The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore

78%

29 Critic Reviews

Although Lepore isn't the first writer to uncover Marston's polyamory or the less-than-subtle kinks of his comics...is the fullest and most fascinating portrait...In her hands, "The Secret History of Wonder Woman" is its own magic lasso, one that compels history to finally tell the truth about Wonder Woman — and compels the rest of us to behold it.
-LA Times

Synopsis

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.

The Secret History of Wonder Woman
is a tour de force of intellectual and cultural history. Wonder Woman, Lepore argues, is the missing link in the history of the struggle for women’s rights—a chain of events that begins with the women’s suffrage campaigns of the early 1900s and ends with the troubled place of feminism a century later.
 

About Jill Lepore

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Jill Lepore is the David Woods Kemper '41 Professor of American History at Harvard University and a staff writer at The New Yorker. Her books include Book of Ages, a finalist for the National Book Award; New York Burning, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize; The Name of War, winner of the Bancroft Prize; and The Mansion of Happiness, which was short-listed for the 2013 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
 
Published October 28, 2014 by Vintage. 449 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, History, Political & Social Sciences, Comics & Graphic Novels, Literature & Fiction. Non-fiction
Bestseller Status:
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Peak Rank on Nov 16 2014
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Critic reviews for The Secret History of Wonder Woman
All: 29 | Positive: 26 | Negative: 3

Kirkus

Good
on Jul 29 2014

The surprising origins of a 20th-century goddess...Lepore mines new archival sources to reconstruct Marston’s tangled home life and the controversy generated by Wonder Woman. It’s an irresistible story, and the author tells it with relish and delight.

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NY Times

Good
Reviewed by Carla Kaplan on Dec 12 2014

Lepore restores that instructive messiness. She could have made it messier still by delving further into race and sexuality. (Were Holloway and Byrne lovers? Why did they put up with Marston?) But her story is elsewhere.

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NY Times

Above average
Reviewed by Dwight Garner on Oct 23 2014

It’s a lot to pack in. But Ms. Lepore, as if piloting an invisible jet of her own in gusty weather, brings everything in for an only slightly bumpy landing.

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Guardian

Good
Reviewed by Victoria Segal on Aug 21 2015

Underneath the intriguing social history, this is a story of human flaws and foibles, with Wonder Woman, in all her bustiered-and-booted glory, standing as testament to the pitfalls and pleasures of chasing a dream.

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Guardian

Above average
Reviewed by Catherine Bennett on Dec 28 2014

what makes Marston’s story such terrific reading is precisely that nothing Lepore has uncovered about his family arrangements or sexual tastes was commonplace.

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NY Journal of Books

Excellent
Reviewed by Carolyn Haley on Jan 04 2015

The book satisfies one’s appetite for a good story, salts and peppers it with scandal, and provides a tome’s worth of education to digest afterward. Readers unfamiliar with Lepore’s previous work will be inspired to check it out to see what other fascinating and informative topics she has dished up, explained, and exposed.

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WSJ online

Good
Reviewed by Carol Tavris on Oct 24 2014

Ms. Lepore’s lively, surprising and occasionally salacious history is far more than the story of a comic strip. The author, a professor of history at Harvard, places Wonder Woman squarely in the story of women’s rights in America...

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NPR

Above average
Reviewed by Etelka Lehoczky on Oct 26 2014

It's all in Lepore's book, an astonishingly thorough investigation of the man behind the world's most popular female superhero.

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Book Reporter

Good
Reviewed by Sam Glass on Oct 21 2014

Ultimately, THE SECRET HISTORY OF WONDER WOMAN is exactly what it says on the tin: a revelation of the sundry factors that led to the creation of one of society’s most durable feminist icons.

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LA Times

Above average
Reviewed by Laura Hudson on Oct 23 2014

Although Lepore isn't the first writer to uncover Marston's polyamory or the less-than-subtle kinks of his comics...is the fullest and most fascinating portrait...In her hands, "The Secret History of Wonder Woman" is its own magic lasso, one that compels history to finally tell the truth about Wonder Woman — and compels the rest of us to behold it.

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The Economist

Good
on Nov 29 2014

...her secrets and, more intriguingly, those of her creators, are out—and quite unexpected. “The Secret History of Wonder Woman” is not just her history, but a story of feminism and birth control, with a Bohemian ménage-à-trois at its heart.

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Toronto Star

Good
Reviewed by Emily Donaldson on Nov 25 2014

This wry, astutely observed book appears at a time when women’s issues are once again top of mind politically and culturally. Among other things, it reminds us that social progress can be elusive, even if you’re a superhero.

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Entertainment Weekly

Good
Reviewed by Melissa Maerz on Nov 05 2014

It has nearly everything you might want in a page-turner: tales of S&M, skeletons in the closet, a believe-it-or-not weirdness in its biographical details, and something else that secretly powers even the most ''serious'' feminist history — fun.

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Christian Science Monitor

Good
Reviewed by Nick Romeo on Oct 29 2014

...an endlessly energetic and knowledgeable guide to the fascinating backstory of Wonder Woman. She’s particularly skillful at showing the subtle process by which personal details migrate from life into art.

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Booklist Online

Excellent
Reviewed by Donna Seaman on Oct 01 2014

Lepore restores Wonder Woman to her rightful place as an essential women’s rights icon in this dynamically researched and interpreted, spectacularly illustrated, downright astounding work of discovery that injects new zest into the history of feminism.

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Dallas News

Good
Reviewed by Michelle Jones on Nov 22 2014

It is when Lepore writes on these topics that her book lives up to the promise of those introductory pages. Marston certainly makes for a complicated character; he just can’t compete with all these fascinating women, Wonder Woman included.

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The Boston Globe

Good
Reviewed by Buzzy Jackson on Oct 23 2014

There’s a new Wonder Woman movie coming in 2017. If Lepore’s “secret history” has proved one thing, it’s that at least so far each era has gotten the Wonder Woman it deserves.

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BookPage

Good
Reviewed by Alden Mudge on Nov 01 2014

Through assiduous research...Lepore unravels a hidden history, and in so doing links her subjects’ lives to some of the most important social movements of the era. It’s a remarkable, thought-provoking achievement.

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San Francisco Chronicle

Above average
Reviewed by Audrey Bilger on Oct 22 2014

Armed with Lepore’s astute and entertaining history, Wonder Woman imitators can reclaim the f-word that underlies this signature stance. By acknowledging lost feminist history, we will all be better equipped to make progress toward even greater equality in the future.

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Tampa Bay Times

Above average
Reviewed by Colette Bancroft on Nov 05 2014

The Secret History of Wonder Woman is so filled with interesting characters, real and fictional, and such swaths of American culture and history that at times it feels overstuffed, but Lepore is such a lively writer that she sweeps the reader along in this strange tale.

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Slate

Above average
Reviewed by Glen Weldon on Nov 09 2014

This is just a fascinating statement, but the argument she makes for it gets largely shunted to the book’s epilogue, which covers the late ’60s onward. We get a whistle-stop tour of some of the most culturally resonant developments in Wonder Woman’s history...

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Newsday

Above average
Reviewed by MELISSA ANDERSON on Nov 05 2014

In the spirited, thoroughly reported "The Secret History of Wonder Woman," Jill Lepore recounts the fascinating details behind the Amazonian princess' origin story.

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The Miami Herald

Good
Reviewed by Ariel Gonzalez on Nov 09 2014

Wonder Woman will get her own movie in 2017, 38 years after Lynda Carter twirled into her golden tiara, gold-plated red bustier, and star-spangled blue satin shorts for the last time. Gadot should pick up Lepore’s book, to understand the breadth of this colorful legacy.

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Booklist Online

Excellent
Reviewed by Donna Seaman on Sep 01 2014

Lepore restores Wonder Woman to her rightful place as an essential women’s rights icon in this dynamically researched and interpreted, spectacularly illustrated, downright astounding work of discovery that injects new zest into the history of feminism.

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Chrisbookarama

Above average
on Nov 11 2014

Jill Lepore must have done a ton of research for The Secret History of Wonder Woman. That story must be a book in itself! It was worth it because The Secret History of Wonder Woman is quite the education. I could have done without most of the polygraph stuff though.

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Me, You, and Books

Good
on Jul 20 2014

My summary hardly does justice to all the stories that Lepore has interwoven into her account. I highly recommend the book to all who are interested in the curious mix of information The Secret History of Wonder Woman provides.

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Comics Worth Reading

Good
on Dec 01 2014

The book ends with an index of the comics that Wonder Woman appeared in while still under the control of her creator and some information on how to read them. I’ll definitely be diving into those shortly, with new insight into the best-known superhero woman.

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http://www.hoodedutilitarian.com

Below average
Reviewed by Noah Berlatsky on Nov 17 2014

...the book ends up being unnecessarily ungenerous to the numerous scholars who’ve written about the Marston Wonder Woman over the last 15 to 20 years. - See more at: http://www.hoodedutilitarian.com/2014/11/not-the-secret-history-of-wonder-woman/#sthash.mMVjvqMP.dpuf

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http://comicsbulletin.com

Good
Reviewed by Jason Sacks on Oct 28 2014

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.

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Reader Rating for The Secret History of Wonder Woman
81%

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William Booke 6 Mar 2017

Do not trust this book. Clearly the writer conducted a lot of researcher but presents it sensationalistically in ways that her own research often fails to confirm.

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