A Book of Dreams

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This memoir delivers a vivid portrayal of psychiatrist Wilhelm Reich in the 1950s as he feuds with the US FDA over his concept of Orgone Energy. Told by Reich’s son, the narrative gives a personal glimpse into the last years of Reich’s meteoric career which began with Freud and ended in federal prison. Published in 1973, it inspired songs by Patti Smith (Birdland) and Kate Bush (Cloudbusting). More

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Videos

Cloudbusting
A music video by Kate Bush.

Birdland
The song Birdland, performed by Patti Smith.

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Reviews

Review by: Aussiescribbler on Jan. 05, 2012 : star star star star star
In a tapestry of dream-like memories Peter Reich relates his experience of something which, when he wrote this book in 1973, he was still struggling to comprehend.

Peter Reich is the son of Wilhelm Reich, one of the most brilliant and controversial thinkers of the twentieth century. He began as a student of Sigmund Freud, but, whereas Freud believed that sexual repression was necessary to provide the structure and driving force for civilisation, Reich believed that it was at the very heart, not only of many psychological and physical ailments, but that it is part of a destructive tendency in human behaviour which at times expresses itself through the murder of the healthiest individuals - e.g. Jesus and Giordano Bruno - and a willingness to surrender one's freedom to the most neurotic - e.g. Hitler or Stalin. Later, through his study of the storing of repressed emotions in the musculature and the energy flows which occur during orgasm, Reich claimed to have discovered a form of cosmic life energy which he called "orgone". He built boxes which he called "orgone accumulators" which he claimed were helpful in the physical and psychological healing of patients who sat in them. He also built other devices, such as "cloud-busters", which were supposed to direct orgone into clouds and make it rain. Apparently independent research has provided some support for his claims about the accumulators, and there is anecdotal evidence for the efficacy of the cloud-busters, such as Peter Reich's childhood memories recorded in this book. But, not surprisingly, many claimed that Reich had gone insane.

From the late 40s through to the mid-50s Reich was under investigation by the American Food and Drug Administration for providing an unauthorised form of treatment - the accumulators. In 1954 he was ordered to destroy all of the accumulators and to burn all of his books which mentioned them. Unbeknownst to him, some of the accumulators where moved to New York, and, as a result, he was put on trial for contempt of court. He was sentenced to two years in prison. While still in prison, in 1957, he died of a heart attack.

Was this the response of a government apparatus trying to protect its citizen's against a shonky medical treatment or was it a social manifestation of something deeper? Reich, in his books, had pointed out that mental illness was the norm and not the exception in our society and that the very structure of our civilisation is sick. In this he was correct, and sometimes it is easier to shoot the messenger than to take his message on board.

In "A Book of Dreams" Peter Reich tells us what it was like to have a father who stood defiantly against the status quo, who did strange experiments, who shared with him his deepest hopes and fears, and who was taken from him when he was only 12. Reich says that this book just poured out of him when the moment came to write it, and the passages about his childhood really have that feeling of having been written by his twelve-year-old self. The feeling of what it must be like to be a child caught up in events beyond one's comprehension is very powerfully conveyed. Much of the book reads like a novel. And this is what makes it worth reading. If you want to know about Wilhelm Reich's ideas and his life there are better places to go. I first found out about him by reading Myron Sharaf's excellent "Fury on Earth". But then read "Book of Dreams" for its own sake.
(reviewed long after purchase)

Review by: George Alexander on March 23, 2011 : star star star star star
Peter Reich's book is an excellent one for everybody seeking truth. Peter displays in his writing a profound genuineness and a vulnerable soul that was cracked by the crime committed to his father - and to Peter. The taking away and killing of a blameless and loving father from his child is an archetypical and evil crime that has grave causes in the soul of the child. But the crime also cannot leave the perpetrators unharmed. In a world where everything is interconnected they will have to bear the consequences of their wrong-doing, too.

My inner truth detector tells me that Wilhelm Reich has discovered something very profound about humanity and the universe. There is a unity of psyche and physique, of mind and body. One high-level expression of this unity is the Orgon that Wilhelm Reich postulated. This knowledge is exactly the reason why Peter's father was killed: the split particle-mind cannot stand the unified wave-mind discovering and telling the truth about the unity of the world.

Much in the book indicates that Peter Reich was at the time of writing i split and striving for healing. It seems to me that at some time in his life he was on the edge between two world views, the universal one his father taught him and the other, the particle view, that the mainstream world tried to impose upon him. Maybe he still is on the edge. When he reviews his past, Peter seems unable to accept what he has experienced in person and what he has seen with his own eyes. His memory seems to be distorted so far that he resorts to describing what I consider genuine experience as events in a dream.

I would like to tell Peter that I am convinced this is not a book of dreams, but a book of profound truth and reality. We need this truth now more than ever before. I hope he may soon return to believe in what is his genuine heritage.
(reviewed within a month of purchase)

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