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Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend

3.47 of 5 stars 3.47  ·  rating details  ·  3,143 ratings  ·  740 reviews
Allegedly found in the ruins of a bombed-out dog kennel in France during World War I, then brought to Los Angeles by Lee Duncan, the soldier who found and trained him, by 1927 Rin Tin Tin had become Hollywood's number one box-office star. Susan Orlean's book--about the dog and the legend--is a poignant exploration of the enduring bond between humans and animals. It is also ...more
Hardcover, 336 pages
Published September 27th 2011 by Simon & Schuster
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Community Reviews

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Will Byrnes
Good book, good book, good. Snap on your flea collars, curl up in your cozy bed, wrap that bushy tail around yourself and park that muzzle on your paws. Susan Orlean has a remarkable tale to tell about an amazing pooch.

For many of you the name Rin Tin Tin rings no bells, but for folks of a certain age (geezers) like me, it summons memories from the way-back. Rin Tin Tin (no relation to the pointy-haired comic book and recent film character) was a hero. Rinny was a very good dog who (yes, who, no
If you only ever read one dog biography in your life, make it this one. There you go, publishers: there's your free blurb.

There wasn't really a good reason for me to pick this book up - I was vaguely aware of Rin Tin Tin but didn't know much about him besides the fact that he was a movie dog during the 1940's (this is only partially true, it turns out, but we'll get to that). I had two reasons for wanting to read this book. First, it's by Susan Orlean, who could probably write an investigative
An engrossing immersion into one man’s devotion to Rin Tin Tin, Lee Duncan, and his obsession shared with a Hollywood producer, Bert Leonard, in making a mythic story out of him. To me, Orlean comes off as a persistent sleuth and gifted writer in bringing the story alive and clarifying why this dog and his successors captivated the hearts of generations of adults and children around the world. Here is an example of her style:

“Rin Tin Tin has always been more than a dog. He was an idea and an ide
Disclaimer: I received a free review ARC of the book from the publisher through Goodreads First Reads program.

Before this book, my one vague memory of Rin Tin Tin was that short scene in 101 Dalmatians where the puppies are watching it on TV. Yet, I somehow knew that Rin Tin Tin was a dog, and even had a blurry picture of a German Shepard in my mind, and knew that he was a famous dog actor back in the day. So even me, who was born decades after Rin Tin Tin was last on the air, knew of him.

I fou
No! Say it isn't so!! The unthinkable has happened, Goodreads friends -- I purchased a book with a dog on the cover, but I DIDN'T LIKE IT! Unbelievable!

To be fair, let me explain to you why I bought this book and what I expected. Like many children growing up in the fifties, I loved the television show The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin. (In fact, I clearly remember sitting at the dinner table in a blue funk the night I learned the show was being canceled while my parents tried valiantly to convince
This book is a fascinating account of the real life Rin Tin Tin and his owner Lee Duncan, as well as the early days of the entertainment industry from silent film and vaudeville reaching all the way to television. We also learn of the immense contributions of animals to the war effort of WWI and WWII, with the United States finally bringing in the use of trained dogs in WWII. Susan Orlean has done an amazing job of research for this book and has tied it all together in a compelling narrative. Ce ...more
Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend by Susan Orlean moves forward from Lee Duncan's discovery of a dog on a German battlefield during World War I and his belief in this dog's "immortality." The story moves backwards through Duncan's abandoned childhood and forwards through the dog-who becomes the famous Rin Tin Tin-and Duncan's relationship and journey through the film world. Using the prism of this relationship, Orlean, with her usual strong writing, and well-paced narrative also brings us int ...more
Jul 22, 2011 Sweetie rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommended to Sweetie by: First Reads Giveaway
A FirstReads Giveaway.
Dear Susan, thank you so much for the time, effort and love you put into this history of Rin Tin Tin. I must admit this is the first of your books I have read but have now made reading more of your work a priority.
The Rin Tin Tin legend is a favorite of mine having loved him since my childhood. I am the happy owner/companion of a beautiful White German Shepherd Dog who is very much part of the family.
As a dog lover and childhood fan of Rin Tin Tin, I was so happy to h
I got a late start in this book—an advance readers edition that I won through Goodreads’ First Reads Giveway—because I was away from home for a couple of weeks visiting Miami, Florida. Ah, yes, The Magic City is still beautiful and still fascinates, but this visit had, as all of the recent ones have had, its very sad side to it: I was there to help my elderly and very ill parents. So, when my husband called me in Miami to say I’d received a package from Simon & Schuster, and that it “looks l ...more
Tina Hamilton
I could not put down this book. I think that Susan Orlean is a fine writer. However, I am not a lover of dogs, especially German Shepherds. But, oh, the story behind the story of Rin Tin Tin is fascinating and covers much history of the early film industry from silent, to talkies and from black and white to color. Then television makes it appearance with the three main channels. All of this affected Rin Tin Tin's popularity, loss of popularity, the rebirth of popularity, and on and on, and it st ...more
Glad I read this rather than the Steve Jobs bio. This book's subject is much like the American West, mythic. Much more than a story about a dog and an American icon it's also about America's fascination with animals and movies. Lots of revelatory info here, like how the name Rover came into common usage. Absolutely fascinating narrative of the dog and the people involved. It's obsessive, tragic,and personal. Some great deep thought moments by the author as she talks about life and the decisions ...more
I listened to the audio version of this book. It was read by the author. Honestly, Ms. Orlean should definitely have had a professional read this book. She used little inflection and then when she finally did, it seemed to appear in the wrong places! Her voice is very monotonous and it was hard to concentrate on what she was saying.

That being said, the first part of the book was interesting. Reading about how Lee Duncan found Rin Tin Tin in France after World War I and managed to bring him back
There wasn't much about the actual dogs.... I enjoyed the parts that were about Lee and old Rin. Everyone else involved with the Rin Tin Tin franchise in any way (be it only breeding/training the dogs or only making the movies/TV programmes) seems to have been kind of mean and lawsuit-happy. After reading this book, I think the Rin Tin Tin franchise is going to die out because of the people who are trying so hard to keep it going. It was very depressing.

Also, there was too much jumping around, t
Dick Reynolds
Susan Orlean, who admits being a fan of the original Rin Tin Tin long ago, has constructed a fascinating story about the dog and his master, Lee Duncan, who found the dog in France near the end of WWI. Duncan brought him back to America after the war, trained him remarkably well, and found Rin Tin Tin’s niche in silent movies.
Duncan and “Rinty” make the transition from silent films to the “talkies” and much later to TV when that new and startling medium makes its appearance in the late 1940s a
This is less the story of Rin Tin Tin (and his offspring) than of the man that owned him…and after that, of the men and women that sought to preserve the memory of him. I am a sucker for dog books, but since dogs don’t talk, one must be satisfied with stories of their owners. Just as Marley and Me was not so much the story of the dog than of John Grogan and his family, so Rin Tin Tin must be imagined through this book and the massive archive of film footage of him and his chosen successors.

John Frazier
This was more than the chronicle of an American icon and his impact on a country in need of one at the end of WWI. It was about author Susan Orlean's personal connection through her grandfather's plastic likeness of the canine movie star, a likeness that, though one of millions and of no particular monetary value, was so revered as to be virtually off limits to Orleans and her siblings. Her exploration of the dog's history and its place in her life is a revealing peek into a worldwide fascinatio ...more
I was a bit disappointed in this book; it received such glowing reviews and I heard the author interviewed on a few different radio programmes. But it just never quite came together for me. It was well researched, and competently written, though there were a few editorial lapses that set my teeth a-grinding.

There is a highly intriguing concept: to tell the story of a quasi-legendary animal (I say "quasi-legendary" because I'm sure most Americans over a certain age will know the name Rin Tin Tin,
Four and a half stars. Meandering but fascinating. Events take place over such a long period (there are many generations of Rin Tin Tin) that Orlean covers the late 1800s, orphanages, ranch life, the history of dog breeds, World War I, military cemeteries, silent films, a dog cemetery in Paris, the Depression, the origins of dog training for nonprofessionals, talkies, early television, the origins of merchandising, fan conventions, and the rise of the lawsuit.

Trivia about "Rinty":

* The name com
Why a book about Rin Tin Tin? For dog-lovers like me, the answer is obvious – the pure, half-magical devotion an animal can have to a person. And for those who are NOT dog-lovers (or who are on the fence), Susan Orlean’s explanation is about as good as it gets:

“It was the story of an extraordinary journey – across land and sea, in war and in peacetime, from poverty to wealth and back again, from obscurity to fame – and, from there, into the murky world of the once famous and almost obscure. It w
Birdie's Mom
The author spends a great deal of time sorting through Rin Tin Tin's original owner, Lee Duncan's, notes and records to get as close as she can to the true story of the movie star's life and legacy. I have since learned (from reviews of the book) that she may have made some errors of fact regarding who Rinty met and was involved with during his life, but I think this was due to errors in her source material, not gaps in her own research. It seems that there was considerable manipulation of Rin T ...more
I wanted to read this based on my enjoyment of Susan Orlean's amazing book The Orchid Thief: A True Story of Beauty and Obsession. I think that was the first book I'd ever read that used her style of narrative, interweaving many different stories into one larger tale -- I've been hooked ever since.

I don't really consider myself a dog person, so I wasn't sure what to expect from this book, but I wasn't disappointed. Orlean examines not only the lives of Rin Tin Tin (whose fame was before my time)
Mark Mikula
Without even trying, this book propelled itself onto my all-time favorite shelf. Orlean deftly and respectfully considers the dogs and people who are a part of the Rin Tin Tin story and presents a wonderful melange of history, both straightforward and speculative, as she chronicles the riveting story of the dog and his guardians.

I've never taken to German shepherds and knew very little about Rin Tin Tin going into the book, but I am a dog and a movie lover with a particular interest in twentieth
Kevin Washburn
I heard Susan Orlean interviewed by NPR while on a lengthy drive to another state for a family event. After the interview, I stopped at the next bookstore and purchased a copy of this book. The real Rin-Tin-Tin definitely lived a fascinating life, and his influence on his owner was indelible and lasted a lifetime. These parts of the biography are intriguing and make for mesmerizing reading. However, the book suffers from uneven writing and several loosely related "rabbit trails" that a reader mu ...more
an almost four. I am a big dog lover so enjoy a book that is about dogs. I have not seen a lot of Rin tin tin movies. but sure knew about this talented dog. Of course like Lassie, there was more than one Rin tin tin. I found it interesting that the original Rin Tin Tin was found in France as a puppy during WW1. by Lee Duncan. Lee brought Rin tin tin home to the USA. after the war. he found something special about his beloved dog and got him started in silent movies. he quickly became famous. for ...more
Denis Farley
A page turner, I couldn't pry myself from it this past week. I enjoyed the author's earlier book, The Orchid Thief. You get the feeling, if there is a bottom to a story, Susan Orlean will find it. With Rin Tin Tin, a legacy that she has advanced another step toward a century of interest and wonder, mythology really, her ten years of research, rumination and finally elucidation, to put it in the language of film, in both the fore and background is at once comprehensive and intimate. You get the b ...more
This is a hard one to rate. If you really like dogs, the history of animals in movies, or Rin Tin Tin in particular you'd probably enjoy this book a lot. I vaguely recognize the name and the dog, but given that I'm about one generation too late to appreciate him it felt weird to be reading a book about how Rin Tin Tin is so lasting as a persona when he's really not anymore. I would give it two stars for lack of interest, but I have to admit I tossed in another star for one mention of Oakland, tw ...more
Ya'll knew this read would happen.


Of course I loved this book. I have a GSD, I love the breed. I spent much of the book swollen with pride for my dog. I loved it so much I know call Klaus (my GSD) "Rinty" when he's acting like a prima donna. Which is often because he's so spoiled. This book had a great mix of the story of the Rin Tin Tin line and other bits about dogs. Dogs of war, how GSDs were bread, the side stories of some of the main characters, and dogs in Hollywood. Husband and I read
Actual rating: 3.5 stars.

When I was a kid, I didn't know TV's Rin Tin Tin was the great-grandson of a silent movie star. I assumed there was only one Rinty, just as I assumed there was only one Lassie. I knew nothing of the first Rin Tin Tin or the long history of canine movie stars. Now I know rather a lot, thanks to Susan Orlean's engaging biography.

This is the story of Rin Tin Tin: his discovery, adoption, training, career, and life. It's the story of Lee, Rinty's owner, stage mother, tireles
Mark Stevens
Rin Tin Tin is layered with stories and story-telling. First, Susan Orlean relaying her own lifelong fascination with one particular dog, turning her sharp-eyed journalism on the story of one particular canine. Second, the story of soldier and trainer Lee Duncan and his tireless efforts to bring one special dog to the American stage. Third, the Hollywood machine giving Rin Tin Tin a role, a character, a part.

Rin Tin Tin is about hopes and dreams in America. It’s about myth-making and reinvention
RIN TIN TIN: The Life and the Legend. (2011). Susan Orlean. ***.
Surviving over 100 years is no mean feat for a German Shepherd, but Rin Tin Tin did it. His early days are sketchy, most source material coming from the memoir of the man who found him in a bombed out French town in a kennel where all the other army dogs of the Germans had been killed by a shell blast. His early history in film is also a little sketchy, too, since most of these early films have been lost to time. What we do know wa
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I'm the product of a happy and uneventful childhood in the suburbs of Cleveland, followed by a happy and pretty eventful four years as a student at University of Michigan. From there, I wandered to the West Coast, landing in Portland, Oregon, where I managed (somehow) to get a job as a writer. This had been my dream, of course, but I had no experience and no credentials. What I did have, in spades ...more
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“It's human nature to set a point in our minds when we feel triumphant and to measure everything that comes after it by how far we fall or rise from that point.” 7 likes
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