Barbie, the stylish playmate for generations of little girls, turns 50 this month. In Barbie and Ruth: The Story of the World’s Most Famous Doll and the Woman Who Created Her Robin Gerber showcases Ruth Handler’s brilliance in all aspects of business and details how she not only identified the market for the doll, but also successfully sold the idea to skeptics. When Handler noticed her daughter, Barbara (the doll’s namesake), playing with paper dolls—changing their clothes and pretending to be them—she realized that “little girls just want to be bigger girls” and began searching for the perfect doll for them. She met resistance along the way, namely from people who said mothers would not buy their daughters dolls with breasts; Handler proved them wrong.
Still, Gerber doesn’t gloss over the bad times. In the 1970s, Handler and her husband were forced out of Mattel, the company they’d founded, and charged with falsifying the books. While Handler always denied doing anything illegal, Gerber argues that someone as interested in the smallest details of the company as Handler simply could not have been unaware of the fraud. Handler managed to avoid jail time, but had to pay the largest fine and serve the longest community service punishment allowable by law. Nevertheless, Barbie has proved to be her greatest legacy.