When I’m interviewed, people often ask me, “What’s your favorite book?” I can never answer this question, because I love so many books, I can’t just pick one. I couldn’t pick a hundred! I love, love, love so many books, of so many different kinds, there’s no way to say.
However, sometimes people ask instead, “If you could choose one book for everyone in the world to read (or all high-school seniors, or the President of the United States, or whatever), what book would you choose?” To that question, I have an answer.
I say Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning.
This book is a towering classic of world literature, and it’s also a book that once you start it, you can’t put it down. It’s an extraordinary memoir and reflection.
From 1942-1945, Frankl was in four different Nazi camps, including Auschwitz.
I love this whole book so much—I want to read my favorite passage, I think of it so often. Frankl writes:
We stumbled on in the darkness, over big stones and through large puddles, along the one road leading from the camp. The accompanying guards kept shouting at us and driving us with the butts of their rifles. Anyone with very sore feet supported himself on his neighbor’s arm. Hardly a word was spoken; the icy wind did not encourage talk. Hiding his mouth behind his upturned collar, the man marching next to me whispered suddenly: “If our wives could see us now! I do hope they are better off in their camps and don’t know what is happening to us.” That brought thoughts of my own wife to mind. And as we stumbled on for miles, slipping on icy spots, supporting each other time and again, dragging one another up and onward, nothing was said, but we both knew: each of us was thinking of his wife. Occasionally I looked at the sky, where the stars were fading and the pink light of the morning was beginning to spread behind a dark bank of clouds. But my mind clung to my wife’s image, imagining it with an uncanny acuteness. I heard her answering me, saw her smile, her frank and encouraging look. Real or not, her look was then more luminous than the sun which was beginning to rise. A thought transfixed me: for the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth—that love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love. I understood how a man who has nothing left in this world still may know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved. In a position of utter desolation, when man cannot express himself in positive action, when his only achievement may consist in enduring his sufferings in the right way—an honorable way—in such a position man can, through loving contemplation of the image he carries of his beloved, achieve fulfillment. For the first time in my life I was able to understand the meaning of the words, “the angels are lost in perpetual contemplation of an infinite glory.”
I love this book so much, I’m going to talk about it next week too, so stay tuned.