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Book Club: Man’s Search for Meaning

by Viktor E Frankl

Unfortunately, there may be no better way to truly understand the depths of human nature than by witnessing first hand such a profound and unimaginable darkness as a Nazi concentration camp. The singularly harrowing experience is the subject of Man’s Search for Meaning, an old but timeless book dating back to 1946, authored by Viktor Frankl (1905-1997) who chronicles his own experience as a prisoner during World War II. 

While it’s not the easiest topic to read about — difficult to stomach and deeply affecting — the value and meaning of Man’s Search for Meaning cannot be overstated. Particularly in a year that has thrown an existential challenge at communities around the world, toppling our idea of security and disrupting the typical flow of daily life, the book is an important allegorical lesson on the remarkably valuable psychological tool of reframing, and the push to pursue a truly individualised meaning of life.

Because essentially, that is the legacy Frankl has left with this brutally honest yet artfully detailed book. It’s a testament to how powerful a sense of purpose and pursuing the true, and truly unique, meaning of life can be for someone no matter their circumstance. There’s little wonder as to why a 1991 reader survey for the Library of Congress, that asked readers to name a book that made a difference in their life, found that Man’s Search for Meaning ranked among the ten most influential books in America.

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Within the brisk 200-page book is Frankl’s psychotherapeutic method for identifying a purpose in life to feel positive about, and the sheer power and strength instilled by immersively imagining that outcome. Even just reading how he made it through each day is enough to genuinely inspire, no matter the arduous road you’re on, or the tribulations threatening to weigh you down.

As a highly regarded neurologist and psychiatrist, Frankl’s basis for what he calls logotherapy is detailed in the book, recounting exactly how his highly influential psychological construct came to be in the face of disbelief, apathy and bitterness. As prisoners, those in the camp were forced to concentrate on their “inner lives”, and for Frankl this meant distilling all he saw into a thorough examination of human nature.

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Logotherapy, which aims to help people find meaning in their life — entirely as a function of their own individual circumstances — is a way to combat a persisting existential vacuum, which may arise at a troubling time in someone’s own life. Importantly, it isn’t just about discovering and manifesting a purpose, but recognising that how we act and the responsibility we feel towards our choices determines our meaning. 

Perhaps the crux of Man’s Search For Meaning is the message that we can all manage our fears by actively pursuing them, because through adversity comes a deeper level of introspection, which can lead to individuals finding their meaning of life, whether that’s on a small or large scale. Our ability to recognise this meaning can very often spell the difference between success — or sometimes, survival — and setback.


Words and photographs by Joe Vuong. 

View more articles from the Book Club series here.

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