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Barbie and Ruth: The Story of the World's Most Famous Doll and the Woman Who Created Her Paperback – February 9, 2010

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Editorial Reviews

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Cofounder of the Mattel Company, Ruth Handler and her husband, Elliot, turned the toy industry upside down, not only with the 1959 creation of Barbie and the subsequent introduction of boyfriend Ken but also with Hot Wheels and prescient advertising tie-ins to the Mickey Mouse Club. Yet the behind-the-scenes journey is just as fascinating as the public persona: born the tenth child of Polish-Jewish immigrants, Ruth was raised by her sister—and, early on, recognized the talent of her husband as a designer. Motherhood was not her natural state of being, though she named both dolls after her children. After being forced out of Mattel in the 1970s, Ruth then founded a second company, “Nearly Me,” producing prosthetics designed for women who had undergone mastectomies—just like her. Tragedy, unfortunately, continued to strike the family; son Ken died of AIDS in 1994, and Ruth herself lost her battle with cancer in 2002. Despite the research, Handler seems to have a two-dimensional luster, rather than the pioneering and dynamic businesswoman seen in other articles and books. Nonetheless, a fascinating account of entrepreneurial ups and downs. --Barbara Jacobs --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

“This stirring biography is a fine study of success and resilience.” (Publishers Weekly)

“Gerber’s smoothly-written biography paints a fearless business woman as a devoted wife, a too-busy mother and a rock-‘em-sock-‘em executive.” (New York Post)

“Barbie and her creator, the sharp-elbowed gal who built the biggest toy company, have a story to tell.” (Time magazine)

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: HarperBusiness; Reprint edition (February 9, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061341320
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061341328
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (69 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #340,534 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Robin Gerber is a national commentator and speaker on leadership, and the author of Leadership the Eleanor Roosevelt Way: Timeless Strategies from the First Lady of Courage (Penguin/Portfolio, 2002) and Katharine Graham: The Leadership Journey of an American Icon with a foreword by Jim Collins, author of Good to Great (Penguin/Portfolio, October, 2005). Her books are used in leadership development courses and corporate programs across the United States. She is also a lawyer and senior faculty for the Gallup Organization, and a senior fellow in Executive Education at the Robert H. Smith School of Business, University of Maryland, College Park.

A member of the Board of Contributors for the opinion pages of USA Today, and a columnist for Reader's Digest, Robin also publishes frequently in other national newspapers. She has been a commentator on NPR's Marketplace and Morning Edition, and has appeared on The Newshour with Jim Lehrer and dozens of radio talk shows.

Robin is an inspirational keynote speaker on leadership development, using moving stories from the lives of Eleanor Roosevelt, Katharine Graham and other great leaders to illustrate leadership lessons.

Her clients include Bank of America, IBM, Marriott, Legg Mason, JP Morgan/Chase, Freddie Mac, Aetna Information Services, the AARP, Lee Hecht Harrison, Giant Food, The Culinary Institute, West Point, the U.S. Forest Service, the Council for Excellence in Government, The 3rd Quality Conference of the European Union, and many universities, colleges, girls' schools, nonprofits and government agencies. She also has a select client list for executive coaching. Prior to becoming an author, Robin practiced law in Washington, D.C. and worked on Capitol Hill. She has studied and written about leadership development since 1975.



Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

24 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Kevin Killian HALL OF FAME on February 6, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Barbie and Ruth is primarily the story of Ruth, and Barbie isn't in it as much as I'd like, but I will say that Ruth Handler makes a great subject.

She was driven and that's the word for her. Married to a man she considered a genius, she moved heaven and earth to make his toys happen, and after awhile, she began enjoying the power of being one of the few female toy executives. Her own two children, Barbie and Ken, were brought up almost in absentia, even though their Los Angeles home was designed and decorated within an inch of its life, including many factors ordinary children could only dream about having--such as a live tree growing up along the staircase, and a operating soda fountain in the basement! And still they were dissatisfied with their lives.

So was Ruth, and the book goes to great pains to show how Ruth's dissatisfactions led her down the primrose path of crime, so that idiotically she risked her company's future by participating in an ill thought out plan to conceal losses and to protect its credit during some lean times, by inflating to its stockholders the amount of profit Mattel was making. After years in court, she saw defeat, yet by this time she had another enemy to surmount--breast cancer, which for a woman who had always prided herself on her figure, was especially devastating. She did not take cancer lying down and instead started a new company with a feminist consciousness--Nearly Me, which developed and manufactured breast prosthetics from a female point of view. This part of the story was inspiring.

Forty-five "overt acts" of fraud were mentioned in the indictment, as her enemies rejoiced how the mighty had fallen. A lie detector test helped clear her beloved Elliott of any charges.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Rossina Gil on February 19, 2009
Format: Hardcover
I was an employee of Mattel during the time of Jill Barad's "reign." This book by Ms. Gerber completely puts into context the Mattel culture that evolved from its founder. Ruth Handler was an intriguing blend of an entrepreneur who carved the way for others and someone who complacently towed the line of gender-based expectations. For example, she was the keynote speaker at a men's club, but while her husband was escorted the proper way to the room assigned for her engagement, she was taken by way of the kitchen and garbage. Most importantly, while no one can underestimate the unfathomable wealth she accumulated due to her business acumen, her true successes came post-Mattel but most probably would not have been achieved without it. She helped survivors of mastectomies re-gain their self-esteem, re-connected with her children, inspired legions of executive women et al, and supported troubled youths. As a sort of B-story, I found it amusing that while Ruth's son Ken (who struggled with his sexuality) resented his name having been given to the Ken doll, the doll is well-received by the gay community. Ms. Gerber is indeed a masterful storyteller.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Jamie Woolf on February 18, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Who knew that the creator of the Barbie doll was a felon, a cancer survivor, a daughter of Jewish immigrants, a founder of Mattel, and that the real Ken that inspired the Ken doll was a victim of HIV and resented the materialism and negative effect of the doll that bore his name. It's an absolutely riveting and fascinating story. I couldn't put it down. Gerber's command of story telling helps us to understand Ruth Handler, scorn her, sympathize with her, and learn from her successes and failures. I'm surprised there was so little known about this pioneering woman behind the doll that we all know and love or hate. I loved this book from start to finish.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Mary G. Longorio VINE VOICE on November 15, 2009
Format: Hardcover
One of the selling points for the Barbie doll and all her accessories is the perfectness of her life. Barbie and Ruth reveals the extremely messy back-story of the creation of Barbie and her maker Ruth Handler. The idea for Barbie came from the European doll Bild-Lili whose origins came from the sex toy industry. Starting with Ruth's unusual upbringing, she was the only child of ten not raised by her mother, Robin Gerber reveals a woman with seemingly unlimited drive. Marrying her husband Elliot despite her mother's objections, Ruth was driven to succeed. When she conceived of the Barbie doll, she didn't allow anyone to stand in her way. Soon the most popular toy and the cornerstone of a toy conglomerate, Barbie was a valuable prize. Ruth faced being tossed from the company she essentially founded, she also faced separation from her second family. In a compassionate but unflinching book, Gerber not only reveals the story behind the doll, but the woman who was ahead of her time, the businesswoman who focused on the job and the family at home who was lost in the shuffle.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Teresa J Geron on February 6, 2015
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Don't let the title turn you away just because you are male or dislike the Barbie doll. This is a fascinating read for both men and women, especially those interested in business development, communication and structure. Ruth Handler has always been my hero for creating my favorite toy but having now learned her background and the obstacles in her path as a toy industry businessperson and woman in the mid 20th century, she has now catapulted even higher. 5 stars isn't even high enough.
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