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Superman: The High-Flying History of America's Most Enduring Hero Hardcover – June 12, 2012

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Editorial Reviews Review

A Letter from Author Larry Tye
Larry Tye’s previous books include Home Lands, Rising from the Rails, The Father of Spin, and the bestselling Satchel: The Life and Times of an American Legend.

What does America’s choice of heroes say about them and about us? What better way to understand modern-day heroes, I thought, than to look at Superman, who tapped into the American psyche more effectively than anyone and has lasted longer than all of them.

I had grown up reading Superman comics and Superman remains comfort food for my spirit, but there was clearly a serious story here. To understand why the Man of Tomorrow is as popular today as in my boyhood I did what any journalist would: I interviewed hundreds of historians, clerics, and psychologists. I read the unpublished memoirs of Jerry Siegel and Jack Liebowitz, Superman’s creator and patron. I reviewed yellowing coroner’s reports on George Reeves, the TV Man of Steel. I began by worrying if I would have anything new to say. I ended by worrying how to fit into a manuscript all I have to say on this hero who is as much a part of our communal DNA as Huckleberry Finn.

What surprised me? For starters, there was the wrenching story of his nurturing at the hands of a parade of young creators yearning for their own absent fathers. The first was Jerry Siegel, a child of Lithuanian immigrants who was devastated when his dad died during a robbery. While there was no bringing back his father, Jerry Siegel did bring to life a hero able not just to run fast and jump high but to fend off a robber. Who would publish this fanciful tale? How about Jack Liebowitz, a hard-headed comic-book entrepreneur whose own dad died just after he was born and who needed a champion? Not just Superman but his rivals, too, were more than they seemed. Superman stood up to Hitler, Stalin, and the Ku Klux Klan long before America did. And even his most fervent fans may not know this about the Man of Steel: He is Jewish.

Superman’s enduring power starts with the simplicity of his story. Little Orphan Annie and Oliver Twist remind us how compelling a foundling’s tale can be, and Superman, the sole survivor of a doomed planet, is a super-foundling. The love triangle connecting Clark Kent, Lois Lane, and Superman has a side for everyone, whether you are the boy who can’t get the girl, the girl pursued by the wrong boy, or the conflicted hero. And he was not just any hero, but one with the very powers we would have: the strength to lift planets, the speed to outrun a locomotive, the gift of flight. Superpowers, however, are just half the equation. More essential is knowing what to do with them, and nobody has a more instinctual sense than Superman of right and wrong. He sweeps in to solve our problems, no thank-you needed. He descended from the heavens to help us discover our humanity. Superman has always embodied our best selves and our collective aspirations. The more jaded the era, the more we have been lured back to his elemental familiarity.


“Engaging, fun, inspiring—like the Man of Steel.”—The Huffington Post
“Powerful . . . wonderfully readable.”—The Plain Dealer

“A story as American as Superman himself . . . The best origin story pulsing through Superman is not the one about the Krypton-to-Kansas alien baby, but rather the one about the superhero’s mortal and sometimes star-crossed creators.”—The Washington Post
“Fun, enlightening pop-cultural history.”—Kirkus Reviews
“A rich history full of lively heroes and villains‚ much like a comic book. Essential for Superman fans.”—Library Journal (starred review)
“[A] comprehensive, definitive history.”—Publishers Weekly

“Action and adventure . . . comedy . . . tragedy . . . mythology . . . Larry Tye captures it all! As complete a history of the Man of Steel as ever published, this book is a deeply documented yet anecdotally told tale that transports us from the bedroom of a daydreaming teenager in 1930's Cleveland, Ohio, to the collapsing towers of the planet Krypton, from the wheatfields of middle America to the hearts of every American, with a story that is entertaining, revealing, and shocking, yet crammed with historical information. If you liked reading The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, wait till you read Larry Tye’s true story behind it all!”—Michael Uslan, author of The Boy Who Loved Batman and executive producer of seven Batman movies
“I only wish I had the good fortune of reading Larry Tye’s book before I made Superman, the problem being that if I had, then the motion picture part of Superman’s history would not have been in Mr. Tye’s book. Having said that, the reason I found Tye’s book incredibly informative is his sense of my bible in making the film—that is, verisimilitude. Reality overcame everything.”—Richard Donner, director of Superman

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; First edition (June 12, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400068665
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400068661
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.6 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (89 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #190,525 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

39 of 44 people found the following review helpful By Zack Davisson HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on May 18, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
In the introduction to this book, author Larry Tye worries that he doesn't have anything new to say about Superman. After almost seventy five years of people writing Superman and writing about Superman, what can there be to add? Or, as Tye's editor says, "There are 200 books about Superman. Why do we need 201?" And the fact is, Larry Tye doesn't have anything new to say about Superman. What he has is a new way to say it.

Tye offers perspective. Because Tye is not a Superman fan. Oh, he has fond memories of the character like every other American who grew up on Super Friends and Christopher Reeve. But before starting "Superman: The High-Flying History of America's Most Enduring Hero" Tye had never even heard of the TV show Smallville. No, Tye picked Superman because Tye is a biographer of American heroes, like Satchel Paige and Robert Kennedy. And when looking for a new subject, he realized that America's most enduring hero, whose influence has never waned, was a fictional character.

Starting from an almost blank slate, Tye carefully collected and correlated seventy-five years of writing, then condensed it down into a single narrative. IF you don't know much about Superman, there might be some surprises here. Tye talks about Superman's Jewish origins and influences, using sources I recognize from the outstanding Superman at Fifty: The Persistence of a Legend collection of essays.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Marc Korman on July 8, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Most people know the basics about Superman, most fans know at least something about his creators, Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel, and most children of the 70s and 80s know the Christopher Reeve Superman films. Larry Tye's "biography" of Superman digs a little deeper into all of this and more. The book spends the most time on Shuster and Siegel and the Reeve films, but this story has been told in many other books and places. Where Tye really succeeds is in telling the whole story of Superman and not just the 1930s creation and 1970s and 80s films. Tye explains what happened to Shuster and Siegel in later years, including their ongoing legal battles and what appear to be bribes by DC Comics (and its various predecessors and successors) to keep the two creators happy and out of the courtroom. Tye also spends significant time on the comics, which are oddly enough often forgotten when discussing Superman's exploits in favor of the George Reeves TV series and various movies. The comics, as Tye explains, went through many permutations through the years just as Superman did in other media forms. Tye did miss discussing the excellent 1988 (excellent because I was 7 at the time!) 50th anniversary Saturday morning cartoon series and a few other Superman oddities (such as the Super-pup pilot), but overall this is a comprehensive book that is easy to read for a fan and, I suspect, for those with a more passing interest.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Brian Connors VINE VOICE on July 25, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This is a very interesting study of the history and development of Superman, both the comic and the mythos, as well as a study of the stories of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, the founders of DC Comics, and the forces that turned a not-entirely-original superhero into one of the greatest comic book heroes of all time. The story tracks the development the mythos from a poorly drawn initial comic with a very vague backstory up through the expansion of the Superman property into radio, film, and television, from Action Comics #1 to Smallville. A lot of peoples' stories are told, but the two most important seem to be those of Jerry Siegel and DC cofounder Jack Liebowitz, whose often-antagonistic relationship seems to play out as two talented people, a writer and a marketer, who, despite being dependent on each other, seem to have spent most of their careers talking past each other.

The media history is no less interesting though -- from the early radio and animated shorts through the George Reeves, Christopher Reeve, Lois and Clark, and Smallville eras, all of it gets covered (although Lois and Clark seems to get shorted a bit compared to Smallville). And the legal issues -- many of them going back to the original rivalry between Liebowitz and Siegel -- get some pretty in-depth coverage as well. Also of interest was how factors like World War II and the CCA affected both Superman's character and the stories, and the many permutations the names and people in the mythos have taken (it was a long, long time before Clark's parents were settled as Jonathan and Martha, for example), not to mention the significant influences of Siegel and Shuster's Jewish upbringings (the author goes so far as to say that Superman has been basically Jewish since the beginning, if you know what to look for).
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Jesse on December 25, 2014
Format: Paperback
While some may find the fantasy (fantastic and narrative nature) of Superman paramount, the underlying reality is that when Siegel and Shuster (young Jewish Americans) created Superman, a despot named Adolfo Hitler was supreme leader in Germany. After the seeds of modern Eastern European anti-Semitism had been planted more than 30 years before from Berlin to Moscow, Hilter began to capitalize on the bandwagon and began the pogroms that eventually lead to the Jewish Holocaust, which much of the world did not want to believe existed until Allied forces entered the work and death camps in 1945. So, when Siegel and Shuster wanted to create a hero that was beyond the reach of all human suffering, one possessing über-ness (to use the German root word), they created Kal-El.

This examination is about all aspects of how and why Superman came to be and the myriad affects that have been sewn not only into just our society, but also touching cultures around the world.

Larry Tye's research tells the complete story of Superman and how these many stories have changed lives. I cannot recall if the best part is even in this text; but it is discussed in Freakonomics by Levitt and Dunbar. The early Superman tv show and comics are directly related to the weakening of the KKK. Yes, because of a children's comic/tv show. It's hilariously awesome!
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