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.
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...
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.
on 27 August 2006
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.
on 2 February 1999
Victor Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning is a book that any reader can learn from. Frankl shares his experience as a prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp during WWII, and how this experience helped him to develop an approach to psychotherapy (called logotherapy). Even those readers who are not interested in the details of his theory will enjoy Part I, which consists of the story of his experiences at Auschwitz and Dachau. His main point is that everyone can find the will to go on, even in the direst of circumstances, if only we can identify something that we are willing to live for. Frankl's tragic experiences, and his glorious victory are an example for every human to aspire to. Man's Search for Meaning should be required reading for life!
on 12 March 2009
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.
on 2 January 2008
This book should probably be considered as three extended essays which are tied together by the common theme of Logotherapy. Logotherapy is the psychotherapeutic discipline which was produced by Viktor Frankl and which developed in the light of his experiences in concentration camps. This popular account could be considered as him 'setting out his stall' for what this approach has to offer. For those with an interest in psychotherapy generally or Logotherapy in particular, then this is going to be an important book.
The first half of the book describes his experiences in a concentration camp. He acknowledges his debt to Nietzsche, "He who has a why to live can bear with almost any how." This quotation crops up again and again in reviews of this book and it is central to understanding Frankl's perspective.
This is not a search for a single meaning, however. Frankl is more sophisticated than this. He sees the possibility of various meanings and purposes to life - which can change at different stages of life and can run concurrently too. The sense of meaning and purpose can redeem even the most abject suffering. For him, this is not idle speculation or vague theorising but is rooted in his own experience.
The second half of the book turns increasingly towards a description of Logotherapy. This is where I must express my reservations about this book. If your interest is in a first-hand description of life in a concentration camp, then I would recommend that you try Primo Levi's 'If This Is a Man' in preference to this book. If your interest is in the psychology of genocide then Robert Jay Lifton's 'The Nazi Doctors' is highly recommended.
on 27 June 2005
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".
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".
on 21 April 2006
We used this excellent little book in a discussion group among friends at work.Very readable and moving account of a Holocaust survivor and his philosophy of life as to how he survived. Full of graphic but thought provoking stories from the Nazi extermination camps of the Second World War. Incredible testimony to how 'life will out', how even in the worst that man can do, somehow there can yet be hope, and meaning can be found. I wish I had met the author, he sounds a truly remarkable, gracious and humble man.