Title: Man’s Search for Meaning
Author: Viktor E. Frankl
Publisher: Beacon Press
Page Count: 165
Publication Date: 1946
Category/Genre: Memoir, Autobiography, Non Fiction, Psychology, Self-Help
Good Reads Rating: ★★★★☆ (4.36)
My Rating: ★★★★☆(4.0)
Psychiatrist Viktor Frankl’s memoir has riveted generations of readers with its descriptions of life in Nazi death camps and its lessons for spiritual survival. Based on his own experience and the stories of his patients, Frankl argues that we cannot avoid suffering but we can choose how to cope with it, find meaning in it, and move forward with renewed purpose. At the heart of his theory, known as logotherapy, is a conviction that the primary human drive is not pleasure but the pursuit of what we find meaningful. Man’s Search for Meaning has become one of the most influential books in America; it continues to inspire us all to find significance in the very act of living.
The prompt for my 2020 Reading Challenge was to read a book written about the Holocaust. I must admit, I have read quite a few books on the subject, both historical fiction and non-fiction as it is of great interest to me. I have always been drawn to and fascinated by the perseverance and resiliency of the human spirit shown over and over again by those in the camps as well as the heroic and selfless actions of others that aided those in need and opposed such a brutal and terrifying force. So when it came to choosing a new book, Frankl’s memoir seemed to be the obvious choice.
Viktor Emil Frankl (1905-1997) is an Austrian Jew, neurologist, psychiatrist and a Holocaust survivor. The book is divided into two parts. The first section relives Frankl’s horrifying time as a prisoner in several Nazi concentration camps. In addition to the graphic details about the circumstances, he describes his observations of other prisoners and the differences between what helped someone to survive and have the strength to continue on and what pushed others into earlier death and losing their will to live.
Frankl explicitly credits purpose and meaning in one’s life as the reason for living and withstanding insurmountable obstacles and inhumane conditions.
There is nothing in the world, I venture to say, that would so effectively help one to survive even the worst conditions as the knowledge that there is meaning in one’s life. There is much wisdom in the words of Nietzsche: “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.”
He says that each of us have our meaning to life which cannot be generalized. It is individual and specific, but it is what makes our life and even our suffering full of meaning and strength. For him, it was to see his wife again and to finish and rewrite his manuscript that he felt that only he was able to complete. Other survivors kept themselves alive by imagining and looking forward to life after release. Those who felt hopeless and they could not picture life beyond the camps perished. As if they had no longer any reason for living and thus they chose to die rather than to survive.
The second half of this book is more academic filled with clinical analysis and theories about logotheraphy which Frankl pioneered. Logotherapy is a form of Existential Analysis, which can be used to determine one’s meaning for living or even suffering. The basic premise is that those who can find meaning in their suffering are better able to cope with what would otherwise be a struggle too hard to bear.
This short but extremely intense book, was first published in 1946 but the implications are just as relevant and poignant today. It’s a very empowering idea that no matter the situation a person can always control their behavior and feelings of the situation. Thus putting us each back into the drivers seat of our lives.
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms–to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”