Marilyn Monroe Biographies

Recommended Reading About Marilyn Monroe

Marilyn Monroe, an iconic symbol of the blond bombshell in the 1950s, led a tragic life, filled with addiction and depression, as well as a successful movie career. Read some takes on her life.

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The first three books on the list below are ones I'd especially recommend, especially to those with an interest in women's history and its issues. The others, also good biographical treatments (some with great photos), are listed in order of publication date.

Gloria Steinem. Marilyn. 1986.

With her feminist sensibilities, Gloria Steinem looks at both the myth of Marilyn Monroe and the forces that shaped that fantasy, and the real person behind that myth -- especially the child, Norma Jean.

Sarah Churchwell. The Many Lives of Marilyn Monroe. 2004.

Churchwell focuses more on the various images of Marilyn Monroe and the myths about her -- sex symbol, naive innocent, etc. -- and how they developed. The author deconstructs these myths.

Fred Guiles. Norma Jean. 1969.

A for-its-time definitive biography, published just seven years after Marilyn Monroe died. Guiles attempts to discover facts behind the public Marilyn Monroe, and succeeds in finding details not well known during Marilyn's lifetime.

Maurice Zolotow. Marilyn Monroe. 1960.

Published before she died, this biography gives a sense of what Marilyn's image was during her lifetime and what people knew about her troubled life at that time.

Edwin P. Hoyt. Marilyn, the Tragic Venus. 1965.

Writing before Marilyn's death, Hoyt doesn't cover many of the issues raised later (the Kennedy affair allegations, for instance), but his perspective is interesting as an example of what concerned her fans at that time.

Robert F. Slatzer. The Life and Curious Death of Marilyn Monroe. 1974.

Slatzer claims to have been married to Marilyn Monroe, and focuses this book on his theory that she did not commit suicide, but was murdered.

Anthony Summers. Goddess: The Secret Lives of Marilyn Monroe. 1985.

Summers claims that Monroe's body was actually first found by Peter Lawford and Robert Kennedy, and that the coverup of this fact explains many of the confused details in the investigation of her death. Researched extensively, but Joe Di Maggio and Arthur Miller refused to participate in this project.

Graham McCann. Marilyn Monroe. 1988.

More of an academic treatise than a popular biography, McCann writes from a self-identified feminist perspective, and attempts to deconstruct the male-imposed images of Marilyn Monroe.

Donald Spoto. Marilyn Monroe: The Biography. 1993.

Spoto writes biographies of movie celebrities and of saints -- and even the recent cover for this reissue seems to portray Marilyn as both. He looks in great detail at Marilyn's early life, using newly-available sources, trying to find explanations for her later personality. His theories about her death are speculative and not widely accepted.