Ringmaster: Vince McMahon and the Unmaking of America (Hardcover)

Ringmaster: Vince McMahon and the Unmaking of America By Abraham Josephine Riesman Cover Image
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NPR’s 2023 Books We Love

“Riveting, essential reading.” —Rick Perlstein, author of Reaganland

The definitive biography of Vince McMahon, former WWE chairman and CEO, charts his rise from rural poverty to the throne of one of the world’s most influential media empires—and features never-before-seen research and exclusive interviews with more than 150 people who witnessed, aided, and suffered from his ascent.

Even if you’ve never watched a minute of professional wrestling, you are living in Vince McMahon’s world.

In his four decades as the defining figure of American pro wrestling, McMahon was the man behind Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, John Cena, Dave Bautista, Bret “The Hitman” Hart, and Hulk Hogan, to name just a few of the mega-stars who owe him their careers. For more than twenty-five years, he has also been a performer in his own show, acting as the diabolical “Mr. McMahon”—a figure who may have more in common with the real Vince than he would care to admit.

Just as importantly, McMahon is one of Donald Trump’s closest friends—and Trump’s experiences as a performer in McMahon’s programming were, in many ways, a dress rehearsal for the 45th President’s campaigns and presidency. McMahon and his wife, Linda, are major Republican donors. Linda was in Trump’s cabinet. McMahon makes deals with the Saudi government worth hundreds of millions of dollars. And for generations of people who have watched wrestling, he has been a defining cultural force.

Accessible to anyone, regardless of wrestling knowledge, Ringmaster is an unauthorized, independent, investigative chronicle of Vince McMahon’s origins and rise to supreme power. It is built on exclusive interviews with more than 150 people, from McMahon’s childhood friends to those who accuse him of destroying their lives. Far more than just an athletics or entertainment biography, Ringmaster uses Vince’s story as a new lens for understanding the contemporary American apocalypse.

About the Author

Abraham Josephine Riesman is a journalist and essayist, as well as the author of the biographies Ringmaster: Vince McMahon and the Unmaking of America and True Believer: The Rise and Fall of Stan Lee. She was a longtime staffer at New York magazine and its culture site, Vulture, and her work has also appeared in The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The Boston Globe, VICE, The New Republic, and elsewhere. She lives in Providence, Rhode Island, with her spouse and their cats.


Praise For…

"Abraham Josephine Riesman’s biography of WWE mastermind Vince McMahon isn’t just a deep dive into the history of pro wrestling, it’s also an explanation and exploration of what’s dubbed “neokayfabe” – that perfect mixture of half-truths and semi-fictions concocted to exploit our attention economy. And once you see the pattern laid by Riesman out in the world of “sports entertainment,” you can see it all throughout our everyday lives."
—Andrew Limbong, NPR correspondent, Culture Desk and host, Book of the Day

“This revelatory biography of Vince McMahon argues convincingly that pro wrestling can explain contemporary America. It’s a knockout.”
Publishers Weekly, Starred review

"Ringmaster is riveting, essential reading even if, like me, you have no taste for professional wrestling. All you need is an appetite for good stories of how the best—which is to say, the worst—conmen get over. Follow Abraham Riesman through that looking glass, and you even may creep closer to understanding how the U.S. managed to make one president."—Rick Perlstein, New York Times bestselling author of Nixonland and Reaganland

“If you’re vaguely interested in a ludicrously buff mogul who booked himself to beat God in a wrestling match, or just interested in the definitive book on America’s last truly riveting carny showman, this is a story that forces you to turn the page. But this book isn’t just about Vince McMahon, the ringmaster. It’s about his circus of abused elephants, magicians, musclemen dipped in bleach, and acrobats who fall to their death, a “family business” which turned into the bloodiest version of Succession.”—The Spectator

“A vivid, warts-and-all portrait of the man behind WrestleMania—and much of the worst of contemporary politics.”—Kirkus

"RINGMASTER examines how seemingly innocuous pastimes like professional wrestling have shaped American culture and warped it beyond measure. In Abraham Riesman's telling, Vince McMahon emerges as a powerful figure of terrifying complexity, his rise and fall in lockstep with the country's. RINGMASTER brilliantly pulls back the curtain of kayfabe to reveal the pulsating reality underneath—and how the lines, once blurred, can never be separated again."—Sarah Weinman, bestselling author of The Real Lolita and Scoundrel

“To understand what's at the heart of carny culture is to understand what's at the heart of a huge swath of the American experience. As Abraham Riesman demonstrates in this highly readable, sharp and compelling book, professional wrestling embodies this idea both on screen and off, in the arenas and in the conference rooms. This is a serious work about the legacy of confidence games, abandonment, abuse and power. Whether or not you are a lifelong wrestling mark like me, Ringmaster is essential reading.”—Brian Koppelman, cocreator of Billions and cowriter of Rounders 

"No faking! Ringmaster is one of the best biographies I’ve read in years — smart, entertaining, impressively reported, and beautifully written. Wrestling fans will devour it, but everyone who wants to better understand this crazy country and one of its truly original characters ought to read it." —Jonathan Eig, author of Ali: A Life

"Abraham Riesman has given us a fascinating, rigorously researched account of the life and times of the ultimate ringmaster, Vince McMahon. This is the story of how the world of professional wrestling has become our world. The rules of the game are now so gamed in American politics and daily life that the real, if ever there was a real, has gone up in a puff of hyperbolic smoke-and-mirrors. Ringmaster helps us to see how we got to this point. How we get ourselves out of it remains an open question." —Sharon Mazer, author of Professional Wrestling: Sport and Spectacle

"Though it's hard to pinpoint the date, one morning wrestling fans like myself woke up and realized the pastime that had largely defined our youths and imaginations had jumped the firewall and, somehow, some way, began infecting the rest of the world. What Abraham Riesman has done here is invite readers to see that fundamental and disturbing truth, to wrestle with just how we've come to live in this bizarre un-reality, and possibly begin sorting through the wreckage. An absolute triumph. As must-read as must-read can get." —Jared Yates Sexton, author of The Midnight Kingdom: A History of Power, Paranoia, and the Coming Crisis
Product Details
ISBN: 9781982169442
ISBN-10: 1982169443
Publisher: Atria Books
Publication Date: March 28th, 2023
Pages: 464
Language: English