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.”


“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

“Levin brings a compelling creative power rooted both in subjectivity and objectivity [...] 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 [...] Mr. Levin succeeds brilliantly in creating high suspense in his fictional retelling of it.”

New York Herald Tribune Book Review

"Levin 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 [...] this holds up as a landmark legal thriller."

Publishers Weekly

"Paying close attention to historical detail, COMPULSION is a deftly crafted novel that documents author Meyer Levin as a particularly gifted storyteller that will keep his readers total engaged from beginning to end."

Midwest 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 in American 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

Awards & Accolades