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Adventures in the Orgasmatron: How the Sexual Revolution Came to America Hardcover – June 7, 2011

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; First Edition edition (June 7, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374100942
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374100940
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.2 x 2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,460,292 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Anyone who has seen Woody Allen's Sleeper will remember the Orgasmatron. In fact, this futuristic parody was based largely on the work of Wilhelm Reich, who coined the slogan "sexual revolution" in the 1930s. A pupil of Freud's who believed sexual and political revolution had to go hand in hand, Reich was an often-misunderstood genius for good reason. He invented the orgone energy accumulator, a phone booth–size cupboard intended to bestow sexual emancipation on its users. When his writings delved into even greater unconventional beliefs, like flying saucers, credibility was further strained. Other gurus figure in London journalist Turner's first book. What is lacking in prose excitement and humor over the sheer nuttiness of much of Reich's work is made up for by the well-described backdrop of Vienna and Berlin as hotbeds of culture, anti-Semitism, and insight into the psyche. Reich sailed from Austria to the U.S. in 1939, and, like many leftist European intellectuals, came under the FBI's scrutiny, which was his downfall. As much of a screwball as Reich was, he opened a Pandora's box for future sexologists like Fritz Perls at Esalen. As Turner shows, Reich was a seminal figure. 8 pages of b&w photos. (June)


“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 Watching the World Change

Customer Reviews

This is an amazing book, scholarly and readable.
Bill Brock
Many pages of citations, but not the ones that really matter, and which fully undermine his conclusions.
J. DeMeo
Without them, a few people are freer and better off, but most are worse off.
Hal Dunlap

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

22 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Alf on August 3, 2011
Format: Hardcover
I picked up this book after reading excellent reviews in the UK's Sunday Times ("clever and colorful ... a terrific book") and Economist ("an erudite and engaging work of social history"). It did not disappoint; Reich is a fascinatingly complicated character - at one stage Freud's heir apparent, who believed that unleashed libido could bring about revolutionary social change. Turner's book is a well researched, scholarly yet accessible account of how Reich's ideas disseminated into American popular culture. There seems to be strong evidence that Reich himself became schizophrenic towards the end of his life (e.g., thinking he could shoot down UFOs and that Eisenhower was sending planes to protect him) - and reading some of the other reviews this is clearly hard to take for his devotees who approach his work uncritically. In fact Turner is well aware of the orthodoxy, and deals with it in a balanced way (the Sunday Times comments that Turner is "admirably restrained throughout and refrains from passing cheap judgements" and I would agree) - he shows in his book that Reich thought the orgone box could cure cancer and could "sexually excite" those that sat in it, and explains why Reich later distanced himself from those views. At any rate the beats and bohemians that picked up on Reich's thinking certainly believed in the box's potency; the book is a cultural history that traces the spread of his influence into those circles and the culture at large. For anyone interested in how we have come to believe that sexual liberation is the route to happiness and freedom this book offers a powerful historical, critical and entertaining perspective. I recommend giving it a read (expect some vitriolic responses from the Reichians to this review - according to the author's note they tried to censor this book).
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12 of 15 people found the following review helpful By A. Alter on August 7, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Regardless whether you agree or disagree with Reich, disagree or agree with Christopher Turner's presentation of Reich - this is a serious, scholarly, and underpriced book. What I didn't expect is that I would be so entertained.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Dr A VINE VOICE on May 28, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The book is a tour de force of the cultural history of the first half of the 20th century. In a taut narrative, enlivened by anecdotes, everyone - well, almost everyone - who mattered makes an appearance. Freud, Stalin, Hitler, Saul Bellow and a galaxy of luminaries. You get a strong sense of the flow of the century. A great story of Reich's childhood tragedy that he never could overcome.

It's a big fat book, but such a page turner that I was glad to read to the last page. What Reich was planning to do for the rest of his life just prior to his death in a federal prison came as a heart-warming surprise.

The author is a journalist, not a psychiatrist, but he 'gets' what happened in psychiatry better than many of my professional colleagues. This is his first book, and judging from his photo, he is a young man. I am sure he has more books in him - and I look forward to buying his next one.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
First off, Wilhelm Reich is a personal hero of mine, and like many of my heroes, such as Hunter S. Thompson, Aleister Crowley, and George Carlin, he was also tragically flawed. I myself have suffered from mental illness and my tendency to become megalomaniacal, obsessive, and paranoid when I felt people were, in Karen Horney's words "moving against me" was all too real. I don't think Turner's book is an attack on Reich at all. I think it is an honest look at the man's genius AND his flaws. Is orgone real? Who knows? Was Reich somewhat mad? What member of the psychological professions isn't? I got a degree in psychology BECAUSE of my mental illness. He and Freud BOTH shared the same obsessive drive for fame and recognition.

Personally, I wonder if Reich, in his later "orgone" years wasn't 'touched in the head.' Claiming that your cloud-buster scares off malevolent radiation-spreading UFOs and that the planes in the sky were sent to watch over your family are things Reich actually told people.

The thing is, as a scientist, he may have been totally off, and it seems that he was driven to that because his true brilliance, as a socialist political thinker and psychoanalyst contributed to his rejection by members of both. I suppose he thought distancing himself from both was a way of "getting back" at both the communist party and the International Psychoanalytical community.

The book rightly describes Anna Freud as one of the most grotesque and repugnant human beings who has ever walked the planet, and describes Freud as having become a traitor to his own ideals. Freud was just as much of a "my way or the highway" control freak as Reich, yet many of the reviews here seem to think Reich was some kind of saint Who Could Do No Wrong.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful By John Wilder on August 22, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I read Turner's book along with Demeo's IN DEFENSE OF WILHELM REICH, as, to improve perspective, I like to get at least two differing views of the same subject. From what I've read, Turner is a modern journalist, twisting sketchy facts to fit his easy-to-read, but odd biographical fiction, while Demeo is an old-fashioned scientist who builds his thesis, fully on substantial, verifiable facts. Compare Turner's odd views on Kinsey and Reich to Demeo's more in-depth views for a good example.

I gave Turner's book two stars instead of none, or one, because I do like that Turner's efforts prove that Reich's work, even Turner's gross distortions of it, can gather so much attention in today's world, more than 50 years after Reich died in prison with his books and journals burned to ashes in government bonfires by Turner's intellectual ancestors.
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