America's Obsessives: The Compulsive Energy That Built a Nation

America's Obsessives: The Compulsive Energy That Built a Nation

Joshua Kendall

Language: English

Pages: 267

ISBN: 1455502383

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

When most of us think of Charles Lindbergh, we picture a dashing twenty-five-year-old aviator stepping out of the Spirit of St. Louis after completing his solo flight across the Atlantic. What we don't see is the awkward high school student, who preferred ogling new gadgets at the hardware store to watching girls walk by in their summer dresses. Sure, Lindbergh's unique mindset invented the pre-flight checklist, but his obsession with order also led him to demand that his wife and three German mistresses account for all their household expenditures in detailed ledgers.
Lucky Lindy is just one of several American icons whom Joshua Kendall puts on the psychologist's couch in AMERICA'S OBSESSIVES. In this fascinating look at the arc of American history through the lens of compulsive behavior, he shows how some of our nation's greatest achievements-from the Declaration of Independence to the invention of the iPhone-have roots in the disappointments and frustrations of early childhood.
Starting with the obsessive natures of some of Silicon Valley's titans, including Steve Jobs, Kendall moves on to profile seven iconic figures, such as founding father Thomas Jefferson, licentious librarian Melvil Dewey, condiment kingpin H. J. Heinz, slugger Ted Williams, and Estee Lauder. This last personality was so obsessed with touching other women's faces that she transformed her compulsion into a multibillion-dollar cosmetics corporation.
Entertaining and instructive, Kendall offers up a few scoops along the way: Little do most Americans know that Charles Lindbergh, under the alias Clark Kent, sired seven children with his three German "wives." As Lindbergh's daughter Reeve told Kendall, "Now I know why he was gone so much. I also understand why he was delighted when I was learning German."











knew just how far to push; and her gentle but firm persistence was precisely what made her a supersaleswoman. “Customers flocked to her because of the force of her personality. She loved people,” Leonard Lauder told me. While the first statement is undoubtedly true, the second is debatable. Her charm with customers, like Kinsey’s compassion with interviewees, did not come naturally. It was something that she turned on to achieve her objective. Away from the department store counter, she often

Welch. In his bestselling autobiography, Jack: Straight from the Gut (2001), Welch talks about an incident in high school when he flung his hockey stick across the rink after his team suffered a bitter defeat. Startling his teammates and everyone else in sight, his fiery Irish mother rushed into the locker room and grabbed him by the collar, yelling, “You punk! If you don’t know how to lose, you’ll never know how to win.” Like Heinz, who also idealized his mother, Welch calls his “the most

Strunk Jr., who, in 1918, completed the first draft of what has since become known as The Elements of Style—in its original form, this guide to word usage was passed out just to Cornell students. In fact, the governing maxim of this classic text, “Omit needless words,” closely parallels the takeaway from Dewey’s 1913 speech at the Aldine Club. (The book was later transformed into a megaseller when rewritten by the New Yorker’s E. B. White, who had studied with Strunk at Cornell, for a

delighted in exploring the undeveloped hills adjacent to the garden, which he helped to maintain on the family’s one-eighth-acre plot of land. While Alfred was not able to cultivate human friendships, he did bond with plants and animals. During long hikes, he collected many botanical specimens, particularly pressed leaves and ferns. He also enjoyed bird-watching. And like Gregor Samsa, the alienated protagonist of Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, who sought escape from the clutches of his

personally examine every article. Having completed this inventory, Jefferson took out a pencil and paper in order to make a list of other items that he was convinced the adolescent would need. Keeping track of minutiae was a lifelong preoccupation. Jefferson kept in his pocket an ivory notebook—a kind of proto-iPad on which he could write in pencil; and when he returned to his study, he would then transfer his data to one of his seven permanent ledger books. In his Garden and Farm books, which

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