Book Review – Man’s Search For Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl
Having read this book, I now understand why it has sold over 9 million copies. This tribute to hope against adversity should be testament to the human mind’s astonishing capabilities.
Unlike alot of wishy washy self-help books, Frankl’s psychological account provides reason in the most brutal and honest of ways. Re-telling his own harrowing experiences of live as a concentration camp prisoner, and the mechanisms he personally put into practice with his mind which ultimately spared him his mental freedom.
This book has left me stunned and in a state of reflection. If Frankl could remain hopeful in such dire circumstances then really what circumstances can any of us say we can’t survive through?
A truly exceptional read.
A selection of some of the most powerful quotes from the book:
pg 74 – “Is that theory true which would have us believe that man is no more than a product of many conditional and environmental factors – be they of a biological, psychological or sociological nature?”
“…..that man cannot escape the influences of his surroundings?”
“Does man have no choice of action in the face of such circumstances?”
In this section, Frankl questions whether man has a choice of action in any given situation. With specific reference to other prisoners, he questions whether man is, put simply, a product of his own environment or if he can rise above the situation his environment has put him in – the concentration camp. With uncertainty over his freedom, over his life, will the prisoner give in and ultimately give up? Or will he mentally make the choice of seeing the positive on even the bleakest of days. Will he use past memories and future hopes to will away his temptation to fade into a type non-existence in an attempt to escape the torturous reality of camp life?
Frankl answers his own question with the eloquent statement below:
Pg 75 – “And there were always choices to make. Every day, every hour, offered the opportunity to make a decision, a decision which determined whether you would or would not submit to those powers which threatened to rob you of your very self, your inner freedom; which determined whether or not you would become the plaything of circumstance, renouncing freedom and dignity to become molded into the form of the typical inmate.”
Pg 84 – “Nietzche’s words “He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how.”.”
Pg 51 – “Standing outside we saw sinister clouds glowing in the west and the whole sky alive with clouds of ever-changing shapes and colors, from steel blue to blood red. The desolate grey mud huts provided a sharp contrast, while the puddles on the muddy ground reflected the glowing sky. Then, after minutes of moving silence, one prisoner said to another, “How beautiful the world could be!”.”
When your environment comes to be what is only contained within the four fences of a concentration camp, positivity must be sought after in the most simplest of forms. Frankl remarks on how a newfound appreciation for nature would act as a crutch to the dying man. How the beauty of the sunrise and sunset would offer a temporary moment of escape to the prisoners of war.
Pg 85 – “We had to learn ourselves and, furthermore, we had to teach the despairing men, that it did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us.”
Viktor Frankl discusses openly of the frequent suicide attempts by fellow prisoners, he exclaims how camp rules made it strictly forbidden to help save a man attempting to end his own life, you could not for example cut him down. He states how those men who felt suicidal felt like they had nothing more to expect from life. Frankl’s response is that life is still expecting something from them. Perhaps not today but someday in future. Perhaps they will be a father or a husband. A future child or wife will need them.
Man’s search for meaning is by no means an easy read, as much as it made me think about methodologies and attitudes, it made me honestly feel deeply emotional at points, as I was so immersed in the experiences Frankl unfolded. Lessons learned from his work can be taken into many areas of our lives, this book, although focusing on the most brutal and evil parts of human history has managed in the process to give liberation to both Frankl and the reader. We have been given a chance to learn from Frankl’s horrific experiences, and so the question is, as one of the book’s main highlights – will we make that choice?