Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl
Although this may sound a bit strange, I enjoy reading about real-life tragedies.
It’s not the tragedy itself that appeals to me, it’s how individuals can experience something so awful (usually at no fault of their own), turn it into something positive, and then help to make the world a better place because of it.
I find these stories both inspiring and moving.
Man’s Search for Meaning is probably the most outstanding example of that, which is what drove me to buy, read, and review this book.
About the author
Before Viktor Frankl became a prisoner in a concentration camp, he was a trained psychiatrist.
By becoming a victim of the holocaust, this gave Frankel a front-row seat to a kind of sick human experiment that allowed him to, first-hand, observe how people behave and respond in such extreme situations.
Ordinarily, it wouldn’t be possible for anyone to carry out the research that the author was able to because it would be inhumane and immoral to replicate the environment of a concentration camp during the holocaust.
This book is his findings, observations, and personal experience of being a prisoner for three years.
The book’s structure
The book is divided into two mains parts.
Part one of the book details his personal stories and experience of camp life along with “the three stages” that he witnessed each prisoner go through upon admission (detailed below).
An interesting addition to this section was that Frankl also explained the psychological makeup of the guards. What makes it possible for an individual to inflict such a degree of pain and suffering and not show an ounce of compassion? How were they able to play such a big part in the horror that was the holocaust?
Part two gives you an introduction into Logotherapy – which is a type of therapy that Viktor helped to develop based on his concentration camp experiences.
“The three stages”
To give you some more information on the book’s content, here’s a brief overview of what the author discusses in each of the three stages.
Stage 1 – Admission to the camp
In this first stage, as people are being admitted into the concentration camp, Frankl noted that they were deluding themselves and clutching at straws. They were trying to believe that it won’t be as bad as what they had heard and they were clinging to any positives they could create.
Stage 2 – Acceptance
Once they had reached the second stage, the prisoners had now accepted that they were indeed a prisoner and they began to develop apathy to their surrounding. This apathy was so extreme that the sight of a dead body rendered as nothing to them, they would simply walk past it.
It’s at this stage that the author talks about how people were providing themselves with a reason (meaning) to hold on and get through each day, rather than “running into the wire” and committing suicide. For example, they might be trying to stay alive for their family members on the outside of the camp, or maybe for some work that they still have to do. Whatever it is, the ones who could get through each day were those that had a purpose.
Frankl noted that he could tell when a person had lost their meaning. Nothing mattered to them anymore. They would simply give up and shortly after you would find them dead.
Stage 3 – After liberation
In the final stage, the author discusses what happened after liberation.
In such circumstances, you would expect everyone to be happy, relieved, and delighted to be liberated and freed from such a hellish existence. You would imagine a huge celebration, but it wasn’t like that. The day of freedom wasn’t anything like the prisoners expected it to be, and it was somewhat anticlimactic.
In many cases, the meaning that the prisoners had clung to for so long was lost when they discovered that their loved ones had died or their work no longer existed. This, again, left them with no reason or purpose for their own existence.
What did I think?
I found that every single page of this book moved me. The stories he tells of his life as a prisoner are heart-rending.
Although this is a small book, it still took me quite a bit of time to get through as I needed to frequently pause to process the content. As you would imagine, it’s a very heavy read!
Two of my favorite quotes from the book are:
- “Once a man knows his why, he can overcome almost any how.”
- “Without suffering and death, human life cannot be complete.”
Both of those quotes have really stuck with me.
As a psychiatrist, the author was able to understand why some people committed suicide shortly after arriving at the camp, whereas others were able to keep going day after day. Those that were able to battle through each day of hell-on-earth were the individuals who had given themselves a why and gave their suffering meaning.
A small note…
It’s important to add that this is not a modern-day book in a simple-to-read language. Instead, it’s an older style of English written by a well-educated man over half a century ago.
Although I was still able to understand the messages and stories in the book, it took a little bit of added extra concentration.
Have you read “Man’s Search For Meaning?”
As always, this review is simply my own opinion.
If you have read this book and have any thoughts that you would like to share, please put them in the comments box below. Also, don’t forget to use the reader rating bar to give the book your own score out of 10.