Man’s Search for Meaning

Man’s Search for Meaning

Man's Search for Meaning

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 those he treated 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 by the Library of Congress and the Book-of-the-Month Club 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.

Born in Vienna in 1905 Viktor E. Frankl earned an M.D. and a Ph.D. from the University of Vienna. He published more than thirty books on theoretical and clinical psychology and served as a visiting professor and lecturer at Harvard, Stanford, and elsewhere. In 1977 a fellow survivor, Joseph Fabry, founded the Viktor Frankl Institute of Logotherapy. Frankl died in 1997.

Harold S. Kushner is rabbi emeritus at Temple Israel in Natick, Massachusetts, and the author of several best-selling books, including When Bad Things Happen to Good People.

William J. Winslade is a philosopher, lawyer, and psychoanalyst at the University of Texas Medical School in Galveston.Man’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.”

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3 Comments so far »

  1. arye orona said,

    Wrote on June 6, 2012 @ 9:45 am

    382 of 392 people found the following review helpful
    5.0 out of 5 stars
    Brilliant account…., November 25, 2001
    By 

    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.

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  2. Mr Mondo said,

    Wrote on June 6, 2012 @ 10:12 am

    172 of 177 people found the following review helpful
    5.0 out of 5 stars
    This book could change your life, January 8, 2000
    By 

    Dr. Frankl’s logotherapy is straightforward and easy to understand. It is also a useful antidote to the rather frightening drift in psychology during the past two decades toward strict biological determinism.

    This particular work is one I keep at hand and re-read on a regular basis. I read it for the first time a few months after I started medical treatment and therapy for life-long depression. I get more from it each time I go back to it.

    Logotherapy manages an incredible balance. It does not put man himself at the center of the universe, thus avoiding the kind of narcissistic self-reflection common to much of the therapeutic literature today. Yet, it does not sweep man aside as irrelevant. Instead, Frankl argues that we have an incredible power to shape our attitudes and responses to the challenges life presents us and that we inevitably grow thanks to these challenges.

    This is a quick read and could conceivably change your life. Man is more than the sum of his biology and his environment. We inevitably choose to be who we are. Frankl’s argument is that, if we choose wisely, we can triumph even in tragedy. It’s a truth many of us have lost sight of in our cynicism.

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  3. M. JEFFREY MCMAHON "herculodge" said,

    Wrote on June 6, 2012 @ 10:36 am

    143 of 148 people found the following review helpful
    5.0 out of 5 stars
    How to be Worthy of One’s Suffering, September 1, 2006
    By 
    M. JEFFREY MCMAHON “herculodge” (Torrance, CA USA) –
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    This review is from: Man’s Search for Meaning (Paperback)

    Frankl, who survived the concentration camps, writes that suffering is inevitable and that avoiding suffering is futile. Rather, one should be worthy of one’s suffering and make meaning of it instead of surrendering to nihilism, bitterness and despair. He uses poetic, moving anecdotes from the concentration camps to illustrate those souls who find a deeper humanity from their suffering or who become animals relegated to nothing more than teeth-clenched self-preservation. Though not specifically religious, this masterpiece has a religious purpose–to help us find meaning. This book succeeds immeasurably.

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