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4.6 out of 5 stars
Man's Search For Meaning: The classic tribute to hope from the Holocaust
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152 of 156 people found the following review helpful
on 1 December 2005
In my opinion, "Man's search for meaning" (1946) is a very interesting book, that will leave you with some practical knowledge easy to apply in your daily life. In a nutshell, and if you aren't feeling like reading a more or less long review, the main idea of this book is that "He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how".
The above quoted phrase is from Nietzsche, but don't jump to conclusions: Viktor Frankl (1905-1997) certainly does not share his philosophical ideas. Frankl merely chose one of Nietzsche's phrases as a way to crystallize his own ideas: that is, that the most important force in a person's life is his will to meaning. In a way, this book shows how Frankl reached that conclusion.
The first part of "Man's search for meaning" deals with the author's experiences in a concentration camp, and the lessons he draw from that torturous experience. Frankl said that those that survived had one thing in common, a purpose, and that "everything can be taken from 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 no matter the circumstance".
In the second part of this book, Frankl explains logotheraphy, the theory of psychotherapy he developed. According to the author, logotherapy focuses on the meaning of human existence as well as on a person's search for such meaning, and the consequent purpose. Frankl says that "The meaning of life always changes, but... it never ceases to be", and that we really find ourselves when we find it, or at least our own personal version of it. Furthermore, he also says that "the meaning of our existence is not invented by ourselves, but rather detected," and that logos, or "meaning", is not only merely something emerging from existence itself but rather something confronting said existence. The author also points out that logotherapy gives great importance to responsibility, due to the fact that "each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible."
It is pertinent to highlight the fact that logotheraphy differs strongly from other two well-known schools of psychoteraphy, Freudian psychoanalysis (that centers on the will to pleasure), and Adlerian psychology (that focuses on the will to power). From my point of view, Frankl perspective makes for a much better explanation...
All in all, I highly recommend this book. I like the central place that Frankl gives to responsibility, and the idea that man "does not simply exist but always decides what his existence will be, what he will become in the next moment". In my opinion, "Man's search for meaning" is interesting, but specially and most importantly, it makes sense...
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102 of 105 people found the following review helpful
on 9 May 2003
"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". This, in essence, summarises the main thrust of this extraordinary book as well as Frankl's psychotherapy. I have spent the last year doing a counselling course and have read innumerable books and have been introduced to innumerable psychological theories, yet none have touched me so profoundly nor changed my perspective so radically as this slim book which Frankl wrote in 9 days and which has become an international bestseller. Unlike so many theoreticians, Frankl lived by what he preached. During his two and a half years spent in four different concentration camps, he came to realise that those who survive the terrors of life are not the physically strong or physically healthy, but those who have an internal strength, who are able to find a sense of meaning and purpose 'within' adversity. Frankl quotes Nietzsche to make this point, 'he who has a why to live for, can bear with almost any how'. Half the book is autobiograhpical, the other half outlines the basics of his theory, demonstrating once again that his life reflected his thinking and vice versa. In a world where despair and a sense of meaninglessness seem to torment us more each day, Frankl's words are more pertinent than ever.
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57 of 59 people found the following review helpful
on 28 March 2006
If I said to you that this is a book about the Holocaust which made me roar with laughter I will communicate to you its unique quality.
The first half is harrowing. The account of his time in Auschwitz and Dachau. The second half is about logotherapy. On a few pages he tells a few stories that you will remember for your whole life. By a simple change in perspective he shows how the most brutal and dehumanising experiences can be reinterpreted.
The humour comes in the statement of the theory of 'paradoxical intention'. He tells the story of a man who had a terrible stutter. Never in his life had this young man been free from the problem of stuttering, except on one occasion. This was when he jumped on a bus without buying a ticket. He resolved that the only way to escape was to enlist the sympathy of the conductor by demonstrating that he was a poor stuttering boy. At the moment, when he tried to stutter, he was unable to do so. Without meaning to, he had practised paradoxical intention.
This is an amazing book. I feel it has clarified in my mind ideas I have been yearning to understand for many years.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Who was Victor Frankl - not any influential politician or a business tycoon who has gone down in world history. He experienced, like the other millions of victims of the Holocaust, life in the concentration camps. With his education in psychotherapy, during the few years that he spent helping people cope with crisis, little would he have ever imagined being himself a subject of so severe a test in life that death would seem like a sweet dream. The first part of the book that renders his experiences of life in the concentration camp is so lucid and yet intense. Every moment, every day is uncannily identical - shrouded in pain and suffering that few can even imagine in the current day. And yet even in the camp, where the only unchanging reality was hopelessness and death, the author narrates how the inmates managed to find the little springs of hope, love, luck and even humour.

With fortuity and strength, he survived to live and make his ordeal count and therein lies the greatness of this ordinary human being. This short book is a legacy that he has left behind for many generations to savour and enrich themselves. That somebody can go through so much of pain and suffering and yet emerge out of it to find meaning in it and go on to live a full life indeed is a display of the strength of human character and spirit in all its resplendent glory.

I read this book at a time when there is widespread apprehension and anxiety over the economic crisis. And yet this book depicts that man has proved that he is capable of taking much worse crisis into his stride and triumphantly defy it.

This book is thought provoking and appeals to our sensitivities - it is a must read for every human being. Else all the pain and suffering of those who lived and died in the concentration camps will be in vain.
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24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on 8 January 2003
This book is split into two parts: the first being Frankl's experiences in a concentration camp; the second being his explanation of logotherapy.
As a coach, I bought this book for his insights into human will as expressed in the first half. The second half surprised me, in that I was not confused by his psychiatry, but grew my understanding because of it.
The first half of the book recounts some truly appalling experiences, and yet it's amazingly inspirational because it tells of the bright light of human spirit that could not be extinguished by the camp guards. This book put a lot of things in perspective for me. The stresses and frustrations of modern day living are nothing compared to what Frankl and his fellow prisoners endured. Interestingly, it was the optimists who had the hardest time. As they held out for release at certain milestone dates and these passed, their spirit diminished, sometimes, tragically, to the point of death.
[For the business reader, Jim Collins reports the same phenomenon as something he calls the Stockdale Paradox in 'Good to Great'. Admiral Jim Stockdale spent eight years in a POW camp in Vietnam and observed that the optimists "didn't make it out". Stockdale and his wife (who he was able to exchange letters with during his imprisonment) have written a book called 'In Love And War' chronicling their experiences.]
Frankl's reflections on his experience are amazing, and his work to help others through Logotherapy is astounding. To have turned such an awful experience into such an effective form of therapy to help others shows, just as Frankl observed, that the human spirit is an incredible thing. Even from the very darkest treatment humankind can inflict on fellow human beings, some good has emerged. Whatever your religious or political views, this book is worthy reading. It doesn't preach, it doesn't get bogged down in psychiatric technicalities, it inspires.
It's message is beautifully summed up in a quote from Nietzsche that Frankl uses: "He who has a 'why' to live for can bear almost any 'how'."
Buy this book and learn one of life's most important lessons for yourself.
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61 of 64 people found the following review helpful
One of the greatest books of the 20th century. Some time in the future, when humans finally turn off the TV and start asking themselves why the hell they're here in the firstplace, this book might be of great assistence. Best read annually.
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71 of 75 people found the following review helpful
on 27 December 2001
Several years ago a friend had an operation for a cancerous growth behind his eye yet today is well and tells of the importance of the right mental attitude when facing adversity. Another friend faces a similar experience but appears to be in the process of succumbing in ignorance of the importance of mental attitude. Seeking guidance as to what I might do to help, I turned to this book.
After recounting the horrors of everyday life in a work camp - the initial selection process in which 90% were sent to the gas chambers while 10% were kept to extract the last ounce of work as slaves for construction firms; the Capos selected from the most brutal who had lost all scruples in order to save their life; how everything was subservient to keeping oneself and one's closest friends alive - Viktor Frankl tells of the psychological problems they met.
The most important seems to be the hope of release as shown by the very high death rate in his camp in the week between Christmas 1944 and new year 1945 which had no explanation in food, treatment, weather, disease or working conditions; it was that the majority had lived in the naive hope that they would be home again by Christmas. In the absence of encouraging news, the prisoners lost courage; disappointment overcame them and their powers of resistance dropped. Frankl noticed that it was the men who comforted others, who gave away their last piece of bread who survived longest and who offered proof that everything can be taken but one thing - to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances.
In the camp every decision determined whether or not you would submit to loss of inner freedom. The sort of person the prisoner became was the result of an inner decision and not of camp influences alone. It is this spiritual freedom which cannot be taken away which makes life meaningful and purposeful. Only those who allowed their inner hold on their moral and spiritual selves to subside eventually fell victim to the camp's degenerating influences. Most inmates believed that the real opportunities of life had passed. In reality, however, one could make a victory of those experiences, turning them into an inner triumph.
Frankl saw himself giving a lecture on the psychology of the concentration camp, living Spinoza's observation that "Emotion, which is suffering, ceases to be suffering as soon as we form a clear and precise picture of it." Armed with the insight that any attempt to restore man's inner strength had first to succeed in showing him some future goal he tried to help would-be suicides to realize that life was still expecting something from them - a loving son awaiting his return, an unfinished work to complete. When the impossibility of replacing you is realized it is impossible to throw your life away. When you know the why of your existence you will be able to bear almost any how.
Frankl had to learn and then teach that it really did not matter what we expect from life but rather what life expects from us. The answer lies in right action and in right conduct; life ultimately means taking responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill tasks that it constantly sets for each individual. These tasks, and therefore the meaning of life, differ from man to man and from moment to moment, making it impossible to define in general terms or in sweeping statements. No man and no destiny can be compared to any other man or destiny. It may require a man to shape his own fate, contemplate or accept his fate. There is only one right answer to the situation at hand.
When a man finds that it is his destiny to suffer, he will have to accept his suffering as his single, unique task. His unique opportunity lies in the way he bears his burden. Once the meaning of suffering has been revealed, suffering has hidden opportunities for achievement. When he had the opportunity to address a group of prisoners his purpose was to help each man to find a full meaning to their life in that practically hopeless situation by pointing out the joys each had experienced in the past and that no one had suffered irreplaceable losses. Whoever was still alive had reason for hope; health, family, happiness, professional abilities, fortune, position in society, could all be restored. Life never ceases to have meaning and this infinite meaning includes suffering and dying, privation and death. God or someone alive or dead would hope to find them suffering proudly.
After the war, Frankl introduced Logotherapy, which focuses on the meanings of life to be fulfilled by the patient in the future. The patient is confronted with the meaning of his life. The meaning of human existence as well as man's search for such a meaning is unique and specific and can be fulfilled by him alone. He is able to live and even to die for the sake of his ideals and values. The more that you forget yourself by giving to a cause or serving in love, the more you actualize yourself. We can discover meaning in three ways - creating a work or doing a deed; by experiencing something or encountering someone; and by the attitude we take to unavoidable suffering.
When we are no longer able to change a situation such as inoperable cancer we have to change our attitude. He asks his patients to project themselves forward to their deathbed and look back on the meaningful things in their lives. Man does not simply exist but always decides what his existence will be; he has control over what he will become in the next moment.
This book has certainly provided much food for thought!
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 5 June 2008
Viktor Frankl was a distinguished neurologist and psychiatrist and the founder of logotherapy. He was also the 32 books which were published in 32 languages-

After three horrific years at Auschwitz and other Nazi concentration camps , Dr Frankl gained his freedom only to learn that his entire family had been murdered. But during , the terrible suffering and degradation of those grim years , he developed his theory of logotherapy.
The first half of the book delves into his experiences in the concentration camps.

The author analyses the character of the Capo-prisoners chosen to be trustees and guards of the other inmates- usually because of their brutality and meanness.
Frankl observes that 'the best of us did not return'from the concentration camps.
He examines three phases of the inmates mental reaction to concentration camp life-the period following his admission ; the period when he is well entrenched in camp routine; and the period following his release and liberation".

Ultimately in recounting the horrors and dehuminization of concentration camp existance , of being continually stalked by death , , Frankl explains how he survived , and kept his humanity at the same time. The author explains how every moment in the camps offered the opportunity to make decisions about whether or not to submit to the powers which "threatened to rob you of your inner self , your inner freedom."
The point made was that ultimately the type of person the prisoner would become , was the result of an inner decision , and not of camp influences alone.

Frankl refers to the martyrs whose behaviour in the camp , whose suffering and death , demonstrated the fact that their last inner freedom could not be lost.
"It can be said that they where worthy of their suffering ; the way they bore their suffering was a genuine inner achievment. It is this spiritual freedom which cannot be taken away- that makes life meaningful and purposeful."

Frabkl speaks of the dream which kept him alive in the camp , of lecturing and practising psychiatry- that is essentially G-D's commission to Frankl. The prisoner who lost faith in his future was doomed.

The prisoners said to each other that no earthly happyness could alleviate the suffering they had experienced in the camps , but Frankl writes that "The crowning experience of all , for the homecoming man is the wonderful feeling that , afetr all he has suffered , there is nothing he need fear anymore-except for G-D".

The second part of the book explains Frankl's theory of psychology known as logotherapy.
"According to logotherapy , the striving to find a meaning in one's life is the primary motivational force in man".

Frankl deals with the universality of values. He notes that in the Nazi concentration camps those who knew that their was a task waiting for them to be fulfilled where more likely to survive".
On the meaning of life one cannot live for some general goal alone. That goal must be meaningfully present in every moment to make the moment alive in terms of it's destination and future.

The meaning of life is that G-d asks every person to answer for his or her life i.e "What will you make of your life , my child".
Only personal choices are authentic choices . Life in it's ultimate meaning confronts us with other people whose lives we influence by the way we are towards them.

"A human being is not one thing among others , things determine each other , but man is ultimately self-determining".
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24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on 28 November 1999
This is a fantastic book. It will make you look at your life in a new way. Viktor Frankl describes his life in a concentration camp, in a clear and unemotional way. It is this 'matter of fact' angle which has the greatest impact on your emotions. I will never feel sorry for myself again after reading this book. It has truly made me believe that 'we are responsible for our own lives' Buy this book, and learn from it!
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47 of 50 people found the following review helpful
I actually came across this book when doing a search for a Freud book on Amazon, and was interested enough to buy this book instead book. With hindsight my interest was one of the biggest cases of understatement I know.
Viktor Frankl was an Austrian Jew who spent much of the Second World War in several concentration camps including Auschwitz and Dachau. Man's Search for Meaning in part details some of the experiences Frankl suffered (from the perspective of everyday life during this time), how he used his mind to help him survive, which in subsequent years formed his theory of logotherapy.
Following WW2, Frankl returned to the University of Vienna Medical School where he further developed these theories into what is now known as logotherapy (the Third Viennese school of Psychotherapy, following Freud's psychoanalysis and Adler's individual psychology).
The book itself splits into two parts. Firstly, "Experiences in a Concentration Camp" details what Frankl describes as the three stages of the prisoner's mental reaction to camp: the period following admission; when entrenched in camp routine; and following release and liberation. In this Frankl describes his mental reaction throughout his ordeals and how his will to survive kept him alive. On several occasions he notes fellow-prisoners who die almost immediately after losing their will to survive.
The second part "Logotherapy in a Nutshell" is the formalisation of these experiences by Frankl into logotherapy, and perhaps on reflection is even more significant than the first part. In reading this section of the book, the reader is able to apply Frankl's teaching to their own life and how relevant it may be to their own perspective on what the future may hold and what the meaning of life may actually be.
I found this book hugely moving and quite inspirational from the perspective of Frankl's determination to survive and search for the meaning of life. I was interested to read on the back cover the words of one reviewer, Susan Jeffers who herself is world-renowned for self-psychoanalysis who says "The book changed by life and became a part of all that I live and that I teach".
A must-read!
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