Jill Lepore’s The Secret History of Wonder Woman is an exciting exposé on the Amazon’s origins. Part biography, part social history, Lepore’s book tells you everything you would want to know about Wonder Woman’s creator…and a lot you probably don’t.
Some comic readers these days get angry when people politicize their fictional heroes. This book is here to remind you that politicization was the point all along.
Lepore starts by giving William Moulton Marston’s history, then ignores his story for a while as she gives the background of women Marston will eventually love and learn from. These women include Sadie Holloway, editor of Encyclopædia Britannica, and Olive Byrne, niece to Margaret Sanger. Byrne helped Marston with his lie-detector experiments. That’s right: the man who created Wonder Woman also invented the “lie-detector,” so it’s no wonder she has a Lasso of Truth.
Jill Lepore does an excellent job of showcasing the good, the bad, and the strange. She outlines Marston’s living situation (basically, he had three wives and was very into bondage) and his background in psychology to explain how his life affected Wonder Woman’s story. She also manages to highlight the positive contributions he made to the women’s movement at the time while still describing the things he does that are less feminist than he claims to be. Finally, she tells the story in an engaging yet mostly unbiased way. It wasn’t just informative: it was entertaining, and even funny.
As nonfiction books go, it’s one of the best. Besides being a subject that isn’t often explored, the book is expansive and enjoyable to read. If you’re curious about why the inventor of the lie-detector machine turned to comic books, give it a go. You may be scandalized, but you will never be bored.