The untold story of Wilhelm Reich and the dawn of the sexual revolution. An illuminating, startling, at times bizarre story of sex and science, ecstasy and repression.
In the middle of the 20th century, the United States became an adoptive home for dozens of expatriated European thinkers, who saw this rich, young country ripe for sexual liberation. One of the most left-field of them was the Viennese psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich, a disciple of Freud’s who had broken with the master. Reich’s own approach was based on his theories of the orgasm and sexual energy, which he dubbed ‘orgone energy’. Instead of the couch, he made use of a tall, slender construction of wood, metal, and steel wool, which he called the orgone box. A highly sexed man himself, Reich thought that a person who sat in the box could elevate their ‘orgastic potential’ ridding the body of repressive forces, improving sexual potency, and enhancing overall health.
After World War Two, Reich’s theories caught on among writers and artists, the early adopters of the counter-culture. Norman Mailer and Saul Bellow were amongst those for whom the orgone box represented a yearned-for synthesis of sexual and political liberation, and of physical science and psychology.
Meanwhile, Reich himself faced one debacle after another. Albert Einstein heard him out before rebuffing him. The FBI investigated him as a Communist sympathizer: it turned out that they were hunting the wrong man. The federal government banned the orgone box and tagged Reich as a fraud. There were claims of sexual misdeeds, and bouts of Reich’s own mental instability.
This is the story of the blossoming of the 20th century’s sexual revolution, and the unshackling of a repressed society, and sex before science.
Reviews of Adventures in the Orgasmatron: The Invention of Sex
- ‘How [Reich] went from being one of the inspirational figures of the psychoanalytic movement, as a clinician, a teacher and a writer, to being a cult figure on the margins of 1960s America is an extraordinary story, and Turner tells it with subtlety and panache. Turner has interviewed many people who knew Reich well, and he casts his net wide, setting Reich’s quirks and crimes in their historical context so that a portrait of the man emerges rather than a diagnosis.’ Adam Phillips, ‘London Review of Books’
- ‘Very amusing and intelligent…This book will change the way in which we employ that increasingly lazy phrase “thinking outside the box”.’ Christopher Hitchens, ‘The New York Times Book Review’
- ‘Smart, thorough, wholly engaging…takes the reader on a tragicomic adventure of the history of an idea. A study in charisma, belief, and mental contagions that infected an entire culture, and which are still with us today.’ Siri Hustvedt, author of ‘The Summer Without Men’