by Viktor Frankl
translated by Ilse Lasch
I don't remember how I first heard of this book, but I know I read it twice in high school. The author is a psychiatrist who had survived the Holocaust- three years spent in four different concentration camps. The major portion of the book describes his personal experiences in the camps, full of introspective musings on the meaning of life, observations on how the horrors and degredations there affected the mentality of the prisoners, and his theories on why some survived and others (including his own family) didn't. The main message I got out of Man's Search for Meaning is that in the face of suffering, we can choose our response to it, and that the greatest factor of a person's will to live is their inner purpose.
This first part of the book was the easiest to understand. While it's never easy for me to read stories of Holocaust experiences, Frankl's descriptions are less about the brutality of it all, and more focused on the people themselves. He was particularly interested in what caused prisoners to respond differently to camp life- some gave up all hope. Others lost their sense of civility and acted in self-interest for personal survival, often to the detriment of their companions. And some retained their dignity and compassion, helping their fellow-prisoners when they could. I did find that at times Frankl came across as being condescending to his fellow prisoners. There were also incidents where he took credit for completely changing another's attitude, via one or two sentences of advice. It struck me as a bit conceited.
The last seventy-five pages describe Frankl's theory of "logotherapy" and how it was based on his experiences in the camps. I admit I didn't understand most of this. It is very dry reading. In fact, a lot of the first part of the book can also be rather technical, hung up with psychiatric terms. I often felt like I was wading through that material to read the more personal anecdotes. But maybe this book just wasn't written for a layperson like me.
Rating: 3/5 ........ 165 pages, 1946
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