IN LIFE BIBLIOGRAPHY
2011 by James Leonard Park
A few books on the quest
for meaning in life,
selected and reviewed by James Park,
arranged in general order of quality, beginning with the best.
Comments in red are the evaluations and opinions of this reviewer.
1. Viktor Frankl
Man's Search for Meaning:
An Introduction to Logotherapy
(Boston, MA: Beacon Press,
(ISBN: 0-8070-2918-1; hardback)
(Library of Congress call number: D810.J4F72713 1992)
in 1946 in German.
The original English title was From Death-Camp to Existentialism.
The first half of the book recounts in graphic detail
Frankl's experience of several years in Nazi concentration camps
during the Second World War.
He discovered that even under these extreme circumstances
he could find or create meaning for his life
and for the lives of his fellow prisoners.
his meaning-therapy or logotherapy
during these years of imprisonment.
We can find meaning in:
relationships, religion, & even in suffering.
No matter how terrible our situations,
we always have the freedom to take a stance or an attitude
toward whatever befalls us.
As a therapist Frankl and his followers help clients to find meaning
by reframing their lives and their problems in a larger context.
He does not prescribe any ultimate or absolute meanings in life.
Rather he helps people to make explicit
meanings they already believe.
Frankl has several
other books that explain logotherapy
in much greater detail, but this book offers a good introduction.
It has become his most popular book,
with over 3,000,000 copies printed.
In addition it has been translated into 21 other languages.
2. Viktor E. Frankl
Viktor Frankl Recollections:
1997) 143 pages
(ISBN: 0-306-45410-6; hardcover)
(Library of Congress call number: RC489.L6F698 1997)
slightly different title:
Recollections: An Autobiography
(Perseus Book Group, 2000) 144 pages
(ISBN: 0738203556; paperback)
Translated by Joseph Fabry & Judith Fabry
slim volume contains the whole scope of Viktor Frankl's life
—as told in short sections by Frankl himself.
It does not focus on his concentration-camp experiences,
which are discussed at length in other books.
Much about his family and his life before and after
the years of World War II.
Very readable and interesting.
The meaning of Frankl's life was to help others
to find meaning in their own lives.
3. Joseph B. Fabry
The Pursuit of Meaning:
Viktor Frankl, Logotherapy, and Life
(Berkeley, CA: Institute of
(ISBN: 0-917867-04-1; paperback) 197 pages
(Library of Congress call number: RC489.L6F33 1987)
Joseph Fabry was
and close friend of Viktor Frankl.
This book does not attempt to add anything to what Frankl himself taught.
But it presents Frankl's thought in a format
that makes it easier for all readers to understand.
Frankl wanted to put the
back into psychotherapy.
All human persons seek meaning for their lives.
And each person finds himself in a specific situation,
which provides many possible meanings.
We are free to choose what we will do with our lives.
Some of the new methods
introduced by logotherapy include:
(1) Socratic dialog—bringing out what the client already knows,
(2) Paradoxical intention—getting rid of obsessions by exaggerating them.
(3) Dereflection—breaking out of the cycle of worried thinking.
4. Roy F. Baumeister
Meanings of Life
(New York: Gilford Press,
(ISBN: 0-89862-763-X; hardcover)
(ISBN: 0-89862-531-9; paperback)
(Library of Congress call number: BF778.B32 1991)
This is a book of
rather than psychology or philosophy.
Baumeister seeks to describe how people
actually seek to make their lives meaningful
rather than to explain what he believes the meaning of life to be.
In everyday life people do behave in ways that demonstrate
their basic assumed meanings in life:
work, love, religion, & parenthood.
We human beings are
Our goals usually come from the cultures around us.
And our families or some larger groups
support us in pursuing these meanings.
Meanings in life
seem largely interchangeable.
For example, a woman might pursue work-related goals for a few years
and then shift to become a full-time mother.
If one meaning fails, people frequently turn to another.
If people become disillusioned with one religion, they try another.
We pursue both short-term
goals and longer-term values.
Our short-term projects might be parts of a larger scheme of meaning.
And some people hope for an ultimate meaning in life.
This has often taken some religious form,
such as belief in another life after death.
But Baumeister says that there are no ultimate meanings.
Therefore we must be content with the relative meanings
we can achieve here and now.
In past generations,
honest toil was considered a valid goal in itself.
Now work is more utilitarian: It must at least produce income.
Love, marriage, & family are often proclaimed as meanings in life.
But most people are ultimately disappointed by these purposes.
For example, various studies of happiness
show that parents were happier before they had children
—and after the children leave home.
Nevertheless most people continue to want children
despite the known problems.
the need to believe
and to belong.
Baumeister does not affirm that the metaphysical systems
of the various religions of the world are philosophically true.
But in the lives of real people, they are all psychologically useful.
For all the years of someone's life, a religious faith can give meaning.
In fact, people become the most religious
when the other dimensions of their lives disappoint them.
And when happiness in this earthly life seems impossible,
many religious people hope for life after death,
which will compensate for the sufferings of this life.
Some people need the consolations of religion.
Others find practical meanings and values sufficient.
Some religious and
help people to find meaning even in their suffering.
Even death can be explained as achieving some meaning
within various religious systems.
People need meaning so strongly
that they accept all sorts of fanciful stories concerning death
—as long as these mythologies can make death a source of meaning.
For at least 50,000 years most human beings have believed
in some form of life after death
—in the complete absence of common-sense
or scientific evidence for those beliefs.
Could anything be stronger proof
of the psychological need for ultimate meaning?
People who keep their
comfortable illusions are psychologically happier
than skeptics who question and challenge everything.
Even if their dreams are never realized,
simply having hope keeps them alive and happy.
When an old meaning
(such as a marriage, a career, a political system, or a religious faith),
the person usually turns immediately to some new source of meaning.
And the new dream or new relationship will probably also have
a "honeymoon period" in which everything seems wonderful.
Roy Baumeister endorses
the quest for meaning
even tho he does not believe that human life has any ultimate meaning.
5. Eric Klinger
Meaning and Void:
Inner Experience and the Incentives in People's Lives
(Minneapolis, MN: University of
Press, 1977) 412 pages
(ISBN: 0-8166-0811-3; hardback)
(Library of Congress call number: BF778.K56 1977)
316 the author
explains the thrust of his book:
"This book has focused on the problem of life's meaning
only from the psychological viewpoint:
What are the factors that make life feel meaningful or empty?
It has avoided the philosophical or theological questions
of whether in fact human life as such serves a higher purpose."
Human beings behave
in certain ways because of incentives:
They either want to attain positive emotional states or to avoid misery.
Cultures and sub-cultures can socialize people to value almost anything.
However, after people fulfill a certain value,
they often become bored with that goal
and must move on to something new.
Another way of coping with a miserable life is to escape
—using such methods as television,
alcohol, or other mood-altering drugs.
Some people even kill themselves
because their lives become too terrible and/or meaningless.
Klinger does not
offer any personal or philosophical answers
to the quest for meaning,
but he offers a comprehensive description
of how incentives actually operate in the lives of most people.
6. Thomas H. Naylor, William H. Willimon, & Magdalena R. Naylor
The Search for Meaning
(Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press,
(ISBN: 0-687-02586-9; hardcover)
(Library of Congress call number: BD435.N39 1994)
of an interdisciplinary college seminar
offered by the authors: an international economist,
a college chaplain, & a psychiatrist.
Many of the problems of the world are traced to meaninglessness.
The authors do not offer any easy answers,
but they do offer some advice on organizing
one's life around one's own goals and purposes.
The good life is a slight modification of the middle-class way of life.
Being is better than having.
We can find meaning in love, work, family,
and commitment to purposes beyond ourselves.
7. Paul T. P. Wong & Prem S. Fry, editors
The Human Quest for Meaning:
A Handbook on Psychological Research and Clinical Applications
(Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum,
(ISBN: 0-8058-2503-7; hardcover)
(Library of Congress call number: BF463.M4H86 1998)
share their research
into the psychological dimensions of meaning.
We human beings are meaning-seeking and meaning-fulfilling creatures.
The authors do not present any original insights into the meaning of life.
Rather they are content to study whatever meanings people already embrace.
Largely in the tradition of Viktor Frankl, the clinicians sometimes help clients
to reframe their perceptions of what is already happening to them.
The authors seem content to let people pursue any meanings
they happen to value because of their cultural conditioning.
There is no critique of 'false meanings' that people might be pursuing.
This book is definitely psychological rather than philosophical.
8. Milton Munitz
Does Life Have a Meaning?
Books, 1993) 114 pages
(ISBN: 0-87975-860-0; hardcover)
(Library of Congress call number: B821.M79 1993)
retired professor of philosophy explores the ins and outs
of the philosophical quest for meanings in human life.
He concludes that we can create many forms of meaning during our lives.
also attempts to explain a new concept: Boundless Existence.
This seems to amount to a recognition that the universe exists.
Such an awareness does not provide much additional meaning
as far as this reviewer can see.
[last]. James Park
In Quest of Fulfillment:
Money, Achievement, Marriage, Children, Pleasure, & Religion
(Minneapolis, MN: Existential
Books: www.existentialbooks.com, 2007—second
(ISBN: 0-89231-920-8; paperback)
(Library of Congress call number: BJ1481.P37 2007)
six most frequently trodden paths
toward attempted self-fulfillment:
One chapter is devoted to each of the following:
(1) Money & Possessions;Even if we have not explicitly formulated a philosophy of life,
(5) Pleasure & Enjoyment;
However, the possibly-surprising
thesis of this book is that
none of these six paths ultimately leads to fulfillment.
We can certainly find relative happiness on each of these paths,
but ultimately fulfillment comes only in a way we do not expect.
Each chapter (after exploring
money, achievement, etc.)
shows how Existential Freedom—release from our Existential Malaise—
is much more fulfilling than anything we could achieve.
For more information about
Quest of Fulfillment,
click that title.
revised 9-17-2010; 3-17-2011
Please suggest additional books about the quest for meaning in life.
Send all comments to James Park: e-mail:
Use the same address to suggest other Internet sites on meaning.
LINKS TO SIMILAR WEBSITES
Return to the beginning of the EXISTENTIALISM page.
Return to the beginning of this home page:
An Existential Philosopher's Museum.