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The Secret History of Wonder Woman

3.72  ·  Rating details ·  10,824 Ratings  ·  1,889 Reviews
A cultural history of Wonder Woman traces the character's creation and enduring popularity, drawing on interviews and archival research to reveal the pivotal role of feminism in shaping her seven-decade story.
Examines the life of Wonder Woman creator William Moulton Marston and his polyamorous relationship with wife Elizabeth Holloway and mistress Olive Byrne, both of whom
Hardcover, 410 pages
Published October 28th 2014 by Knopf Publishing Group
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Wdmoor Not being a comic book historian nerd, everything in this book was new and revelatory. I'd never heard of the wonderfully kinky William Moulton…moreNot being a comic book historian nerd, everything in this book was new and revelatory. I'd never heard of the wonderfully kinky William Moulton Marston, a dilettante of ménages a trois, free love, BDSM and polygamy. Merciful Minerva but he was a bad boy. This book was great fun. (less)
Natalie Yes! The fact that a white man with a Harvard law and PhD degree couldn't hold a job was really disheartening to me. Also I wished I had learned more…moreYes! The fact that a white man with a Harvard law and PhD degree couldn't hold a job was really disheartening to me. Also I wished I had learned more about the women then him. He was kind of praised for being a feminist but he mostly just grossed me out. (less)

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David Schaafsma
If you are looking for a quick book that primarily focuses on Wonder Woman (as the cover and title would expect you to encounter) and an analysis of her origin story, look elsewhere. I just read Ron Rege's alt comic form version of her origin story, Diana, which I suggest you check out if you have any interest in WW origins, but Lepore's book isn't about that, really; or, it IS about Wonder Woman's "origins" and abiding place in the history of feminism extending from the suffragette and early bi ...more
Jill Lepore is a bit of a wonder woman herself, certainly a wonder of a historian. She uncovers, unclothes, and satisfactorily binds with ropes and chains (the better to dispose of it) the myth that Wonder Woman was a feature of woman’s liberation rather than one of male dominance. Sadly, the scantily clad Wonder Woman was modeled on the real-life live-in girlfriend of the psychologist who created her, and who himself exhibited the dominant male model all too well.

Lepore not only gives us the b
Aug 09, 2017 rated it really liked it
The bizarre history behind the creation of Wonder Woman is weird even for the world of superheroes.

Jill Lepore (who is amazing in her own right in that she's a history professor at Harvard and she writes for The New Yorker) gives us the story of William Moulton Marston, an American psychologist and the man who invented the lie detector test. After trying and failing in several careers, in 1941 he turned to the burgeoning field of comic books, and created Wonder Woman with the help of his wife an
Dana Stabenow
Jan 12, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Lepore convincingly makes Wonder Woman the connective tissue between the suffragists and the women's movement, but the story behind her genesis is just fricken' amazing and almost unbelievable. William Moulton Marston, Wonder Woman's creator and a man Glen Weldon accurately describes as "decidedly skeevy," was, A, a man, B, married to one woman, sleeping with two others and living happily with all three, C, was fascinated by bondage and tied, chained, fettered and imprisoned WW, the first female ...more
Heather Marx
Dec 13, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: bookclub-2015
God, I wanted to like this. So. Much. Excruciating. Detail. At first I found the detail interesting, but it wore thin when I found myself 20 percent of the way through the book with no comic-book creation in sight. I gave up soon after.
There's no doubt Lepore has done a stellar job of researching this material—a good example comes in the footnotes where she reveals how a murder trial William Moulton Marston (Wonder Woman's creator) testified as an expert at had been covered by no less than three different historical overviews, and nobody had realized the attorneys on the case were students of Marston. Lepore digs deep into the historial trends of the time (particularly the suffrage and birth control movements of the early 20th ...more
Book Riot Community
A fascinating account of William Moulton Marston, the man who created Wonder Woman, and the many women – especially his wife, Elizabeth Holloway, and his partner, Olive Byrne – who contributed to Marston’s odd blend of psychosexual feminism. I’m a historian by training and a comics fan by chance, so combine the two and I’m happy as a clam.

— Megan Cavitt

from The Best Books We Read In November 2016:

If you want a non-fiction read that’s
aPriL does feral sometimes
'The Secret History of Wonder Woman' is a terrific exposé. The book is a well-researched biography of the quirky man who invented the Wonder Woman comic strip and character. He successfully hid an unusual hive home life while in plain sight as a minor celebrity. The world knew him as a psychologist and a somewhat nutty university professor, William Moulton Marston (1893-1947). He was known as well as the inventor of the lie detector. However, since he was a Harvard man, people did not particular ...more
Oct 22, 2014 rated it really liked it
What does Wonder Woman, the superhero who first appeared in 1941, have to do with polyamory, pessaries, and the polygraph? As Jill Lepore reports in her fascinating new work of nonfiction, The Secret History of Wonder Woman, everything. Here are some of the book’s most fascinating revelations:

1. Psychologist and storyteller William Moulton Marston invented the first lie detector test while an undergraduate at Harvard. He then created Wonder Woman, whose magic lasso could force men to tell the tr
Susanna - Censored by GoodReads
Feb 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Susanna - Censored by GoodReads by: Roundtable group read
Actual rating: 3.5 stars.

This is a fascinating read about the creator of Wonder Woman, who was one exceptionally odd man. He seems to have genuinely believed that women would rule the world, but his own home was far from a matriarchy: he had one wife to work twelve hours a day in New York City, supporting the family, and another one (both Margaret Sanger's niece, and a former student) to raise the four children the two women managed to produce with him in the 1930s - when she was not writing puf
Nov 05, 2014 rated it it was amazing
A great history that's entertaining and credible on four fronts:

1) as a history of feminism which shows how Margaret Sanger's crusades as an advocate of birth control are inextricably tied with the origins of Wonder Woman.

2) as a biography of polymath William Moulton Marston, psychologist and lawyer, who invented the first systolic blood pressure lie detector test and tried unsuccessfully to push it into the forefront of American law. Who also created and scripted Wonder Woman.

3) as an essential
I've been wanting to read this book at least since 2014 when a couple GR friends pointed me in the direction of this New Yorker article. Wonder Woman! She's bad-ass! I wanted to know her secret history!

I expected this secret history to involve feminism because that's a pretty big deal these days, rightly so, and Wonder Woman was this character that broke a lot of barriers because she was a bad-ass female character when all the other comic book characters of the day were male. There is a history
Scott Rhee
"Wonder Woman" currently continues to break box office records, and it should: it's an amazingly entertaining film that manages to reinvigorate the failing DC studios as well as put an end to the ridiculously sexist belief that superhero movies are for boys only. I read and reviewed this book in December 2014. It's a fascinating account of the true origins of Wonder Woman and a biography of WW's creator, William Marston. The movie does an excellent job of capturing the feminist ideology that Ma ...more
Nov 23, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: biography
Extraordinarily well researched, Harvard history professor Jill Lepore profiles the creator of Wonder Woman, William Moulton Marston. WMM was a Harvard-trained psychologist: he developed one of the first polygraphs, but could never keep employed, and relied on the income of his well-educated wife, Sadie Elizabeth Holloway. WMM led a most unconventional life, fathering two children with Holloway and two more with a younger paramour, Olive Richard Byrne (niece of Margaret Sanger, one of the 20th c ...more
Rebecca McNutt
What I like about Wonder Woman is that the character opened the door for female readers to enjoy comics and graphic novels as openly as guys do without ridicule. Wonder Woman was never about pushing men away from comics, but more about making them equal for everyone. The history of this iconic and brave character is as interesting as the fictional stories revolving around her. Artistic, powerful and intriguing, The Secret History of Wonder Woman is undoubtedly an impressive and worthwhile book.
Keith Weir
This is more a feminist/woman's lib history, than it is a book about Wonder Woman, and that is completely fine with me! Planned Parenthood, The Lie Detector Test, Feminism, Bondage, and Polygamy all play a part in this well written, heavily researched book. I went into it with very low opinions of Wonder Woman, and finished it feeling nostalgic for a comic I have never even read (is that even possible?). My only complaint was that there were so many characters it was hard to follow who was who, ...more
Feb 24, 2015 rated it did not like it
Shelves: did-not-finish
I only got to 19% (Chapter 13). Too much detail (which I enjoyed at first, but now it distracts from the story), boring as shit, not even CLOSE to talking about Wonder Woman or the comic (at almost 20%!!!), and it seems the writer has ADD or something (switches story suddenly, a bit confusing and frustrating).

I can't force myself to read books anymore. Ugh.

Also, I put the book down for a week because it was so mind-numbingly boring and picked back up on Chapter 13. I already forgot who the peopl
Grady McCallie
Feb 15, 2015 rated it really liked it
Jill Lepore's recent essays have taken offbeat topics (often related to popular culture) and used them to explore deeper themes in American history. Here, she builds a similar approach into a longer narrative, tracing a hidden path from the ideology and popular culture of the suffragists to the pop culture icon that influenced a slew of first wave feminists: the superhero Wonder Woman. That path consisted of the household of William Moulton Marston, his wife Elizabeth Holloway, and his mistress ...more
Feb 26, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2018, history
The title of this book would leave you to believe that this is a historical look at Wonder Woman, the superheroine and it is in part, but not the main part and not until the last third of the book. This book is a biography of Wonder Woman's creator, William Moulton Marston. It is about the people and events of his life and the events of the world around him that inspired the comic book icon. Marston grew up in the age of women's suffrage, the early feminist movement, and the fight for birth cont ...more
Kristen Dixie
Jan 22, 2015 rated it liked it
I'm not sure if I would have enjoyed this book more or less had I read it, but the audio book was poorly read by... Mathew author. And that, unfortunately, detracted from the story.

This is an exploration more about the man who created Wonder Woman than anything else. The tales of him, his wives and their own influential female roles and relatives is all intriguing, yet... It was hard to get through this book. And I do blame the author-as-reader blunder for that.

Pick it up if you want to know a
Linda Robinson
Jul 11, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Great Hera! what a tome. This book sat on my to-read shelf, forgotten, until a friend mentioned reading something about the wacky secret life of a Harvard alum who created Wonder Woman. Chip Kidd cover! Can this get any better? It can and did. The end papers are genius design - the first Harry Peter drawing of Wonder Woman and handwritten notes from both Peter and Marston. The difference between fiction and nonfiction: fiction has to be credible. The history of the comic Amazon is almost incredi ...more
Sep 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: own

It's no secret that the history of Wonder Woman and her creator is by far one of the most fascinating in comic books. A book like this was waiting to be written at some point. For me, it had everything I wanted and then some. I'd call myself a big fan of Wonder Woman, but over the years I've gotten less interested in her comics and more interested in her history.

William Moulton Marston is a writer who I put into the category of separating his lifestyle from the comic books....or so I
Fascinating. So much history here that I was unfamiliar with. And I enjoyed feeling a bit frustrated with Marston's ideas. It really challenged me to the no about the various relationships between men and women. One detail that continues to bug me days after finishing the book, though, is how did he pull off his bigamy? I don't recall any real explanation of how he managed to marry his second wife, in an official sense. I get the fabrications they concocted to explain the living arrangement to t ...more
Jerrie (redwritinghood)
This is a pick for the content of the book and not the audiobook. The audiobook is narrated by the author - not a good choice in this case. That being said, you do get some fascinating background on the creator of this comic character as well as important history on the early women's rights movements as they related to access to birth control. The creator of WW also developed the lie detector and there's some good background on that as well.
Daniel Chaikin
43. The Secret History of Wonder Woman (Audio) by Jill Lepore, read by the author
published: 2014
format: Overdrive audiobook, 9:05 (~250 pages)
acquired: Library
listened: Aug 17-24 & Oct 19-23
rating: 3

Trying to review I’m tied-up between all the information that comes out of this book, the crazy interplay that kind of led to Wonder Woman, and Lepore’s flawed presentation.

The story of Wonder Woman involves lie detector tests, a complex and contradictory evolution of feminism, comic books, the
Shawn Mooney
If you're considering reading this book because you are primarily interested in the history of the Wonder Woman comic book, you might be disappointed. I didn't think I wanted to read it for the exact opposite reason: I wasn't much interested in that. However, after hearing a few radio interviews with the author, I realized there was much more to the story than the title suggests.

In fact, it's a intensely readable social and cultural history of 19th and 20th century feminism, which helped shape t
Jan 22, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2015
Thanks to a 'feminist books you really have to read' type list from 2014, I finally decided to buy this after humming and hawing for a while. The Secret History of Wonder Woman details not only the origins of Wonder Woman and her journey through the years, but more importantly, the man behind her creation.

William Marston grew up surrounded by those involved in the suffrage movement, and believed that women would rule the earth. More so, he's also the creator of the lie detector (it's noted later
Nov 07, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Jill Lepore does an excellent job of connecting the history of the struggle for women to control their own destiny in the USA with the creation of the female superhero Wonder Woman. Who knew?

One of the most intriguing elements to me is how two apparently brilliant and multi-talented women -- Olive Byrne and Elizabeth Holloway Marston -- lived a life of bondage to a creep like William Moulton Marston, the creator of Wonder Woman.

The details of their lives fascinate. For a reader like me, who grew
The title The Secret History of Wonder Woman, together with the vivid cover art, were clearly chosen with an eye more to drawing in the reader than giving an actual sense of the book's content. This is less a general history of the character or of her appearance in comic books than it is about lives of the people who created her and the social and cultural contexts which shaped them.

William Moulton Marston, a failed professor of psychology, his wife Elizabeth Holloway, Marston's former student
Dec 20, 2014 rated it liked it
I'm so glad I switched from audio to the print (Kindle) edition. The book hadn't cohered for me before making the switch - not only was Lepore's reading voice grating but I was missing all the photographs and great comics images sprinkled through.

Never cared for WMM himself (William Moulton Marston) - not that liking him was necessary - but I thought the Margaret Sanger connection was fascinating and I loved the leveling and intelligent contributions of a pediatric psychiatrist named Lauretta B
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Jill Lepore is the David Woods Kemper ’41 Professor of American History, Harvard College Professor, and chair of Harvard's History and Literature Program. She is also a staff writer at The New Yorker.

Winner of the Anisfield-Wolf Award for the best non-fiction book on race, and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize; The Name of War (Knopf, 1998), winner of the Bancroft Prize, the Ralph Waldo Emerson P
“The fight for women’s rights hasn’t come in waves. Wonder Woman was a product of the suffragist, feminist, and birth control movements of the 1900s and 1910s and became a source of the women’s liberation and feminist movements of the 1960s and 1970s. The fight for women’s rights has been a river, wending.” 8 likes
“The most ignorant young man, who knows nothing of the needs of women, thinks himself a competent legislator, because he is a man,” Pankhurst told the crowd, eyeing the Harvard men. “This aristocratic attitude is a mistake.” 7 likes
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