READ THIS: Review of Man’s Search for Meaning, by Viktor Frankl

In Education, Popular Book Reviews, Resources by Courtney Archer2 Comments

Read this review of Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl to find out why millions of copies have been sold and how it might be helpful to you.

Man’s Search for Meaning, by Viktor Frankl, is a book about a man who was deeply interested in how people find meaning. It is his written account of his experiences in Nazi concentration camps during the 1940s and what he learned from them.

Viktor Frankl was born in 1905–early enough that he was already a well-established psychiatrist before he and his family were arrested for being Jewish in 1942 Austria. He lost his wife and parents to the concentration camps, although he did not learn of his wife’s death until after he was freed in 1945.

He wrote Man’s Search for Meaning that same year, over the course of nine days. The book is the final version of a manuscript Frankl had ready to publish before he was arrested. The original was lost but the idea of rewriting it kept Frankl going through some of his most difficult times.

review for Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl

Review of Man’s Search for Meaning, by Viktor Frankl


Man’s Search for Meaning is often found in the library or bookstore’s self-help section, but it is not so much a self-help book as it is a collection of experiences and observations. That being said, it has helped millions of people to better understand how to find meaning.

Man’s Search for Meaning is split into two parts. The first is an account of Viktor Frankl’s experience in Nazi concentration camps. He writes of the many desperate and horrific things he endured, and how his understanding of the world shaped them and them it.

The second part of the book is a formal outline of Viktor Frankl’s understanding of the world, which he titled Logotherapy. While the first part can be more gripping and quickly read, the second requires slowing down to grasp the impact of his theory.

Logotherapy operates on the assumption that human’s primary motivation is to find meaning. In contrast, Freud argued that human’s primary motivation is for pleasure, and Adler argued that human’s primary motivation is to overcome inferiority.

These three assumptions guided the early field of psychology, inspiring many theories to follow. However, Freud is the most well-known followed by Adler, and Frankl’s logotherapy is often the least studied.

Man’s Search for Meaning is a good introduction to logotherapy, but it is not just for therapists or mental health professionals. The first part gives it a relatable human element and the second provides a solid breakdown of the lessons Frankl learned from his experiences and studies. Both parts are of value.

Quote selected for this review for Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl.

Things that Resonated With Me

I am not sure if it is possible to read Man’s Search for Meaning without finding at least a few things that resonate with them. For me, there were many.

While most of us have not suffered to the degree of a person who lived through a Nazi concentration camp, we have all suffered. Frankl’s account of his experiences in the first part of his book is a reminder that suffering is universal. It is also a reminder of resiliency and of human beings’ ability to survive and overcome devastating circumstances.

Many of the quotes that I underlined and have kept thinking about are from the second half of the book. Frankl’s discourse on logotherapy is dense, and it is easy to start skimming and miss out on fundamental ideas and principles.

That is what I found myself doing the first time I read Man’s Search for Meaning. I was a few pages into the second half of the book before I realized I had not comprehended any of it. Tempted to keep scanning rather than put in the effort required to understand, I am grateful that I chose instead to go back and slow down.

Specific Quotes I Loved

Rather than quoting the whole book (because I expect you to read it, and also because plagiarism) I have selected a few specific quotes that I truly love. My goal is to give you a taste of the depth and nuance of Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning.

The first quote I marked (in the Beacon Press 2006 Edition) is:

“Everyone has his own specific Vocation or mission in life to carry out a concrete assignment which demands fulfillment. Therein he cannot be replaced nor can his life be repeated.” (P. 109).

Many people feel that there must be something important for them to be doing. Otherwise, why would there be so much discontent over failed expectations and lost potential? People do better and feel happier when there is something they are working toward, something that they feel compelled to achieve.

Another quote that stuck with me is:

“We must never forget that we may also find meaning in life even when confronted with a hopeless situation, when facing a fate that cannot be changed.

“For what then matters is to bear witness to the uniquely human potential at its best, which is to transform a personal tragedy into a tirumph, to turn one’s predicament into a human achievement.

“When we are no longer able to change a situation–just think of an incurable disease such as inoperable cancer–we are challenged to change ourselves.” (P. 112).

There is beauty in that, in the prospect of being able to change ourselves when there is nothing else that can be changed. To choose acceptance over struggle, bravery over despair, compassion over criticism. We have the power to choose who we will be, even if there is nothing else to choose or change.

Another quote that goes along those lines is:

“Man is capable of changing the world for the better if possible, and of changing himself for the better if necessary.” (P. 131).

Change is not necessary. The goal is not to convince everyone that they are inadequate or incomplete somehow. Rather, the goal is to offer change as a solution for difficult and insurmountable challenges. Doing things the same way you always have will leave you with the same problems you have always had.

On a different note, another of the quotes I find myself thinking about often is:

“Freedom, however, is not the last word. Freedom is only part of the story and half of the truth. Freedom is but the negative aspect of the whole phenomenon whose positive aspect is responsibleness.

“In fact, freedom is in danger of degenerating into mere arbitrariness unless it is lived in terms of responsibleness. That is why I recommend that the Statue of Liberty on the East Coast be supplemented by a Statue of Responsibility on the West Coast.” (P. 132).

While this quote is a bit different than the previous ones mentioned, they all connect. Freedom and responsibility are two sides of the same coin, and meaningless without each other.

When we pursue freedom at the risk of responsibility, we lose morality. When we pursue responsibility at the risk of freedom, we lose agency. Both are necessary for life to hold meaning.

If I listed all the quotes I love you would be here for hours. In the interest of brevity, the last quote (and the one I think the most about) 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 or the Shema Yisrael on his lips.” (P. 134).

We are all capable of both. It is a weighty knowledge to carry, but also a freeing one in a way because it all comes down to awareness and choice. When we are aware of who we are, it frees us to become who we wish to be.

Quote selected for this review for Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl.


The only critique I can think of for Man’s Search for Meaning is that I wish there was some sort of preface to the second half of the book. Maybe most people are not like me and will not start scanning at the sight of philosophical and psychological jargon, but I sure did.

I worry that the importance of the second half of the book is too easily lost in the difficulty some might find in reading it.

That is my critique–I wish there were some sort of “slow down” guidance to help people realize that the second part does not read like the first part and that they need to slow down to understand it. But then, that might stop people from reading it at all and that would be a true tragedy.

Who Should Read Man’s Search for Meaning

In case my review for Man’s Search for Meaning has not already made my opinion clear, I think everyone should read it. The only people it might not be suitable for is young children because reading about Nazi concentration camps is pretty heavy stuff. However, I truly think Man’s Search for Meaning would benefit pretty much everyone adolescent-aged/developed and up.

With adolescent-aged/developed children, it might be helpful to read the book alongside them to help them process the contents. Man’s Search for Meaning addresses some difficult topics. However, that does not mean it should not be read.

If you are struggling through trying circumstances or a lack of meaning, I cannot recommend Man’s Search for Meaning highly enough. It is not going to give you all your answers, but it will better equip you to find the answers you are seeking.

Quote selected for this review for Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl.

In Conclusion

Man’s Search for Meaning is not a long book, and the majority of it reads almost like a novel. It tells the true, autobiographical story of a man whose life pursuit of how people find meaning carried him through the loss of his family and freedom.

If I could recommend just one book that I think everyone should read, this would be it. Read it, ponder it, apply it, and share it with your friends.

Quote selected for this review for Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl.

Want to keep reading? Recommended articles below:

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  1. What do you think Frankl was getting at with the last lines of the book: “So, let us be alert — alert in a twofold sense: Since Auschwitz we know what man is capable of. And since Hiroshima we know what is at stake.” I wish I could have asked him. Maybe others did and I would love to hear his response.

    As the son of a man who was training for the invasion of Japan in 1945, I have a different perspective on the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki than most others. I do not view those bombings as the looming specter of nuclear holocaust but as the saving of millions of lives (Japanese and American) at the expense of tens of thousands of Japanese. I might not be there had we chosen the invasion route, for perhaps my father would have been one of the casualties of the invasion.

    1. Author

      To me, that line reads something to the effect of: we know that man is capable of causing great suffering, and that tens of thousands of lives can be lost as the result of one decision. This is putting it pretty simplistically, and I read it more as sage wisdom than literal truth, because you are right–we don’t know how many lives were also saved because of that decision. A professor I knew once spoke to how humanity tends to ask the question of “can we” rather than “should we”, and I believe this quote invites us to spend a little more time with “should we”. We may still arrive at the same conclusion, but perhaps take it less lightly.

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