Book Review: Man’s Search for Meaning

In the last two days I read “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Viktor E. Frankl — an Aushchwitz survivor. It’s only about 160 pages long, but it’s the single most important book that everyone should read.

Frankl wrote this book a year after being released from Auschwitz, the Nazi concentration camp during World War II. The first half of the book recounts his experiences while in camp. Frankl doesn’t do this to display the atrocities of the camps, but to to support his method of psychotherapy called Logotherapy, a technique that essentially results in the patient/person taking control of their situation as opposed to being told how they feel (like in Freudian or Adlerian psychoanalysis). The second half is an essay explaining the utility of Logotherapy, but is actually “the life lesson” section.

I suggest reading the 2006 version as it includes an additional forward and afterword to go along with Frankl’s preface and postscript (which he wrote decades after the original book). On the second page of Harold S. Kushner’s forward is a summary of one of the most poignant concepts of the book:

“Forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation. You cannot control what happens to you in life, but you can always control what you will feel and do about what happens to you.”

–pg X


The other important concept is helping people discover the meaning of their life; Logotherapy essentially puts meaning to people’s suffering. While Frankl had developed Logotherapy in theory and practice before the war, Auschwitz helped him learn the final method of discovering the meaning of life. 

“According to logotherapy, we can discover this meaning in life in three different ways: 1) by creating work or doing a deed; 2) by experiencing something or encountering someone (love of experience or a person); 3) by the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering.”

–pg 111

The parenthesis are mine (he explains each point detail in the pages after). People who are void of these things are in an “existential vacuum”, a term essentially meaning they lack meaning in their present life.

One of the biggest lessons from Frankl is that the meaning of life is relative to the time and situation you’re in. It changes! That concept never occurred to me as Western, or maybe even American, society is always pushed towards having a singular purpose. In Auschwitz, Frankl survived at different times by thinking of his wife or feeling the need to re-write his Logotherapy manuscript after the war. Later in life he did not suffer and his continued work on Logotherapy became his meaning.

What a person is experiencing will dictate what they consider their “meaning”, but it’s up to them to restructure their thoughts to provide meaning to that situation. Logotherapy is like Gandalf: it just gives them a push in the direction of figuring it out on their own.

And so Frankl provides purpose to people. Many argue that man is just a function of their heredity, biology, and environment (Frankl even points this out about Freud, who Frankl interacted with and learned from before the war, and says something along the lines of, “Thank God Freud didn’t see the concentration camps from the inside!”). Logotherapy reminds me a bit of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) in that it creates healing through re-structuring a person’s mindset. But while CBT is systematic with a possibly dogmatic approach, Logotherapy merely gives a man perspective…the kind that says, “This is up to you.”

“Man is not fully conditioned and determined but rather determines himself whether he gives in to conditions or stands up to them. In other words, man is ultimately self-determining. Man does not simply exist but always decides what his existence will be, what he will become in the next moment.”

–pg 131


In a society where personal responsibility seems to ebb away daily, Frankl states that man inherently has responsibility for his actions. The world may not be black and white, good and evil, yet man can make a decision on how black or white his next act will be. Man has the ability to provide meaning to his existential vacuum through work, love, or courage. And when a man lacks the gumption to define that for himself, Logotherapy is there to give him a nudge in the right direction.

Read this book. It may be the difference between plodding aimlessly through life as a neurotic or embracing purpose, a meaning.

I give this book a 10/10 rating. 


Book Review, “Fevre Dream”

Fevre Dream
by George R.R. Martin

An Australian friend gave me this book after a night of discussing our favorite literature. He told me, “I read this before ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’, so I never thought of Martin as a fantasy writer.” I hate spoilers and giving away major plot points before, yet the first paragraph of the book description (published by Fantasy Masterworks) is subtle enough, and the most I’m comfortable with sharing:

The Fevre Dream was one of the finest steamboats ever built, the pride of its captain, Abner Marsh. But as it sails the length of the river, the rumours begin about Marsh’s enigmatic partner, Joshua York. He eats only at midnight, and in the company of friends who are never seen during the daylight hous; and a trail of terrible deeds along the shores follows in the Fevre Dream’s wake.

Fevre Dream is an outstanding exposition of Martin’s pure writing ability. One critique of the ASoIaF series could be that Martin seems to let the grandiose-ness of the story get in the way of telling it; there are so many plots and story lines. Fevre Dream has a controlled story line that is told from the third person, yet the perspective of only two different characters. There is a dash of specific language change based on which character is the focus, but not as intimate as in the ASoIaF series. The book is about 350 pages, so about a third of what his average book length is in ASoIaF.

The result is a beautifully painted story full of historical accuracy, beautiful scenery, compelling characters, and, of course, exquisite food. The setting of the story is on the United States mid-western river systems in the 1700s. I don’t know anything about steam boating, but it sure seems like Martin does after reading his detailed accounts of shipments, crew, and names. Martin doesn’t drone about these topics, but interweaves them seamlessly into the story. Martin’s strength has always been his style; the voice and flow will go down as some of the best in American literary history. Martin paints beautiful scenes, whether it’s the twilight warmth floating down a river or the inevitable pungent stink associated with New Orleans sewers and morals. Compared to ASoIaF, there are only a few characters, yet their personalities are vibrant, real, and speak out to us. Every action they conduct fits the form of what Martin has built in our mind. And the food! My gods, the food! Take one look at a picture of Martin and you know that he is a fan of luxurious dishes, and Abner Marsh in Fevre Dream does not disappoint:

There was turtle soup and lobster salad, stuffed crabs and larded sweetbreads, oyster pie and mutton chops, terrapin, pan-fried chicken, turnips and stuffed peppers, roast beef and breaded veal cutlets, Irish potatoes and green corn and carrots and artichokes and snap beans, a profusion of rolls and breads, wine and sprits from the bar and fresh milk in from the city, plates of new-churned butter, and for dessert plum pudding and lemon pie and floating islands and sponge cake and chocolate sauce.

I don’t show you this quote just to give you an idea of the food, but also Martin’s presentation. The entire description is one sentence in order to overwhelm us in the same way that we would be overwhelmed if we were sitting at that table. He’s good, that Martin, damned good.

Make no mistakes, this book is a classical horror novel. However, instead of just shock value — and there is some — it approaches the story almost like a science fiction novel. Moral questions are posed, whether to the characters or rhetorically. We learn, once again in a Martin story, that the world is not black and white, good and evil. We all sift through the gray, making our choices along the way.

My suggestion to you is that if you love quality writing, a compelling plot, and beautifully descriptions, then let George R.R. Martin give you a ride on the Fevre Dream. You’ll never forget it.

I give this book five stars.

Book Review, “Fixing Your Feet”

“Fixing Your Feet, 5th Ed.”
by John Vonhof

I bought this book because I read how it was a pretty good guide to preventing and treating foot problems associated with rucking. However, the book is mostly directed at adventure racers and at least 90% of the examples are from that population. At first inspection, the book appears to be chock full of information; it’s almost overwhelming. Yet each section by itself is pretty underwhelming.

While there are some pictures, the book would benefit for a more expansive collection of diagrams or pictures. Instead of telling me, in a very confusing way, how to tape an ankle, show the step-by-step procedure in doing so. I noticed this irritation in several chapters. I’m no expert in writing “how to” books, but there is a vast majority of people (especially in today’s society) that are visual learners. At the very least, explanatory diagrams and pictures will reinforce what the text has already said.

Another reason I got this book was because it advertised the fact that it included information relevant to soldiers, a population that I have been working with a lot in the past 18 months. There weren’t any relevant and specific references to soldiers, and the information presented is often contradictory with what most soldiers practice and implement. Sure, lancing a bad blister is going to be the same wherever you go, but a high speed, ruck carrying shooter is going to develop his feet differently than an ultra marathoner. For example, I don’t know of any soldier that ever put a premium on keeping his feet “soft and supple”, going so far as to place the feet in ziploc bags with lotion or wearing socks over lotioned feet over night. There was another example of some guys beginning a hike with 50 pound packs on. Once they got to 20 miles, they were so broken that it took them several days to hobble back to the starting point. This is a stark contrast to soldiers who walk that distance in a day with much heavier loads (and get up to do it again the next day). I guess I wouldn’t get along with adventure racers.

The injury chapters are sprinkled with some gems, but overall the rehabilitation recommendations are weak. That might be something I notice more because of my background, but I was still disappointed. A lot of the structural problems that runners face could be reduced in severity by strengthening the feet and appropriately doing mobility work. This book, by the way, is void of any special mobility work like soft tissue (other than using a tennis ball on the arch) or joint approximation (though it does recommend the standard achilles stretch that has been around since 1920 or so). Oh, and I definitely vomited in the foot anatomy chapter when there weren’t any pictures of the muscles after the author spent the time to list them out.

Despite my misgivings, this book does provide some good information (though it’s not exactly monumental). The most important concept is that friction, heat, and moisture usually cause foot problems in races, hikes, or movements, so your equipment and preparation should account for these things. The tri-fecta of prevention are socks, powders, and lubricants. Other things like foot antiperspirants, sock changes, skin adherents/taping, and nutrition are mentioned, but they won’t be worth much if the basics aren’t properly controlled. I learned some other things, like how to properly fit for shoes, how to tape the feet, what gaiters are, and how to care for hot spots and blisters. Again, none of this information was monumental, but it was all in one source.

My friends make fun of me because I’m an elitist about things; I am. I don’t want to drink shitty coffee, beer, or wine, and I expect the best out of people and things, especially when they are labeled as the best. “Fixing Your Feet” is the best out there, it just left me wanting more given that it didn’t provide any extraordinary information and wasn’t relevant to the population I was interested in. Nevertheless, it’s a comprehensive source for foot care, and a beginner will be able to pick the book up and learn most of what they need to know.

I give it 3.5 stars.