Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Review of Man's Search For Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl

This book review was written by Eugene Kernes   

Book can be found in: 
Genre = Psychology
Book Club Event = Book List (06/22/2024)
Intriguing Connections = 1) What Is The Power Of Belief Systems?

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“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 still may know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved.  In a position of utter desolation, when man cannot express himself in positive action, when his only achievement may consist in enduring his suffering 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.” – Viktor E. Frankl, Page 38

“To discover that there was any semblance of art in a concentration camp must be surprise enough for an outsider, but he may be even more astonished to hear that one could find a sense of humor there as well; of course, only the faint trace of one, and then only for a few seconds or minutes.  Humor was another of the soul’s weapons in the fight for self-preservation.  It is well known that humor, more than anything else in the human make-up, can afford an aloofness and an ability to rise above any situation, even if only for a few seconds.” – Viktor E. Frankl, Page 42

“A man who let himself decline because he could not see any future goal found himself occupied with retrospective thoughts.  In a different connection, we have already spoken of the tendency there was to look into the past, to help make the present, with all its horrors, less real.  But in robbing the present of its reality there lay a certain danger.  It became easy to overlook the opportunities to make something positive of camp life, opportunities which really did exist.” – Viktor E. Frankl, Page 62


Is This An Overview?

Death is the outcome of a concentration camp.  A prison that sorts people based on their ability to work.  If a person could not be forced to work under the harsh conditions, or lack of food, they were sent to death.  A concentration camp is about suffering, but there are those who survived.  Those who had higher chances of survival found moments to overcome the suffering, and find mental habits to keep themselves from despair.  Those who survived found ways to imbue meaning in their life.  Finding meaning even in the tragic human experience of the concentration camp.

There were those who died from giving up hope, from a lack of a potential future.  Died from nothing to live for.  A physiological response, as those who deteriorated mentally, also deteriorated physically which made them vulnerable to every other threat.  To survive, to prevent despair, the prisoners found ways to imbue meaning into their experience.  Prisoners found momentary solace in retrospective thought.  Momentary bliss from thinking about loved ones.  Even some humor was used as a self-preservation mechanism. 

Finding meaning is the basis of logotherapy.  Meaning can be found through work, love, or even courage in difficult times.  There is much that is beyond the control of the individual, but the individual has the freedom to choose how to respond.  Cannot control what happens, but can control how the individual feels. 


How Did People Handle The Concentration Camp?

Initially, the prisoners had some hope that they would keep their items.  But became apathetic, as a self-defense mechanism.  Everything began to be about self-preservation.  The prisoners crowed together for self-preservation, to not be conspicuous.  Alternatively, prisoners wanted time alone with their thoughts. 

Prisoners who were chosen for death, had a delusion of reprieve.  An illusion of being spared in the last moment.  Those who were chosen for death were those who could not work.  In response, the prisoners tried to make themselves look younger, fit for work.  Viktor E. Frankl used psychological tools to become useful to the Capo, who saved Frankl from death.  Capos were prisoners who worked for the guards.  There were some really bad guards, in all can be found human kindness.

After the camp experience, former prisoners depersonalize their experience, as if they had been deceived and it did not happen.  Even though they wanted liberation, they also could not believe it happened.


What Is Logotherapy?

Logotherapy is about the future, how people finding meaning.  By finding fulfillment in the future.  A tension between what was achieved, and has yet to be achieved.  People have the ability to change, and change the world.

Retrospective thought can help, but can also be dangerous.  Retrospective thought can prevent people from seeing the opportunities of reality.  To not see opportunities to become better.


There is a survivorship bias in those who survived by using the methods.  As mentioned in the book, many of those who used the methods still died.  Without mentioning how many survived without using the methods. 

Questions to Consider while Reading the Book

•What is the raison d’etre of the book?  For what purpose did the author write the book?  Why do people read this book?
•What are some limitations of the book?
•To whom would you suggest this book?
•What is a concentration camp?
•Who was chosen for death? 
•How did people survive the concentration camp?
•What mental habits did prisoners create? 
•How do people find meaning?
•What happened to those who gave up hope?
•What is logotherapy?
•What can people control?
•What where prisoners’ initial perspective on their situation?
•How were the prisoners identified? 
•What did prisoners want to keep?  What were they able to keep? 
•Who are the Capos?
•How did the author interact with the Capo?
•How did the prisoners react after liberation? 
•What does it mean to “run into the wire”?
•How should food be eaten? 
•What happened to the body without the appropriate food? 
•What did the SS (Nazi) do before the prisoners were liberated? 
•Who were the guards? 
•What is paradoxical intention?
•What is pan-determinism? 
•What is the tragic triad? 
•Is there meaning in suffering?
•What is the effect of freedom?

Book Details
Foreword Author:   Harold S. Kusher
Afterward Author: William J. Winslade
Translator:              Ilse Lasch
Original Language: German
Translated Into:       English
Publisher:               Beacon Press
Edition ISBN:         9780807014288
Pages to read:          122
Publication:             2006
1st Edition:              1946
Format:                    eBook 

Ratings out of 5:
Readability    5
Content          4
Overall          4