Reich was born on the 24th of March 1897 in the Austrian province of Galicia, and went on to study at the medical school of the University Of Vienna. Graduating from here in 1922 he continued to study the works of Sigmund Freud and pioneered many of the great breakthroughs in psychoanalysis. Eventually, however, his clinical studies drew him to more practical studies of the nature of energy processes and their effect upon the emotions.
Labelling this energy orgone energy, Reich moved to the United States in 1939, intending to continue his studies and discover ways of making this unknown and elusive form of energy usable. Reich was led to create devices such as the Orgone Accumulator and the Orgone Shooter, a device which could collect and distribute orgone energy.
Reich had already been investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, who were concerned that he might harbour communist commitments. This, coupled with his distribution of devices for manipulating orgone energy along with the claim that they could cure a whole plethora of medical conditions, quickly brought him to the attention of the Federal Food and Drug Administration, who, concerned at the unverifiable nature of much of his work, obtained an injunction. This injunction allowed them to ban and incinerate Reich's literature, including his published books and journals. This burning is now considered a most heinous act of censorship, and Reich, quite rightly, stated that 'Man's right to know, to learn, to inquire, to make bona fide errors, to investigate human emotions must, by all means, be safe, if the word freedom should ever be more than an empty political slogan.' The court, apparently rejecting this defence, convicted Reich of contempt of court for transporting orgone accumulators across state lines, and Reich was given a two year jail sentence in the LewisburgPenitentiary. He died on November the third, 1957 whilst imprisoned.
Reich's assertions concerning orgone energy are the subject of much controversy. Though Reich believed orgone energy to be demonstrable visually, thermically, electroscopically and by means of geiger counters, there has been considerable difficulty replicating his results. Reich claimed that orgone energy is omnipresent and accounts for such things as the colour of the sky, gravity, galaxies, the failure of the majority of political revolutions and a satisfactory orgasm. In living things orgone energy is known as bio-energy or life energy. The study of this science was named orgonomy, and Reich claimed to have discovered the existence of other entities - bions - which exist as vesicles for orgone energy. Reich recorded that bions were neither living nor dead, but were so-called transitional beings.
Despite attaining little success in the mainstream scientific community, Reich's ideas have attracted a number of devoted followers, such as The American College Of Orgonomy, initially founded by Elsworth Baker, and The Orgone Biophysical Research Laboratory, Inc., headed by Dr. James DeMeo. Baker's successors and DeMeo continue to defend orgonomy and, by association, Reich.
Despite the FDA's best efforts, Reich's work is still very much a part of popular culture, spawning musicals (Wilhelm Reich In Hell), books and even inspiring popular music. Cloudbusting by Kate Bush tells the story of Reich's imprisonment at the hands of the FDA in great detail. The song was accompanied by a six minute music video starring Donald Sutherland as Reich, attempting to demonstrate how orgone energy can burst entire clouds and cause rain. Hawkwind, too, were inspired to produce the song Orgone Accumulator.
It's highly likely that, were a similar case to come to light today, the draconian action taken by the FDA in 1956 would not be repeated, though precisely where Reich's studies would have led him is a question best answered by examining the continuing work of James DeMeo and the College Of Orgonomy, who still have little success making mainstream progress with verification of Reich's theories of orgone energy. Reich's son, Peter, also wrote A Book Of Dreams, which focuses on their relationship and other notable events, making it an excellent source of further information. Reich's own books, as expected, offer considerable insight into Reich's theories, but for a more biographical approach, Fury on Earth, by Myron Sharaf , is preferable.
A short bibliography of books by Wilhelm Reich:
The Function Of The Orgasm, 1927
The Invasion Of Compulsory Sex-Morality, 1931
Character Analysis, 1933
The Mass Psychology Of Fascism, 1933
The Sexual Revolution, 1935
People In Trouble, 1936
Listen Little Man, 1948
The Cancer Biopathy, 1948
The Murder Of Christ, 1951
Contact With Space, 1957
Some notable articles:
Specific Forms of Masturbation (Part of a series of papers published from 1920 - 1925 which led Reich to his theories of orgone energy.)
The Oranur Experiment (A collection of papers published from 1947-1951 dealing with Unidentified Flying Objects and their effect on the desertification of the earth.)
Contact With Space (Further works on the Oranur experiment, originally published between 1951-56, republished Core Pilot Press, 1957)
The Einstein Affair (Correspondence with Einstein, originally published in 1953, which had little effect on either Einstein's or Reich's theories.)