Ilse Ollendorff Reich and Wilhelm Reich, both refugees from Europe, met for the first time in 1939 only a few weeks after they had both arrived in New York City. From 1940 to 1954, she was his wife, co-worker, secretary and mother of his son. In this account she describes even-handedly and with candor Wilhelm Reich’s rapid rise through Freudian Vienna’s psychoanalytic community (Character Analysis, The Sexual Revolution, The Function of the Orgasm), his sexual-socio-political engagement in Berlin (The Mass Psychology of Fascism), flight to Scandinavia and escape to America. The narrative continues to follow Reich’s life through turbulent 1950’s as she witnessed it.
Here in the U.S., he discovered what he called Orgone Energy, a vital life force that he claimed could restore and enhance one’s life energy (The Discovery of the Orgone). By the mid-1950s, at the same time that he began experimenting with weather control, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration brought his work to a halt on the basis of mislabelling, burned his books, destroyed his medical devices, and sentenced him to two years in Lewisburg Federal Penitentiary where he died in 1957, age 60.
This straightforward account of Reich’s life, written only a decade after his death, outlines his major contributions to psychiatric technique -- notably Character Analysis in which he identified somatic expressions of emotion and formulated a therapy that underlies many popular body-mind therapies. In the 1950’s, his experiments with Orgone Energy and the Orgone Energy Accumulator triggered a Food and Drug Administration court injunction and a protracted legal battle. Ilse Ollendorff Reich served as a witness at Reich’s trial in May, 1956 and describes the trial and his subsequent imprisonment in some detail. Her personal experience and extensive interviews with many former co-workers in Europe permit an uncommon and unique glimpse into Reich’s personality, his fears, furies, and childlike naivete.
- Peter Reich, May 2011
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