Originally published at BOOK REVIEW: "Ringmaster: Vince McMahon and the Unmaking of America" by Abraham Riesman
BOOK REVIEW: “Ringmaster: Vince McMahon and the Unmaking of America” by Abraham Riesman
Following up on her critically acclaimed examination of the life of Stan Lee, Abraham Riesman takes aim at Vince McMahon, a powerful and divisive figure in the world of professional wrestling.
Without a doubt, the true draw of this book would be Riesman’s work in shining a light on the early years of Vince McMahon, born Vinnie Lupton, a young troublemaker from the Carolinas who wouldn’t meet his biological father, Vince McMahon Sr., until later in life.
McMahon presents himself as an everyman, and while his origin story could absolutely make a case for the image he projects, it would be laughable to suggest that he “pulled himself up by the bootstraps” to become the powerful figure he is today. Eased into his father’s already established promotion, he had a distinct advantage that other promoters did not and were able to establish his name and reputation off the back of his father.
The meat of the book takes the reader up to 1999 when Vince McMahon reveals himself to be The Higher Power – the conclusion to a convoluted storyline that by that point had been going on for months seemingly without an endgame in mind. I suppose it’s as good a spot as any to end the book, but that’s twenty-four years before the book’s release date and it’s not like Vince McMahon hasn’t been making waves since. In an interview with POST Wrestling, Riesman said she expressed trepidation about stopping at such a point but given the breadth of all that she covered, she’s comfortable with where she left things. It would be difficult to disagree.
All the major scandals and defining moments of Vince’s pre-2000 life and career are covered in great detail. Riesman covers moments like the ring-boy scandal, the steroid trial, and the Rita Chatterton rape allegation. She also examines how Vince was able to out-muscle the nation’s promotions by buying up television time in competing markets and luring away top talent to perform in his ring.
While there is an epilogue that covers the more newsworthy events of the last two decades such as the double-demise of the XFL, Linda’s foray into politics, his growing relationship with Donald Trump, navigating the COVID-19 pandemic, the Benoit murder-suicide and the ensuing focus on drug-use in WWE, and even though Reisman made a strong case for stopping where she did, I would have liked to have more focus placed on the aforementioned subjects in the book and maybe less on subjects like Bret Hart and Montreal, an event that at this point is akin to beating a dead horse.
For those like myself who have been a fan of professional wrestling for over thirty years and have read countless books and taken in even more documentaries, you may not find a lot to sink your teeth into outside of the author’s dogged work uncovering much of Vince’s early years, which were largely a mystery. That said, if you’re someone who isn’t well versed in the life of McMahon and newcomers who want to learn more about Vince with his name being in the news for all the wrong reasons, then I cannot imagine a more comprehensive look at his life and career.
“Ringmaster: Vince McMahon and the Unmaking of America” by Abraham Riesman is available through Atria Books on 3/28