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America's Obsessives: The Compulsive Energy That Built a Nation Hardcover – June 25, 2013

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Sure, there’s a link between creativity and eccentricity, but what of a link between eccentricity and extreme productivity? Noted journalist Kendall explores the existence of such a link in this engaging dive into the private lives of seven of the nation’s most productive individuals. According to Kendall, makeup maven Estée Lauder, née Josephine Esther Mentzer, never met a face she didn’t want to make over; Henry J. Heinz, of pickle fame, never met anything he didn’t want to measure; and aviator Charles Lindbergh never met a woman he didn’t want to, well . . . best read the book to glean all the tawdry details. These seven—including Apple’s Steve Jobs—characterize the type of individual responsible for setting the U.S. head and shoulders above other industrialized countries by raising the productivity bar not for financial gain but for the personal satisfaction of knowing that whatever they produce is exceptional. Kendall argues that all seven had obsessive-compulsive personality disorder, or OCPD (not to be confused with obsessive-compulsive disorder, OCD), a theory for which he makes a credible case by citing little-known similarities in their backgrounds. Kendall keeps the pages flying by with graceful prose rich in intriguing details drawn from his extensive research. --Donna Chavez

Review

We all learn that a few virtues-ingenuity, vision, focus, hard work, tenacity-are key to individual success. Joshua Kendall slightly but fascinatingly shifts our understanding of those motherhood-and-apple-pie virtues to tell a chillier story of American exceptionalism: in the country that privileges individual achievement above all, the most exceptional people are apt to be persnickety, monomaniacal freaks, driven by (and perhaps doomed to) an abiding loneliness in their pursuits of perfection. Turns out it's hard to be an American hero.
-- Kurt Andersen, author of True Believers and Heyday


Joshua Kendall ranks with John Aubrey (Brief Lives), John Gunther (Procession), and Winston Churchill (Great Contemporaries) in his ability to render lives in exquisite miniature. His special gift, however, is locating the vein of obsession in his cast of famous men and women that drives, inspires, or perverts them. Passion in life? Yes. But as Kendall acutely demonstrates, passions that led to greatness sometimes arise from the dark worlds of near-madness, too.
-- Charles J. Shields, author of And So It Goes: Kurt Vonnegut, A Life and the New York Times bestseller Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee

Sit back and enjoy! Kendall's pages all but turn themselves. AMERICA'S OBSESSIVES is an insouciant romp through the hidden lives of a fascinating group of iconic Americans. Kendall's prose is witty; his points are sharp; and though he discusses familiar figures (including Thomas Jefferson, Alfred C. Kinsey, Charles Lindbergh, and Ted Williams), his insights will surprise you. Can private demons produce the manic energy and compulsive drive often found in men and women who achieve greatness? Kendall makes the case with gusto. His portraits will stick with you.
--James H. Jones, author of Alfred C. Kinsey: A Public/Private Life

"AMERICA'S OBSESSIVES is-forgive me-compulsively readable. Joshua Kendall takes the reader on an eye-opening and, at times, hair-raising tour through the personalities of heroic, reckless, crude, half-mad, and supremely accomplished people. Ranging from Thomas Jefferson to Estée Lauder, this diverse tribe of American icons shared a common trait-they were all, as one of them said, "born with a disposition to run things whenever [they] could get a chance."
--Henry Wiencek, author of Master of the Mountain: Thomas Jefferson and His Slaves


"Joshua Kendall convincingly and entertainingly reveals another important side to the psychology of the world's movers and shakers: obsession. Some of our greatest leaders and innovators are driven by an internal anxiety in a way that benefits their creativity, and that helps the world. This is another blow against that stigma against mental abnormality, which is the last great prejudice of humankind."
--Nassir Ghaemi, MD, MPH, professor of psychiatry; director, Mood Disorders Program, Tufts Medical Center; and author of A First Rate Madness

A compelling look at how personality disorders can rule and ruin a life, and how those who come to terms with their constraints can achieve great things.
-- Publisher's Weekly Starred Review

Readers will delight in the weirdness that the author has unearthed.
--Kirkus

"Kendall keeps the pages flying by with graceful prose rich in intriguing details drawn from his extensive research."
-- Booklist (Starred Review)

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing (June 25, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1455502383
  • ISBN-13: 978-1455502387
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.2 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #969,362 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Voracious Reader on June 26, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Joshua Kendall is a true "Knight of the Keyboard," a label offered up by one of Kendall's subjects, Ted Williams, but this time without a hint of the Williams' sarcasm. The late baseball slugger could be magnanimous and moody, profound and profane, all in the same sentence. Kendall profiled Williams and the other subjects in this book brilliantly. Genius is achieved frequently at tremendous cost. The greatness that goes hand and glove with a single-minded pursuit often comes with a price. Relationships, public and private, suffer. In their lifetimes, the folks Kendall profiles may have reached fame or fortune, but not without more than a little despair. For that we have all been the beneficiaries. This book is a study in greatness. Read it and reap. --Bruce E. Spitzer, author of "Extra Innings," the Ted Williams novel.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Average Consumer on August 23, 2013
Format: Hardcover
I had the pleasure of hearing this author at The Commonwealth Club in San Francisco. I couldn't stop thinking about this book after I read it. It's a multi-layered treat. On the surface it's simply an interesting and engaging read. Beyond that the book inspires the reader to think more about our American work culture. I highly recommend this book.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By JSisk on August 19, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As soon as I heard about this book, I knew I had to read it. It did not disappoint. It is a fascinating, thorough, and kind of terrifying look into the lives and minds of some of our history's most towering figures. It is intriguing and a little disturbing, all at the same time. The whole time I was reading this book, I kept turning to my husband saying, "Oh my gosh, you have to listen to this!"
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By sierra on September 29, 2013
Format: Hardcover
As if written by a celebrity tabloid writer, the book contains painstaking collection of details, quotes without any convincing analysis.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on October 3, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition
This book is really a compilation of 20-30 page thumbnail sketches of seven groundbreaking individuals who were successful in their respective fields. There's little overarching narrative or theme, except that the author suggests that all these individuals were successful because of obsessive-compulsive personality disorder. Well, sure, they were driven, detail-oriented, domineering, and sometimes had trouble relating to people. Doesn't that describe just about everyone in history who reached the absolute pinnacle of success in their field? Any of the folks profiled in this book are interesting and complicated enough to warrant their own biography, and I think they all have at least one. I suggest reading those instead.
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