One evening in 1939 Alberto Giacometti found himself lingering late at the Café de Flore in Paris. Most of the other customers had gone, but at the adjoining table sat a man alone. Presently he leaned toward Alberto and said, “Pardon me, but I’ve often seen you here, and I think we’re the sort of people who understand each other. I happen to have no money on me. Would you mind paying for my drink?” That was the kind of request Alberto could never have refused. He promptly paid for the stranger’s drink. A conversation ensued, and it did seem that the two men were the sort of people who understood each other. Twenty-five years later it would be worth recalling that their friendship had begun with such an optimistic assumption. The man who made it was Jean-Paul Sartre.

Exuberant, brilliant, and outgoing, both men relished the unpredictable give...

 
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