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4.09  ·  Rating details ·  848 ratings  ·  122 reviews
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 ...more
Paperback, 480 pages
Published April 14th 2015 by Fig Tree Books (first published June 1956)
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Dear Sir:

As you know doubt know by this time your son has been kidnapped. Allow us to assure you that he is at present well and safe.


All lies.

The boy was never kidnapped. He was killed shortly after he willingly entered a car with Judd Steiner and Artie Straus. The kidnapping scam was an attempt to cover their real crime - murder . . . just for the hell of it.

Steiner and Straus, based on the real life Leopold and Loeb, were the privileged sons of multimillionaires. Brilliant and bored,
David Schaafsma
Jul 29, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: true-crime, chicago, psych
I read this in the sixties (yes, that's right) after picking up the paperback in a used book sale. I read it compulsively, as it relates the sensational twenties murder by two "brilliant" young Chicago men, Leopold and Loeb, of a young boy their neighborhood. 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 this kid. The trial was one of those "trials of the century." It's a creepy., maddening sto ...more
Bonnie Brody
Apr 12, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I read this book when it first came out and it is one that has staying power over the years. The dark investigation of hubris, narcissism and sociopathy keep the reader enthralled from beginning to end. We keep asking ourselves 'How could this happen?' 'It's not possible' we think. But it is. This story is based on a true incident and Meyer Levin has caught it all in his novel.

I think this book points to something that is important for everyone to realize. It's not how smart you are, but how goo
Jul 27, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: crime fiction fans

Compulsion, the #3 bestseller in 1957, is a fictionalized account of a crime and trial which actually happened in Chicago in the 1920s, known as the Leopold and Loeb case. Two teen aged boys from wealthy families kidnapped and killed a young boy and were eventually sentenced to life imprisonment. It was sensationalized in the media of the time as "the crime of the century" and "the trial of the century."
Meyer Levin was a cub reporter for a Chicago newspaper at that time and got to know the bo
Straightforward and entertaining retelling of the Leopold and Loeb murder case, somewhat overwrought in tone and would have benefited from being shorter. I didn't care for the disclaimer that the first person narrator who witnessed the events stated upfront that he would invent dialogue and interactions to cover situations he couldn't have known; the attempt to have it both ways with both first and third person narrator seemed like cheating to me. Pick one and work within that limitation.

Description: The basis of the award-winning film starring Orson Welles, 'Compulsion' gives a shocking fictionalized account of the Leopold-Loeb murder case, in which two young graduates of the University of Chicago kidnapped and killed a child for the intellectual challenge.

See also Leopold and Loeb trial
Won this from Firstreads..
I was really excited when I found out I won this one, as I've wanted to read it for quite a while. I think that fact may have contributed to my feeling quite let down at first. I couldn't get into it, took a really long time to get through the first 100 pages. After that it picked up, and met my expectations. Definitely recommended for anyone interested in the Leopold/Loeb case.
Rosie Wedge
Jan 30, 2020 rated it it was amazing

I adored this telling of a true-crime in the form of a fictional prose. Levin writes in a really compelling, atmospheric manner, and structures the story in a really strong way.

I wholly enjoyed this, and my experience was even more heightened by knowing the eerie connection between this book and Ian Brady!

A great read for any true crime lover.
Mar 31, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Such a horrific story of two young men with fortune and future within their grasp. To take the life of a child with no remorse. This book explores their mindset and the courts as the trial of them progresses.

I received aa ARC copy from Goodreads.
Julie Hayes
May 02, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
At the time, it was touted as the crime of the century. In 1924, a child named Bobby Franks was kidnapped and held for ransom. His family was a wealthy one, and willing to pay what it would take to have Bobby returned unharmed. But even before the final ransom arrangements were made, Bobby was already dead. What was even more shocking was the identity of his killers—two young men, both geniuses, both born into privilege and wealth, Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb. Their story has been fictionali ...more
Roger Brunyate
May 07, 2016 rated it really liked it
A Time Capsule

This is an oldie, first published in 1956, and I don't quite see why Fig Tree Books are reissuing it now. Certainly the new introduction by Marcia Clark does not explain it, although she does point out the book's importance as a true-crime novel, preceding both Truman Capote's In Cold Blood (1966) and Norman Mailer's The Executioner's Song (1979) and thus in its way initiating a genre. Clark's introduction now means that the novel has four of them, for after it we get the a
A fictional retelling of the Leopold and Loeb murders, Compulsion is definitely an interesting look into the pov of the time when it was written. I have to admit, I was prepared for the homophobia, and was expecting the characters' relationship to be seen as a mental illness, and explained through quasi-Freudian ideas that don't work at all, but the misogyny was possibly even worse. The murderers unsurprisingly have a lot of issues with women, but unfortunately the women in the book seem there t ...more
Jun 16, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: whose who liked In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
This novel is rigorous and striking.

Rigorous because it is so well-detailed, written ten years before In Cold Blood, in a true journalistic style. Philosophical references, to Nietzsche and Freud, are omnipresent and incite the reader to put into perspective characters' thoughts and actions.

What was particularly striking in this writing, and differs from Truman Capote's work, is that the author knew the criminals before their crime and see how he allowed himself to invent different protagonists'
 Reading Reindeer
Review: COMPULSION by Meyer Levin

This extraordinary book, a fictionalized narrative of 1924's "Crime of the Century," first met the public eye in 1956, three decades after the murder, the trial, and the imprisonment of two young killers. The author covered the trial as a cub reporter, and presciently recognized both the horror and the oddities of the crime. Subsequently he was an early entrant into Nazi concentration camps as a war correspondent. The highest level of the Nazi hierarchy adhered t
Kasa Cotugno
Although Truman Capote is credited with "inventing" the non-fiction novel, Meyer Levin's Compulsion, written almost 10 years before, really set the stage for the genre. The difference is that Levin's book presents as a novel, renaming characters, and it does delve into the psychological inner lives of the two central characters, which is why it had to be classified as fiction rather than non-, much the same as Dave Eggars' What is the What. I remember being absolutely horrified when I first read ...more
Sonali V
Finally found the book. I had read it way back in1975/76.My then boyfriend whom I went on to marry, had got it from a local library. I gave it to an older relative to read and unfortunately he lost it while travelling by bus. I didn't hear the end of it from my boyfriend for years. I searched for it in every bookstore I could for years and with the coming of the Internet, online too, but without success. And now we are separated... but if possible I am going to order online and have it delivered ...more
Apr 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Brilliant crime novel, based on a real case. Heavy on the psychological and social aspects. I was reminded very much of another favorite read in this genre, An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser.
Sep 20, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Two eighteen year-old boys, Judd Steiner and Artie Strauss, are both brilliant, having graduated from the University of Chicago already. They are the sons of millionaires and live a life of luxury as neighbors in a wealthy section of Chicago. Artie is one of the most popular boys on campus and has a reputation with the girls. Many see his relationship with Judd as one of pity for the small, weird boy who no one else likes.
When the young son of another neighbor, also a millionaire, is found stuff
Aug 31, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
this book SLAPS
this (as i'm sure you know) based on the leopold and loeb case, and made nathan leopold literally vomit in prison! iconic!!
judd steiner and artie strauss, two lovers that believe they are above the law, attempt to commit the perfect crime--murdering a 12 year old named paulie kessler for the thrill of it.
this two messes of blokes believe they're ubermenschen and, yes, it's a mess, but this book is so good. there were a couple of scenes that made me a bit uncomfortable, but, othe
Dec 15, 2012 rated it really liked it
Based on the true story of the early 20th century Chicago murder by two bright affluent Jewish students, basically for sport. The first half of the book, "the crime of the century" was the stronger section. Focusing on the meticulous planning, the twisted relationship between these two affluent boys, and the psychology behind what could have driven them to commit such a heinous act. The second half, "the crime of the century" got a bit bogged down by the details. That said, this story, 470 pages ...more
Feb 01, 2015 rated it really liked it
I received a free copy of "Compulsion" as a Goodreads giveway, at the time I thought it sounded quite interesting. I had never heard of this book before although it was published in the 50's. As much as this book is dark and twisted, it is also compelling and fascinating. Extremely well written. This is one of those book which I literally could not put down, which is pretty rare these days. The only criticism I have would be the last 50 pages or so were slow, Other than that, I highly recommend ...more
Dec 09, 2015 rated it really liked it
This 1956 novel was apparently a blockbuster bestseller when it came out, & I'd heard references to it, so I got it from the library to read. It's a fictional account of the famous Leopold & Loeb murder case in 1924. (L&L were the murderers, not the victims.) The novel sticks very close to the actual facts, including that the narrator's role in the story is very close to Meyer Levin's role in reality. I found it fascinating. The story was also made into a 1959 crime drama film with the same titl ...more
Sep 17, 2015 rated it really liked it
Published in 1956, Compulsion is a fictionalized account of the Leopold and Loeb murders in the 1920's and subsequent trial where the two perpetrators were represented by Clarence Darrow. Good, albeit dated insight on mental illness in our culture, not to mention a look at the American Jewish experience. Fairly lengthy but faced paced, Compulsion supposedly set the stage for books such as The Executioner's Song and In Cold Blood.
Mar 13, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Mackenzie by: 50
This is sort of hard to rate because although it is a well-written book it is very unpleasant to read. It's interesting as a window into the social mores and pop psychology of the 1920s, but it is also very disturbing.
Erika Dreifus
Wow. This book was a bestseller when it was first published in the 1950s, but I hadn't read it before joining Fig Tree Books, where I'm going to help a new generation get to know it. COMPULSION will be re-published in April 2015, and I can't wait for others to see, as I have, what we'd missed.
Jan 27, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, murder

This is the fictionalized story of the Leopold-Loeb case when two ten-agers decided to kill a young boy just to see if they could get away with it. The true story is in Life Pluss 99 Years. You need to read them both. Unbelievable!
Sep 24, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Great for book club discussion. Interesting insight into crime psychology and the courtroom
Glass River
Jun 20, 2020 marked it as fic-guided
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
James Henry
Feb 18, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This lightly fictionalized account of the Leopold & Loeb murder perfectly summarizes why this case fascinated the public in the 1920s and why it continued to be studied in the century afterwards. Throughout the book, I had conflicting feelings on the murderers--Leopold and Loeb changed to Artie Straus and Judd Steiner in this account--and the case overall. On one hand, this case got a lot of attention originally because of the rumors of homosexual relations between the two men. The homophobia pr ...more
Holly Haze
Jul 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
Compelling. I read this because I've been reading so much fictional crime that I thought I should follow some of that interest with a real crime. I have read Truman Capote's In Cold Blood a couple of times. I have also watched the movie a couple of times. Compulsion, which is the story of Leopold and Loeb's brutal killing of a 14 year old boy stuck with me just the same.
Of course if you're at all familiar with, and go as far as to believe the Bible, you know that evil always existed. But in 192
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“So at this moment Judd felt eternal solitude coming upon him. The dignity, the consistency, of the deed had been broken; they were no longer wilful gods, but caught boys squirming to throw blame, and he wanted only to detach himself so he might at least retain his own idea of integrity.” 2 likes
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