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Adventures in the Orgasmatron: Wilhelm Reich and the Invention of Sex: How Renegade Europeans Conceived the American Sexual Revolution and Gave Birth to the Permissive Society [Hardcover]

Christopher Turner
3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
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Book Description

4 Aug 2011

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.

Adventures in the Orgasmatron is the untold story of the dawn of the sexual revolution in America – 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.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Fourth Estate (4 Aug 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0007181574
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007181575
  • Product Dimensions: 16.5 x 24.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 534,801 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


"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, "The 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 ""Christopher Turner's smart, thorough, wholly engaging book takes the reader on a tragicomic adventure of the history of an idea that became an object: Wilhelm Reich's orgone box. What began in Vienna with Sigmund Freud's belief that the sexually repressive mores of society can make people sick evolved into a utopian, quasi-scientific fantasy that spread through Europe as fascism rose and eventually crossed the ocean to the United States, where it would play a crucial role in what is now called the sexual revolution. Turner's measured account, bolstered by interviews with various characters close to the action, is 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 ""Turner has created a masterful synthesis of social history, psychosexual theory, obsession, and farce. The narrative is a madcap parade: Freud and Einstein, Leon Trotsky and Mabel Dodge, the Red Scare and UFOs, Ginsberg and Burroughs, Bellow and Mailer, Dwight MacDonald and James Baldwin, Woody Allen and Kurt Cobain--and Wilhelm Reich's quixotic hunt for the ideal orgasm." --David Friend, Creative Development Editor at "Vanity""Fair, " and author of "Wat

About the Author

Christopher Turner lives in London and writes for The Guardian, the London Review of Books . He is an editor at Cabinet magazine. This is his first book.

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Customer Reviews

3.2 out of 5 stars
3.2 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
By J. East
Having read many books about Wilhelm Reich, (by authors both pro and con this controversial figure), I can say that this is by far the most poorly written and woefully misrepresentative. A brief review of (a) the published works of Ilse Ollendorff, Peter Reich, Charles Kelley, Alexander Lowen, Elsworth Baker, Myron Sharaf or Morton Herskowitz (all of whom actually knew Reich and had first hand experience of him and his work), and (b) Reich's own voluminous writings, quickly reveal that the picture inferred of Reich's character by Turner's book is unjustifiably hostile. In the matter of Reich's science and cultural influence the book is equally of little value to the serious researcher. Eg; The author lazily repeats anti-Reich propaganda from the 1940s, stating yet again that Reich claimed he could cure cancer etc. Over and over again in Reich's journals & books he strived to make clear that he did not have a cure for cancer and that whilst he was involved in research into finding one he didn't have it yet, many of his experimental subjects (mostly terminal patients given up by their own doctors) dying from various complications of his orgone treatment. Yet Turner omits all that public domain material - published by Reich himself - to just instead paint Reich as a charlatan, putting wild claims (that Reich never actually made) into his mouth. Why Turner repeatedly does this throughout his tiresomely unfocussed prose is not clear. But what is self-evident is that anyone seeking an accurate understanding of Reich's life and work would be better off looking to the following books:
Fury on Earth by Myron Sharaf
Wilhelm Reich; the evolution of his work by David Boadella
Wilhelm Reich vs The USA by Jerome Greenfield
Wilhelm Reich; a personal Biography by Ilse Ollendorff.
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4.0 out of 5 stars The story of orgone 15 July 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Wilhelm Reich was once thought of as Freud's successor; but his ideas became progressively stranger. He invented orgone, a substance extracted from the aether in his orgasmatron, to spice up your sex life; amazingly, he had a large following, including AS Neil of Summerhill, the 'progressive' school.

Reich almost certainly became a schizophrenic, albeit a high functioning one. His story is quite amazing. And if you think you need an orgone accumulator, these are still available.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating 21 Jun 2014
By Alan H
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book was absolutely fascinating. A factual and gently un-judgemental account of Willhelm Reich's life as a rogue thinker, and a perpetual outcast, and refugee (in some sense, both intellectually and physically). While his ideas seem crazy and irrational initially to a modern observer looking back at them, the seem by and large to have come about with a large degree of integrity and well meaning. Fascinating read.
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3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic read. 4 Oct 2012
To think that I nearly didn't buy this book based on a quick glance at some negative reviews posted on nearly every website I viewed. A closer look made me realise that they were left by someone of a certain Reichian persuasion.
I couldn't put this biography down, from Reich's early years in Europe and Freud's psychoanalytic community, to his travels across to the states and his (unintentional) influence on the counter culture movement that developed in the 50's and sixties, including the likes of William Burroughs and Henry Miller.
The book chronicles so many interesting characters and periods in history, I was really impressed by the depth of the writers research.
I didn't find Turner's portrayal of Reich to be unsympathetic at all, just a warts and all account of a very complex and disturbed man. As far as Reich is concerned, I think it seemed to be a case of "just because you're paranoid, doesn't mean they aren't after you".
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