The Book

AmericasObsessives-book-cover-dropshadowA 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.

Publishers Weekly, Starred Review

Kendall keeps the pages flying by with graceful prose rich in intriguing details drawn from his extensive research.

Booklist, Starred Review

Interesting and enlightening.

The Washington Post

Inspired by Malcolm Gladwell’s OutliersAmerica’s Obsessives: The Compulsive Energy That Built a Nation examines some key factors behind staggering success.  After defining the “obsessive innovator” in a prologue PrologueExcerpt that discusses tech legends Steve Jobs and Larry Ellison, the book profiles seven iconic figures—Thomas Jefferson, HJ Heinz, librarian Melvil Dewey, sexologist Alfred Kinsey, Charles Lindbergh, baseball slugger Ted Williams and cosmetics entrepreneur Estée Lauder.  While these super-achievers toiled in different arenas, they had one thing in common: all achieved greatness by giving free rein to burning obsessions and compulsions that dated back to childhood.   For Ted Williams, whose conversation starter (and pick-up line) was “Show me your swing,” hitting a baseball was always foremost in his mind.   The last major leaguer to sport a .400 batting average didn’t hit to live, he lived to hit.   Likewise, Estée Lauder didn’t touch faces to build a business, she built a business so that she could keep touching faces.  As a little girl, Esther Mentzer of Corona, Queens put make-up on everyone in sight; and the adult businesswoman never could stop.   The founder of the beauty empire, which today “touches” more than half a billion consumers around the world, would sidle up to strangers in elevators and on trains, upon whom she would perform mini-makeovers.

In order to capture all sides of these complicated trail-blazers, I visited archives sprinkled around the country and conducted numerous interviews with family members and acquaintances.  I also traveled to Munich so that I could fill in the blanks about the last two decades of Lindbergh’s life when he started three secret German families.   Filled with startling revelations, America’s Obsessives is designed to both entertain and instruct.  The book will be published by Grand Central, a division of the Hachette Book Group, on Tuesday June 25, 2013.


Piccolo Spoleto Festival (Charleston, SC)–May 31

Boston Athenaeum–June 25th

Harvard Club of Boston (co-sponsored by Yale Club of Boston)–June 26th

Harvard Bookstore–July 3rd

Library of Congress–July 11th

One More Page Books (Arlington, VA)–July 11th

St. Louis Mercantile Library–July 12

University Club of Chicago–July 18

NewBridge on the Charles–July 31

Mid-Manhattan Library–August 8

Commonwealth Club of California–August 12

SF Public Library–August 14

Newton Free Library — August 20

Redwood Library (Newport, RI)–October 3rd

Boston Book Festival–October 19

Society of the Four Arts (Palm Beach, FL)–January 9, 2014

Club of Odd Volumes (Boston, MA)–January 15, 2014

Society of Colonial Wars (Boston, MA)–February 20, 2014

New York Society Library–April 29, 2014

Biographers International Conference (Boston, MA)–May 17, 2014


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

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 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,  director, Mood Disorders Program, Tufts Medical Center; and author of A First Rate Madness

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