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Book Review: Man’s Search For Ultimate Meaning by Viktor Frankl

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Before you even ask, I don't know the meaning of your life even after finishing Man's Search for Ultimate Meaning.  That being said, Viktor Frankl's book is a fascinating mix of psychiatric and scientific jargon along with enjoyable stories and illustrations.  But I would have preferred if the book didn't divide us right off the bat.  Aren't women also allowed to search for ultimate meaning?

It's worth noting that Mr. Frankl survived time in Auschwitz.  He wrote a very popular book on that experience, titled Man's Search For Meaning.  He does spend some time describing how the Holocaust made a small percentage of survivors turn to atheism.

The book spends a great deal of time juxtaposing religion and psychiatry.  Mr. Frankl believes that these are two public examples of people searching for or struggling with the meaning of life.  The main message, which I found compelling, was that the search for the meaning of life is personal.  Related to that, I believe that he was suggesting that to endeavor to explain it to anyone else is fruitless. 

If it can be reasoned and explained logically, I have gotten off track.  I buy into this because I feel the meaning of life, I don't think it.

The book is, at times, VERY hard to follow for someone like me who doesn't have a science background.  However, frequently, Mr. Frankl came to my rescue by including a meaningful and understandable restatement of what he was trying to convey.

A few of the home runs:

  • He described the fruitless pursuit of endeavoring to explain "nonrational intuition" by relating it to an artist:

    "Artistic creation emerges out of recesses in a realm that can never be fully illuminated.  We clinicians observe time and again that excessive reflection on the creative process proves to be harmful.  Forced self-observation may become a severe handicap to the creativity of the artist."

  • Referring to the power of feelings:  "Feelings can be much more sensitive than reason can ever be sensible."  I've contemplated this very dynamic before and have never read it or heard it encapsulated more beautifully and succinctly.
  • Regarding each person's success in finding meaning in life:  "There is no doubt that meaning must be found and cannot be given.  Least of all can it be given by psychiatrists."  When I read this I mentally added "or priests" at the end of that. 

    Related to that, Mr. Frankl states later when he states that belief in God simply cannot be commanded.  I can't order someone to really laugh, I have to tell them a joke.  Similarly, a priest can't tell me to believe — he has to live out the life in which he's suggesting I believe , which when analyzed suggests that he should be doing exactly the opposite of what he does in religion.

  • One last item:  "Despair is suffering without meaning."  This quote was nestled into a few pages where I was lost.  But the quote still managed to go right to my heart.

If you can deal with the sometimes long-winded trips into the world of therapy and therapists the book is super.  And just like finding meaning, the understanding and enjoyment of this book is totally personal.

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  • http://bacalar.blogspot.com Howard Dratch

    When I was a therapist and lived in the world of therapy (and insanity), I readily understood, read and, even, enhoyed Dr. Frankl.

    I am not so sure how I would feed about him now but perhaps it is time to try. He was of that generation modern enough to still be, insightful and still classically academic on occasion.

    His books are readable albeit with thought and feelings engaged. Good reminder or suggestion of a book that can open doors to thought and feeling.

  • http://ttblogs.typepad.com/ Tim Taylor

    Thank you for your comment feels inadequate. Maybe thank you for your honesty and expression.

    I thought about your comments for a while and came to a conclusion. I think it would be great if somehow I could go bowling with Dr. Frankl and Charlie Brown, I think it would be great because it would force Dr. Frankl (interesting how I picked up the Dr. thing and won’t let it go now…) to speak at a level that is conversational and understandable and that’s when he was at his best for me in this book.

    I bet if I were a therapist it would be hard for me to read it without evaluating the approach and its validity as a therapist and ultimately taking a “side”.

    I’d love to hear what you think if you do read it.

    Tim