Book Review: The Search for Meaning

This past week I went airplane mode and read Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. The book is relevant, powerful, dark and inspiring look at how life in a concentration camp affects the psychology of its inhabitants — prisoners, capos, and wardens:

The following are five (of many) passages and quotes that I found meaningful.

I. Choice

“Everything can be taken from man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

-Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning, p.66

II. Saint or Swine? 

“Human being is not one thing among others; things determine each other, but man is ultimately self-determining. What he becomes — within the limits of endowment and environment — he has made out of himself. 

In the concentration camps, for example, in this living laboratory and on this testing ground, we watched and witnessed some of our comrades behave like swine while others behaved like saints.

Man has both potentialities within himself; which one is actualized depends on decisions but not on conditions.”

-Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning, p.134
(emphasis mine)

III. Means vs Meaning and Success

“People have enough to live by but nothing to live for; they have the means but no meaning.”

The demographic of the population being attacked for their privilege and ‘ease of success’ in society at the moment, middle-aged white males, have the highest suicide rate in the United States. From the outside, this appears as Means, but no Meaning. A topic I’ll discuss more at the blog.

It is up to each individual person to apply their own unique meaning to life. Without it, we risk falling into the existential void of meaninglessness. This is the void that is often filled with drugs, alcohol, escapism; Conforming to how others are living their lives, or seeking the totalitarian who will tell us what to do.

IV. Why > How

Nietzche: “He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how.

Frankl states that the Why, a meaning, is what separated those who lived and those who died in concentration camps. Of course, this is of the people who survived the many selection processes — be used for work, or be turned to ash.

Frankl: “it did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us.”

To believe life is supposed to give us something is a mistake. Life will present a tragedy, and it is on us to rise to the occasion, expand into the discomfort, and harness our why to live beyond.

V. The Imperative

“Live as if you were living for the second time and had acted as wrongly the first time as you are about to act now.” 


If you have read the book, what passages made you think, feel or act something new?

Leave a Reply