Adventures in the Orgasmatron
Adventures in the Orgasmatron
How the Sexual Revolution Came to America
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Hardcover, 9780374100940, 544pp.
Publication Date: June 7, 2011
One of The Economist’s 2011 Books of the Year A Boston Globe Best Nonfiction Book of 2011
Well before the 1960s, a sexual revolution was under way in America, led by expatriated European thinkers who saw a vast country ripe for liberation. In Adventures in the Orgasmatron, Christopher Turner tells the revolution’s story—an illuminating, thrilling, often bizarre story of sex and science, ecstasy and repression.
Central to the narrative is the orgone box—a tall, slender construction of wood, metal, and steel wool. A person who sat in the box, it was thought, could elevate his or her “orgastic potential.” The box was the invention of Wilhelm Reich, an outrider psychoanalyst who faced a federal ban on the orgone box, an FBI investigation, a fraught encounter with Einstein, and bouts of paranoia.
In Turner’s vivid account, Reich’s efforts anticipated those of Alfred Kinsey, Herbert Marcuse, and other prominent thinkers—efforts that brought about a transformation of Western views of sexuality in ways even the thinkers themselves could not have imagined.
“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