Updated: Feb 18
As with all reviews on this website, our goal is not to provide a complete overview of the book; rather, it is to examine how the book relates to the meaning of life.
About the Book: What is the Meaning of Life?: One Question. Many Perspectives. by Scott Hoops was published in 2009 and is 186 pages in length. In 2006, the author started a website www.themeaningoflifebook.com which appears to no longer be online. According to the book, the website asked people around the world to answer the question "What is the meaning of life?" Thousands of written responses and hundreds of pieces of artwork were received from people of "all walks of life, young and old, rich and poor...". After reading the first thousand or so responses, Scott ends up concluding that life will always be an open-ended question and hence published the book being reviewed here.
Essentially, the book is relatively straight forward... from the first page to the final, it is a mixture of nearly 330 written responses and a few pieces of artwork. No commentary is provided besides what is on the back cover and a short thank you note to those who helped along the way. How the author chose the responses included in the book is unknown. With that said, the answers cover a wide range of views: from religious belief in God, to life being pointless. With each response in the book, a location and age was provided; those statistics were compiled by endev42 as shown below.
Number of Responses by Age
Number of Responses by State
AL - 0 AK - 1 AZ - 11 AR - 1 CA - 52 CO - 13 CT - 0 DE - 0 DC - 4 FL - 15 GA - 7 HI - 3 ID - 0 IL - 9 IN - 0 IA - 0 KS - 0 KY - 0 LA - 1 ME - 4 MD - 7 MA - 9 MI - 24 MN - 4 MS - 0 MO - 5 MT - 1 NE - 0 NV - 2 NH - 2 NJ - 6 NM - 2 NY - 7 NC - 4 ND - 1 OH - 3 OK - 2 OR - 14 PA - 4 RI - 6 SC - 0 SD - 1 TN - 7 TX - 23 UT - 1 VT - 1 VA - 2 WA - 11 WV - 1 WI - 6 WY - 0
Number of Responses by Country (non-US)
Azerbaijan - 1 Belize - 1 Canada - 10 China - 1 Czech Republic - 1 Egypt - 1 France - 1 Germany - 2 Hungary - 1 India - 3 Iran - 1 Ireland - 1 Italy - 2 Japan - 2 Mexico - 1 Moldova - 1 Netherlands - 1 Pakistan - 1 Philippines - 3 South Africa - 1 Spain - 1 Suriname - 1 Switzerland - 1 Taiwan - 1 Thailand - 1 UAE - 1 Uganda - 1 United Kingdom - 8
Reading through each response, one kind of gets the sense of wonder and amazement. All the gurus in the world with a million answers to every question imaginable... yet, all the answers to the "question" seem so unfulfilling, so empty, so desolate in nature. But that is perhaps because when it comes to answering this particular question, the only guru possible, the only guru there can be... is yourself. Perhaps only you can answer the meaning of life.
With that said, below are some hand chosen responses from the book based on uniqueness:
"I guess that means that since I'm alive, I'm God. And so are you. And so is everything living. That means that we're all God together. Expressions of God. So then, the meaning of life is to express God." - Maggie P.
"There are probably many different meanings of life for various stages of each individual's lifetime. There is no way your meaning of life held at age 5 is the same at age 35." - Jim Brown
"Humans are merely an evolutionary blip on the way to something far greater, something that surpasses all understanding. Until then, we wait, we watch, we learn, we live, we love, we persist." - Lucidity
"As there are no absolutes, no ultimate truths, and no predetermined destiny, the meaning of life is cradled in our day-to-day pursuit of the meaningful activities. You can search for god, search for truth, and search for meaning but the real meaning of life is hidden within our daily actions. The meaning is found in the process rather than capturing a final product. The meaning is intuitive rather than an intellectual abstraction. The experience of life is the meaning of life." - Calvin Hunter
"In one word it is survival. The meaning of life is the same for all species. An amoeba for example doesn't have much to worry about. It must eat and reproduce all while avoiding being eaten itself. Us humans for some reason feel we are superior to other animals when in actuality our only purpose for being alive is to reproduce just like he amoeba. Unlike amoebas, there is however more to life then the "meaning", such as exploration, knowledge, understanding, wisdom, fulfilling one's goals, enjoyment, laughter, new experience, appreciation for everything around, and much more..." - Torey Arnold
Naturally, there were a large number of great quotes and responses that could not be reproduced in this book review. The above quotes just compose some of the shorter more unique ones, and are not even necessarily the most inspiring or even thought-provoking quotes. But... we will examine just a few additional intriguing ideas below.
Not for Humans: Shawn from CA proposed that the meaning of life is not for humans. He uses the example of dogs not having a clue as to the purpose of life and asks the question, "How much different are we from dogs?". It is then suggested that just as we look down on dogs as being relatively unintelligent, sentient beings 100 times more intelligent would look down on us in the same manner. Shawn goes on to conclude that the meaning of life is just too complicated for us to "figure out".
Buddha - Pick a Flower: Skylor Swann from MT cites an interview by Bill Moyer with Joseph Campbell. Joseph ends up referencing a Buddhist story. When Buddha was asked "the" question, he remained silent and simply reached over and picked a flower, and held it in the air for all to see.
Bill and Joseph's conversation takes place in a series called "The Power of Myth." It is actually quite an interesting series. With that said, what Joseph actually says about Buddha is slightly different. You can read the transcript on Bill Moyer's website.
Convert All to Life: Halifax, a 94-year-old man proposes that "The meaning of life is to outpace the steady pull to make life something that happened once, briefly, but was corrected. Converting all nonliving matter into animated living matter is the ultimate purpose of life." For those that believe in romantic ideas, this could perhaps be interpreted as creating a living universe. But then again, some would argue that the universe is conscious already, albeit there is no scientific evidence of it to date. Still, it is hard to fathom that the meaning of life is to convert all non-living matter into living matter.
Your Funeral: Joanne Morgan a 40-year-old mother from the United Kingdom died. Then she discovered what really mattered in life, what she really regretted, and more. Joanne didn't really die, rather she created her own funeral in her mind to reflect on who would miss her and what she would miss. Ultimately, many of those thoughts revolved around her son. Thus she discovered the meaning of life through death.
Limited Number of Souls: Scott Johnson from NV believes that there are a limited number of souls and that we start out as simple life forms then evolve. He then goes on to conclude that the reason there are more and more humans is that we are not "graduating" to the next level, we are not learning the lesson of being a human. Thus, the population continues to increase. However, naturally, if there were a limited number of souls, and we all evolve... it would be more logical to state that there is more of a bottleneck at the bottom of the system as bacteria far outnumber people. In fact, the number of bacteria on earth is estimated to be 5,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000. This is five million trillion trillion or 5 x 10 to the 30th power. But even if we surmised that bacteria is too basic of a life form, take a look at the insect population which is estimated at 10 quintillion, or 10,000,000,000,000,000,000. That is a lot of souls waiting to learn the most basic lessons of life, not graduating beyond that of a fruit fly.
Overall, this is an enjoyable book if you are interested in various and random answers to the big "question". It does give one a sense of wonder and amazement as previously outlined, but at the same time, it also becomes a bit repetitive. The book is what it is, kind of like life. Don't purchase this book hoping for Albert Camus type deep reflections. That would be an absurd expectation. Rather, purchase it broaden your horizons.
We rate the book the following:
Overall - 5
Meaning of Life Relevance - 10
Uniqueness – 5