Vik­tor Fran­kl: A Life Worth Living

Anna Red­sand
  • Review
By – April 2, 2012
For those curi­ous about the man behind the famous book Man’s Search for Mean­ing, this sol­id, seri­ous biog­ra­phy chron­i­cles an inspir­ing life. Aus­tri­an Jew, Vik­tor Fran­kl, was a prac­tic­ing psy­chi­a­trist and cre­ator of logother­a­py. His new treat­ment dif­fered from Sig­mund Freud’s and Alfred Adler’s, giants who began as his men­tors and end­ed as his angry com­peti­tors. Fran­kl spent two and a half years in four con­cen­tra­tion camps dur­ing the Holo­caust. He believed peo­ple could exist on their inner strength. Using his pre­vi­ous expe­ri­ence doc­tor­ing sui­cide patients, he helped many fel­low inmates sur­vive. Upon lib­er­a­tion, he wrote one of the first camp exposés, Man’s Search for Mean­ing, one of the ten most influ­en­tial books in Amer­i­ca, accord­ing to the Library of Con­gress. More than a per­son­al sto­ry, Fran­kl ana­lyzed the sit­u­a­tion as a psy­chi­a­trist con­nect­ing it to his logother­a­py, which finds mean­ing in action, cre­ation, and suf­fer­ing. Fran­kl, a prankster as a child, grew into a man with a flair for risk; his favorite activ­i­ties includ­ed brain surgery, moun­tain climb­ing and casi­no gam­bling. The vol­ume chrono­log­i­cal­ly unfolds his life, often mak­ing par­al­lels with Adolf Hitler who once lived near the Fran­kl home in Vien­na. Mar­velous fam­i­ly por­traits and won­der­ful old post­cards of Vien­na set the scene and recap­ture the era. Warm moments dis­cuss Frankl’s fam­i­ly life, his two mar­riages and one daugh­ter. If only title and chap­ter fonts had fol­lowed suit; they are fre­net­ic, slant­ed and tacky. These are small quib­bles in a well writ­ten book that, though text book­ish, over­flows with clear­ly explained infor­ma­tion about heavy top­ics: com­pet­ing psy­chi­atric the­o­ries, dis­ci­pline of logother­a­py, Nazi rise to pow­er and tar­get­ed destruc­tion of Jews. For ages 12 and up.

Ellen G. Cole, a retired librar­i­an of the Levine Library of Tem­ple Isa­iah in Los Ange­les, is a past judge of the Syd­ney Tay­lor Book Awards and a past chair­per­son of that com­mit­tee. She is a co-author of the AJL guide, Excel­lence in Jew­ish Children’s Lit­er­a­ture. Ellen is the recip­i­ent of two major awards for con­tri­bu­tion to Juda­ic Librar­i­an­ship, the Fan­ny Gold­stein Mer­it Award from the Asso­ci­a­tion of Jew­ish Libraries and the Dorothy Schroed­er Award from the Asso­ci­a­tion of Jew­ish Libraries of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia. She is on the board of AJLSC.

Discussion Questions