Man's Search for Meaning - Book Review

May 6, 2018

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: Man’s Search for Meaning was initially published in 1946 by Viktor Frankl, a psychologist from Austria.  Since then it has undergone a number of revisions, sold over 12 million copies, translated into 24 different languages, and is used in many universities around the world.  Frankl derives both from personal and professional experience, and concludes that many of humanities problems arise from its search for meaning—rather than a will to power or a will to pleasure.

The book is split into two sections.  The first section deals with his heart-wrenching experience in several concentrations camps during WWII, and how even at the lowest points in life, despite incredible suffering, unimaginable pain, and unbearable heartbreak, one can still find meaning.  The second part of the book dives into Frankl’s theorylogotherapy, which is based on an existential analysis focusing on Kierkegaard's will to meaning as opposed to Adler's Nietzschean doctrine of will to power or Freud's will to pleasure.  Albeit, Frankl does cite Nietzsche’s words, rather triumphantly, He who has a Why to live for can bear almost any How

On that note, it is nearly impossible to summarize this work, in part because it is ubiquitously recognized as a masterpiece (one in which the author wrote in just a few short days), and in part because it is so abhorrently difficult to fathom the absurdity of the horrors committed during WWII.  In spite of all of this, Frankl does not seek revenge and does not harbor ill feelings.  But, instead, wishes to help those in need after the war—those from both sides of the fence. 

 

Humanity's Quest for Meaning: On this topic, Frankl states, if hundreds of thousands of people reach out for a book whose very title promises to deal with the question of a meaning to life, it must be a question that burns under their fingernails.  Frankl also believed that life has meaning under all circumstances, including suffering and dying.  Facing unfathomable horrors in the concentration camps and owning nothing but his naked existence, he exclaims about the events he witnessed, (the) way they bore their suffering was a genuine inner achievement. It is this spiritual freedom—which cannot be taken away—that makes life meaningful and purposeful.  He realized that even though everything could be taken from a person, he or she would still have left spiritual freedom which gave life a sense of meaning.  But suffering is neither a necessary nor sufficient requirement for meaning.  Instead, humanity can create meaning in three ways:

 

1) by creating a work or doing a deed

2) by experiencing something or encountering someone

3) by the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering

 

Frankl also makes it clear in the book that the meaning of life is not merely procreation, and that thinking this actually devalues life.  One idea that Frankl likely incorrectly described was his analogy to the "final" meaning of life only being revealed at the time of death, just as films only reveal their meaning at the end of the film.  This is a faulty analogy, because after all, how many films actually span the entire life of an individual?  Thus it is a fallacy to compare the two in this way. 

 

Ends of Life: Harold S. Kushner notes the following on the topic in the book, I have known successful businessmen who, upon retirement, lost all zest for life. Their work had given their lives meaning. Often it was the only thing that had given their lives meaning and, without it, they spent day after day sitting at home, depressed, 'with nothing to do.'  

 

These endlife crises pop up quite frequently in Hollywood as well as real life, and although one may be approaching the end of his or her life, Frankl still believed there is meaning to existence, and that every aspect of life can be made meaningful, even the act of dying.  He also believed that instead of old people being cast away for the new, they should be revered, revered in the sense that they have accomplished a lot, struggled a lot, and hence have invaluable wisdom to bestow on humanity.   

 

Great quotes from the book.

 

As each situation in life represents a challenge to man and presents a problem for him to solve, the question of the meaning of life may actually be reversed. Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather he must recognize that it is he who is asked. In a word, 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.

 

For the meaning of life 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.

The meaning of your life is to help others find the meaning of theirs.

If you only read one book this year, or perhaps even one book ever, then this is the book to read.  This book is a gem which people from all walks of life can relate too.  Frankl not only gives hope to those who have endured extreme suffering, and those who have not; but also provides a pathway for people no matter their background, even Nazi criminals, to find meaning which exceeds the summation of their past atrocities.  Unfortunately, no review can adequately sum up this book, or it's relation to the meaning of life.  It just has to be read and experienced. 

 

Overall - 10

Meaning of Life Relevance - 9

Uniqueness – 5

 

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