Susan Orlean

What do Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Mahatma Gandhi, Joe DiMaggio and Rin Tin Tin have in common? Each of these legendary figures has a new biography published in 2011. Humans are curious creatures. We want to know about the world around us and that world is populated with characters of glamorous intrigue, humanitarian insight, physical prowess, and doggone greatness. Biographies crack the curtains and allow us to peer into the world of fascinating people and legendary characters. This week in #litchat we’re discussing Legends to Life.

On Friday, September 30, #litchat welcomes Susan Orlean, the award-winning author of numerous nonfiction narratives, including The Orchid Thief, the book that inspired Charlie Kaufman and Spike Jonze’s brilliant film, Adaptation. Her most recent book, Rin Tin Tin, is a biography of the legendary canine who captured hearts around the world during the early years of film and held them through the emergence of television, and beyond.

Orlean’s personal fascination with Rin Tin Tin began began with the forbidden, a plastic figurine of Rin Tin Tin shelved in her grandfather’s office. An animal lover and pop culture flâneur, Orlean digs into the legend behind the dog to discover that Rin Tin Tin is more than just a legend, he’s immortal. Kind of. The original Rin Tin Tin, a German shepherd puppy found by American soldier Lee Duncan in a bomb-blasted kennel in France died at the age of 13 years. Through Orlean’s meticulous research and savvy observation, we meet an extraordinary dog and his best friend, the man who could never let Rin Tin Tin die. Fused into the story of the man and the dog is the fascinating history of film and television, the development of modern pet culture, the near obsessive devotion to keeping the legend and the bloodline of Rin Tin Tin alive and the legal wrangling tied into it all. Rin Tin Tin is not a book about a dog, but an epic tale about foundlings and heroes of different shapes and sizes.

Susan Orlean has been a staff writer for The New Yorker since 1992, and has contributed articles to Vogue, Rolling Stone, Esquire, and Outside. Originally from Cleveland, she graduated from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, and lives with her family and animals in upstate New York as well as Los Angeles.

Follow Susan Orlean on Twitter: @SusanOrlean.