even though they seem to be absent.[7] In this sense, the conflict responsible for the absurd often either constitutes or is accompanied by an existential crisis.[15][14]

Absurdism – Wikipedia

Book Review: Create Dangerously by Albert Camus

‘To create today is to create dangerously’

Camus argues passionately that the artist has a responsibility to challenge, provoke and speak up for those who cannot in this powerful speech, accompanied here by two others.

Penguin Modern: fifty new books celebrating the pioneering spirit of the iconic Penguin Modern Classics series, with each one offering a concentrated hit of its contemporary, international flavour. Here are authors ranging from Kathy Acker to James Baldwin, Truman Capote to Stanislaw Lem and George Orwell to Shirley Jackson; essays radical and inspiring; poems moving and disturbing; stories surreal and fabulous; taking us from the deep South to modern Japan, New York’s underground scene to the farthest reaches of outer space.

Create Dangerously (Back of Book Blurb) – GoodReads

As I said above in the introduction to this review – “live dangerously, think dangerously, create dangerously” could be a motto for Albert Camus. And its at the heart of what this small little book is all about. This tract is only 53 pages, of a small sized book. Its fast paced but not a quick easy read, you can easily find yourself reading over a page to regain, or to reorient, or to reread what you just read. Fully embracing, falling into what Camus is saying. Its two essays and one speech, but it packs so much into these 53 pages. I believe the two essays were also at one time used as speeches as well. So, in that sense this is just three speeches laid out in essay form each.

According to a quick Google search, the three speeches were:

  • CREATE DANGEROUSLY – University of Uppsala, 1957
  • DEFENSE OF INTELLIGENCE – L’Amitié Française, 1945
  • BREAD AND FREEDOM – Labour Exchange of Saint-Étienne, 1953

The artist, the writer, the author, the creator is propelled to create, to do so, to not be silenced. It is imperative for a writer, for an artist; to do what is right to him or herself. To write or create regardless of what penalties one might face, no matter the force and the opposition. One is forced by all that is strong and right in the world, to create, no matter the outcome.

Lets break down the individual speeches / essays a bit more:

1) Create Dangerously

Camus is deeply concerned about the tormented relationship between the artist and the public, that is, the society in which he lives. Because the art of nowadays must deal with the masses. It must accept to be either engaged in some kind of historical commitment or corrupt by popularization, a choice the old masters had always been spared until the middle class prevailed and culture became accessible to the masses.

Today everything is changed and even silence has dangerous implications. To create today is to create dangerously. Any publication is an act, and that act exposes one to the passions of an age that forgives nothing. The question is how, among the police forces of so many ideologies, the strange liberty of creation is possible.

We know now that they exist, because the masses have become stronger and keep people from forgetting them.

Albert Camus – Create Dangerously

Camus is not blinded, nor is he ignorant of ideological faith and bias and prejudices. He’s perfectly aware of the implications of the so-called Socialistic Realism of his time, a delusional attempt to depict a ‘leftist’ reality that inevitably became mere propaganda: the masses were to be portrayed only as the ideal masses of the red utopia, and the writer’s grasp on reality could only be focused on the future – that is, on the non-existent. What we need today is, according to Camus, a creativity that is aware of its own potential. Today’s art is threatened by a dangerous lack of contact with the physical and emotional reality of life.

One of the many reasons I find Camus endearing, and more interesting than most other existentialist writers (like Sartre, or Kierkegard, or Weil) is that he is optimistic. He is looking forward, he is proud of where he is, proud of the future for mankind, and doesn’t have such a bleak and irreverent view of what mankind is or the future of mankind. Camus’ vision is hardly the bleak, depressing cliché of so many existentialists. He forwards an ideal concept of art as an achievement of all mankind throughout history, a common endeavor and a common task of both writers and readers. “Every man, on the foundation of his own suffering and joys, builds for all.” This may not be the core of Existentialism, but it certainly is the core of Existence.

2) Defense of Intelligence

It is interesting that as a system, as a society, that we have to “defend intelligence”. That intelligence, that reasoning and rationale, is in need of defense. That rational thinking, that reasoning, that intelligence isn’t the end goal in and of itself. But sadly, this is where we are at – and here he is talking of this in the 50s. And now, in the 2020’s, so little progress has been made, if anything, we have regressed on intelligence, regressed on our anti-academic and anti-scholarly work, regressed on our positions, our desire for intelligence, our desire for reasoning.

His speech here, done in 1945, was quick, and short, ten minutes, and aimed at France. Aimed at a nation just starting to heal and cure itself of all the wounds from all the recent tragedies that it has endured. n order to overcome the hatred and tension left behind by the war, Camus says, any desire for revenge must be put aside once and for all. Only a new political mentality can lead to a new start and a real change, in which there are neither partisans nor collaborators anymore.

What determined the fall of European civilisation and the ascent of barbaric dictatorships was the lack of respect for intelligence and intellectuals, who had been conveniently used as a scapegoat – or an enemy – by most governments.

The last and most long-lived victory of Hitlerism is to be found in the shameful scars made on the hearts of those who fought it most vigorously.

Albert Camus – Defense of Intelligence

3) Bread and Freedom

The last of the speeches / essays in “Create Dangerously” – this speech was delivered in 1953 for a labor exchange. A critique of the exploitation of freedom, shamelessly betrayed by the Soviet Revolution and often seen by the western government as an annoying ‘inconvenience’ of democracy. Once again indeed, Camus’ thought is not influenced by any political faction.

In this, he discusses how freedom – human freedom – are the same as justice. No justice can be devoid of intellectual freedom, and no intelligence can exist without social justice. Prejudices, biases, hatred, cannot exist within intelligence. An intelligent man cannot hate willfully and ignorantly. For reasons without merit. (ie. the color of someone’s skin, or who they love, or gender, etc.) This speech also shows the most unexpectedly, delightfully optimistic Camus, eventually suggesting a universal brotherhood between the intellectual and the worker as their only chance to fight back whenever their freedom is in danger.

Its amazing how timeless these three essays / speeches feel. How relevant they are in 2024 (with the upcoming election especially playing heavily in all of our minds, as well as the past several years with COVID, and American politics, and the wars that have started), and how timeless and prescient they feel. The issues at hand in these speeches are still issues at hand. Propaganda, freedom of speech, not giving into hatred, intellectual freedom, social justice, justice as a whole, human freedom, the role of an artist, etc – it all is as relevant today as it was in 1945, 1953, and 1957. We lost Albert Camus too early, too young. His words and wisdom are still needed to this day, and he should be essential reading for everyone. Not just artists.


Freedom is not a gift received from a State or a leader but a possession to be won every day by the effort of each and the union of all.

Albert Camus

My GoodReads Rating: ****
My LibraryThing Rating: ****.5
Global GoodReads Rating: 3.82 (as of 2.13.24)


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