Saturday, 4 July 2020

Meyer Levin

The Reporter (1929)
Frankie and Johnny (1930)
Yehude (1931)
The Golden Mountain (1932)
The New Bridge (1933)
The Old Bunch (1937)
Citizens (1940)
My Father’s House (1947)
Compulsion (1956)
Eva (1959)
The Fanatic (1964)
The Stronghold (1965)
Gore and Igor (1968)
The Settlers (1972)
The Spell of Time (1974)
The Harvest (1978)
The Architect (1981)

Autobiographical Works
In Search (1949)
The Obsession (1974)

Levin has also authored a Hagaddah, a compilation of Hasidic Tales and various series of educational works about Judaism, Jewish history and philosophy.


In 1972 the Los Angeles Times called Meyer Levin “the most significant American Jewish writer of his time.” Norman Mailer referred to him as “one of the best American writers working in the realistic tradition.” And Ernest Hemingway called Levin’s book CITIZENS “a fine American novel — one of the best I ever read.” Is it any wonder then that the work of Meyer Levin is considered to be among the finest and most important of any twentieth century writer?

Born in 1905, Meyer Levin was raised in the section of Chicago notoriously known in the days of gangster warfare as the “Bloody Nineteen Ward.” At the age of eighteen he worked as a reporter for the Chicago Daily News and during the next four years became an increasingly frequent contributor to the national literary magazine, The Menorah Journal. In 1929 he published THE REPORTER, which was the first of his sixteen novels.

Throughout his sixty years of professional work, Levin was a constant innovator, reinventing himself and stretching his literary style with remarkable versatility. From the early documentary experimentation shown in THE REPORTER to the wildly satiric black humor of GORE AND IGOR (1969), from the psychoanalytic thriller COMPULSION (1956) to the historic epic THE SETTLERS (1972), Levin was attuned to the changes in society and structured his work for the day while never once compromising his own inner vision.

In 1933 Levin became an assistant editor and film critic at the newly-created Esquire Magazine where he remained until 1939. During this time he published the now classic novel THE OLD BUNCH, about a group of American Jewish friends coming to maturity in a Chicago neighborhood. It struck a nerve with an entire generation and began the movement that brought modern Jewish themes into mainstream American novels.

In the mind of Meyer Levin, life and art were never divided. His concern for the universal questions of humanity affected his life as well as his work. Thus, his leadership in the 1930s of a citizens campaign against Chicago police brutality, when ten steel mill strikers were shot down, led to the novel CITIZENS (1940), now regarded as a classic industrial novel.

Perhaps his best-known work is COMPULSION (1956), chronicling the Leopold and Loeb case and hailed by critics as one of the greatest books of the decade. The compelling work was the first “documentary novel” or “non-fiction novel” (a style later used in Capote’s IN COLD BLOOD and Mailer’s THE EXECUTIONER’S SONG) and both a great critical and popular success.

After the enormous success of COMPULSION, Levin embarked on a trilogy of novels dealing with the Holocaust. The first, EVA (1959) was the story of a Jewish girl’s experiences throughout the war and her adjustment to life after the concentration camps. This was followed by THE FANATIC (1963), which told the hypnotic story of a Jewish poet dealing with the moral questions that arose from his ordeal at the hands of the Nazis. The last in the triptych, THE STRONGHOLD (1965), is a thriller set in a concentration camp during the last days of the war, and it is a powerful work on both the visceral and philosophical levels.

At the age of 62, Levin reinvented himself again, this time invading the beatnik world of the 1960s with GORE AND IGOR, a hilarious novel about two counter-culture poets exiled from their respective audiences in New York and Moscow.

In the historical novels THE SETTLERS (1972) and THE HARVEST (1978), Levin wove an epic tale of pioneering life in the early Palestine settlements. The works were the culmination of decades of research, and reviewers hailed the duo as the author’s masterwork, a Jewish WAR AND PEACE.

With THE SPELL OF TIME (1974) Levin created a love story filled with otherworldly mysticism and genuine human emotion. Two men, rivals for one woman’s affections, each supposing that she loves the other, exchange minds and bodies with the hopes of winning her love. The book is at once and extraordinary love story and a searching exploration into the soul of man.

Levin’s final novel, THE ARCHITECT, was a fictional story loosely based on the life of Frank Lloyd Wright. Set against the backdrop of turn-of-the-century America, the story followed a genius architectural innovator through his life during a time of revolution in American design and construction.


At the outset of World War II Levin made documentary films for the US Office of War Information and later worked in France as a civilian expert in the Psychological Warfare Division. He eventually became a war correspondent for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, with the special mission of uncovering the fate of Jewish concentration camp prisoners. Levin took his role very seriously, sometimes entering concentration camps ahead of the tanks of the liberating forces in order to compile lists of the survivors.

After the war Levin went to Palestine and turned his attention again to the motion picture camera. His film MY FATHER’S HOUSE told the story of a child survivor searching for his family in Palestine. He wrote this story as a novel as well and the book was published in 1947.

Levin also joined the Hagana underground and helped smuggle Jews from the interior of Poland to the Palestine shore. He captured this operation on film and the result is the now historic documentary THE ILLEGALS, a work that is praised by today’s film historians as a prefigurative example of cinema vérité.

In 1951 Levin came upon THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK, which had just been published in France. He passionately campaigned to have the work published in English, and conceived it as a play and film. When the diary finally found an American publisher, his play was accepted for production but then suddenly barred, ostensibly for being “unstageworthy,” and another writer’s version was commissioned.

Levin fought for the rights to perform his version of the play, claiming that the real reason the producers refused to stage his work was because they thought it “too Jewish.” He saw the suppression of the play as an extension of the Stalinist attack on Jewish culture and, outraged that even Anne Frank could be censored, he took the producers to court and began an agonizing, prolonged struggle that dragged on for years.

Levin eventually won a jury award against the producers for appropriation of ideas, but the bitterness of the trial made him many enemies in the Jewish and literary communities.

Although Levin’s version of the play is still banned by the owners of the dramatic rights, underground productions of the work are frequently staged throughout the world.

Levin’s masterpiece, COMPULSION, was brought to the motion picture screen in 1959. The film was produced by Darryl F. Zanuck Productions and released by 20th Century Fox to wide acclaim. It is to be released on video in Summer 1995 as part of Fox’s Studio Classics series.

On top of his work in fiction Levin also authored two autobiographical works: the unsparingly self-searching and evocative book IN SEARCH (1949) and the self-analytical THE OBSESSION (1974) which told the story of his twenty year battle over the rejection and suppression of his version of THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK. He also wrote a series of non-fiction and educational books about Judaism, Israel, Jewish philosophy and literature, and the illustrated Haggadah on which he worked is to this day a staple of Jewish ceremony during the Passover holiday.

When Meyer Levin died in 1981 he left behind a remarkable and diverse body of work that not only reflected the incredible life he led but chronicled the development of the entire Jewish consciousness during this century. The evolution of Levin paralleled that of the generation of which he was part, and it is for that reason that he is considered by many today as the most significant American Jewish writer of this century.



“Meyer Levin’s astonishingly good novel is a period piece twice over…COMPULSION is smartly structured to maximize suspense, and the book’s title is descriptive of the urge a reader feels to keep turning pages. The world of the upper class Chicago families is rendered in fine-stitched detail…As psychological throller and as courtroom drama, this novel has few peers; it ascends to a Dostoyevskian level.”

—The Wall Street Journal

“Before In Cold Blood, before The Executioner’s Song, Meyer Levin’s COMPULSION was the standard-bearer for what we think of as the nonfiction novel…Meyer Levin’s masterful skill as a writer and profound psychological insight into the characters of Nathan Leopold (transformed in the novel into Judd Steiner) and Richard Loeb (fictionalized as Artie Straus) produced a powerful, nuanced, and impressively credible depiction of two equally—but differently—disturbed minds.”

The Daily Beast

“A book which can take its place with Dreiser’s American Tragedy. To its telling Levin brings a compelling creative power rooted both in subjectivity and objectivity. As a campus contemporary of the two criminals, as a precociously bright cub reporter called Sid Silver in the book, he writes with the immediacy and intimacy of first-hand knowledge of the principals in the case. To this he adds the maturity of a man and novelist who probes the influences, the motives and compulsions, the psychological and pathological forces, that led to the monstrous crime..Familiar as are the essential details of this case, familiar as is its outcome, Mr. Levin succeeds brilliantly in creating high suspense in his fictional retelling of it.”

—New York Herald Tribune Book Review

“COMPULSION is one of the most powerful novels I’ve ever read. It will bring to mind classic Russian psychological novels; it was a groundbreaking novel in 1956 and it stands up superbly today.”

Huntington News

“Before Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, before Norman Mailer’s The Executioner, ther was Meyer Levin’s COMPULSION, a docu-novel about the famous Leopold and Loeb murder case in the 1920s. If only for its rightful place i nAmerican literary history, COMPULSION is worth reprinting. But it is also valuable because of its author’s novelistic gifts–a convincing portrait of two brilliant psychopaths, a narrative capacity for a spellbinding tale, an auhtentic depiction of the 1920s Chicago moral and political landscape. COMPULSION is a credible portrait of an era, and an early example of an infamous crime turned into compelling fiction.”

Alan Lelchuk,
author of American Mischief

“For nearly a century now, the Leopold and Loeb case has maintained a firm hold on the popular imagination, generating histories, movies, stage dramas, even musicals and comic books. Of this seemingly endless stream of retellings, Levin’s lightly fictionalized masterpiece—so true to reality that Leopold himself famously sued the author—remains the most gripping, psychologically penetrating, and purely readable account of one of America’s most sensational crimes.”

–Harold Schechter,
author of The Mad Sculptor: The Maniac, The Model, and the Murder that Shook the Nation



  • Romanian rights sold to Editura Herald


  • Film/TV rights to FOX
  • Audio rights to Audible
  • Italian rights sold to Adelphi
  • French rights sold to Phebus


  • French rights  sold to Phebus

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