Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Book Review: "The Secret History of Wonder Woman" by Jill Lepore

The Secret History of Wonder Woman Jill Lepore
Published: October 28, 2014
ISBN: 9780385354042
Genre: History
Source: Personal Copy (Book Club Selection)
Highly Recommended

You might enjoy this book if you like: Wonder Woman (obviously), Feminist History, stories of polyamory, the history of birth control, comic books, superheroes

A riveting work of historical detection revealing that the origin of one of the world’s most iconic superheroes hides within it a fascinating family story—and a crucial history of twentieth-century feminism

Wonder Woman, created in 1941, is the most popular female superhero of all time. Aside from Superman and Batman, no superhero has lasted as long or commanded so vast and wildly passionate a following. Like every other superhero, Wonder Woman has a secret identity. Unlike every other superhero, she has also has a secret history.

Harvard historian and New Yorker staff writer Jill Lepore has uncovered an astonishing trove of documents, including the never-before-seen private papers of William Moulton Marston, Wonder Woman’s creator. Beginning in his undergraduate years at Harvard, Marston was influenced by early suffragists and feminists, starting with Emmeline Pankhurst, who was banned from speaking on campus in 1911, when Marston was a freshman. In the 1920s, Marston and his wife, Sadie Elizabeth Holloway, brought into their home Olive Byrne, the niece of Margaret Sanger, one of the most influential feminists of the twentieth century. The Marston family story is a tale of drama, intrigue, and irony. In the 1930s, Marston and Byrne wrote a regular column for Family Circle celebrating conventional family life, even as they themselves pursued lives of extraordinary nonconformity. Marston, internationally known as an expert on truth—he invented the lie detector test—lived a life of secrets, only to spill them on the pages of Wonder Woman.

My Thoughts: 
I'm not really a comic reader, so I know Wonder Woman through my husband (who does follow comics) and the old, 1970's TV show starring Lynda Carter. In other words, I know what Wonder Woman is, but I wasn't familiar with her back story.

When my husband saw me reading this, he asked what the dirt on it was.  I could only shake my head...because this book is all over the place (but in a good way).  It felt like the Forrest Gump of comic book history because there is nothing in early 20th century history that does not appear in this book (but in a good way).

I actually am not sure where to start with this review.  I'm not going to go into the actual contents because, well, you have to read it to believe it.  I have to applaud Lepore on how well she organized this book.  The journey to Wonder Woman is long and circuitous, but Lepore nimbly keeps the readers in the right lane.  Because of this, it is easy to follow each of the different threads as Lepore introduces and then explores them.

Some people may be wary of this book because there is just so much in it, but please don't let that put you off.  This doesn't read like a history book--instead, it is like Lepore is telling you an unbelievable, but true, story.  At times, it has an edge of gossip to it, which is just the dash of spice it needs to keep it from becoming too dry and factual. I found that I wanted to know more about this unconventional family, but I also know that what Lepore was telling me was only what she could back up with citations (this book is very well cited, but Lepore uses end-notes, so you can choose to follow the citations or not)

All in all, this is a fascinating read and it is one that I think anyone could find at least one thing that interests them.  If you want a book to blow your mind, pick this one up.

I was not solicited for this review and I received no compensation for this post.

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