Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Man's Search for Meaning

Author: Viktor E. Frankl

Published: 1946

What They Say: 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.

This is a fascinating, sophisticated and very human book. At times, Frankl's personal and professional discourses merge into a style of tremendous power.

What Elaine Says: This is one of the most moving and compelling books I have ever read.  Frankl was a psychiatrist that was imprisoned in Auschwitz, Dachau and other concentration camps during the Second World War.

The first (and largest) part of the book is given over to Frankl's account of his time in the concentration camps.  Of course being a psychiatrist, Frankl offers a unique insight into how people did (or didn't) survive in those, most extreme, of circumstances.  This section is deeply moving, and at times, uncomfortable reading but Frankl's optimism means it's also incredibly uplifting in parts. To quote Frankl himself:

“As a professor in two fields, neurology and psychiatry, I am fully aware of the extent to which man is subject to biological, psychological and sociological conditions. But in addition to being a professor in two fields I am a survivor of four camps - concentration camps, that is - and as such I also bear witness to the unexpected extent to which man is capable of defying and braving even the worst conditions conceivable.”

The insights offered by Frankl in this book are truly inspiring and while it will sound cliched, I must say that this has touched me to the core and restored some of my faith in humankind. Not only has Frankl survived hell, yet still sees the beauty in humanity, he convinces us that we can too:

"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."

The second part of the book is completely different.  Called "Logotherapy in a Nutshell, Frankl describes the pyschotherapeutic method he pioneered.  Slightly more 'jargony' and perhaps a little out of date with modern psychiatric thinking it still provides a fascinating insight into this remarkable man and us as human beings. 

I really can't recommend this enough and at just over 150 pages it's not asking too much to listen to what he has to say.

Elaine's Rating: 10/10

"On the average, only those prisoners could keep alive who, after years of trekking from camp to camp,had lost all scruples in their fight for existence; they were prepared yo use every means, honest and otherwise, even brutal force, theft, and betrayal of our friends in order to save themselves. We who have come back, back by the aid of many lucky chances or miracles - whatever one may call them - we know: the best of us did not return."

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