Book Review – Marilyn Monroe: The Biography by Donald Spoto

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Marilyn Monroe is probably the most iconic woman ever. There has been much written about her and in the years since her death many conspiracy theories and rumors have crept through popular culture and her life has become something of a myth. With all the books out there it’s difficult to know which are authentic and which are just cash grabs by the authors, hoping to make a quick buck in exchange for controversial lies. In this tome, Donald Spoto attempts to dispel some of these fabrications while giving a portrait of the complex, conflicted icon. With access to an unprecedented amount of interviews and archive information Spoto gives an account of the life of Marilyn Monroe. 

Coming into this book I was aware of Marilyn and some aspects of her life, but I’d never delved deeply into the world of Marilyn. I’d seen some movies and I thought this was as good a place as any to start. 

The book is written chronologically and begins by talking about her family history, and moves through to her death and beyond. Ordinarily when reading biographies I don’t like learning about the subject’s direct ancestors as I just want to get on with the person I’m reading about, but with Marilyn there are tragic beginnings that underline the rest of her life. Reading about her childhood was fascinating as shows how her abandonment issues were formed. 

He doesn’t pull any punches either. While the book isn’t a tacky, salacious offering, it does not hide behind innuendo or implication. Sometimes with biographies I get the sense that in researching the subject the author gets lost in the material and ends up glorifying every aspect. Although he obviously has sympathy and affection for his subject, Spoto keeps a distance that allows him to detail every facet of Marilyn’s complex personality. She really was a fascinating character and it’s interesting to see how she was able to be in control in some situations, yet in others she had a complete dependency on certain figures in her life. 

I enjoyed the writing style and at some points Spoto’s frustration with some people came through in the writing. There were many people who took advantage of Marilyn’s dependency issues and Spoto takes them to task. He also highlights some of the disgusting behavior of mental hospitals as well, and how mental illness was misunderstood. 

Every source is listed and a big chunk of the book at the back has all the notes. It’s well-researched and authentic, and throughout the book Spoto corrects misunderstandings or lies which have taken hold over the years. Many of the conspiracy theories concern her death, and towards the end of the book it takes a turn from biography to a murder mystery, as Spoto lets loose on all the misinformation. I found this especially interesting and it lends an even more tragic air to Marilyn’s life. 

I have not read every Marilyn book out there but given the amount of information and the scope of this book I have no qualms with saying that this is the definitive biography of Marilyn Monroe. I thoroughly enjoyed it and recommend it to anyone who has the slightest interesting in Marilyn, and how she became the icon that shaped the world.

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