The novel, for which Levin was given a Special Edgar Award by the Mystery Writers of America in 1957, was the basis for the 1957 play Compulsion and the 1959 film based on it. Compulson was "the first 'documentary' or 'non-fiction novel' ("a style later used in Truman Capote's In Cold Blood and Norman Mailer's The Executioner's Song").
Levin was one of the first American journalists to become aware of the existence of Anne Frank's diary, and he was also one of the first people to recognize the literary and dramatic potential of this document. He wrote to and met Otto Frank, the father of Anne Frank. Levin became convinced that he had a strong interest in the text, and he later became obsessed when Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett successfully adapted the diary into a hit play while the play Meyer Levin had written was rejected. His 30 years battle to have his play performed and the legal battles that resulted are covered in An Obsession with Anne Frank: Meyer Levin and the Diary by Lawrence Graver, The Stolen Legacy of Anne Frank: Meyer Levin, Lillian Hellman and the Staging of the Diary, by Ralph Melnick, as well as in the French-language book by Levin's wife, Tereska Torres, "Les maisons hantees de Meyer Levin", published by Editions Phebus (Paris).