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Originally published Sunday, October 13, 2013 at 3:05 AM

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‘American Obsessives’: compelled to achieve

Joshua Kendall’s new book, “America’s Obsessives,” explains how several American superachievers, including Thomas Jefferson, Charles Lindbergh and Henry Heinz, had obsessive personalities that caused them personal pain but drove them to ever-greater heights of achievement.


The Washington Post

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‘America’s Obsessives: The Compulsive Energy That Built a Nation’

by Joshua Kendall

Grand Central, 294 pp., $27

Control freak. Neurotic listmaker. Successful American icon. Which one of these is not like the others?

None — they all go together, according to Joshua Kendall. In his new book, “America’s Obsessives,” he profiles seven American superachievers: political visionary Thomas Jefferson, renowned librarian Melvil Dewey, condiment titan Henry Heinz, prominent sexologist Alfred Kinsey, celebrated aviator Charles Lindbergh, cosmetic giant Estée Lauder and baseball legend Ted Williams. Kendall attributes their success to an unexpectedly powerful force: obsessive-compulsive personality disorder.

They were often motivated by troubled upbringings and childhood neglect, coupled with obsessive personalities that caused them to dedicate themselves to perfectionist goals. And the benefits of their compulsive preoccupation with flawless excellence came at the expense of social aptitude.

An extreme workaholic and listmaker, Jefferson brought his “style and passion” to bear on the Declaration of Independence. Lindbergh acknowledged that his obsession with detail pushed him to produce the first comprehensive flight-safety checklist. Dewey also had a fascination with numbers, which drove him to create the Dewey Decimal Classification system for libraries. Lauder turned her childhood fixation with beautifying strangers into a multibillion-dollar cosmetic empire.

Kendall also covers the less-flattering sides of his subjects’ obsessions. To maintain control, Lindbergh and Jefferson micromanaged their wives and tracked every household expenditure.

Kendall’s profiles reveal the startling secrets behind these iconic figures’ accomplishments while explaining their unique quirks and paradoxical idiosyncrasies. In doing so, he humanizes and destigmatizes their disorder.



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