By Ty Burr
Updated July 29, 1998 at 04:00 AM EDT

Appearing in 1964 at the height of the Barbie era and routed, 13 years later, by platoons of Star Wars figurines, GI Joe was a toy both of and in spite of its times. Despite industry wisdom that “a boy will never play with a doll,” the “action figure” (as Hasbro insisted it be called) was a massive success right out of the gate. Later, when Vietnam soured combat-toy sales (and this reviewer and his little chums were putting Joe on trial for war crimes), the company cannily repositioned its plastic-molded hero as an “adventurer.” While Michlig’s text divulges more about Hasbro interoffice politics than you really need to know, this beautifully designed coffee-table tome is as much a fetish object as the original 1965 Deep Sea Diver Joe.