The BookBrowse Review

Published June 9, 2021

ISSN: 1930-0018

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Historical Fiction

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History, Science & Current Affairs

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  • Blackout by Dhonielle Clayton, Tiffany D. Jackson , et al (rated 5/5)

Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Speculative, Alt. History

Book Jacket

A Book about Freedom
by Olivia Laing
4 May 2021
368 pages
Publisher: W.W. Norton & Company
Genre: History, Science & Current Affairs
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BookBrowse members resident in the USA can request free review copies of books through our First Impressions program. Below are their opinions on one such book...

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Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by 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.
Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by 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.
Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by 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, " 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.
Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by 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!
Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by 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.
Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by 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.
Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Barbara O. (Red Bank, NJ)

Brilliant Writing
Olivia Laing has taken a unique approach exploring the human body and it's freedom from the points of view of several controversial figures from the late 30's through the 70's. From Freud and Wilhelm Reich, prominent writers and activists the author writes how psychoanalysis and sexual identity, illness and freedom of the body itself evolved across decades of time from the 1930's and the feminist and civil rights movements of the 70's. Ms Laing presents a disturbing and thoughtful point of view about how society reacts to social upheaval and change when those perceived norms are threatened. Most alarming is how the body and it's freedom are once again being threatened and how history really does repeat itself.
Excellent read.
Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Lucy S. (ANN ARBOR, MI)

A Fascinating Exploration
This book is an excellent reminder of the groups of people who historically and still today have had to fight for bodily autonomy. Laing's work is incredibly well researched and highly informative. Using the lens of the life of psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich to examine the different ways in which a body can be marginalized, Laing writes about sick bodies, bodies that have experienced violence, sexual bodies, bodies used in protest, to create a very thought provoking look at bodies seeking liberation.
Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Lesley F. (San Diego, CA)

Bodily Freedom
In my life I have enjoyed a great amount of white privilege and at the same time felt the struggles involved in trying to feel that my body was important and acceptable to "my tribe". This book has explained to me the other side of the reported current events over the last 100 or so years and done that in a remarkably clear explanation.
Bodily rights are AGAIN currently imperiled and so this is not just a history lesson but a rallying cry as well.
I intend to tell all my book groups about this wonderful book and hope they can all read it! Thank you, Olivia Laing.
Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Janine S. (Wyoming, MI)

Thought provoking read
Wow! What a thought provoking and exhilarating read! Beautifully written and exquisitely researched, this is a book that when read can profoundly in part the soul if one is open to viewing freedom from a different construct: the body you are in is constrained by forces and laws that do not allow you to live freely. Laing centers her proof on giving insights into the lives of individuals ranging from Wilhelm Reich to Malcolm X where these individuals were confined and persecuted by ideologies that sought to deny them their individuality. She also draws upon her personal experience to further the portrait of society's limitations on freedom. Laing seeks to point out too that "freedom is a shared endeavor" and the wrongness of white supremacy, religious bigotry and malign meanness of the human spirit deprive the body of freedom. It's impossible to capture the brilliance of this book in a review. I can only point out that while this is a book that should be considered as worthy to be read, it is one that is necessary and important to read.
Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Wilhelmina H. (Russell Springs, KY)

Thought Provoking
This is a serious and not quick to read and absorb book. It takes time, concentration, thinking and sometimes rethinking to get through it. That's not a bad thing though - it's well researched and well-written with a relevant topic. I will read it again at some point to peel off more of the layers and wrap my thoughts around some of the topics. It would be good for a book club discussion.
Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Patricia W. (Desoto, TX)

Everybody is an interesting, extensively researched book about the human body and freedom. Laing has the exceptional ability to make connections among events and thoughts of particular times and to point out the struggles of individuals and of societies. I enjoyed reading and thinking about these connections. Today and throughout history, people have been marginalized for who they are, while some have worked to take away or limit the freedom of certain people with laws to control their bodies. This book gave me a better understanding of some of these events, especially related to sexual orientation and rights, feminism, civil rights, the prison system, and immigrants.
Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Scott M. (Columbia, MD)

Everybody: A Book About Freedom...Which You Are Free To Think What You Will
This work is really more a collection of essays that all center on the theme of bodily freedom and how individuals manage to express that freedom. The connective tissue that (mostly) links these essays together is the life of psychoanalyst William Reich, and author Olivia Laing uses examples and aspects of Reich's life, along with her personal experiences and extensive research, to discuss issues such as sexual orientation (gay, transgender rights), civil rights/racism, feminism and criminal justice (the role of prisons). The book takes what most would define as a liberal view on these issues and the author does not hide her advocacy on issues. Agree or disagree, the essays prove thought-provoking and should inspire lively discussion/debate in a book club.
Rated 3 of 5 of 5 by Elizabeth V. (Bellbrook, OH)

It had moments
I really wanted to love this book. It had moments where I did. The problem is, I had to slog through a tremendous amount of what felt like unnecessary verbiage to get to those moments. The author's personal opinions seemed to taint her message as well. She spoke kindly, even glowingly about Reich and other males but all her dissections of the females she wrote about seemed sharply critical. A prime example of this is her treatment of Andrea Dworkin. All in all, I think this material would have been better presented in a peer-reviewed journal article instead of a full length book.
Rated 3 of 5 of 5 by Shirley T. (Comfort, TX)

Everybody by Olivia Laing
This is a very unusual book, well written and researched with information and ideas from the early twentieth century onward regarding the connection between freedom, the lack thereof, and the effect on the body and mind.

The author, Olivia Laing, writes about symptoms which could be caused by the lack of choice or freedom of choice for sexual activity, or the result of incarceration and other activities. In the civilized world total freedom is not possible because a body does not exist alone.

The explicit accounts of the suffering of "unfree" people make this a powerful but disturbing book.
Rated 3 of 5 of 5 by Carole A. (Denver, CO)

EVERYBODY probably not for everyone
If you are looking for a quick light read EVERYBODY is not for you.  I read it through once and then went back and skimmed it a second time to sort out the layers.  There are some that will be omitted here due to space. The subject matter is interesting with multiple layers. It is because of the multiple layers I believe this would be an excellent book for a serious book club. At the very least a book to keep on your side table and to read and digest a bit at a time.
Laing based many of the thoughts she expresses on the work of William Reich, a disciple of Freud. Reichs' major concept was that the body houses both pleasure and pain and as such both can be a powerful force for change.  There are many examples of this theory in Laing's life as well as in the lives of many others ranging from the Marquis de Sade, Simone, Isherwood, Sontag and Malcom X.  She explores the impact of this theory on many issues of the 2nd half of the 20th century such as feminism, civil rights and the freedom to be openly gay. Laing goes even further in taking on the subjects of the exploding racism and misogynistic attitudes of today.  
Yet another layer explores the ways in which the body can heal itself through her own stories and through leaders in the field such as Louise Hay. Laing stresses you can remake your body, your world and the wide world beyond as all is ever changing and nothing is static.  The book can be, indeed, a reminder of the freedom we have within ourselves and the world around us.
Rated 3 of 5 of 5 by Connie L. (Bartlesville, OK)

The Body and its Discontents
I've read and enjoyed several of Olivia Laing's books in the past, but this one did not hold my interest. I found it to be dry and repetitious.

Laing is an excellent writer who obviously conducted a great deal of research about the body, studied it extensively, and examined and explained it quite thoroughly and clearly in this book. However, I did not find the subject interesting, and so I found reading this book to be a chore. Others may very well have a much more positive response, but this is a book that turned out not to be for me.
Rated 2 of 5 of 5 by Jean B. (Naples, FL)

What is this book? What does it have to do with it's title? It is thoroughly researched, full of very large words requiring the use of a dictionary, and is described as ambitious and brilliant. I could not understand why the author wrote this book or what she was trying to say.

Why is it important to "struggle for bodily freedom?" Are we inhabitants of this world to only please ourselves? Much of the book is centered on Wilhelm Reich who imagined a "society organized around the orgasm"!?

Winston Churchill wrote "What is the use of living if it be not to strive for noble causes and to make this muddled world a better place for those who live in it after we are gone?"

I struggled with this book, wishing for the admiration and understanding to arrive. That moment did not come for me and I continue to wish that the author had used her impressive vocabulary for a better purpose.


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