Posted in book reviews

A classic that speaks to our time

Viktor Frankl

Plus ça change, rien ne change — The more that changes, nothing changes.

This French proverb came to mind as I read Victor E. Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning (Amazon Kindle edition). First published in English in 1962, the book serves up timeless insights, chronicling Frankl’s stint in 4 concentration camps during World War 2, surviving the ordeal and from it fine-tuning what became known as logotherapy.

The book neatly divides into 2 major parts. The first part records Frankl’s experiences in the camps, noting with a keen eye the everyday details of life and how prisoners coped (or didn’t) with the horrendous conditions. Part two turns to a scholarly exposition of logotherapy – from the Greek logos, “meaning” –  a theory that many neuroses have little to do with sex (Freud) or power (Adler) but everything to do with what Frankl terms the “existential vacuum,” the failure to identify purpose or meaning in life.

Speaking of the minority of prisoners who maintained a hopeful attitude, Frankl observed: “They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way” (p. 68, location).

Related is a quote from Neitzsche cited multiple times:

“He who has a Why to live can bear almost any How” (location 21).

Frankl identifies three areas that can bring meaning to a person’s life (location 28):

1) work (doing something significant)

2) love (caring for another person)

3) courage during difficult times

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