SmackAMack’s Blog

May 1, 2009

Mans Search for Meaning – Book Review

Filed under: book review,concentration camp — smackamack @ 9:12 pm

jja87dMan’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl is among the most influential works of psychiatric literature since Freud. The book begins with a lengthy, austere, and deeply moving personal essay about Frankl’s imprisonment in Auschwitz and other concentration camps for five years, and his struggle during this time to find reasons to live. The second part of the book, called “Logotherapy in a Nutshell,” describes the psychotherapeutic method that Frankl pioneered as a result of his experiences in the concentration camps. Freud believed that sexual instincts and urges were the driving force of humanity’s life; Frankl, by contrast, believes that man’s deepest desire is to search for meaning and purpose. Frankl’s logotherapy, therefore, is much more compatible with Western religions than Freudian psychotherapy. This is a fascinating, sophisticated, and very human book. At times, Frankl’s personal and professional discourses merge into a style of tremendous power. “Our generation is realistic, for we have come to know man as he really is,” Frankl writes. “After all, man is that being who invented the gas chambers of Auschwitz; however, he is also that being who entered those gas chambers upright, with the Lord’s Prayer or the Shema Yisrael on his lips.” 

My awesome roommate gave me this book to read last week to help distract me from my finals.  She knew I was interesting in WWII concentration camps and also a psych major and thought I would enjoy the book…she was right.  This book was actually for my roommates extenstentialism class.  

The first half of the book discribes his life for 5 years in the concentration camps.  At the time he didn’t know his family had been exterminated, but keep going in hopes of seeing his wife again.  Before the camps, and after, he was a psychiatrist who had written about psychology before.  This book however is an attempt to explain how a persons life can still have meaning after such a tramatic event.  The second half of the book is psychological and theoretical but very moving.  

For someone such as myself, this book was very powerful.  There was one piece that really stuck with me…he describes a night where he was in the camp and one of his bed mates was having a horrible nightmare and crying/tossing and turning.  He went to go wake him up, but realized, no matter how terrible the dream, the reality he would wake to would be far worse than any nightmare possible.  

I recommend this book to anyone who is interested in WWII, psychology, or the meaning of life.  It’s not a very long book either (like 150 pages).  I give this book 4/5 stars.  



  1. I’m definitely going to read this – sounds right up my street. I’m currently reading ‘The Reader’ – I loved the movie – and it too has some illuminating and thought-provoking things to say on this topic. If you haven’t already, I would highly recommend you read Auschwitz survivor and Nobel Laureate Primo Levi’s books about how the holocaust shaped his life and philosopy – especially ‘If This Is a Man’. This book makes you feel like you’ve been through the mill and back again with him, but it is extraordinarily powerful and beautifully written

    Comment by Sally Nelson — May 3, 2009 @ 8:41 am | Reply

  2. Nice blog about book reviews.

    Comment by roykeane — May 5, 2009 @ 11:06 pm | Reply

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