Man’s Search For Meaning – Book Review

13 Mar / James Eastham

The Blurb

A prominent Viennese psychiatrist before the war, Viktor Frankl was uniquely able to observe the way that both he and others in Auschwitz coped (or didn’t) with the experience. He noticed that it was the men who comforted others and who gave away their last piece of bread who survived the longest – and who offered proof that everything can be taken away from us except the ability to choose our attitude in any given set of circumstances. The sort of person the concentration camp prisoner became was the result of an inner decision and not of camp influences alone. Frankl came to believe man’s deepest desire is to search for meaning and purpose. This outstanding work offers us all a way to transcend suffering and find significance in the art of living.

Taken from Amazon UK 

5 Key Quotes

“An abnormal reaction to an abnormal situation is normal behavior.”

“What does Spinoza say in his Ethics?—“Affectus, qui passio est, desinit esse passio simulatque eius claram et distinctam formamus ideam.” Emotion, which is suffering, ceases to be suffering as soon as we form a clear and precise picture of it.”

“Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual.”

to day and from hour to hour. What matters, therefore, is not the meaning of life in general but rather the specific meaning of a person’s life at a given moment.”

“In some way, suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning, such as the meaning of a sacrifice.”

Plus one more great little story for good luck

“Does this not bring to mind the story of Death in Teheran? A rich and mighty Persian once walked in his garden with one of his servants. The servant cried that he had just encountered Death, who had threatened him. He begged his master to give him his fastest horse so that he could make haste and flee to Teheran, which he could reach that same evening. The master consented and the servant galloped off on the horse. On returning to his house the master himself met Death, and questioned him, “Why did you terrify and threaten my servant?” “I did not threaten him; I only showed surprise in still finding him here when I planned to meet him tonight in Teheran,” said Death.”

Want my quick 2 cents?

The quintessential book about dealing with and overcoming suffering. Viktor Frankel was a prominent psychiatrist taken into Auschwitz during the second world war. He spent his time there, and across 2 other camps, refusing to be de-humanised or knocked down by his Nazi captors.

Part autobiography, part psychological journal; man’s search for meaning is essential reading to make all of your current ‘1st world problems’ seem a little less dramatic.

The second half of the book explores more of the psychology behind camp life and also the deeper question; what is the meaning of life?

Interested to read more…

An exploration by a prominent psychiatrist into how life in a concentration camp affects human beings. Most of us can’t even begin to imagine what life was like during the second world war for the huge numbers of people segregated. It is a horror we hope to never see again.

However, having the experience explored by somebody with as much knowledge about the human mind as Viktor Frankel does put the whole experience into a completely different light.

Whilst there may well be better autobiographical accounts of the Holocaust, none even come close to exploring and explaining the true nature of the suffering.

Reading some of the quotes I have pulled out at the top of the page, I’m sure you can see that Frankel’s attitude to the whole situation is simply inspiring. He never let’s himself be broken, nor does he succumb to the torment passed down by the Nazi’s and even some fellow prisoners.

“In some way, suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning, such as the meaning of a sacrifice.”
Viktor Frankel 

What a truly fantastic quote that is and one we can all take away in our own lives. If you find a meaning, a lesson or a positive from every situation, no matter how small. You can then grow from the experience and come out the other side more purposeful, more prepared and most of all in a better mental space.

Structure

The book is broken down into two very distinct parts. The first of which is an account of Frankel’s time in the three concentration camps;  Theresienstadt, Auschwitz, and Dachau. In this section, he explores his own experiences in an autobiographical way. He does through re-telling stories and describing experiences from his time within the camps. Each of these stories is interspersed with lessons, information and his own thoughts on his time there.

The second section becomes a psychological journal. Exploring Frankel’s own method of helping patients and the greater question of man’s search for meaning.

I actually found the second section extremely difficult to read and to get through. The radical shift in pace from personal account to actually quite complex scientific writing quickly took my interest.

The first half definately gave me a lot more value.

The Author

Frankel’s writing style is ok, but you can tell the book was written back in 1946. As I have just mentioned, the second section does get quite scientific and becomes more of a deep dive into the science of the human psyche.

Fantastic reading if you are a student of Psychology, for everyday me and you’s… Maybe not so much.

In Summary

Every bit the book that I expected it to be. Harrowing, thought-provoking and packed with value for the first half. The book becomes a little slower once diverted off into a true psycological journal. However, if you are interested in that branch of science you will get an awful lot of value.

Buy now on Amazon

Mans Search for Meaning Book Cover

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