Judd Steiner and Artie Straus have it all: wealth, intelligence, and the world at their feet as part of the elite, upper-crust Jewish community of 1920s Chicago. Artie is handsome, athletic, and popular, but he possesses a hidden, powerful sadistic streak and a desire to dominate. Judd is a weedy introvert, a genius who longs for a companion whom he can idolize and worship. Obsessed with Nietzsche’s idea of the superhuman, both boys decide to prove that they are above the laws of man by arbitrarily picking and murdering a Jewish boy in their neighborhood.
This new edition of Meyer Levin's classic literary thriller Compulsion reintroduces the fictionalized case of Leopold and Loeb – once considered the "crime of the century" – to a new generation. This incisive psychological portrait of two young murderers seized the imagination of an era and is generally recognized as paving the way for the first non-fiction novel. Compulsion forces us to ask what drives some further into darkness, and some to seek redemption.
Heartbreaking as it is gripping, Compulsion is written with a tense and penetrating force that led the Los Angeles Times to call Levin, “the most significant Jewish writer of his times.”
The horrific murder in 1924 of 14-year-old Bobby Franks in Chicago by Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb inspired this acclaimed roman clef, originally published in 1956. Levin, who was 18 at the time, covered the case for the Chicago Daily News. Thinly disguised as reporter Sid Silver, he narrates the tale of thrill killers Judd Steiner and Artie Straus. Steiner and Straus, acting as perverted Nietzschean supermen, abducted and murdered 13-year-old Paulie Kessler, the son of a pawnbroker. Thirty years later, Steiner is eligible for parole and Silver's editor asks him to interview the prisoner, which frames the journalist's recollection of the crime, its detection, and the trial. Levin (Citizens) makes the senseless brutality of the murderers palpable, as well as the suffering of the survivors, who include Steiner's devastated father, unable to comprehend how his child could become a killer. The psychiatry feels dated, but otherwise this holds up as a landmark legal thriller.