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Psychiatrist Viktor Frankl’s memoir has riveted generations of readers with its descriptions of life in Nazi death camps and its lessons for spiritual survival. Between 1942 and 1945 Frankl labored in four different camps, including Auschwitz, while his parents, brother, and pregnant wife perished. Based on his own experience and the experiences of others he treated later in his practice, Frankl argues that we cannot avoid suffering but we can choose how to cope with it, find meaning in it, and move forward with renewed purpose. Frankl’s theory-known as logotherapy, from the Greek word logos (“meaning”)-holds that our primary drive in life is not pleasure, as Freud maintained, but the discovery and pursuit of what we personally find meaningful.
At the time of Frankl’s death in 1997, Man’s Search for Meaning had sold more than 10 million copies in twenty-four languages. A 1991 reader survey for the Library of Congress that asked readers to name a “book that made a difference in your life” found Man’s Search for Meaning among the ten most influential books in America.
An Amazon Review: By arye orona 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.