James E. Strick
Wilhelm Reich, Biologist
Harvard University Press 2015
New Books in American StudiesNew Books in BiographyNew Books in European StudiesNew Books in HistoryNew Books in Intellectual HistoryNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books in Science & TechnologyNew Books in Science, Technology, and SocietyNew Books Network October 6, 2015 Carla Nappi
“Life must have a father and mother…Science! I’m going to plant a bomb under its ass!”
The author of the line above – who scrawled it in his private diary in the midst of a series of experiments in which he thought he was creating structures that were some kind of transitional stage between the living and nonliving – had quite a life. A “midwife to the sexual revolution of the 1960s” who was famed for his work on the science of orgasm, was widely maligned as a charlatan and pseudoscientist, did extensive work on the science of cancer, had his books and instruments publicly burned by the US government, and died in prison: it’s hard not to find Wilhelm Reich fascinating. In his new book, James E. Strick reminds us that Reich was also a diligent and accomplished laboratory scientist whose work has potentially important implications for the modern biosciences. Wilhelm Reich, Biologist (Harvard University Press, 2015) takes readers into the making of this modern scientist, from his early relationships with Freud and dialectical materialism, to his work on the orgasm as a kind of “electrophysiological discharge,” to his research into potential treatments for cancer. The book concludes by considering why understanding Reich’s scientific work matters for us today, including a brief introduction to some recent experimental work related to Reich’s research. It is an absorbing story that’s also a pleasure to read, and pays careful attention to Reich’s scientific work while still translating it in clear terms for non-specialist readers.