Man’s search for meaning (Viktor E. Frankl)

On Thursday 4th March, 2010, World Book Day, we asked teachers to talk to their classes about their favourite books or books they are currently enjoying.  Mr Maxted told his students about  Viktor Frankl’s book ‘Man’s search for meaning’ which, in the course of his reading, had a powerful impact on him.  He says:

“Viktor Frankl was Professor of Neurology and Psychology at the University of Vienna Medical School. He was the founder of what has come to be called the Third Viennese School of Psychotherapy – the school of logotherapy. His writings have been called ‘the most important contributions in the field of Psychotherapy since the days of Freud, Adler and Jung’ by Sir Cyril Burt, ex-President of the British Psychological Society.

During World War II he spent three years at Auschwitz, Dachau, and other concentration camps. During this time he observed that those prisoners who gave up on any purpose in life would be dead within a few days. They would simply refuse to leave the filth of their wooden bunks. Frankl was instrumental in maintaining the morale of prisoners, attempting to instil in them a meaning and purpose to their lives even when undergoing hideous suffering. Indeed, he tried to show that there could be a purpose to their involuntary suffering. Frankl calls this attitude a “tragic optimism”.

The school of Logotherapy aims to treat the depressed and suicidal by helping patients to discover a meaning and purpose to their lives. Frankl describes this absence of meaning and purpose as the “existential vacuum” which requires filling.

Upon reading the book, it is not difficult to see why Frankl survived the Holocaust or indeed why he was instrumental in enabling others to survive. This is a work of tremendous optimism in the midst of unimaginable suffering and is a testament to the triumph of the human spirit. He rejects the idea that we are pre-determined to respond in a particular way to our circumstances and reinforces the importance of the decisions that we make. It is the old maxim, “with great freedom comes great responsibility”. In a superb line, Frankl argues that “the Statue of Liberty on the East Coast be supplemented by a Statue of Responsibility on the West Coast”!

Frankl concludes his book as follows:

“In the concentration camps…we watched and witnessed some of our comrades behave like swine while others behaved like saints. Man has both potentialities within himself; which one is actualized depends on decisions but not on conditions. Our generation is realistic, for we have come to know man as he really is. After all, man is that being who invented the gas chambers of Auschwitz; however, he is also that being who entered the gas chambers upright, with the Lord’s Prayer or the Shema Yisrael on his lips”.

Frankl truly was a remarkable and inpirational man, and if, after reading this review, you are tempted to read this, or any of his books, please leave a comment here.

Mandela: A Critical Life (Tom Lodge)

Nelson Mandela, the first African politician to acquire a world following, remains in the 21st century an iconic figure. But what are the sources of his almost mythic appeal? And to what extent did Mandela self-consciously create the status of political hero that he now enjoys? This new and highly revealing biography examines these questions in detail for the first time. Drawing on a range of original sources, it presents a host of fresh insights about the shaping of Mandela’s personality and public persona, from his childhood days and early activism, through his long years of imprisonment, to his presidency of the new South Africa. Throughout, Lodge emphasizes the crucial interplay between Mandela’s public career and his personal or private world, showing how his heroic status was a product both of his leading position within the anti-apartheid movement and his own deliberate efforts to supply a form of quasi-messianic leadership for that movement. And as Lodge shows, Mandela’s huge international appeal is a compelling and unusual cocktail. Of the sacred and the secular. Of traditional African values and global media savvy. And of human vulnerability, interwoven with the grand narrative of liberation.’  Nielsen Bookdata Online

Reverend S Golding has recommended this book for the blog and says that it was ‘A good read!’. 

As Mandela celebrates twenty years of freedom this February, it seems fitting to commemorate his release from prison by reading about his life as well as viewing films such as ‘Invictus’.

You may be interested in the review of this book by Rob Skinner at and the author’s reply at

Do leave your comments here as a discussion would be extremely interesting.

Invictus (a film by Clint Eastwood)

‘From director Clint Eastwood, “Invictus” tells the inspiring true story of how Nelson Mandela (Morgan Freeman) joined forces with the captain of South Africa’s rugby team, Francois Pienaar (Matt Damon), to help unite their country. 

 Newly elected President Mandela knows his nation remains racially and economically divided in the wake of apartheid. Believing he can bring his people together through the universal language of sport, Mandela rallies South Africa’s underdog rugby team as they make an unlikely run to the 1995 World Cup Championship match. ‘  Invictusmovie, WarnerBros website

This film is amazing.  Matt Damon, whilst a lot shorter than Francois Pienaar, whom he portrays,  seems to have really got into his character and has taken to the game of rugby in a way hard to imagine that Americans could.  The film shows how Mandela inspired Pienaar to take rugby to all South Africans, not just the white South Africans who had hitherto dominated the game and ultimately bring the country closer together.  It also shows the journey the South African team make as they progress from poor performers to  successful winners.  As a non-rugby player myself, it did help going to see the Saracens play Worcester Warriors at Wembley just before going to watch the film!

Have you seen it?  What do you think? Please leave your comments here…

The Diving-Bell and the Butterfly (Jean-Dominique Bauby)

“The diary of Jean-Dominique Bauby who, with his left eyelid (the only surviving muscle after a massive stroke) dictated a remarkable book about his experiences locked inside his body. A masterpiece and a bestseller in France, it is now a major motion picture directed by Julian Schnabel. On 8 December 1995, Jean-Dominique Bauby suffered a massive stroke and slipped into a coma. When he regained consciousness three weeks later, the only muscle left functioning was in his left eyelid although his mind remained as active and alert as it had ever been. He spent most of 1996 writing this book, letter by letter, blinking as an alphabet was repeatedly read out to him. ‘The Diving-Bell and the Butterfly’ was published in France on Thursday 6th March 1997. It was immediately hailed as a masterpiece. And then, three days later, he died. ‘The Diving-Bell and the Butterfly’, which records Bauby’s lonely existence, is probably the most remarkable book about the triumph of the human spirit, the ability to invent a life for oneself in the most appalling of circumstances, that you will ever read. It has now been made into a captivating film, directed by Julian Schnabel and starring Mathieu Amalric, which was the winner of the award for Best Director at Cannes and nominated for the Palm d’Or.”  Nielsen Book Data Online

This synopsis says it all except that it truly is a remarkable book that, whilst recognising Bauby’s condition (Locked-In Syndrome), really makes you feel glad to be alive.  He  muses on life, love and relationships and how he has gone from being Editor-in-Chief of Elle Magazine in Paris to being in this state of near-complete paralysis.   Bauby touchingly compares his new situation with that of his father who is in his eighties and quite infirm himself.

The book cover shown here is a couple of stills from the film (in French with subtitles) which is, as many French films are, filmed beautifully with an almost ethereal quality to it.  Well worth viewing on DVD…

The White Queen (Philippa Gregory)

Another non-fiction title appears in these pages…  This book is by the author of ‘The Other Boleyn Girl’ and tells of the family which preceded the Tudors, read on for further information:

“The first in a stunning new series, The Cousins War, is set amid the tumult and intrigue of The War of the Roses. Internationally bestselling author Philippa Gregory brings this family drama to colourful life through its women, beginning with the story of Elizabeth Woodville, the White Queen. The White Queen tells the story of a common woman who ascends to royalty by virtue of her beauty, a woman who rises to the demands of her position and fights tenaciously for the success of her family, a woman whose two sons become the central figures in a mystery that has confounded historians for centuries: the Princes in the Tower whose fate remains unknown to this day. From her uniquely qualified perspective, Philippa Gregory explores the most famous unsolved mystery, informed by impeccable research and framed by her inimitable storytelling skills.”  Nielsen Book Data Online

Mrs Bailey enjoyed this book enormously as can be seen by her comment here:

“History, but lively and entertaining!!! Brilliant book. 4 Stars.”

Read on and please let us have your thoughts on Philippa Gregory’s other work and, again, the film of ‘The Other Boleyn Girl’.

The Junior Officers Reading Club ( Patrick Hennessey)

Author Event with Old Boy Patrick Hennessey

Friday  15th January

Speaking in Centenary Hall from 1.30pm on: Soldiering in the Modern British Army


Patrick Hennessey, an old boy of the school  (we have the photos to prove it) will be introducing  his book to the sixth form  on Friday 15th January in Centenary Hall,Kings Campus  at 1.30pm. All staff are very welcome to come along.

Copies of the book will be available to  purchase at £16.99 thanks to Chorleywood bookshop   who have kindly agreed to run a book stall during the event.

The book stall will be set up in the foyer of Centenary Hall and will be open from 12.30 –  3pm

His novel  focuses on the life of a modern day soldier ( work and play)  and how the establishment of a Reading Group whilst being  stationed in the Southern Iraqui desert ( of all places) arose.

The book is certainly not for the faint hearted but you would certainly be mistaken in thinking that the readership is specifically for forces or force enthusiasts, in fact the reverse , Patrick has written the book for all readers. As a novice to the forces there is a very useful  glossary of  military terms interspersed with photos and maps of where his team were deployed. Content although naturally focussed on the operations is still  levels above  stilted military and testerone fuelled trigger happy warfare and presents a true ( gritty and lucid) picture of the 21st Century army. Throughout his writing the readers are drawn into the heart of the writing   feeling  the   bond, dependency and the   spirit that develops within the unit  along with the punch of raw emotion when a colleague/friend is wounded with   the  aside of   guilty relief because it wasn’t you  this time round.