The best books about human obsession

Mark Spivak Author Of Friend of the Devil
By Mark Spivak

The Books I Picked & Why


By Herman Melville

Book cover of Moby-Dick

Why this book?

This is the template from which most stories of human obsession are drawn. It starts out simply enough, with a clueless sailor signing on to a whaling expedition to kill a few years of his life. But soon we have a demonically possessed captain on the ultimate revenge hunt, baptizing his harpoon in blood and dedicating it to Satan. It’s pretty obvious that the story grabbed the unsuspecting Melville himself by the throat and took control of him, much as it does for the reader.

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By Vladimir Nabokov

Book cover of Lolita

Why this book?

Few obsessions are more compelling than love, and few snacks are more delicious than forbidden fruit. As we follow Humbert Humbert’s quest for his pre-pubescent “nymphet,” we are uncomfortably reminded of our own forbidden desires—passions we may not have admitted to ourselves, much less others. In addition, this book is an absolute delight for anyone who appreciates lyrical and beautiful prose, all the more stunning because it describes an obsession way outside the norms of society.

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The Perfectionist: Life and Death in Haute Cuisine

By Rudolph Chelminski

Book cover of The Perfectionist: Life and Death in Haute Cuisine

Why this book?

Think Friend of the Devil is merely fiction? Consider this: Bernard Loiseau rose from obscurity to the pinnacle of his profession, earning the ultimate accolade of three stars in the Michelin Guide for his restaurant La Côte d’Or in Saulieu, France. Yet in 2003, immediately after the lunch service, this acclaimed chef blew his brains out with a shotgun. The Perfectionist traces his life, obsessions, and insecurities to give us a chilling portrait of why attaining your dreams might be the most dangerous situation of all.

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The Deltoid Pumpkin Seed

By John McPhee

Book cover of The Deltoid Pumpkin Seed

Why this book?

When most people think of dirigibles, they’re reminded of either the Goodyear Blimp or (if they’re old enough) the crash of the Hindenburg. However, there’s a small band of fanatics who are dedicated to the quest for lighter-than-air flying. For these folks, the subject is more compelling than the Holy Grail, and they devote decades of their lives and the bulk of their resources to prove to the public that dirigibles should come back and replace jet aviation. A true story, and a fascinating read.

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By Joan Didion

Book cover of Democracy

Why this book?

Some of us marry our childhood sweetheart, while others carry a lifelong torch for a love that seems unattainable. For Inez Victor—married to a U.S. Senator and failed Presidential candidate, a woman who has spent her entire adult life being photographed—the memories of Jack Lovett come in and out of focus like a camera lens. For decades, the two of them nurture a fantasy that finally explodes into the open with the force of the munitions that Lovett sells to governments around the world.

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