I picked up Man’s Search for Meaning on Audible at the recommendation of a friend. I had heard of this work and Frankl before, but I didn’t really know anything about him, or about why he wrote this book.
I gravitate towards books about the big questions and especially existentialism, so this seemed right up my alley. (You will recall I just recently finished a Stephen Hawking intro to cosmology and quantum physics.)
Man’s Search for Meaning ended up being completely not what I expected and also much more gratifying than I had hoped. This post is less a review than a brief look at how Frankl’s book impacted my own perspective on meaning and existence.
In the first half, Frankl focuses on his time in concentration camps, particularly Auschwitz. He tells this story as the underpinning for his logotherapeutic theories of psychiatry, quite a different perspective than those taken by Wiesel or Levi, or many other Holocaust memoirists. Still, his telling is both heart-wrenching in its humanity and brilliant its in use as a study in meaning.
The second half of the book delves into the theories themselves and examines logotherapy as an answer — never the answer, even by Frankl’s own account — to the rampant emotional and psychological disenchantment that people living in modern societies have felt, and still feel. Frankl posits that by finding meaning, by finding the reason to survive, humans are capable of overcoming any suffering or indignity.
I am neither a neurologist nor a psychiatrist, but Frankl’s insightful work affirmed a lot of my own ideas about the nature of meaning and existence. It should come as no surprise that I take the existentialist view that I must create meaning for my own life, that it can neither be thrust upon me nor taken from anywhere, anyone, or anything else.
I wish I had read this book earlier, when its lessons may have helped me through my own bout of existential dread in my mid- to late-twenties. Its meaning, and Frankl’s story, are still well worth the read.