American Odyssey: Letters & Journals, 1940-1947

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9780374104368: American Odyssey: Letters & Journals, 1940-1947

A new autobiographical work by one of the most original and controversial thinkers of our time.

"I looked up every day from behind the bars to the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor. Her light shone brightly into a dark night." With these words, Wilhelm Reich described his experience as an "enemy alien" imprisoned on Ellis Island in the aftermath of the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor.

American Odyssey, compiled from his correspondence and journals, chronicles Reich's first years in America. They were years of prodigious accomplishment in which he developed the orgone energy accumulator-the so-called orgone box; published his first books in English; made breakthroughs in his investigation of orgone energy in social pathology, physics, astronomy, and cancer; and interested none other than Albert Einstein in testing his theories. America brought a new marriage, a new son, a new group of students, and a new laboratory. But these were years of fierce struggle as well: the denial of an American medical license, the refusal of a patent on the orgone accumulator, and, finally, a slanderous article that would incite the Food and Drug Administration to the dogged attack on Reich that would continue until his death in another prison cell ten years later.

American Odyssey reveals more than a period in the life of an embattled scientist. It discloses the social and intellectual life of a country in a tumultuous time in history.

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Review:

Wilhelm Reich--brilliantly insightful psychoanalyst or crackpot scientist? Perhaps both, though belying his reputation as a crackpot is the persistence with which adherents to his orgone theory still tout its application to everything from rainmaking to cancer. Clearly, though, he was a sensitive and deeply caring person who came to the U.S. from a war-torn Europe fully expecting to be welcomed as a man of science. American Odyssey: Letters and Journals 1940-1947 details his most intimate thoughts and communications with family, friends, colleagues, and, inevitably, harassers. His life was filled with high drama, his ego was suitably large for a man whose ideas (he felt) could save the world from itself, and his future was cloudy, but his spirit of perseverance shines throughout.

Despite brief incarceration as an "enemy alien," foreshadowing his eventual defeat at the hands of the FDA and the AMA, he became a loyal, patriotic American, seeing this country as a bulwark against the fascism and communism he knew all too well. The excitement he felt about his work speaks to us through his articulate journal entries, as does his paranoia, though, as the wise say, just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get you. Unable to de-escalate the mounting struggle over orgone therapy, in 1947 Reich came under the first of many investigations that would finally put him in jail for the rest of his life. His fitting, closing words: "Once again man has killed a warming soul, stabbed a heart burning for him. Once again they gave power to their little sergeants." --Rob Lightner

About the Author:

Wilhelm Reich's many works include Character Analysis, The Function of the Orgasm, The Cancer Biopathy, and two collections of earlier autobiographical writings, Passion of Youth and Beyond Psychology.

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Wilhelm Reich
Editore: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (1999)
ISBN 10: 0374104360 ISBN 13: 9780374104368
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