One of the rare non-fiction books I picked up that had no bearing on writing research, Man’s Search for Meaning immediately demanded the respect of my attention. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the work, Viktor E. Frankl’s book is an honest and in-depth account and analysis of his time spent in a Nazi concentration camp.
A note on the author: Frankl is an Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist known for founding Logotherapy. The basic principles of Logotherapy are:
- Life has meaning under all circumstances, even the most miserable ones.
- Our main motivation for living is our will to find meaning in life.
- We have freedom to find meaning in what we do, and what we experience, or at least in the stand we take when faced with a situation of unchangeable suffering.
I’ll keep this review short and sweet, as I don’t think I’ll be able to accurately describe the book if you haven’t already read it, and if you have read it, you’ll know what I mean.
The book was heavy-going, not because it was dense or verbosely narrated (it wasn’t), but because the subject matter was revealed in such an honest and clear way. I found the accounts of the concentration camps harrowing, being given just enough detail from Frankl to conjure up very vivid images of what was happening. The writing itself was precise and matter-of-fact, perhaps testimony to Frankl’s medical background.
Somehow, the fact that there is a clinical element to the narrative makes the accounts even harder to stomach, and it’s a relief when Frankl delves into his psychiatric analysis of what is happening in the camps. There are descriptions of how different prisoners dealt with their situations, and Frankl’s thoughts on the varying reactions to death, choices, imprisonment, power and complete lack of it.
I found his analysis enlightening and more than a little intriguing. I don’t profess to have a great understanding of psychiatry and I had never heard of Logotherapy before picking up this book, but I found its application in the extreme circumstances of Auschwitz to be… awe-inspiring? Horrifying? Greatly impressive? All of these words seem very pale comparisons to what I felt at the time, but they’re all I have.
The most poignant thing about Frankl’s experience, and his account of it, is the sheer amount of chances and choices that led to his survival from the camp. At times, being told to stand on the left or on the right made the difference between life and death. Knowing that, as he did, knowing that at any moment you could die or be killed, whilst being beaten daily, starved and treated like an animal… all the while maintaining a view such as Logotherapy, that there is meaning to be sought from these experiences, under such circumstances… I can’t imagine such strength of mind.
I would recommend this book be read by everyone, if only once. A truly mind-broadening experience.