Frankl versus Liddy; Dueling Book Reviews

Man's Search for Meaning book cover
Will, by G. Gordon Liddy, book cover







This came to me the other day, from where I don’t know, to review two books in the same post for purposes of contrast. One is Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning (1946; 10 million copies sold) and the other is Will, G. Gordon Liddy’s autobiography (1980; 1 million copies sold).  I read Frankl’s book while in college in the 70s. I read Will in  2002, in preparation for writing my own book, Waiting for Westmoreland.

Frankl survived years in Nazi concentration camps. During those years he endured and he witnessed unimaginable suffering. Starvation, torture, death were commonplace. Through it all he maintained his humanity, didn’t collaborate with his captors (although some of them attended lectures he gave) and counseled fellow prisoners. In 1946, he published the book you see above both chronicling his time in captivity and establishing the basis for his existential logotherapy–a striking advance in psychiatry departing from Freud. His captors could not defeat him. While his body was confined, his mind remained free. Thoughts of his beloved wife sustained him in part. Beyond that, he concluded that finding meaning, even in suffering, is essential. Quoting Dostoevsky, “There is only one thing that I dread: not to be worthy of my sufferings,” Frankl goes on to explain that even in a concentration camp, a man has a choice on how to respond to his predicament. Frankl says, “It is this spiritual freedom—which cannot be taken away—that makes life meaningful and purposeful.” He had not the “will to power” of Nietzsche or Adler nor the “will to pleasure” of Freud. His was the will to meaning. I found the book immensely moving and motivating in both how to live and how to face death. I gave it a five-star rating on Goodreads.

Liddy had a quite different take on will. His was based on Nietzsche and had much to do with Liddy’s determination to overcome anything he feared in support of his intense loyalty to whomever he served. He spent 4 1/2 years in prison as one of the central figures of the Watergate burglary. For those of you too young to know what that is about and why President Richard Nixon had to resign, read the Woodward and Bernstein book, All the President’s Men. One could say that Frankl and Liddy come from opposite perspectives on life and politics. As the book details, Liddy played a tape of Leni Riefenstahl’s famous documentary, Triumph of the Will (a propaganda film promoting Hitler, made in 1935), in the White House, extolling its virtue as an effective and powerful political message.  So here is my review of Liddy’s book, as I posted it on Goodreads (one-star):

This has to be one of the most hilarious, surprising and ultimately tragic books I have ever read. Far into the book I remained convinced that Liddy must have been writing a self-deprecating satire of his life just to spite all the liberals, Nixon-haters and antiwar protestors of the Watergate era. Who would brag about tying himself to a tree in a lightning storm to overcome his fears? Who would describe choosing his spouse in major part for her strong Teutonic stock? Who could extoll many aspects of the Third Reich? But no, I eventually concluded, he was serious. He really did do all the nutty stuff he described. (Like holding his hand over a candle flame to impress someone). He really believed all the nonsensical things he professed. He really did all the criminal acts he was charged with and did so proudly–thinking that his self-perceived set of American values superseded the Constitution and the applicable laws. It explains a lot about his behavior during Watergate. That he not only was but still is so deluded is the tragedy. You should read the book, but check it out of the library–don’t buy it.