Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Book Review: Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl

Before starting this book, I thought the book would be another story how author suffered through holocaust and concentration camp. I don’t mean that story of somebody’s suffering is not worth reading, but it is not a read which leaves you with nice feeling during and after the end. But I was in for a surprise this time. Firstly only the book’s first half deals with the story of concentration camp and other half is about author’s psychological theory hence derived. Secondly, even in the first half the author just does not give a simple account of what happened but a psychological analysis of the people, system and the events which was very interesting.


There are quite a few amazing tidbits I found in the story about concentration camp. The author tells how certain jews were selected to do most of the administrative and controlling work in concentration camps and those jews were more cruel, apathetic and sadistic then the officials themselves. There is an account where the author tells that prisoners could buy few things from the money they got from doing certain laborious jobs. Most of them chose to buy bread from that money to stay fit because unfit people were not sent to gas chambers. The moment anybody has given up hope on surviving, he would be buying cigarettes from the same money and instead enjoy the short-term pleasure of smoking. Here author built up the preface that those who had a “why” to live found their “how” to live and anybody who wasn’t able to find meaning to this suffering just gave up.

It is interesting to note that Viktor Frankl has been one of the first credible counter-voices to Freudian psychology. Before Frankl Freud was psychology and psychology was Freud. But Frankl has given two strong arguments against two of the theories of Freud. First theory that he disregarded is that the man is the product of its environment and it has scarce control over what he becomes. Frankl quotes one of the statements of Freud that all the men might look different but keep them hungry and you will see that they all are one and the same. But Frankl goes on to explain that still in that situation man has control over its actions as seen by him closely during his camp years. There were saints, crooks, pessimists and optimists amongst inmates who acted very differently. The second theory of Frankl that the Man is in search of meaning and that meaning gives him happiness. This is in contrary to the belief of Freudian school of thoughts which focused on past to search for reason for unhappiness and Frankl sees the answer of happiness in future. Overall it’s a must read. I will recommend it to anybody and everybody.