Man's Search for Meaning

Viktor E. Frankl

Book cover

I would recommend this book to almost anyone. It is short, engaging, and accessible. I was interested to read that it was quite popular in mid-century America, being voted as one of the top 10 (actually 13) most influential books in the United States in a 1991 Library of Congress survey. I had never heard of it until this year, and my impression is that my generation is almost totally unaware of it.

The book is mostly about Frankl’s experiences in Nazi concentration camps, but really, it is a more general book about responding to adversity. The way I found out about it was by reading mention of it in a survey article about “happiness research,” referring to it as an alternative perspective to that which emphasizes maximizing individual happiness. Frankl’s approach emphasizing instead finding those things that make life meaningful (as the title might suggest). His perspective has a lot in common with the classical Stoics, placing less emphasis on the types of experiences one can or should seek out, and more on the way that one responds to the circumstances that come about in one’s life. It also, I think, has something in common with the “virtue ethics” school of thought. One of the most memorable parts for me was a passage where he talks about living your life as though you had already lived it and made your choice, but had been given the chance to do it over again. To me this focuses one’s attention on what one’s actions say about one’s character. Not incidentally, Frankl’s book is also a good primer for the virtue ethics adherent, since that school places value on reading about how people have dealt with challenging situations in the past.

My Goodreads rating: 4 stars