Thursday, September 9, 2021

Book 301: Man's Search For Meaning


"Not only our experiences, but all we have done, whatever great thoughts we may have had, and all we have suffered, all this is not lost, though it is past; we have brought it into being. Having been is also a kind of being, and perhaps the surest kind."

Dates read: March 9-12, 2019

Rating: 7/10

One of the interesting/terrifying things about the world as we know it is the amount of information we have access to at any given time. We can learn about virtually anything we want, whenever we want. We can see the world's greatest art works on demand. And we can see the worst things that people are doing to each other all over the globe. If you start looking, the tragedy in your hometown alone could break your heart.

In the face of profound despair, it can be easy to wonder what the point even is. The Holocaust, of course, is one of the worst events the world has ever seen. Viktor Frankl was a Jewish psychiatrist living in Austria when Hitler came to power, and like most European Jews, he ended up in a concentration camp. He survived Auschwitz, though, and wrote about how he did so in Man's Search for Meaning. The book is divided roughly in half: in the first, he tells his own story, and in the second, he expounds upon the therapeutic technique he used to make it through, which he calls logotherapy. Essentially, logotherapy consists of finding meaning in one's life, no matter how meaningless it might seem.

Like most Holocaust memoirs, this is difficult to read. Frankl's pre-existing training in psychology is obvious, as he breaks down the ways in which people were psychologically broken upon entering the camps. The procedures used by the Nazis to strip their prisoners of their humanity, their sense of personal dignity and purpose, were brutal and effective. And then, of course, there were the actual physical dangers of the camps: starvation and overwork, which took away strength and energy. For those that did manage to survive, their liberation was not the end of their story. They had to go on to live in the world, and Frankl also talks about the difficulties of re-adjusting to life on the outside.

While not "enjoyable" per se, the portion of the book concerned with Frankl's own experiences is the most compelling and powerful. The actual detailing of logotherpy in the back half of the book feels almost superfluous, because it's both described and demonstrated in how he used it to survive. The more it's described, honestly, the less impact it boils down essentially to the power of positive thinking, to refusing to succumb to the darkness. While it clearly was tremendously important to Frankl, and has surely been helpful to others in their own struggles, it's not all that interesting or novel to read about. If you're looking for a Holocaust memoir with unique psychological insight, this is something you'll really get a lot out of. Just...skip the part at the end with all the psychobabble.

One year ago, I was reading: The Good Soldier

Two years ago, I was reading: Seeing

Three years ago, I was reading: Juliet Naked

Four years ago, I was reading: Valley of the Dolls

Five years ago, I was reading: The Other Side of the River

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