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A riveting work of historical detection revealing that the origin of Wonder Woman, one of the world’s most iconic superheroes, hides within it a fascinating family story—and a crucial history of twentieth-century feminismHarvard 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.   This edition includes a new afterword with fresh revelations based on never before seen letters and photographs from the Marston family’s papers. With 161 illustrations and 16 pages in full color

Customers Reviews

Excellent, fun history -- with a few issues.

4.0 out of 5.0 by C. A. Dees on October 6, 2017
This is a wonderful hidden history that you don't need to know -- but it's a lot more fun to know. This book also offers a important insight to the early feminists, their radicalism, their blind spots, and their surprisingly current understanding of the issues that women still face. This is quite different than the received wisdom about this era in that first wave feminism didn't neatly end with suffrage, nor did these women feel at all satisfied that their demands had been met by society. I have given 4 stars instead of 5 because of the following: (1) For all the wonderful, granular detail provided about the real characters involved and their world, as well as how their lives were reflected in the pages of Wonder Woman comics, there is strangely little information about the actual Wonder Woman story. Just a chapter or so telling summarizing Wonder Woman's own origin story and a timeline of events in her fictional life would have made a huge difference in my understanding. (2) While Jill Lepore is a talented writer, clearly reveling in the fun of her histories, her prose can sometimes be maddeningly convoluted and ambiguous -- as if she is moving a bit too quickly. Her research and excellent writer's voice deserve a better editing job. Otherwise, there are passages that often feel like first drafts, and the story loses out as a result.
and brings to light the unusual (some would say perverse) family that created her during their campaign to make America a better

4.0 out of 5.0 by CDRoark on October 2, 2015
This book unearths the social influences behind the development of Wonder Woman, and brings to light the unusual (some would say perverse) family that created her during their campaign to make America a better, more equal place for women. The author is an academic first and foremost, and it is feminist history and cultural studies oriented, so it may irritate or lose the interest of those who don't enjoy that approach. But for all the footnotes (ever beloved by humanities scholars), it is an easy and engaging read and a compelling story about the complex women behind Wonder Woman.
Half the book is a hot mess...

2.0 out of 5.0 by bekki on January 6, 2019
....but I do have to give props to the author. Never could I imagine having the ability to take engaging subjects of early Psychology (those people were colorful!), covert polygamy, suffrage, the dawning of the birth control movement, "special" parties, bondage AND superheroes and make them so boring to ready I considered gouging my eyes out rather than continue. But, alas, I was obligated to read it, so I had to press on.Lepore's issue seemed to be that no fact was irrelevant. I read more random facts about various Harvard professors than I ever needed to know, and yet almost none of them served a larger purpose in the creation of WW. The same goes for other people who were introduced throughout the book. Even people who DID matter, such as WW's creator and his wives/lovers had their tales told in a disjointed and asynchronous manner.About halfway through, Lepore does finally get to the actual creation and writing of WW, which, for the most part was written in a much more accessible and logical manner. I had no idea that WW was so deeply rooted in feminism and drew so much inspiration from Margaret Sanger. This is what made me give the book two stars rather than one. Funny enough, had i not been obligated to read the whole thing, I would have never made it to that part at about 150 pages in.A small peeve of mine is that the footnotes are all at the end of the book, rather than the bottom of the page or the end of the chapter. I think it is done this way because the footnotes are mixed in with references, but as someone who appreciates the extra info, I found this layout annoying and dysfunctional.I would only recommend this book to people who are deeply interested in WW. And of course, also to any aspiring writers out there, as I feel like this book gives great lesson in the importance of a good editing.
An excellent and well researched book about Wonder Woman for those who are fans of this superhero.

5.0 out of 5.0 by Joseph J. Truncale on November 21, 2017
I have been a longtime fan of Wonder Woman comics. As a youngster my favorite action comics included Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. When I saw this 436 page soft cover book (The Secret History of wonder Woman by Jill Lepore-with a new afterword) on Amazon for a bargain price I immediately purchased it along with another Wonder Woman book.Before reading this book I had no idea of the history behind the creation of the most popular female superhero of all time. I also had no idea that the author of Super Woman also created the first Lie Detector. I found this book to be a fascinating read and obviously well-researched by the author. The relationship between the early growth of women’s rights and the development of Wonder Woman is not well known. This excellent book is organized into three parts. Part one (Veritas) is about the early years of William Moulton Marston, the creator of Wonder Woman. Part two (Family Circle) covers the relationship of the author with the two women (ménage Otway) in his life. Part three (Paradise Island) is about the development of Wonder Woman. There is also an interesting epilogue section and an afterword, as well as a comic’s index.If you are a fan of Wonder Woman this is a must read book.Rating: 5 Stars. Joseph J. Truncale (Author: Never Trust a Politician: A critical review of politics and politicians).
An Amazing Tale

5.0 out of 5.0 by Kat Jordan on July 20, 2016
WOW - this is one of those long complicated tales that shows just how convoluted humans can be.The link between the suffragettes of early 1900s, the Birth Control movement and the Wonder Woman of the 1940's is just amazing. Lepore does the subject justice and I'm amazed at how she teased some of these 'skeletons' into the light.I don't give out a lot of 5 Stars, but this book earned them.