GNBC: The Secret History of Wonder Woman


Happy Thursday readers, and welcome to the fourth installment of the GeekyNerdy Book Club!! Before I get started, I want to say a quick thank you for all of your patience over the last few weeks, well, months really. My posting schedule was much choppier than I ever anticipated this summer and I pretty much fell off the face of the Earth this September. Then, I rescheduled our “meeting” twice because things were just so crazy! Though I felt terrible about all of that, many of you simply took it in stride and wished me well on everything I was juggling, which was greatly appreciated. Thank you so much for that! Now, on to the discussion! 

As I mentioned in Monday’s post, I’ve never been a huge fan of Wonder Woman, a dislike that mostly stemmed from her costume. Her red bustier and boots, and star-spangled hot pants, seemed to be solely designed for the male gaze and I wanted absolutely nothing to do with that. Since that kept me from reading or watching anything that featured her, I never knew about her more feminist background and storyline.

My thoughts on the character started to change a bit when I saw Bones’ first Halloween episode, “Mummy in the Maze.” Temperance Brennan (Emily Deschanel) dresses up as a Lynda Carter-esque version of Wonder Woman and we learn that she wears that costume every single year to the office party because the Amazonian warrior is her favorite superhero. I remember Brennan going into detail about what makes her so great, but of course, I can’t find video of that anywhere!

Then, my mom directed me towards Jill Lepore’s The Secret History of Wonder Woman. She shared some of the juicier highlights of the book with me and, after reading some other reviews, I thought I would give Wonder Woman a chance and check it out.

On the whole, Lepore’s book did not disappoint. It is incredibly well researched and extremely readable. While some non-fiction books can drag or get stuck in the details, Lepore kept things moving at a brisk pace, even as she provided you with a ton of information. And while her focus was on William Moulton Marston, the creator of Wonder Woman, and the women in his unconventional family circle, she threw in a ton of interesting tidbits about other people as well. For instance, I had no idea that a woman – Dorothy Roubicek – is generally credited with creating kryptonite. I mean, how cool is that?!

My only real complaint is that Lepore didn’t bring the story of Wonder Woman into a more current context. To be fair, her book is about the history of the character, but with Wonder Woman’s 75th anniversary coming up in December and a new Wonder Woman movie in the works, not to mention another wave of feminism, I felt like she really missed an opportunity to tie everything together. Since she took the time to add a new afterword to the paperback edition, I guess I just expected there to be more about why Wonder Woman is still an appealing superhero.

In terms of Marston himself, as well as the two main ladies in his life – Sadie Elizabeth Holloway and Olive Byrne – I’m honestly not sure what to make of them.

Take Marston, for example. On the one hand, he was adamant about maintaining the feminist over- and undertones in the Wonder Woman comics. On the other hand, he gave Holloway, his wife, an ultimatum: Either let my mistress come live with us (and essentially accept the affair) or I’m leaving you.

Holloway, in turn, made that deal work for her by telling her husband that he could keep his mistress, if she could keep her career. And though I’m sure there were plenty of happy times at Cherry Orchard (their home in Rye, New York), I got a distinct sense towards the end of the book that she was still bitter about the whole thing. I’m sure the fact that she was often the family’s main, if not sole, provider didn’t help.

As for Byrne, she seemed to get what she wanted: a family. But even then,
she crafted a story about a fake husband to give her children a “father,” eventually gave up her parental rights to her children (when Marston and Holloway adopted them), endured years of people being told that she was simply the family’s housekeeper or an extended family member, and ultimately tried to write herself out of the family’s history.

Going into Lepore’s Secret History knowing that Marston had been in this polyamorous (it’s not clear that it was actually polygamous) triangle, I was expecting a little more feminism to be involved. Marston likely thought he was a feminist, and in some regards he was. I just had a hard time accepting his idea that true female supremacy comes when women willingly submit to male domination.

But what about you guys? What did you think? Were there any particular aspects of the book that surprised you, or was it about what you expected? What did you think of Marston’s family arrangements, his version of feminism, or even his career path, which was quite varied! Let me know in the comments below!

As for our last read of the year, I am definitely open to suggestions. I’ve personally been thinking about Dave Eggers’ The Circle a lot, especially since the movie is coming out next year. That said, I saw Stephen King’s Firestarter mentioned on a Barnes&Noble list of books to read after you’ve binged Netflix’s Stranger Things and thought that could be fun too, especially since this is the season for that kind of stuff!

If you have a preference between either of those books, or have a book on your TBR list that you want to recommend, please let me know in the comments as well. I’ll look through everyone’s responses and make our December selection next week!

3 thoughts on “GNBC: The Secret History of Wonder Woman

  1. There was so. much. in this book! I liked it better as it went on. I was especially interested in the early history of feminism, and how comics were made in the Golden Age. I’ll have my post up over the weekend.

    For next time, either of those sounds fine. The other books on my TBR are All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders ( and Children of Earth and Sky by Guy Gavriel Kay (

    1. I know, right?! I had so many notes about things that I didn’t even address because I was already worried about how long my post was!

      The early history of feminism was even more interesting for me because I was editing a book at work on the history of the women’s labor movement at the same time and it was fascinating to see how the two dovetailed in certain places. There was only one duplicate source though!

      On a related note, if those are the things you found most interesting, you might really like one of the links I have planned for Saturday’s “Nerd Alert!” 😉

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