Everybody: Book summary and reviews of Everybody by Olivia Laing


A Book about Freedom

by Olivia Laing

Everybody by Olivia Laing X
Everybody by Olivia Laing
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Book Summary

"Astute and consistently surprising critic" (NPR) Olivia Laing investigates the body and its discontents through the great freedom movements of the twentieth century.

The body is a source of pleasure and of pain, at once hopelessly vulnerable and radiant with power. In her ambitious, brilliant sixth book, Olivia Laing charts an electrifying course through the long struggle for bodily freedom, using the life of the renegade psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich to explore gay rights and sexual liberation, feminism, and the civil rights movement.

Drawing on her own experiences in protest and alternative medicine, and traveling from Weimar Berlin to the prisons of McCarthy-era America, Laing grapples with some of the most significant and complicated figures of the past century―among them Nina Simone, Christopher Isherwood, Andrea Dworkin, Sigmund Freud, Susan Sontag, and Malcolm X.

Despite its many burdens, the body remains a source of power, even in an era as technologized and automated as our own. Arriving at a moment in which basic bodily rights are once again imperiled, Everybody is an investigation into the forces arranged against freedom and a celebration of how ordinary human bodies can resist oppression and reshape the world.

In a Guardian excerpt from her book Everybody: A Book About Freedom, Olivia Laing looks at Wilhelm Reich and his legacy.

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Media Reviews

"Impassioned and provocative... This lucid foray into some of life's deepest questions astonishes." Publishers Weekly (starred review) "This is an expansive book, bold in scope and speculative range, an invitation to ongoing conversation rather than bland assent...Yet Laing's Reichian utopianism, with its ultimate horizon of a body without fear, coexists with a clear-eyed sense, at work in all its granular explorations of sexual politics, art and ideas, of how and why that horizon seems always to be vanishing. And this tension, between defiant hope and sober realism, only enriches her intensely moving, vital and artful book." - Josh Cohen, The Guardian

"Revelatory... Dreaming beyond conventional wisdom and restrictive visions, Laing emboldens us to seek liberation across difference in the face of turmoil. Everybody is a galvanizing book during a time of incredible hesitation." - Lauren LeBlanc, Boston Globe

"[Laing] masterfully shares stories of fascinating artists and historical figures... Her net, in short, is breathtakingly, ambitiously wide... Everybody is a nonpareil study that delights the intellect." - BookPage

" A fleet, gracious tour of bodily distress and joy... Laing writes in great looping sentences, both precise and evocative." - Annalisa Quinn, NPR

"Laing creates a penetrating examination of the political and cultural meanings ascribed to bodies as well as the relationships of bodies to power and freedom... Intellectually vigorous and emotionally stirring." Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"Laing's finely crafted blend of incisive memoir and biography vitalize this unique chronicle of the endless struggle 'to be free of oppression based on the kind of body' one inhabits, a work of fresh and dynamic analysis and revelation." - Booklist (starred review)

"Laing is seeking a strategy to unravel our binary thinking about physicality: life or death, liberty or confinement, health or disease. Only by looking beyond these dualities, she insists, can we begin to understand what freedom means. In that sense, the book's title makes for an instructive play on words. On the one hand, it is universal, "everybody" as a synonym for "everyone." On the other, it is highly individual — every body, as in hers or yours or mine. The body is what we have in common as well as what sets us apart. Embodied, we live in proximity to one another yet remain fundamentally alone." - The Los Angeles Times, David L, Ulin

"This is an astonishing project, written with equal parts stirring passion and capable intellect. Laing puts into words experiences I had never before seen in print, and the world is better for it. I love this book." - Esmé Weijun Wang, author of The Collected Schizophrenias

"Everybody is a riveting and fascinating innovative historiography of twentieth century Euro-American radical thought…Brainy, open-hearted, and bold." - Sarah Schulman, author of Conflict Is Not Abuse and Let the Record Show

"A freewheeling and joyful exploration of the works and lives of a range of artists and thinkers who brought libidinal and creative energy together with spectacular results. Laing's particular gift lies in her unique ability to line up unlikely juxtapositions―of artists, ideas, and works―and then draw clear and illuminating insights from such constellations. What her earlier work did for loneliness, this book does for liberation." - Jack Halberstam, author of Gaga Feminism

"Reading Everybody felt like hanging out with my absolute smartest friend having, somehow, the precise conversation I need to have in this historical moment. Olivia Laing's mind is a thrill to watch, and the connections she draws between the body, sex, art, and freedom made the world around me buzz with new depth and possibility, connections revealed and illuminated. Rare is the book that makes you feel more alive just in reading it, but Everybody does just that." - Alex Marzano-Lesnevich, author of The Fact of a Body

"A provocative inquiry into the body's power and vulnerability, Everybody combines deep research, historical gossip, unsung queer lives, and deliciously readable prose. Laing reckons with her own gender and embodiment alongside major and minor theorists, artists, and activists, casting fresh light on the unending struggles for freedom and autonomy." - Jenn Shapland, author of National Book Award finalist My Autobiography of Carson McCullers

"Laing's Everybody animates flesh with the incandescent force of histories both individual and collective. Through her incisive lens, the body―that knot of mind, matter, culture, and society that we dwell inescapably within―becomes almost impossibly fascinating." - Alexandra Kleeman, author of You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine

This information about Everybody was first featured in "The BookBrowse Review" - BookBrowse's membership magazine, and in our weekly "Publishing This Week" newsletter. Publication information is for the USA, and (unless stated otherwise) represents the first print edition. The reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication. If you are the publisher or author and feel that they do not properly reflect the range of media opinion now available, send us a message with the mainstream reviews that you would like to see added.

Any "Author Information" displayed below reflects the author's biography at the time this particular book was published.

Reader Reviews

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Maggie R. (Canoga Park, CA)

A Timely Read
Olivia Laing provides much needed context for the ongoing conversation about varieties of freedom. Not since Alice Miller's stunning books cast light on the dark corners of child rearing has a volume synthesized information from diverse fields and allowed the reader to think in new ways about the obvious.

Diane S. (Batavia, IL)

Laing is such a fabulous writer, not only are these essays interesting but they also teach, empathize and she always leave some wanting more. In these she uses Wilhelm Reich to tie these essays together or maybe I should say she uses him to guide us through what freedom for our body actually means.

From Isherwood and Weimar Berlin she explores the sexual freedom that was prominent, where all sexes, what one was or wanted to be was not judged. From freedom to McCarthyism which was almost the opposite. From illness, using Sontag and her will not to submit to the cancer eating away at her body, to Agnes Martin, who wanted to escape from people and her mental illness. Malcolm X and Nina Simone, all the different freedoms they wanted but did not have, though they fought for them.

There is so much here, people who found freedom, people who want to take away others freedoms, these essays exemplify both the body's power and it's vulnerability. A truly terrific grouping of essays.

ARC from W. W. Norton and BookBrowse.

Patricia L. (Seward, AK)

Freedom's Struggle
Everybody: A book about freedom by Olivia Laing, while difficult to define, is a fascinating read.

Laing states her book is about "...bodies in peril and bodies as a force for change." She uses Wilhelm Reich, "...one of the strangest and most prescient thinkers of the twentieth century…who dedicated his life to understanding the vexed relationship between bodies and freedom..." to illustrate the extent to which bodily freedoms or the lack thereof have shaped our current reality. This thread is woven into the fabric of the sexual revolutions and freedom movements of the last century and the rise of incarceration as a tool of suppression today.

Within the weaving are multiple personal histories of artists, musicians and activists, some notable and others not so, who are associated with efforts to define and achieve freedom. Ana Mendieta's performance art to combat violence to women, Nina Simone's evolution into a civil rights activist, Freud's acquiescence to Hitler and much more are the central draw of the book. These anecdotes entertain as well as educate, creating an insatiable need to know more.

One such story was of Reich's orgone accumulators, essentially a box in which patients would sit, shutting out all stimulation, as a way to achieve bodily freedom. The author doesn't miss the irony of comparing the box to the use of solitary confinement in prisons. Aptly, Laing uses a photo of Reich's orgone box, increasingly dimmed, for each chapter, as she journeys through the history of oppression and the fight for freedom, both individual and collective.

Laing may have woven a lot into her work yet she has created much food for thought. What more can be asked of a book? Highly recommended.

Becky S. (Springfield, MO)

Wow... just wow
This is a book to be read slowly and savored.. at times I felt like it was a bit over my head, but the concepts and information stretched my mind in a way that hasn't been done in a while. It is perfect for the times .. very pertinent and timely ideas that help us learn how the body and soul, have struggled throughout history to be free .. I just loved the ideas expressed in this book.. would be great for book club discussion!

Rosemary C. (Golden, CO)

Such a Journey!
Laing's takes us on a sweeping odyssey to explore the effects of liberation on the human body. Her prose is evocative and her research impressive. This book would be a great book group selection to provoke thoughtful discourse.

Peggy H. (North East, PA)

Thought Provoking and Ingenious
When I started this book, there is no way I thought that I would be rating it as highly as I have. It is a bit dense, and it includes lots of information on figures that I knew nothing about, such as Wilhelm Reich and Amanda Martin. Laing ties together such disparate figures in ways that I would never have imagined...leaving me eager to discover what I can do to make the world better for all bodies.

...12 more reader reviews

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Author Information

Olivia Laing Author Biography

Photo: Jonathan Ring

Olivia Laing is a widely acclaimed writer and critic. She writes for the Guardian, the New York Times, and Frieze, among many other publications. Her books include Crudo, The Trip to Echo Spring, and The Lonely City which was shortlisted for the National Book Critics Circle Award and translated into fifteen languages. The recipient of the 2018 Windham-Campbell Prize in nonfiction, she lives in London, England.

Link to Olivia Laing's Website

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