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Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend Kindle Edition

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Length: 354 pages Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
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Amazon Exclusive: Garth Stein Reviews Rin Tin Tin

Garth Stein is the author of The Art of Racing in the Rain and How Evan Broke His Head and Other Secrets .

I have no cultural or historical reason to be interested in Rin Tin Tin: I was not born in the 1920's when Rinty was a silent film star; I was not swept up in the dog obedience training craze of the 50's; as a child, I was warned that German shepherds were a mean and violent sort and I should stay away from them; while I spent a lot of time watching television when I was a kid in the 60's (most of it on a black &;amp white Zenith with rabbit ears and a knob you would use to change the channel--remember knobs?), I am still non-plused by the fact that I never--not even once--saw an episode of the Rin Tin Tin television show. Why then did I find this book utterly engaging?

I remember my Calculus teacher raising a question in class one day many years ago: is math something that is created, or is it discovered? As a teenager, I found the question quite provocative. And I couldn't help but ponder the question again--though in a different context--as I read the absolutely fascinating history of Rin Tin Tin, as told by Susan Orlean. Is a hero, an icon, a star, a cultural phenomenon created, or discovered?

Surely, Lee Duncan "found" the first Rin Tin Tin. And he set about training his dog, and he made the rounds in Hollywood with Rinty, knocking on doors, looking to be discovered. But he did so with such determination, one wonders if it were the idea of Rin Tin Tin or the dog, himself, that inspired Duncan. In other words, was the concept of Rin Tin Tin bigger than the dog from the very beginning?

As the story of Rinty unfolds, we realize that his history is a clear reflection of the history of film in the 20th Century, as well as the history of popular culture during the same period. From the beginnings of the moving picture, silent films, talkies, the advent of color, and then the innovation called television, Rinty was reimagined to adapt to the changing media, and continued to find his way into the hearts of Americans.

What I find most interesting is that Rin Tin Tin's biggest champions, Lee Duncan and Bert Leonard, pursued the Rin Dynasty (there were many, many generations of Rin Tin Tins), at great personal cost. And while they got paid, to be sure, their compensation was never commensurate with their efforts. Rather, they both felt a greater duty to disseminate the message of Rin Tin Tin; personal gain was a secondary consideration. They felt that what they were doing was a service to society. That the story of Rin, and, then again, the stories Rin told, were life-affirming, healing, and inspiring, and that is what a damaged world needed.

Though Lee Duncan proclaimed Rin Tin Tin to be immortal, his downfall did come, and with it, the downfall of Duncan, and later of Leonard and others who tried to keep the dynasty alive. Did we, as a society, simply outgrow Rin Tin Tin? Was he undone by computer graphics technology, short attention spans, loss of ability to suspend disbelief, and a skeptical inability to anthropomorphize? Or did we simply heal the wounds inflicted by world wars and atrocities of the last century? Did Rin Tin Tin, who was found on the battlefield in World War I, come to the aid of an ailing society, and, having provided solace to the people, simply serve his purpose and move on? One can argue either point, but I like to think the latter is more fitting. And I like to think that the love and devotion of a dog named Rin Tin Tin helped us greatly in our healing.

There were many Rin Tin Tins, and sometimes dogs who weren't even Rintys played Rinty on television and in the movies. Because Rin Tin Tin, the hero, is larger than any one dog.

Was the hero discovered or was he invented? I think a little of both. For certainly it was good fortune that Lee Duncan stumbled upon the dog, Rin Tin Tin, in France. But it was hard work, clever marketing, and sensitivity and understanding of the larger issues with which our society struggled that made the dog a hero. Having the key to the door is not enough; one must know to unlock the door and step through.

Rin Tin Tin is a wonderful, compelling book that will have you thinking long after you've set it down. Susan Orlean has created a fascinating history of a dog, yes, but she has also opened a discussion of many larger issues, which are highly relevant and provocative. This is a truly terrific book! --Garth Stein


Review

“Deeply moving . . . Unforgettable.” (Wall Street Journal)

“A masterpiece.” (Chicago Tribune)

“Magnificent.” (Vanity Fair )

“Epic . . . Heartfelt . . . An enormously satisfying story about a dog and the man who believed in him.” (Carol Memmott USA Today)

“Fascinating . . . Sweeping . . . Expertly told . . . [Orlean] may persuade even the most hardened skeptic that Rin Tin Tin belongs on Mount Rushmore with George Washington and Teddy Roosevelt, or at least somewhere nearby with John Wayne and Seabiscuit.” (Jennifer Schuessler The New York Times Book Review)

“A story of magnificent obsession. Nearly a decade in the making, combining worldwide research with personal connection, it offers the kind of satisfactions you only get when an impeccable writer gets hold of one heck of a story.” (Kenneth Turan Los Angeles Times)

“Stunning . . . Truly exceptional . . . A book so moving it melted the heart of at least this one dogged Lassie lover . . . . Calling Rin Tin Tin the story of a dog is like calling Moby-Dick the story of a whale.” (Meredith Maran The Boston Globe)

“Susan Orlean has written a book about how an orphaned dog became part of millions of households, and hearts, in a way that may reveal the changing bonds between humans and animals, too. . . . One of the many pleasures of this book is the historical breadth of the story.” (Scott Simon NPR’s Weekend Edition)

“An improbably fascinating tale of one of the first canine celebrities, the times that catapulted him to fame, and the legacy that endures.” (People magazine's "Great Fall Reads")

“Brilliant . . . If there were any book she was born to write, it's this one. The product of years of dogged research, it's her magnum opus, a work filled with fascinating stories . . . [and] stunning prose that is both compassionate and perceptive.” (Michael Schaub NPR)

Product Details

  • File Size: 6398 KB
  • Print Length: 354 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 1439190143
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; Reprint edition (September 27, 2011)
  • Publication Date: September 27, 2011
  • Sold by: Simon and Schuster Digital Sales Inc
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B004T4KRVK
  • Text-to-Speech: Not enabled
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  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #233,473 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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More About the Author

Susan Orlean has been a staff writer at The New Yorker since 1992. She is the author of seven books, including Rin Tin Tin, Saturday Night, and The Orchid Thief, which was made into the Academy Award-winning film Adaptation. She lives with her family and her animals in upstate New York and may be reached at SusanOrlean.com and Twitter.com/SusanOrlean.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

72 of 81 people found the following review helpful By Jessica Weissman on September 7, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Rin Tin Tin, who has been both a dog and a symbol for nearly 90 years, is the subject of Susan Orlean's latest book. She is one of our best narrative/observational nonfiction writers, on a level with the John McPhee of old, before he got obsessed with geology.

This is her second book length piece, based more on research than on observation, and it shows. The writing is just as captivating as ever. Rin Tin Tin and his career are both interesting and throw light on both how movies have changed in 90 years and how the place of dogs in our culture has changed in the same period. Much of the story is about the humans around Rin Tin Tin, from Lee Duncan the orphan boy who discovered Rinty in France to the producers and writers of the TV shows, to the various people who feel that they are the true custodians of the legacy of Rin Tin Tin.

We spend a lot of time with these guys, and they just aren't that interesting. Rin Tin Tin himself and his assorted namesakes and descendants are more interesting than their human handlers and promoters. Which makes parts of the book dull going despite the sparkle of most of the writing. The best parts came at the start, where we get the story of how Rin Tin Tin was found and brought back to the US, and in the spots where Ms. Orlean observes such scenes as the dog's grave in France and so on. The history drags a bit, I am sorry to say.

So: if you are interested both in dogs and in how they were presented in the movies and on TV, this book is for you. If you enjoy Susan Orlean's writing, this book might be for you. It's not her best, but her less-than-best is still beyond what most nonfictioneers can do.
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115 of 145 people found the following review helpful By Jack R. Meyer on October 19, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The first one-third of this book is the tale (a remarkable story well-told, and the only reason that two stars were given) of the wartime discovery, adoption, bonding, training and eventual life and career of the original movie-star dog and his owner/trainer Lee Duncan. If only the tale had stopped here, however brief, it would have been time well-spent. Unfortunately, the next large chunk is the pathetic tale of Duncan's attempt to keep the Rin Tin Tin brand alive via a series of unworthy successors, who were at least linked by bloodline to the original marvel. The remainder is an ever-more pathetic and rambling discourse on the evolution of America's relationships with companion animals, related to the previous tale by the far-less interesting story of the hugely successful 1950's television show that had little to do with the original dog (Duncan's latest "successor" may not have been related to the original at all, and was so ineptly trained/capable that another trainer's dog was finally used in the show and Duncan sidelined altogether). From here, the story meanders endlessly from boring tales of the career decline of the television series' producer to a obsessed breeder's attempt to claim the franchise by dint of having inherited her grandmother's breeding business based upon the purchase of one of Rin Tin Tin's descendents. Through all of this morass, the author keeps inserting her own "journey" and what it meant to her by way of (it seems) justifcation for why she kept writing after the basic story had long since been concluded. I honestly don't know how I managed to get through to the end. Perhaps I just wanted to see how far the author would drift from any coherent thesis or point.Read more ›
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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Sharon E. Cathcart VINE VOICE on September 12, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Lee Duncan, the original Rin Tin Tin's trainer, used to say that there would always be a Rin Tin Tin. Author Susan Orlean explores the unexpected truth behind Duncan's statement in this book. Orleans begins the story with a tale about her grandfather's Rin Tin Tin toy, always out of reach and off-limits for the grandchildren, as way to explain her fascination with the dog and his life.

Duncan was a young soldier in France during World War I, where he found the first Rinty and his littermate, Nanette. He named the two pups after popular French dolls of the time. When Duncan demobbed to the United States after the war, he brought both dogs with him.

In the early days of Hollywood, Duncan took the well-trained Rinty with him door-to-door. He asked if there was anyway that his dog (who could emote on command) could be in a film -- little realizing that the dog would eventually become an enormous franchise that required succeeding generations of new Rintys in order to accomplish. From the early days of silent films through television and beyond, Rin Tin Tin acquired new fans long after the death of the original dog found in France.

Orlean studied Duncan's records, as well as those of Bert Leonard (who was the producer of the 1950s Rin Tin Tin television program). She interviewed people who have Rinty pups and who could tell stories of the earliest days in Hollywood working with the dog -- as well as Duncan's family.

What I came away with after reading this book was a sense that Rinty would be immortal because there would always be stories to tell about him -- and that there would always be a place for courage in the face of difficult odds. This book is, in an unusual way, a love story about the public and the Wonder Dog of the Movies. Animal lovers are sure to enjoy it.

(Review based on uncorrected advance proof.)
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