New Books on the History and Biography Shelves: January 2021

This week saw the 46th President of the United States inaugurated into office--certainly a moment in history. For other moments highlighted, check out the new history and biography books below.

Also available in: e-book

Leader of the 1960s folk revival, Odetta is one of the most important singers of the last 100 years. Her music has influenced a huge number of artists over many decades, including Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Harry Belafonte, Judy Collins, Janis Joplin, the Kinks, Carly Simon, Jewel and, more recently, Rhiannon Giddens and Miley Cyrus.

But Odetta's importance extends far beyond music. Journalist Ian Zack follows Odetta from her beginnings in a deeply segregated Birmingham, Alabama to stardom in Los Angeles, where she helped the national heal after 9/11 through her music. It's hard to imagine the Civil Rights Movement without her opera-trained voice echoing at the March on Washington, the Selma to Montgomery march, and countless other rallies and protests, large and small. Odetta channeled her anger and shame into some the most powerful folk music the nation has ever heard. Through her lyrics and iconic persona, Odetta influenced lasting political, social, and cultural change.

Through interviews with Joan Baez, Harry Belafonte, Judy Collins, Carly Simon, and many more, Ian Zack brings Odetta back into the spotlight, reminding the world of the folk music that powered the Civil Rights Movement and continues to influence generations of musicians today.

From tales of pirate treasure to Jimmy Hoffa's mysterious disappearance, Michigan Myths and Legends makes history fun and pulls back the curtain on some of the state's most fascinating and compelling stories. Most people have heard about the Bermuda Triangle, where ships and people disappear without a trace--but few have heard about the equally deadly Great Lakes Triangle, where one-third of all unsolved sea and air disasters in America take place. -Night after night, curious onlookers congregate on a remote hill near the Michigan/Wisconsin border to watch for mysterious lights that rise out of the ground, hover, and then disappear. Are the orbs merely optical phenomena created by headlights of passing cars? Or are they spirits returning to haunt where their earthly bodies met their demise? -In the mid-1960s, the number of reports to the US Air Force of UFO sightings spiked across the country. Were people seeing unfamiliar technological innovations in aircraft? Had the rising popularity of the new-fangled television's sci-fi programs sparked Americans' imaginations? Or were extraterrestrial beings actually responding to signals from newly constructed deep-space radio transmitters?

Lottie Dod was a truly extraordinary sports figure who blazed trails of glory in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Dod won Wimbledon five times, and did so for the first time in 1887, at the ludicrously young age of fifteen. After she grew bored with competitive tennis, she moved on to and excelled in myriad other sports: she became a leading ice skater and tobogganist, a mountaineer, an endurance bicyclist, a hockey player, a British ladies' golf champion, and an Olympic silver medalist in archery.

In her time, Dod had a huge following, but her years of distinction occurred just before the rise of broadcast media. By the outset of World War I, she was largely a forgotten figure; she died alone and without fanfare in 1960.

Little Wonder brings this remarkable woman's story to life, contextualizing it against a backdrop of rapid social change and tectonic shifts in the status of women in society. Dod was born into a world in which even upper-class women such as herself could not vote, were restricted in owning property, and were assumed to be fragile and delicate.

Women of Lottie Dod's class were expected not to work and to definitely get married. Dod never married and never had children, instead putting heart and soul into training to be the best athlete she could possibly be. Paving the way for the likes of Billie Jean King, Serena Williams, and other top female athletes of today, Dod accepted no limits, no glass ceilings, and always refused to compromise.

America and Iran : a history, 1720 to the present by 1974- John H. (John Hossein) Ghazvinian

In this rich, fascinating history, John Ghazvinian traces the complex story of the relations of these two powers back to the Persian Empire of the eighteenth century--the subject of great admiration of Thomas Jefferson and John Quincy Adams--and an America seen by Iranians as an ideal to emulate for their own government.

Drawing on years of archival research both in the United States and Iran--including access to Iranian government archives rarely available to Western scholars--the Iranian-born, Oxford-educated historian leads us through the four seasons of U.S.-Iran relations: the "spring" of mutual fascination; the "summer" of early interactions; the "autumn" of close strategic ties; and the long, dark "winter" of mutual hatred.

Ghazvinian, with grasp and a storyteller's ability, makes clear where, how, and when it all went wrong. And shows why two countries that once had such heartfelt admiration for each other became such committed enemies; showing us, as well, how it didn't have to turn out this way.