on January 8, 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.
on February 10, 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."
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."
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
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.'"
on January 25, 2007
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?
This book is a true classic in that it speaks to every generation. Even though it was written in the immediate post-Holocaust period and was one of the first personal accounts of the Nazi death camps, Frankl's brief account has new meaning today. In today's world, many people are constantly pursuing pleasure in the form of wealth, success, or sexual fulfillment. Although there is nothing intrinsically wrong with these, Frankl's point is that life must have meaning. A person can inject meaning into even the most degraded life conditions by clinging to his values. But without meaning, life can drag on, seemingly without end. The "purpose-driven life" is the only life that leads to true fulfillment.
on September 6, 2006
There is something to be said of a person who can go through a horrific journey such as the atrocities of Auschwitz and recall it with such clarity in order to help others. I was completely emotionally overwhelmed by the first half of the book-which is a narrative of what he experienced and fascinated with the next half which is an explanation of logotherapy.
This is not an overly long or hard book to read in spite of some of the subject matter. My version was a thin paperback that I finished in a few days. It took me longer to fully appreciate because I hung onto each page and felt a responsibility to make sure I understood his journey and how he came to his conclusions.
I recommend this book for anyone.
on December 2, 2014
My review is not on the content of the book, but on the physical book (I bought the Mass Market Paperback). The publisher printed words so close to the binding, it's actually a pain to read. In the picture I posted to this, I'm actually having to forcibly push down on the book to make it flatter to see the words on the binding side of the pages. There should have been more room left so one doesn't have to do this.
If you have OCD on the spine conditions of your books, don't get the Mass Market Paperback, as your spine is going to end up creased pretty good after reading it.
Again, my review is only the physical book, not on the content, as I haven't started to read it yet :(
on July 24, 2001
Where did I come from? Why am I here? Where am I going? These are questions that confront humankind each day. Without the answers to these questions, a person may find their life void of purpose or joy. This book does not answer any of those questions, but reminds you of the importance of getting the answer to the second and third questions.
Before reading the book I felt I had a pretty good grasp on my own answers for the three questions of life. However, Dr. Frankl made me specify my answers. I needed a mission, a creed by which I should live my life, a statment by which I could measure each decision in life.
Dr. Frankl explains, through his own experience during the Holocaust, that each person has a reason to live. When that reason ceases to exist, that person must either find another reason or be dead emotionally. This story reminds me of the story of Anne Frank. She was doing quite well until she felt that her entire family was dead. She could no longer see a reason to continue fighting the opposition, so she gave up and died shortly after her sister. Had she known or thought her father was still alive, I believe she may have been able to escape sickness and survive her imprisonment.
Dr. Frankl encourages you, without preaching, to find THAT reason for you life. What purpose does your life hold? Don't ask what you want out of life, but ask, "What does life want from me?" The key is to find what life wants from you.
The holocaust stories will help you see the necessity of answering these questions. Whether you find your life with or without purpose, read this book. It could change your life for the better.