Most of the books in my top ten are ones I read years ago and have stuck with me ever since. This is probably the one I read most recently and it totally blew me away. In other words, one year ago this book would not have been in my top 100 and today it is #7!
A few days after finishing it, a long-time friend of mine who I rarely see texted me, asking what the meaning of life is. We spent most of the afternoon texting back and forth, discussing meaning and purpose, God and life. That night I settled in to read this book and nearly every page seemed incredibly pertinent to my friend. I was taking photos of pages and sending them to him. He’s not much a reader (though in case he stumbles to this site and this review, hey buddy!), but I could see him getting into this book.
Frankl survived the Nazi concentration camps and his experiences there form the first 2/3 of the book. Building on this, he discusses how having something to live for, a meaning, is what enables humans to survive the worst of suffering. Even if you have not experienced much suffering, having something to live for is essential. Frankl is not too concerned with what that meaning is exactly, just the realization that a life without meaning is miserable.
Reading this as a person of the Christian faith, I of course affirm the need for meaning and I have beliefs about where this meaning lies. But even if you’re not a person of faith, or you’re not sure, Frankl’s book is worth your time.
I’d love to offer some quotes but there are so many good ones; here’s how he ends the book, nothing humanity is capable of great beauty and great evil:
“A 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. Our generation is realistic, for we have come to know man as he really is. After all, man is that being who invented the gas chambers of Auschwitz; however, he is also that being who entered those gas chambers upright,, with the Lord’s Prayer of the Shema Yisrael on his lips”