Whether it was a matter of being in the right place at the right time, or being the person we would have had to invent had she not existed, Coco Chanel defined an era, one that would be impossible to imagine without her. Poised at the dawn of a new way of life, Chanel changed not just fashion but the very fabric of women’s lives during the tumultuous early years of the 20th century. But at what price? Mademoiselle: Coco Chanel and the Pulse of History (Random House, $35) is the first book to fully examine Chanel’s relationship with the world around her. While other worthy biographies have explored her personal life or the darker side of her industry in the 1940s, Rhonda K. Garelick, also the author of Rising Star and Electric Salome, gives real historical weight to the life of a woman who experienced more triumph and tragedy than one life should hold. Meticulously researched and written with genuinely infectious curiosity, Mademoiselle is an excellent read for a wide audience; fashion lovers and historians unite!
In his new book, The History of Rock ‘n’ Roll in Ten Songs (Yale, $28) famed rock historian and critic Greil Marcus flips the tiresome music-history book on its head. Drawing from his years as a progenitor of contemporary rock criticism, Marcus spotlights ten unique songs, revealing their intertwining importance to our culture, politics, and history. Sidestepping the bounds of a chronological timeline, Marcus’s sharp and witty observations trace a web of cultural significance across decades and generations. As he links the likes of Phil Spector to Amy Winehouse. and Beyoncé to Etta James, Marcus’s casual observations provide insightful challenges to all that we think we know about the rock ‘n’ roll genre. Positing that rock predates its own history as the core ideals of rebellion and revolution, Marcus is sure to touch on many ideas you’ve pondered as you’ve listened over the years—and plenty you never knew you would.