A sports journalist explores the exciting life and times of the world's first female sports superstar, not only a champion tennis player but 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.
Sasha Abramsky’s best work addressed Dod’s Swiss adventures in mountain climbing ... Little Wonder is Abramsky’s first book-length effort in the field of sports history. Readers will hope it is not his last. Abramsky offers a fascinating portrait of the life of this forgotten sports heroine in fluid prose. Little Wonder is a worthy addition to the sports literature.
Abramsky presents a well-researched account of a woman whose rare losses were almost more newsworthy than her consistent victories ... These two biographies [Little Wonder and The Divine Miss Marble] serve not only as opportunities to marvel at the accomplishments of these women, but also as reminders that some things haven’t changed. For example, Dod and Marble were criticized for how they dressed, accused of playing like men, and berated for their progressive political views. These books are celebrations of women’s progress, but they also show how much work is left to be done.
The 'Lottie path' is an extreme variation of that approach, and it has now fallen firmly out of fashion. Still, Dod’s story does shed light on women’s quest to claim their place in sports, a realm that has always been dominated by men—as players, officials, coaches, and viewers ... In Dod—as in other tennis trailblazers such as Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova—were gender, social, and sexual nonconformity somehow linked? Abramsky cannot be blamed for failing to settle questions like these, given that one of the problems of writing women’s history is a lack of primary sources. Dod’s letters are few, and she left no revealing personal diary to plunder for insights. That said, I wish the book included more of that essay Dod wrote at 18—and less irrelevant historical context ... Here and there, Little Wonder is padded like an American football player ... Wisely, however, Abramsky’s contribution to the feminist genre of 'lost lives' wears its politics lightly. Dod was a pioneer, eager to achieve one female 'first' after another. But she wasn’t a natural activist, even if she did persuade the Royal North Devon Golf Club 'to allow ladies to use their facilities from October through May of each year' ... If Abramsky’s biography feels rather slight, it is because he refuses to co-opt her into an uplifting parable of women’s liberation. Instead, he celebrates her as a brave and talented and determined original. In sports, the battle of the sexes is far from over, but Dod won more than a few break points simply by living her own life to the fullest.