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Marilyn: The Passion and the Paradox Hardcover – July 17, 2012

3.7 out of 5 stars 73 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“A dazzling portrait of a fragile but remarkably ambitious and determined personality, as spiritual as she was corporeal, as canny as she was careless.” ―Carina Chocano, Elle

“Banner…probe[s] Monroe's fraught relationship to her sexuality with an uncommonly insightful eye. But fans of Hollywood Babylon, take heart: Studious as she is, Banner also rakes the muck like a pedigreed newshound.” ―Jan Stuart, More

“By dint of exhaustive research and uniquely informed analysis, distinguished and trailblazing feminist historian Banner has written a profoundly redefining bombshell biography of artist and icon Marilyn Monroe. Banner is the first to bring a scholar's perspective to bear on the influence of postwar misogyny and sexual hypocrisy on Monroe's life and work as she painstakingly chronicles Monroe's shunting from one foster home to another, her sexual abuse and subsequent stutter, evangelical upbringing, daring foray into modeling, and epic battle for Hollywood success. Intellectual rigor and insight shape Banner's coverage of Monroe's debilitating endometriosis, chronic insomnia, prescription-drug addiction, numerous sexual relationships, reliance on psychoanalysis, and three troubled marriages. Banner breaks new ground with her sensitive disclosure of the star's toxic fear of the exposure of her sexual attraction to women, an utter disgrace for a reigning sex symbol in a harshly homophobic time. And her revelations about the role of the Kennedys and the FBI in Monroe's death are appalling. On the upside, Banner celebrates Monroe's perfectionism, generosity, humanist political views, trickster humor, covert brilliance, daunting "process of self-creation," and immense cultural resonance. A passion for precision and truth fuels Banner's electrifying portrait of an artist caught in a maze of paradoxes and betrayals. Here is Marilyn as we've never seen her before.” ―Donna Seaman, Booklist (starred review)

“This new biography brings the known facts up to date and offers a fresh, modern take on the tragic star's life and choices…. Surely not the last word, but a complete and honest effort and a good starting place.” ―Kirkus Reviews

“Banner elegantly and skillfully chronicles Monroe's short life…. [she] paints a portrait of Monroe as a complicated, many-faceted woman.” ―Publishers Weekly

About the Author

Lois Banner is a founder of the field of women's history and cofounder of the Berkshire Conference of Women Historians, the major academic event in the field. She was the first woman president of the American Studies Association, and in 2006 she won the ASA's Bode-Pearson Prize for Outstanding Contributions to American Studies. She is the author of ten books, including her acclaimed American Beauty and most recently MM -- Personal, which reproduces and discusses items from Marilyn Monroe's personal archive. In addition to her books on Monroe, Banner is a major collector of her artifacts. Banner is a professor of history and gender studies at USC and lives in Southern California.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA; First Edition edition (July 17, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1608195317
  • ISBN-13: 978-1608195312
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.8 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (73 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #392,315 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By G. Kellner VINE VOICE on June 1, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I am not a die-hard Marilyn fan. I think I read one other biography of her, a long time ago. I thought this one had a bit of a slow start--a little on the dry side, but it picks up. I didn't share the previous reviewers irritation with the author for tooting her own horn--it was just sort of a blip in an otherwise competent biography. The author tries to examine Marilyn's life from a feminist perspective. It could go either way--Marilyn was either ahead of her time, in that she was an independent, smart, savvy businesswoman who recognized America's need for a post-war sex pot and marketed herself as such, or Marilyn was a victim of misogynistic, manipulative men who used her and discarded her. I prefer to see her as the former. I did learn a lot about her, and I discovered I really liked her. She was a little loopy, but who isn't? As a side note, the Elton John song, "Candle in the Wind" tended to run through my head everytime I picked this up, which was annoying after a while. I especially thought the examination of Marilyn's death was well-balanced, given the controversy surrounding it. All in all, a detailed and well-done portrait.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Before "Marilyn: The Passion and the Paradox," I had never read a biography of Marilyn Monroe, thinking that they might be needlessly lurid or full of conspiracy theories about her untimely death. I was intrigued by this new book by Dr. Lois Banner since it tackled one of the most iconic females of the 20th century from a feminist historian's perspective. Ultimately I moderately enjoyed this book, but I can easily see why others have been largely critical of Dr. Banner's approach. First of all, having never previously read a Monroe biography, this may not have been the best choice for an introduction. Dr. Banner spends a great deal of time debunking or criticizing most the biographies already published, dismissing theories, stories, or witnesses through what she somewhat arrogantly (but most likely accurately) describes as her superior original research. At the book's most annoying moments, the author suddenly switches to first-person right in the middle of a narrative chapter to articulate her own approach to research for this particular area of Marilyn's life, and she might also use the opportunity to share a personal opinion or two or state whether or not she considers an eyewitness account to be credible. Dr. Banner emphasizes that she is one of only two or three biographers to interview certain people whom she considers critical, etcetera, which is all well and good and appreciated. However, I have never read a historical biography in which an author has gone to such great lengths to tout their credentials, research methods, or original sources right in the middle of a chapter. It was a jarring and unwelcome intrusion and a perfect example of why footnotes or endnotes are important.Read more ›
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Format: Hardcover
For all her boasting of the highly academic methods the author brought to her writing of this book - and heaped scorn on other authors for what she says are shoddier investigations - it was indeed infuriating to see the utterly amateur Ms Banner barely ever credited her sources, a dreadful crime in academe. I was interested, for example, to read the source material of statements such as "when women stutter, a severe trauma has caused it" (p.54) but no footnote. She says, on p.56 that abused girls "may have nightmares about witches and demons" but the footnote is just a few incomprehensible words. P.77 she says that the "Christian Science church became an important part of Norma Jeane's life: meditating on Science and health helped her to find purpose and meaning". When I checked the footnote all it gave was a list of Christian Science tracts and nothing to do with Monroe at all. She frequently speaks with great authority on the state of Monroe's gynaecological health but nary a footnote to justify any of it. Even when a footnote might appear to be relevant to the narrative, it only ever refers to secondary sources - for example someone else's biography of Marilyn or their own autobiography and, of course, no page numbers given for that work. The most outrageous of the "authorities" on which she relies comes on page 192 when she states with complete conviction "People who stutter don't stutter when they sing". The authority cited in the footnote is none other than - you guessed it - the film about George VI "The King's Speech". I wanted to toss the book at this stage but I was kind of enjoying the rest of the material, even if I knew most of it was highly unreliable. As a trial advocate, I would object to 90% of this material as irrelevant and inadmissable. It is hearsay upon hearsay upon hearsay.Read more ›
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Lois Banner's voluminous study of Marilyn is quite apparent in this long biography. So much has been written about Marilyn and this exploration is more detailed but I do not believe it holds any new revelations. Instead, Ms. Banner analyzes Marilyn's behavior from various angles; she also analyzed her mother's behavior which, minus so many real facts, is an exploration with contrary information.

Like some other reviewers, I was astonished when the biographer alluded to her own beauty citing similar assets as Marilyn's. She also criticized other Monroe biographers (and there are many) stating that their conclusions are incorrect. What? Since Ms. Banner elevated herself in the beginning of the book, I admit that I read on with bias. Whether she is a scholar, great beauty or published advocate of women, her inflated ego should have been omitted.

Marilyn Monroe was a complex woman with a complicated past. The author moved us back and forth during her youth which left me more confused. I did not have a clearer picture of her childhood. Was her mother, Gladys, really a decent person? Was Grace, the guardian, self-serving? The real story behind the many foster homes was cloudy; Ms. Banner did not make it clearer. Without actual records, she analyzed Gladys, Grace, Marilyn's possible fathers, and foster parents. I felt the author shuttled me around Marilyn's youth and then backtracked to try and bring it together. Marilyn's later life is easier to document with real facts but the analysis continued ad nauseum. 2.5 stars
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