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Publisher's Summary

The definitive, revelatory biography of Marvel Comics icon Stan Lee, a writer and entrepreneur who reshaped global pop culture - at a steep personal cost.

"A biography that reads like a thriller or a whodunit...scrupulously honest, deeply damning, and sometimes even heartbreaking." (Neil Gaiman)

Stan Lee - born Stanley Martin Lieber in 1922 - was one of the most beloved and influential entertainers to emerge from the 20th century. He served as head editor in chief of Marvel Comics for three decades and, in that time, launched more pieces of internationally recognizable intellectual property than anyone other than Walt Disney: Spider-Man, the Avengers, the X-Men, Black Panther, the Incredible Hulk, Iron Man, Thor...the list seems to never end. On top of that, his carnival-barker marketing prowess more or less single-handedly saved the comic-book industry and superhero fiction. Without him, the global entertainment industry would be wildly different - and a great deal poorer. 

But Lee's unprecedented career was also filled with spectacular failures, controversy, and bitter disputes. Lee was dogged by accusations from key collaborators such as Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko over who really created Marvel's signature characters - iconic figures for whom Lee had always been suspected of taking more than his proper share of credit. A major business venture, Stan Lee Media, resulted in stock manipulation, bankruptcy, and criminal charges. A second one, POW! Entertainment, has been repeatedly accused of malfeasance and deceit. And in his final years, after the death of his beloved wife, Joan, rumors swirled that Lee was a virtual prisoner in his own home, beset by abusive grifters and issuing cryptic video recordings as a battle to control his fortune and legacy ensued. 

Abraham Riesman is a veteran culture reporter who has conducted more than 150 interviews and investigated thousands of pages of private documents, turning up never-before-published revelations about Lee’s life and work. Lee’s most famous motto was “With great power comes great responsibility”. Stretching from the Romanian shtetls of Lee’s ancestors to his own final moments in Los Angeles, True Believer chronicles the world-changing triumphs and tragic missteps of an extraordinary life and leaves it to lsiteners to decide whether Lee lived up to the responsibilities of his own talent. 

©2020 Abraham Riesman (P)2020 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

"True Believer is a biography that reads like a thriller or a whodunit. It's an exploration of an often farcical tragedy: the life, afterlife, and death of a salesman and an editor who dreamed of being something more. It unwraps Stanley Lieber the man and Stan Lee the invention and the brand name, and manages to be scrupulously honest, deeply damning, and sometimes even heartbreaking." (Neil Gaiman)

"For those who know Stan Lee from his sunny, funny cameos in Marvel films, get ready for an unputdownable deep dive. The man lived a life - warts and all - and Riesman captures the shadow and sunshine in equal measure." (Patton Oswalt)

“Stan Lee was a mythmaker, both creatively and autobiographically. To reach the truth of his troubled and troubling life story, Riesman has had to peel away layers of quarrel, exaggeration, credit-grabbing, dispute, and faulty memory. The result is an enthralling, vibrantly written portrait of one of American popular culture's great innovators." (Mark Harris, author of Pictures at a Revolution and Five Came Back)  

What listeners say about True Believer

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  • Dumbfounded consumer
  • 24-02-21

Bizarre compilation of imagined sleights

I've got no issue with humanizing icons, but after listening to this compilation of information using claimed journalistic techniques, I was left with the impression that this was an effort in dehumanization. A warts-and-all attempt that devolved into an all-the-warts approach.

There is good and interesting research in this book; much of it available elsewhere, though not compiled into a narrative.

The worst stuff is wildly distasteful. The dog whistle that Stan Lee turned his back on the faith of his father; that he wasn't a good enough Jew, he married a gentile, he was cremated, etc. It's a bridge too far and reeks of personal orthadoxy. This is more pervasive in the earlier biographical chapters, but is sprinkled throughout. Bad form, sir.

The reader does a serviceable job of pacing out the material in tones from slightly left of neutral to J. Jonah Jameson levels of quirky vitriol. I think he did a good job interpreting the source material.

Overall, this book feels less an unveiling of an icon and more like elder abuse.

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  • Tim Simpson
  • 17-02-21

More flamboyance than story.

I have several books about marvel and stan lee. Even Stan lee's book. I could not get past chapter 2 and I had to skip to that one. It's almost like the author is trying to write an opera about comics. Traded it.

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 21-02-21

Terribly one sided

Perhaps my fault, but I was looking for an impartial biography ofStan Lee. Stan Lee was definitely a complex and controversial individual. But in my opinion, The author took every fiber and word of this book to discredit Stan Lee and right N one-sided and unfavorable view of Stan Lee. I had to labor through this 14 hour book. I will definitely return his book and look for another biography.

2 people found this helpful

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  • Shai
  • 21-02-21

Fantastic. A real roller coaster.

Loved it overall. You will NOT believe the directions this story takes.

Very good narrator, especially when he's Quoting Stan and becomes especially animated!

2 people found this helpful

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  • Arturo Davila
  • 19-02-21

Face Front...

A very heart-wrenching and human look at the man so many people associate with beloved icons of the modern age. Stan Lee was a human, underneath that grinning jovial persona so many know, and full of the same contradictions and ugliness. Like many, his highs in life were dizzying and the lows reached beneath the crust of the Earth. But like the stories of his beloved characters, you won’t be able to stop listening to the tale of the character that is Stan Lee... even if unlike the superheroes, his story comes to a tragic end.

2 people found this helpful

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  • JohnT1x
  • 04-04-21

Too Preachy

it had some interesting information, but at times, became too preachy, as if it had a biased agenda.

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  • Lee Mejia
  • 27-03-21

not cool

The man pronounced RZA as R, Z, A instead of Rizza. negative 1 star for that BS.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Arthur Brown Jr.
  • 04-03-21

Stan Lee was an icon

This book illuminates the ways in which a person can be many things at once. I think Stan was complicated yet well meaning person who it would be fair to say did his best. May he find rest and peace in the hereafter, for on Earth his legacy will shine on. He co-created many people of my favorite characters and for that I will always be grateful. Excelsior!

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  • Da Busta
  • 24-02-21

Just sad

It’s a very interesting story but it’s just sad everyone would love to leave their mark on this world at the end of the day can’t take that away from Stan or Ditko

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  • Mr_Robison
  • 30-03-21

A heartbreak tale of comic’s mighty marvel

While I’d been acquainted with the less than marvelous aspects of Stan Lee’s life, this warts and all look at the man behind our current pop culture juggernauts was a fascinating listen. The author is by no means trashing Lee, nor does he present any axe to grind, rather he gives us a bare and occasional sympathetic look at the man behind the image. While some may come away shocked, it’s always a great reminder that any hero, as long as they’re flesh and blood, is not above the fray of human failings. It is a must listen for any comic fan/historian.

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  • Shel
  • 19-02-21

A fascinating listen and must read

This is a fascinating book and Riesman has done a great job of collecting various viewpoints, bits of opposing evidence and presenting them here in one place. For anyone that only follows the Marvel via the MCU I am sure that a lot of the bombshells dropped here will be a surprise and the polar opposite of what they have come to expect from Stan Lee, however it's very familiar territory for anyone who has followed comics or even read the wonderful 2012 book "Marvel Comics: The Untold Story" by Sean Howe (highly recommended follow-up reading if you have not!). Even as a teen in the 1990's I wondered why on earth each Marvel Comic had "Stan Lee Presents.." on the opening page when Lee was not included anywhere else in the credits; evidence enough that Lee was only happy to have his name against something he creatively had nothing to do with. It's staggering how many comics that Stan Lee see signed that had nothing to do with himself either, even on characters he didn't claim to create.

As a life-long Spider-Man fan I had previously heard a lot of the pieces that involve the creation and evolution of the web crawler. In 2007 Jonathan Ross made a UK documentary called 'In Search of Steve Ditko' (it often gets uploaded to YouTube) which highlights the battle of credit for who should be called creator and in his interview Stan Lee begrudgingly accepts Ditko's claim to be called co-creator however he immediately follows it up with that he considers whoever dreams up the idea to be the creator which was himself. Hmmm..

Blurred lines between writer and artist is nothing new either, Bill Finger only received the co-creator of Batman in 2015 from DC, prior to that Batman charlatan "Bob Kane" had the audacity to publicly claim credit for everything whereas in fact everything you know and love about Batman was created by Finger.

It's appropriate that Riesman notes that Stan Lee liked to be compared to the comics world version of Walt Disney as both men have a very public persona as a friendly, caring, creative genius and a darker business side; both Stan and Walt were pro-business and anti-worker rights, Walt was anti-union and handled himself extremely poorly throughout the animators strike, firing as discriminating against many including star animator Art Babbitt effectively tarnishing his career.

Anyone expecting this to be one prolonged attack on Lee will be happy to be proven wrong, Risemen walks the tightrope of narrative well, including both points of view when there is one and comes across fairly well balanced (to continue the analogy!). The details of Lee’s later life are heart-breaking as much as hearing about Jack Kirby being overlooked and you cannot help but have sympathy for all parties here. Even his prodigal and wily daughter JC.

Both Walt and Stan equally leave a shadow over their career, however their accomplishments cannot be, and in the case with this biography by Risemen is not, denigrated. Without Lee's imagination, his salesmanship, his persona you could easily argue that the media landscape would not be the same as it is today. Lee was not a perfect man, but no one ever is. Did I believe that the "Marvel Method" of comic book creation was purposefully used to obscure just how much those bullpen artists did in the early days of comics? Absolutely. Do I believe that Lee is responsible for less than he actually is? Absolutely. However that will never change the fact that the man is the co-creator of a universe beloved by many, a universe that sparked the imagination of kids and adults for decades, a universe that helped inspire many children to pick up a book and read, a universe that continues to dominate the TV screens (for good or bad) and entertain the world over. There will never be another Stan Lee.

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  • uramyx
  • 19-03-21

Too much for me

it's just all a little bit too much of an information dump for me.
No stone unturned.
It's so extensive in its research it's almost boring and massively depressing.
We need more mystery in our lives. To have just MASSIVE amounts of research, so extensively, on such a person is too much. It's just calls into question the validity of a person's entire existence. The way this book goes there is almost no point in having Stan even have been alive as EVERYTHING he ever did and said is contested.
Good on Abraham for putting in the effort and it's tremendous journalistic skills but aside from that it's just bitter, sad and pointless.
Just punching sand at this rate. Can't get absolutely anything else out of it.

Most people will probably love it but that's because people just love digging into every aspect of a person's life (especially one so fraught with controversy) until there is nothing more to go into. Folks love gossip. Especially some that can be backed up.

For me, personally, give me the brush strokes. I'll figure out the rest and make up my own mind. It's such a sad life to lead just needing to know every detail until your dying day.

In comparison to the "Marvel the untold story" for example, it's long as heck and very well researched also but it covers every aspect of Marvel's history so has to just gloss over certain aspects that really aren't important. It's only 3 hours longer than this Stan book. So that shows you how much extra stuff you don't need from this.

This is just my personal take, you may find it great but it's a no from me.

p.s. the performance from the narrator is very well done. Over the top from time to time but mostly great.

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  • Mr. J. Filsell
  • 04-03-21

Excelsior!

A great read that gets into all the controversy about the creation and ownership of the big Marvel characters, the different and often mitigating aspects of Stan’s life and ultimately - sad passing.

A worthy read about an interesting man.

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  • Ian
  • 23-02-21

An extraordinary life - well told.

Terribly sad, but absolutely fascinating. His life was Shakespearean - he's a tragic character. Recommended.