777 of 801 people found the following review helpful
on November 26, 2001
The first section of this book (which makes up over half of the text) consist of Victor Frankl's account of his experiences in the concentration camp. This section seems unique among the Holocaust accounts that I've seen and read because Dr. Frankl approaches the topic from a psychological perspective. He discusses the ways in which the different prisoners react to their (note: men and women were seperated at the camps, so Frankl is mainly disscussing his experiences with the men in Auschwitz) imprissonment. He writes about the psychological effects of being completely dehumanized; of losing even your name, and becoming simply a number. Also he disscusses the effects of not being able to contact loved ones, or even know is they are still living. Another issue that Dr. Frankl talks about in this book is the idea that none of the prisoners of the concentration camp had an idea as to when there imprissonment would end (if ever). Thus, they were faced with the thought of living the rest of their lives as workers at the camps. Dr. Frankl discusses how people can find meaning to life in these conditions. He also describes how finding meaning in life, or a reason to live, was extraordinarilly important to surviving the camp.
One of the most interesting, and disturbing, issues in the book was the idea of the Capo. These were were people put in charge of their fellow prisoners, in order to keep them in line. Dr. Frankl describes these people as, often, being more harsh than the actual guards. This seems to be a disturbing lesson in the abuse of power. This also goes along with Dr. Frankl's discussion of how the camps brought out the true personality of the people within it (after all the social trapping had been stripped away): The cretins, the saints, and all of those in between.
The second half of the book is made up of two sections "Logotherapy in a Nutshell," and "The Case for Tragic Optimsism." These two sections basically describe Dr. Frankl's theory on as to how to conduct therapy (Logotherapy). The idea behind this therapy is that man is driven by his search for a meaning in life. This differs from the psychoanalysis perspective (driven, at this time, by the ideas of Sigmund Freud) in that the psychoanalytic school believed that humans were driven by their unconscious desires. For Frankl, the need for meaning seems to outway the unconscious. In fact, he goes into detail about the negative effects that the abscence of meaning, or what he calls the "existential Vacuum," has on people. To illustrate many ideas, he often uses his experiences in the concentration camps, as well as various cases for treatment (which help to solidify his view of life, and therapy).
I would recomend this book to almost anybody. I feel that it's interesting, and worthwhile. I would especially recomend this to people interested in psychology, as well as those who wish to learn something about the experiences within the concentration camps.
333 of 342 people found the following review helpful
on August 21, 1999
I was recently diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer. I am 41 years old with two small children. I was finding it hard to find something to hold on to after getting the news. This book has helped put the cancer in perspective and is giving me the courage and encouragement to keep on living...no matter what. And if I die, then there has to be meaning in my life before then. I am now beginning to understand that I should not ask what can I get out of life, but what does life expect from me.
This is a WONDERFUL and INSPIRATIONAL book that I recommend for anyone suffering from any tragic cirucmstance...cancer, death in the family, divorce, etc. All of the phsychiatric nonsense might help (I doubt it), but this book will get you on the right road.
200 of 209 people found the following review helpful
on January 16, 2004
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 naïve 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!
397 of 421 people found the following review helpful
on January 9, 2000
Dr. Frankl's logotherapy is straightforward and easy to understand. It is also a useful antidote to the rather frightening drift in psychology during the past two decades toward strict biological determinism.
This particular work is one I keep at hand and re-read on a regular basis. I read it for the first time a few months after I started medical treatment and therapy for life-long depression. I get more from it each time I go back to it.
Logotherapy manages an incredible balance. It does not put man himself at the center of the universe, thus avoiding the kind of narcissistic self-reflection common to much of the therapeutic literature today. Yet, it does not sweep man aside as irrelevant. Instead, Frankl argues that we have an incredible power to shape our attitudes and responses to the challenges life presents us and that we inevitably grow thanks to these challenges.
This is a quick read and could conceivably change your life. Man is more than the sum of his biology and his environment. We inevitably choose to be who we are. Frankl's argument is that, if we choose wisely, we can triumph even in tragedy. It's a truth many of us have lost sight of in our cynicism.
316 of 338 people found the following review helpful
Frankl, who survived the concentration camps, writes that suffering is inevitable and that avoiding suffering is futile. Rather, one should be worthy of one's suffering and make meaning of it instead of surrendering to nihilism, bitterness and despair. He uses poetic, moving anecdotes from the concentration camps to illustrate those souls who find a deeper humanity from their suffering or who become animals relegated to nothing more than teeth-clenched self-preservation. Though not specifically religious, this masterpiece has a religious purpose--to help us find meaning. This book succeeds immeasurably.
*** Why no voting buttons? We do
71 of 75 people found the following review helpful
"Instead of possibilities, I have realities in my past, not only the reality of work done, and of love loved but of sufferings bravely suffered." (p. 123)
My connection to Viktor Frankl dates back to a Hannukah party in which I found myself conversing with a baker who used to deliver his bread. It took me a few more years to discover this absolute gem of a book, itself both bread for the soul and leaven for the mind.
The first half of this book consists of Frankl's reflection on his time in a Nazi concentration camp. "An abnormal reaction to an abnormal situation is normal behavior," (p. 18) he notices, "Yet it is possible to practice the art of living even in a concentration camp, although suffering is omnipresent." (p. 43) Distilling the essence of his experience at the hands of the Nazis and the resilience of his soul, he states, "If there is a meaning in life at all, then there must be a meaning in suffering." (p. 67) Finally, he notes that "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." (p. 65)
He segues into the second part of the book, a description of "logotherapy," based on the challenge learned behind barbed wire, downwind from the ovens "Whenever there was an opportunity for it, one had to give them a why--an aim--for their lives, in order to strengthen them to bear the terrible _how_ of their existence." (p. 76)
Frankl states that "Man's search for meaning is a primary force in his life and not a 'secondary rationalization' of instinctual drives." (p. 99) He finds this meaning specific & unique to each individual. Logotherapy focuses on the future, the assignments and meanings to be fulfilled by the patient in _his_ future, breaking up the self-centeredness of the neurotic instead of fostering and reinforcing it.
He believes that "the meaning of our existence is not invented by ourselves, but rather detected," (p. 101) that "_logos_, or 'meaning', is not only an emerging from existence itself but rather something confronting existence." (p. 100) This _logos_ frustrates by not being available to finite minds, but nevertheless continues to confront man. In wrestling with this confrontation, each individual enacts their "will to meaning," defining a "meaning of life [that] differs from man to man, from day 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." (p. 110) Logotherapy sees responsibility as the very essence of human existence: "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." (p. 111) Thus, the "categorical imperative" of logotherapy is "Live as if you were living already for the second time and as if you had acted the first time as wrongly as you are about to act now!" (p. 111)
Beyond the philosophy of logotherapy, Frankl discusses technique briefly, addressing anticipatory anxiety, "it characteristic of this fear that it produces precisely that of which the patient is afraid." (p. 123) The mechanism for this is "hyper-intention," which, by focusing on the problem, magnifies the problem. He confronts this with "paradoxical intention," suggesting that the insomniac try to stay awake and that the phobic patient "intend, if only for a moment, precisely that which he fears." (p. 125)
He concludes the book with "Our generation is realistic for we have come to know man as he really is. After all, man is that being who has invented the gas chambers of Auschwitz; however, he is also that being who has entered those gas chambers upright, with the Lord's Prayer or the Shema Yisrael on his lips." (p. 136)
I find this short book incredibly full of life and meaning; it's one of the most powerful I've ever read. The act of creating a philosophy and psychology of life out of the horrors of Auschwitz confronts my own whinings about the discomforts I find in life. I find courage here, not just Dr. Frankl's courage, but an inspiration to my own courage, and a challenge to live more fully, to create more meaning, instead of simply accepting the meanings thrust upon me by TV sitcoms, billboards, and internet banality.
The epitome of a five star book. Worthy of more if Amazon would allow it.
(If you'd like to dialogue about this book, please click on the "about me" link & drop me an email. Thanks!)
72 of 77 people found the following review helpful
on June 19, 2007
I originally bought this book knowing nothing about Frankl, his experiences, or psychological theories. I simply read the description and a few of the overwhelmingly positive reviews here on Amazon and decided that it sounded interesting. What a life-changing book. Merely reading it at any given time has a marked positive influence on my attitude towards life.
What's most interesting about it, as Frankl says himself, is that what he's propounding are not abstract ideas developed by some academic at a university or in some research laboratory. He uses his direct experience in one of the most adverse circumstances possible--a Nazi concentration camp--to relate the ideas of logotherapy (his own school of psychotherapy) to the reader.
In a nutshell, the three most important tenets of logotherapy are as follows: (1) Life has meaning under all circumstances--even the most miserable ones; (2) Our main motivation for living is our will to find meaning in life; and (3) We have the freedom to find meaning in what we do, and what we experience, or at least in the stand we take when faced with a situation of unchangeable suffering. These principles are put directly to the test, and Frankl demonstrates their validity in a way that no social scientist has conceived of (or been able to) ever before.
From the afterword:
"Frankl was once asked to express in one sentence the meaning of his own life. He wrote the response on paper and asked his students to guess what he had written. After some moments of quiet reflection, a student surprised Frankl by saying, 'The meaning of your life is to help others find the meaning of theirs.'
'That was it, exactly,' Frankl said. 'Those are the very words I had written.'"
42 of 43 people found the following review helpful
on February 11, 2001
An American doctor once asked Viktor Frankl to explain the difference between conventional psychoanalysis and logotherapy. Before answering, Frankl asked the doctor for his definition of psychoanalysis. The man said, "During psychoanalysis, the patient must lie down on a couch and tell you things which sometimes are very disagreeable to tell." Frankl immediately replied by saying: "Now, in logotherapy the patient may remain sitting erect but he must hear things which sometimes are very disagreeable to hear." By this he meant that in logotherapy the patient is actually confronted with and reoriented toward the MEANING of his life. The role of the therapist, then, is to help the patient discover a purposefulness in his life. Frankl's theory is that man's search for meaning is the primary motivation in his life and not a "secondary rationalization" of instinctual drives. Whereas Freudian psychoanalysis focuses on the "will to pleasure" and Adlerian psychology focuses on the "will to power" it can be said that Frankl's logotherapy focuses on the "will to meaning." Does man give in to to conditions or stand up to them? According to Frankl, the strength of a person's sense of meaning, responsibility, and purpose is the greatest determining factor in how that question will be answered. He believed that "man is ultimately self-determining" and as such, "does not simply exist but always decides what his existence will be, what he will become in the next moment."
The first (and largest) section of this book is the searing autobiographical account of the author's experience as a longtime prisoner in a concentration camp. These camps claimed the lives of his father, mother, brother, and wife. Frankl's survival and the subsequent miracle of this book are a testimony to man's capacity to rise above his outward fate. As Gordon W. Allport states in the preface, "A psychiatrist who personally has faced such extremity is a psychiatrist worth listening to."
I agree, and highly reccommend this book. As the sub-title says, it is an "introduction" to logotherapy, and anyone who wants to go deeper into the principles and practical application of Frankl's existential psychiatry should go to his excellent "The Doctor And The Soul".
Frankl was fond of quoting Nietzsche's dictum..."He who has a WHY to live can bear with almost any HOW."
67 of 72 people found the following review helpful
on February 20, 2007
This book was read many years ago at a time when this reviewer felt nearly crushed under the weight of family and personal troubles. It is not light and diverting reading; indeed, in part it is terrifying. Yet the memory of it has persisted across all these years.
A prominent psychiatrist in pre-World War II Vienna, Doctor Frankl found himself suddenly stripped of all money, possessions, position, respect, and ultimately, his family--including his pregnant and beloved wife. After confinement in some of the smaller concentration camps, he ultimately arrived at Auschwitz--the lowest circle of the man-made Hell that was the system of concentration and extermination camps (in German, 'Konzentrationslager' and 'Vernichtungslager'). There, his medical skills were not employed until nearly the end of the war. Instead, he was employed at hard labor just like the rest of the men in his prison block who were marched every day to their work site before dawn and marched back late at night.
The most striking thing about Frankl's account of his imprisonment (to me at least) was not the backbreaking work, the all-pervading fear, nor even the constant, maddening hunger; but the unrelenting degradation of the prisoners in order to get them to accept the Nazi's judgment of them as sub-human. For example, when carrying heavy tanks filled with human sewage for disposal, almost inevitably some would splash prisoners full in the face. Any move to wipe one's face, or even show instinctive grimaces of disgust would be punished by the Capos (trusted prisoners, chosen mostly for their brutality) with a prompt beating from a club or whip. Because of this, the normal reactions of prisoners to being befouled were soon suppressed. Every attempt possible was made to degrade the prisoners by the (frequently delighted) SS guards and the Capos. Subjected to this treatment, some prisoners gave up hope and committed suicide by running into the inner electric fence that encircled the camp. Others would lie motionless in their bunks in their own waste--ignoring pleas to get up from fellow prisoners, and blows from guards alike--smoking up all of the cigarettes they might have been saving for barter.
Faced with this, Frankl combated this potential demoralization in himself and others by leading the prisoners back to their own humanity. "Every freedom may be taken away from a man but one; the freedom to choose what attitude he will take towards his conditions." Despite every attempt to rob them of human dignity, prisoners still had a choice. Would they take an attitude of 'I die tomorrow; you die today' and behave as starving beasts--stealing other prisoner's food, for example; or would they show that they were neither animals nor things, but human beings? Some Amazon reviews of an earlier edition of this book seemed to imply that Frankl had judged those who despaired and died to be weak, or that he was somehow 'better' than they for having survived. Those reviewers can only have done this by forgetting what they had read. Frankl instead writes with sorrow that "the best of us did not survive", warmly remembering comrades who ended their days offering comfort and sometimes their last bit of bread to fellow prisoners.
We live in an age when the feeling that one's life is meaningless is rampant even compared to the recent past. Many compensate by drowning themselves in their career; working fourteen hour days, always gabbing into their cell phone, and carrying their laptop everywhere so they can do some work even in what would be an idle moment. Others escape into escapist and/or authoritarian religion, gladly handing over the miserable burden of their freedom and the need to find meaning to someone else. (Frankl--an observant Jew throughout his life--was not anti-religious I should point out. He writes that a therapist's attempts to debunk genuine religious or spiritual views are an unethical attempt to force the therapist's views on a client.) Still others use alcohol and/or drugs (including perfectly legal drugs)as a response to a sense of life's meaninglessness or futility.
Frankl writes that our struggle--even our despair--over finding meaning in our lives is not an psychiatric illness, or even a precursor to one. Potential readers of this book will not find "The Meaning of Life". What they will find is the story of a man who was compelled to develop the tools to find his own meaning, his 'why'--at a time when his life depended on it in a way seldom seen in life and history. Hopefully, these tools will benefit others as they have benefited me. As someone wrote of Ralph Waldo Emerson, "He did not try to lead others to himself, but to themselves."
39 of 41 people found the following review helpful
Hitler had occupied Austria when Viktor Frankl, a young Viennese psychiatrist and writer, learned that the United States had approved his request to immigrate. His parents were overjoyed --- their son would escape the Nazis, go off to America and continue his brilliant work.
Frankl was feeling guilty about leaving his parents when he noticed a piece of marble on a table at home. What was it? His father said it was a piece of the largest synagogue in Vienna, burned by the Nazis. On it was a fragment of the Ten Commandments --- the part about honoring thy father and mother.
Rock covers paper. Frankly decided to stay in Vienna and look after his parents. As if that were possible! Before the war was over, the Nazis imprisoned Frankl, his pregnant wife, his brother and his parents. All but Frankl perished.
In 1945, in just nine days, Frankl wrote "Man's Search for Meaning." It has sold tens of millions of copies, been published in dozens of languages --- for many, it's been a life-changer. Somehow, I missed every opportunity to read it. Just as well. My younger selves might have missed the profundity of this short, simple book.
Frankl's message is simple: Life can be terrible. But there is one power you alone possess --- the power to decide what you think about your situation. If you think there is a point to your suffering and if you can imagine your life on the other side of it, you are searching for meaning. More, you are finding meaning, for the very act of searching ennobles you. Achievements can pile up, riches may come your way --- none of that matters. The search is everything.
For Frankl, the search for meaning is both a philosophy and an attitude. Going into a concentration camp, he knew what the odds were --- 90% of the people on his transport train would die, most within a few hours of arriving at Auschwitz. And this led him to his first breakthrough: "I struck out my whole former life."
Auschwitz became his teacher. He had no fear of death; the gas chambers spared him the thought of suicide. He learned to look eager for work; if you want to live, you have to be useful. And then he learned The Secret. Let him tell it:
We stumbled on in the darkness, over big stones and through large puddles, along the one road running through the camp. The accompanying guards kept shouting at us and driving us with the butts of their rifles. Anyone with very sore feet supported himself on his neighbor's arm. Hardly a word was spoken; the icy wind did not encourage talk. Hiding his hand behind his upturned collar, the man marching next to me whispered suddenly: "If our wives could see us now! I do hope they are better off in their camps and don't know what is happening to us."
That brought thoughts of my own wife to mind. And as we stumbled on for miles, slipping on icy spots, supporting each other time and again, dragging one another on and upward, nothing was said, but we both knew: each of us was thinking of his wife. Occasionally I looked at the sky, where the stars were fading and the pink light of the morning was beginning to spread behind a dark bank of clouds. But my mind clung to my wife's image, imagining it with an uncanny acuteness. I heard her answering me, saw her smile, her frank and encouraging look. Real or not, her look then was more luminous than the sun which was beginning to rise.
A thought transfixed me: for the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth -- that love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love.
I understood how a man who has nothing left in this world may still know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved. In a position of utter desolation, when a man cannot express himself in positive action, when his only achievement may consist in enduring his sufferings in the right way--an honorable way--in such a position man can, through loving contemplation of the image he carries of his beloved, achieve fulfillment. For the first time in my life, I was able to understand the words, "The angels are lost in perpetual contemplation of an infinite glory."
Those are easy words to write in the comfort of the coffeehouse, surrounded by attractive people who have the dual luck of health and wealth. But to feel this way after being shipped to four concentration camps and losing your loved ones --- that's something else.
Yes, Frankl was lucky, and he knows it; as he says, "The best among us did not return." But the lucky did. Indeed, only the lucky did. And isn't a great part of luck the irrational belief of a better future?
Like all concentration camp memoirs, Frankl's is one horror after another. But unlike almost all others, his memoir is dotted with remarkable scenes. Like the time a block warden, at a very low point in the war, asks Frankl to speak to the inmates. Frankl reminds them that all they have lost can be achieved again. And then he says something at once shocking and inspiring: "Human life, under any circumstances, never ceases to have meaning." Even hopelessness offers a kind of dignity. If we act well in dire straits, we honor God --- we show that, even as we are killed, we maintain our dignity. That was some sermon....
Days after the war ended, Viktor Frank walked out of the camp and into the countryside. He listened to the birds sing; he felt the expanse of earth and sky. He did not yet know that the wife he thought of constantly was dead. He had just one sentence running through his head: "I called to the Lord from my narrow prison and he answered me in the freedom of space." And with that, Frankl walked into his future.
Why read "Man's Search for Meaning" now? Because we live in an age of weak excuses and phony explanations and very few people stepping forward to take responsibility for anything. In this appalling time, Viktor Frankl reminds us that what we do and how we think about it actually matter. He tells us that, even on a crowded planet, every life is important. He makes us stand tall and see clearly and think straight and want to do right.
It doesn't get much simpler than that, does it?