The Eighth Wonder of the World is the story of the life and career of Andre Roussimoff, better known as Andre The Giant.
Authors Pat Laprade and Bertrand Hebert were not kidding when they labeled this book “a definitive and exhaustive biography”. Through interviews with members of Andre’s family, promoters, Andre’s peers as well as journalists, they truly went to the ends of the earth to get the final word on Andre’s life.
The book takes us from the early days of Andre’s life growing up in Europe and the troubles he faced from a young age with regards to his size (Andre would hit six foot six by age fourteen). It isn’t long before Laprade and Hebert focus on Andre training to be a professional wrestler as he would quickly break into the Parisian wrestling scene and eventually make his way to the UK. His first matches and his initial feuds are detailed as Andre would begin to find himself as a performer.
Andre’s work in Japan with IWE (International Wrestling Enterprise) and his eventual partnership with Antonio Inoki and New Japan Pro Wrestling are explored. It’s believed that this is where he was initially informed of his acromegaly condition although the authors cannot be certain. It’s believed that Andre may have already known about it or that the diagnoses had been lost in translation from Japanese doctors. Generally, although rare, if Laprade and Bertrand are unsure of the true story, they will go to great lengths to present all the information they were able to dig up and make an educated theory.
In the 70s, Andre would be brought into the North American wrestling scene by getting his start in Quebec. One of the best things about this book is the effort the co-authors put into providing context and establishing the various territories before showing the impact Andre would have upon his arrival. Great care is put into showcasing the legendary figures and the business side of the industry in each market Andre would come into. His drawing power in Quebec is historic in producing crowds in the thousands to see him square off in several feuds with his biggest being with legendary opponent Don Leo Jonathon.
As noted above, as the book moves through the years, Laprade and Hebert are constantly attempting to clear up misconceptions or fallacies about Andre’s career. The reason for so many myths about Andre comes down to the fact that at the height of his popularity, the business was still a closely guarded secret. What people would come to know about Andre was limited to what he would tell them. Whether it was an exaggeration or a way to keep kayfabe alive, it’s anyone’s guess. They make note of Shane McMahon’s comments in the 2018 HBO documentary (of which both were field producers) stating that before Andre made it to the WWWF, he was wrestling in front of crowds in the range of a few hundred people. This was false as Andre had drawn crowds in the tens of thousands. The authors reference attendance figures through Andre’s career to establish his drawing power well before he got involved with the McMahon family.
His career under McMahon Sr in the 1970s shows how McMahon would retain booking rights for Andre and would loan him to other promotions across the world as a special attraction. By utilizing his vast network of associates, McMahon would ensure that Andre would be paid well, while he would retain a booking fee.. Andre’s drawing power was unparalleled but he also had to be wary of how promoters who would look to take advantage of him by either body slamming the Giant – something that was kept for a special occasion – or beating him to boost their own local wrestlers. Vince Sr. would ultimately control creativity when it came to how Andre would be used and honestly, if Andre didn’t want to do something, given his size, he wasn’t doing it.
There is a fair amount of time devoted to his 1980s and early 1990s WWF career here as well as his role in the 1987 film, The Princess Bride. A lot of this stuff has been done to death in documentaries from both WWE as well as outside parties, but it was still interesting. It’s heartbreaking to read about Andre’s health as it degraded rapidly in the mid-80s onward. In the HBO documentary, it seemed like Vince had pushed Andre to compete at WrestleMania III despite Andre’s cavalcade of health issues, but as Bertrand and Laprade note later on, Andre never really wanted to stop wrestling. He would miss the camaraderie with the boys and keeping a busy schedule. I thought the authors did a great job in examining Andre’s career as it began to wind down. To say Andre was limited would be putting it lightly, yet he was still pulling in crowds despite his decreased mobility. The authors spotlight how Andre believed he had more to offer despite his body being an unwilling participant in his ambition.
In terms of research, this is one of the best wrestling books I’ve ever read about a performer. While they do spend time correcting a few things in the HBO documentary, they are complimentary of it and this book makes a great companion piece to it. Many modern fans may only know Andre from his rivalry with Hulk Hogan in 1987 onward (myself included), where he was nowhere near as agile and quick on his feet as he was in his early days. The Eighth Wonder of the World shines a light on Andre’s passion, his big heart and his genuine love for his peers.
The Eighth Wonder of the World: The True Story of Andre The Giant will be released on April 14, 2020 from ECW Press.