The best books about and by madly inspiring women

Caroline Studdert Author Of Hellcat of The Hague: The Nel Slis Story
By Caroline Studdert

Who am I?

I’ve always adored stories of courageous, sometimes outrageous women who forge ahead into the unknown, survive in strange lands in troubled times, pursue their career dreams. Like my favourite picks, I’ve relished my own adventures in distant countries (Libya, Czechia, Kyrgystan, Mongolia…), while always earning my crust from writing. From motivational research in Dublin and London, I switched to financial journalism in Holland, where I met and was inspired by ground-breaking journalist Nel Slis whose story I’ve told in my book Hellcat of the Hague. Now I’m settled in London to concentrate on my novels and short stories and be near my family, I hope you love these books too.

I wrote...

Hellcat of The Hague: The Nel Slis Story

By Caroline Studdert,

Book cover of Hellcat of The Hague: The Nel Slis Story

What is my book about?

I unearth the riveting tale of pioneering Dutch woman journalist Nel Slis, the first Associated Press correspondent in The Hague after WWII. From remote island origins via European adventuring, nursing Finnish war-wounded and wartime monitoring for the BBC to reporting on Dutch Queens, royal scandals, emerging Europe. With no lack of lovers but losing the one she would have married, she fights on and wins many battles, becoming a legend in her own time: the magnetic and trustworthy woman journalist every other journalist wants to interview and emulate. I hope her story, which would otherwise have been lost, will inspire many more generations of adventurous women to crack glass ceilings and achieve their dreams.  

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China

Why this book?

I was so transfixed by Jung Chang’s saga of her family in the 1990s that when I finished it, I immediately went back to the beginning and read it all over again. We in the West seemed to know so little about China then, and here was this very human and readable account of a totally different world, itself going through a period of seismic changes—and how three generations of women coped with it all.  There’s a strong impression of the importance of family, and through these heart-rending personal sagas, we do also begin to get to know China. It’s a tale of survival, and despite many horrors, an uplifting one, thanks to the courage of these Daughters of China.

Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China

By Jung Chang,

Why should I read it?

8 authors picked Wild Swans as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Few books have had such an impact as Wild Swans: a popular bestseller which has sold more than 13 million copies and a critically acclaimed history of China; a tragic tale of nightmarish cruelty and an uplifting story of bravery and survival.

Through the story of three generations of women in her own family - the grandmother given to the warlord as a concubine, the Communist mother and the daughter herself - Jung Chang reveals the epic history of China's twentieth century.

Breathtaking in its scope, unforgettable in its descriptions, this is a masterpiece which is extraordinary in every way.

Book cover of Journeys Without a Map: A Writer's Life

Why this book?

Award-winning novelist Molteno takes us on a mesmerising journey of discovery, tracing the origins of her fictional worlds. From the mountains of Tajikistan to remote parts of Africa, in small English towns or huge Indian literary festivals, she engages with people she meets and is inspired by them. Through these vignettes she threads reflections on the creative process—why we write, and what fiction does for us. Through Marion’s clear and involving writing, we encounter not one but several truly remarkable women, as she weaves the emergence of her writing life into her own much-travelled and absorbing story.

Journeys Without a Map: A Writer's Life

By Marion Molteno,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Journeys Without a Map as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Award-winning author Marion Molteno takes us on a magical journey of discovery into the life of a writer and her readers.
From book events in small English towns to huge literary festivals in India and Pakistan, from the mountains of Tajikistan to remote parts of Africa, she traces the roots of the fictional worlds she has so brilliantly created in her novels.
Weaving through these vignettes are reflections on the creative process, her own and anyone's - her own journey as a writer, what fiction does for us, and the vital relationship between writers and readers.
With an ability to…

Book cover of The Musical Life: Hedwig Stein: Emigree Pianist

Why this book?

Helen Marquard’s search for a piano teacher led her to Hedwig Stein who had fled Berlin in 1933 with her Russian Jewish husband, both concert pianists, to start again from nothing. A large, vivid woman, Hedwig freely shared her ideas on music, art, philosophy, literature. Later, Marquard discovered Hedwig had written a diary, and determined to bring us this story that would otherwise have been lost, enabling Hedwig and her husband to take their rightful place in the roll-call of émigrés who have contributed so much to UK cultural life. Hedwig put her husband’s career and her children first, yet she never gave up on her own career, which continued its own quiet flourishing after her husband’s sudden death. 

The Musical Life: Hedwig Stein: Emigree Pianist

By Helen Marquard,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Musical Life as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Hedwig Stein was starting to make her mark as a concert pianist in Germany in the early 1930s when she fell in love with a Russian emigre pianist, Iso Elinson. He was half-Jewish, and quickly the pair knew they had little choice but to flee, despite vehement family opposition to that and to their proposed marriage. They chose England as their destination although neither had visited the country or spoke the language. They arrived with just twelve bags, a very small amount of money, a recommendation about Iso from Albert Einstein, and a few letters of introduction. Bit by bit,…

Book cover of Passionate Nomad: The Life of Freya Stark

Why this book?

Among a tiny handful of intrepid women travellers in the nineteenth and twentieth century, Freya Sterk stands out. Not only for her courage in going where no woman or man had gone before in remote and dangerous Middle Eastern regions and for her unique mastery of their languages, but also for her own beautiful writing. Largely self-educated, she is adopted by the Royal Geographical Society and lionised as an explorer. And she revels in the limelight. Knighted by the Queen at age 82, Freya emerges as appealingly human and fallible, and unusually democratic in her dealings with the people she meets in these remote regions.  Her biographer has created a brilliant, absorbing, and penetrating picture of this flamboyant woman.

Passionate Nomad: The Life of Freya Stark

By Jane Fletcher Geniesse,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Passionate Nomad as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A New York Times Notable Book • Finalist for the PEN/Martha Albrand Award for First Nonfiction

“Highly readable biography . . . The woman who emerges from these pages is a complex figure—heroic, driven . . . and entirely human.”—Richard Bernstein, The New York Times

Passionate Nomad captures the momentous life and times of Freya Stark with precision, compassion, and marvelous detail. Hailed by The Times of London as “the last of the Romantic Travellers” upon her death in 1993, Freya Stark combined unflappable bravery, formidable charm, fearsome intellect, and ferocious ambition to become the twentieth century’s best-known woman traveler.…

The Past is Myself: The Road Ahead

By Christabel Bielenberg,

Book cover of The Past is Myself: The Road Ahead

Why this book?

Christabel Bielenberg’s autobiography I find madly inspiring for her courage and clear, perceptive writing. A well-connected Anglo-Irish Englishwoman, she marries a German lawyer in 1934 only to find herself living through the war and the horrors of Nazi rule in Germany. Staggeringly, near the war’s end, she manages to talk her husband Peter out of a concentration camp with the camp commandant after Peter was implicated in the plot to assassinate Hitler. It’s that rare book that I would have loved to last much longer, especially for showing how ordinary Germans changed and got corrupted by Nazism—but others managed to retain their humanity. She shows us the triumph of the human spirit, even in the face of a downward slide into evil and corruption.

The Past is Myself: The Road Ahead

By Christabel Bielenberg,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Past is Myself as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Christabel Bielenberg, a niece of Lord Northcliffe, married a German lawyer in 1934. She lived through the war in Germany, as a German citizen, under the horrors of Nazi rule and Allied bombings. Closely associated with resistance circles, her husband was arrested after the failure of the plot against Hitler's life on 20th July 1944, and she herself was interrogated by the Gestapo. Not only do we meet her friends whose tragic bravery shines from the book, but dozens of everyday Germans, from the simple-minded Nazi official who was also her odd-job gardener, to the good-hearted Black Forest villagers who…

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in explorers, China, and Germany?

8,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about explorers, China, and Germany.

Explorers Explore 75 books about explorers
China Explore 487 books about China
Germany Explore 364 books about Germany

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like The Man Who Loved China, Life and Death in Shanghai, and Romantic Outlaws if you like this list.