Review: The Secret History of Wonder Woman

The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lapore is fascinating. I’d known about the…ah…emphasis on bondage in the stories written by Charles Moulton (pen name of William Moulton Marston). I knew that Marston had invented a lie detector. But there are heaps of information that was in this book that I didn’t know.

For instance, Marston was involved with Margret Sanger’s niece, Olive Byrne when he was married to his wife, Elizabeth Holloway. It was a polyamorous relationship before those were called that! Both women were involved in the creation of Wonder Woman, with Olive adding the most, while also caring for all of the children (two by Holloway, two by Olive).

Additionally, how much of the suffragette movement ended up in the comics–even before Marston was involved with Sanger’s niece, he was in favor of equal rights for women. Because it was such an influence, Lapore spends a great deal of time on Sanger and the movement–I became very upset during this part, not just because of the things that the suffragettes endured, but at the idiotic arguments against equal rights for woman.

There’s also the delicious irony of just how much lying and hucksterism the inventor of a lie detector was involved with. It certainly raised my eyebrows. It’s not so much that the family lied about their true makeup (something that was vital at the time!), but practically everything else.

The best part of the book, however, is Lapore’s obvious thoroughness and gorgeous research. I can’t imagine how many hours went into this book. And I’m picky about research and sources. Another wonderful feature are the illustrations and pictures. Each time that Lapore gives an example from Wonder Woman, the panel follows. There are tons of pictures. Also included are political cartoons, the famous cover of Ms magazine with Wonder Woman running for president and really interesting other items (like a still from a film that Marston wrote). There’s an especially interesting afterword, written after the original book was published.

Even if you’re not a fan of Wonder Woman (and how can you not be? 🙂 ), this book is terrific. It’s a fascinating look at an unconventional group of people and a volatile time in American history.


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