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Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend (Thorndike Biography) Hardcover – Large Print, December 16, 2011

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review


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


--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

"Rin Tin Tin was more than a dog. He embodied the core paradoxes of the American ideal: He was a loner who was also a faithful companion, a brave fighter who was also vulnerable. I was astonished to learn from this delightful book that he has existed for eleven generations over a century. By chronicling his amazing ups and downs, Susan Orlean has produced a hugely entertaining and unforgettable reading experience." --Walter Isaacson, author of "Benjamin Franklin "and "Einstein"

"[Orlean] combines all her skills and passions in this astonishing story . . . A terrific dog's tale that will make readers sit up and beg for more." --"Kirkus Reviews" (starred review)

"Not only does Susan Orlean give us a fascinating and big-hearted account of all the many incarnations of Rin Tin Tin, she shows us the ever-changing role of American dogs in times of war and peace. This book is for anyone who has ever had a dog or loved a dog or watched a dog on television or thought their dog could be a movie star. In short--everyone." --Ann Patchett, author of "State of Wonder" and "Bel Canto"

"Stirring . . . A tale of passion and dedication overcoming adversity. . . . Even readers coming to Rin Tin Tin for the first time will find it difficult to refrain from joining Duncan in his hope that Rin Tin Tin's legacy will 'go on forever.'" --"Publishers Weekly"

"Move over Seabiscuit, Rin Tin Tin will be the most-talked-about animal hero of the year and beyond. . . A spectacularly compelling portrait . . . Engrossing, dynamic, and affecting." --"Booklist" (starred review)

"Magnificent." --"Vanity Fair"

"A must-read book that is both an excellent piece of cultural history and a remarkable story of the animal-human bond." --"The Christian Science Monitor"

"Susan Orlean has fashioned a masterpiece of reporting and storytelling, some of it quite personal and all of it compelling. Animal-related books have always peppered best-seller lists--"Seabiscuit" comes quickly to mind--and this one will top such lists. It deserves to, and also to work its way into millions of hearts and minds. . . . [Carl] Sandburg called Rin Tin Tin 'thrillingly intelligent' and 'phenomenal.' The same can be said for this remarkable book." --"Chicago Tribune"

"Orlean relates the histories of the original Rin Tin Tin and his various successors with her customary eye for captivating detail." --"Entertainment Weekly"

"I adored this book. It""weaves history, war, show business, humanity, wit, and grace into an incredible story about America, the human-animal bond, and the countless ways we would be lost without dogs by our sides, on our screens, and in our books. This is the story Susan Orlean was born to tell--it's filled with amazing characters, reporting, and writing." --Rebecca Skloot, author of "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks"""

"It's 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. . . . Deft . . . Insightful . . . Fascinating." --Kenneth Turan, "Los Angeles Times "

"Dazzling . . . Susan Orlean has fashioned a masterpiece of reporting and storytelling, some of it quite personal and all of it compelling. Animal-related books have always peppered best-seller lists--Seabiscuit comes quickly to mind--and this one will top such lists. It deserves to, and also to work its way into millions of hearts and minds. . . . [Carl] Sandburg called Rin Tin Tin 'thrillingly intelligent' and 'phenomenal.' The same can be said for this remarkable book. . . . Spectacular." --"Chicago Tribune"

"Stunning . . . A book so moving it melted the heart of at least this one dogged Lassie lover . . . Don't let the book's title fool you. Calling" Rin Tin Tin" the story of a dog is like calling "Moby-Dick" the story of a whale. Orlean surfs the tide of time, pushing off in the 1900s and landing in the now, delivering a witty synopsis of nearly a century of Rin Tin Tins and American popular culture. The result is a truly exceptional book that marries historical journalism, memoir, and the technique of character-driven, psychologically astute, finely crafted fiction: a whole far greater than the sum of its parts." --Meredith Maran, "The Boston Globe"

"Deeply moving . . . An unforgettable book about the mutual devotion between one man and one dog." --Scott Eyman, "The Wall Street Journal"

"Remarkable . . . Orlean's pursuit of detail is mind-boggling. . . . The book is less about a dog than the prototypes he embodied and the people who surrounded him. It is about story-making itself, about devotion, luck and heroes. . . . Ultimately, the reader is left well nourished and in awe of both Orlean's reportorial devotion and at her magpie ability to find the tiniest sparkling detail." --Alexandra Horowitz, "San Francisco Chronicle"

"Fascinating . . . The sweeping story of the soulful German shepherd who was born on the battlefields of World War I, immigrated to America, conquered Hollywood, struggled in the transition to the talkies, helped mobilize thousands of dog volunteers against Hitler and himself emerged victorious as the perfect family-friendly icon of cold war gunslinging, thanks to the new medium of television. . . . Do dogs deserve biographies? In "Rin Tin Tin" Susan Orlean answers that question resoundingly in the affirmative . . . By the end of this expertly told tale, she 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, front cover of "The New York Times Book Review"

"Deeply moving . . . Unforgettable."

"A masterpiece."

"Magnificent."

"An improbably fascinating tale of one of the first canine celebrities, the times that catapulted him to fame, and the legacy that endures."

"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 "

"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 " --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Series: Thorndike Biography
  • Hardcover: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Thorndike Press; Lrg edition (December 16, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1410443442
  • ISBN-13: 978-1410443441
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.6 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (255 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,692,362 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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I love German Shepherds and have been lucky enough to own two of these remarkable animals. I bought the book to learn about the world's most famous Shepherd. It was exciting to read about a struggling bitch raising her pups on a French battlefield with just enough food to keep them alive. Equally moving was learning that Lee Duncan, a boy raised mainly in an orphanage, adopted the pup who became Rin Tin Tin. Duncan's extraordinary bond with this dog, his pups and his stand ins was equally compelling. The dog was actually named as co-respondent in one of Duncan's divorces.
The little we are told about Duncan's training the dog to display different facial expressions was also of interest. As was the dog's success in silent films (he didn't mug) and his difficulties in talkies.
However when the book began telling us what felt like the life story of almost everyone who ever petted Rin Tin Tin or his successors I couldn't wait for it to end. The author's own interest in this dog was unconvincing. She could have just told the fascinating story of the dog, his owner and some of their adventures in tinsel land.
A good dog has to conform to a meaningful and useful shape. So too, does a story.
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Rin Tin Tin was a dog but his name came to be more than a dog. The original dog had the name and carried it into a series of silent movies where the name metamorphosed into a legend due to a bond formed between the dog and a soldier who found and adopted him over in France during World War I. The author did a beautiful job of telling this part of the story despite the loss of most of the dog's film stories; she had to use newspaper reviews and other second hand accounts to describe the reception accorded these films but there were a few films available for first hand viewing and the dog's ability could be seen. but there is a problem, as in all life. Times bring change; standards change and what is new and absorbing when first seen pales and even falls into disfavor with these changes. In Rin Tin Tin's case, however, his acting soared beyond this normal occurrence; his fame never failed. New dogs took the place of the original; intercourse between the film characters became normal and the mute animals fell out of their high regard. To overcome this the stories associated with the animals changed, Rin Tin Tin made the change successfully according to the author.
Here is the beginning of the book'd decline. Orlean kept my interest up to this point, despite her failure to bring Duncan to life. She stressed his bond with his dog, she made a point of this bond accounting for Rinty's success in his feature films but with the talkies this bond was stretched, the owner could no longer give the dog voice commands and hand signals did not get the response movie goers had been expecting. Trainers were used with the new dogs; different writers were used to come up with the new type stories and only the name remained.
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