The William B. Crawley Great Lives series returns to the University of Mary Washington on Jan. 21 with lectures on notable figures from Ronald Reagan to Karl Marx, all given by the reigning experts on the subjects.

Lectures will take place at 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays, from Jan. 21 to April 14, at the University of Mary Washington’s Dodd Auditorium on the Fredericksburg campus.

Now in its 17th year, the series is the product of yearlong planning by Crawley, who is a professor emeritus of history at UMW and the namesake of the series. Rarely a day goes by, he said, when he isn’t planning the events or doing research such as reading book reviews, the biographies themselves and looking up what’s coming out soon. For him, this research is imperative to expand the series into topics that will appeal to everyone. He said the topics of the lectures are “not perfect people, but people whose lives had an impact on the world.”

For example, sports fans have a lecture on Tiger Woods to look forward to on Jan. 23 by biographer Jeff Benedict. Crawley said the book doesn’t offer a particularly appealing picture of the man, but a complete and interesting one.

Likewise, music lovers can hear about the Beach Boys on Feb. 6. Peter Ames Carlin’s lecture will expand on what fans already know about the band and the eccentricities of frontman Brian Wilson.

Crawley said the lectures plunge into the depth of character of their subjects. One such lecture lined up for this year that promises to do so is that on well-known actress Hedy Lamarr. Stephen Michael Shearer is presenting his research on Lamarr, who along with her acting prowess was a scientist responsible for the computing power we use every day.

A harder to place, but just as interesting, topic is Francis Gary Powers, a spy whose plane was shot down in the Soviet Union, causing the 1960 U-2 incident. His son, Francis Gary Powers Jr., is giving the talk.

The talk on Frederick Douglass will be presented by Pulitzer Prize-winning historian David W. Blight. And perennial audiences will recognize the speaker of the C.S. Lewis lecture. Devin Brown gave last season’s much- lauded talk on J.R.R. Tolkien.

This year’s season is also tackling D-Day Girls, Dr. Seuss, Stephen Hawking, American duelists, John F. Kennedy and James Bond, female internet inventors, America’s notorious pirates, Sandra Day O’Connor and Nikita Khrushchev, among others.

So far, Crawley said, the series has included about 300 lectures. And this season, it will cover the final Founding Father on the list, John Adams. The lecture, also covering John Quincy Adams, will be given by duo Nancy Isenberg and Andrew Burstein.

Crawley said, for him, the topics are all interesting and it’s the speaker who makes the lecture. The speakers all are bestselling biographers who have spent countless hours chronicling the lives of their subjects. During the lectures, they provide insight into the extraordinary everyday lives of these great people.

The lectures are available free of charge to the public, with the university offering facilities and each lecture—starting this year—sponsored by an individual or business.

Great Lives was first introduced as an academic course by the Department of History and American Studies and ended up being a public lecture series held in conjunction with UMW’s popular history course: “Great Lives: Biographical Approaches to History and Culture.”

Shortly after its 2004 launch, the public series received a generous endowment from John Chappell. The Chappell family’s continued support, with that of local individuals and corporate sponsors, has sustained and propelled the series.

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