Man’s Search for Meaning – by Viktor E. Frankl

How do you review a non-fiction classic that generations of students and scholars have read, reread, studied and critiqued? Perhaps by looking at what it still says to us in times of individual and societal crises.

Writing in 1946 following his liberation, Frankl begins with a personal account of his struggle to survive a series of Nazi concentration camps. Throughout his imprisonment he sought to understand why some prisoners survived horrific physical and emotional deprivations while others perished. In doing so, he drew on his earlier experience as a renowned therapist and protégé of Sigmund Freud and Alfred Adler.

His conclusion was that our ability to find a purpose in life and envision our future is what keeps us going. For Frankl, that purpose included the publication of a book he’d begun writing prior to his arrest and his dream of reuniting with his family. Sadly, he lost the original manuscript at Auschwitz and later discovered that his wife, brother and parents had all been murdered.

With the support of friends and colleagues however, Frankl rewrote his book and went on to establish the practice of Logotherapy, referred to as the “Third School of Viennese Psychotherapy.”

The meaning Frankl refers to in his latter chapters is not a universal one. It is intensely personal and unique to each of us. Nor is it unchanging. We must seek it in each moment of life. It is that spark that helps us find value even in the worst suffering. “Everything,” says Frankl, “can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms-to choose one’s attitude in any set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

Despite its unflinching descriptions of torture and mass murder, Frankl’s message is one of hope for all of us. Given the depth of the subject matter, what surprised me most about Man’s Search for Meaning was the clarity of its prose. The moment I finished it my first instinct was to reread it immediately.