The best books on barrier breaking women

Who am I?

I have loved writing since I was in grade school and after graduating university with a degree in International Affairs I became a journalist. I’ve written six non-fiction books and also teach Journalism at SUNY Purchase.  I’ve always been fascinated about the way one person’s life or one seemingly small episode in history allows us a way to examine the larger picture: whether it was how Fanny Bullock Workman showed what it meant to be a woman in a predominantly male world of mountain climbing or how the deliberate sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff in the closing days of WWII showed that war is never black and white, that there are layers to people and stories and events that we should always try to consider.


I wrote...

Queen of the Mountaineers: The Trailblazing Life of Fanny Bullock Workman

By Cathryn J. Prince,

Book cover of Queen of the Mountaineers: The Trailblazing Life of Fanny Bullock Workman

What is my book about?

Fanny Bullock Workman was a complicated and restless woman who defied the rigid Victorian morals she found as restrictive as a corset. With her frizzy brown hair tucked under a topee, Workman was a force on the mountain and off. Instrumental in breaking the British stranglehold on Himalayan mountain climbing, this American woman climbed more peaks than any of her peers and became the first woman to map the far reaches of the Himalayas.

Author and journalist Cathryn J. Prince brings Fanny Bullock Workman to life and deftly shows how she negotiated the male-dominated world of alpine clubs and adventure societies as nimbly as she negotiated the deep crevasses and icy granite walls of the Himalayas. It's the story of the role one woman played in science and exploration, in breaking boundaries and frontiers for women everywhere.

The books I picked & why

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Grandma Gatewood's Walk: The Inspiring Story of the Woman Who Saved the Appalachian Trail

By Ben Montgomery,

Book cover of Grandma Gatewood's Walk: The Inspiring Story of the Woman Who Saved the Appalachian Trail

Why this book?

When Emma Gatewood, a farm-reared 67-year-old, left her Ohio home with a change of clothes and less than two hundred dollars, no one, especially not her family, realized she aimed to walk 800 miles of the 2,050-mile Appalachian Trail. As the first person—to hike the entire Appalachian Trail alone—Gatewood used the resulting media attention to stop the trail from falling into complete disrepair.


Nancy Wake: World War Two's Most Rebellious Spy

By Russell Braddon,

Book cover of Nancy Wake: World War Two's Most Rebellious Spy

Why this book?

Nancy Wake was one of the Gestapo’s “most wanted.” While this is not a biography of a woman in mountain climbing, I was struck by the way she showed the same trailblazing characteristic of Fanny Bullock Workman. When Wake left her posh life in the South of France and began working with the French Resistance she showed that someone determined to succeed can do so regardless of societal barriers and expectations.


Annapurna: A Woman's Place

By Arlene Blum,

Book cover of Annapurna: A Woman's Place

Why this book?

It illustrates how one woman’s courage to forge ahead in a male-dominated world produced scientific work that challenged gender stereotypes and led to all-male clubs breaking their male-only rules.


Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland's History-Making Race Around the World

By Matthew Goodman,

Book cover of Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland's History-Making Race Around the World

Why this book?

Eighty Days takes readers behind the scenes of the lives of Bly and Bisland, two successful women who made a name for themselves during the late 1800s. It reveals the private women behind the public personas during an era when women were expected to mind house and home.


A Woman of No Importance: The Untold Story of the American Spy Who Helped Win World War II

By Sonia Purnell,

Book cover of A Woman of No Importance: The Untold Story of the American Spy Who Helped Win World War II

Why this book?

Purnell’s book introduces readers to Virginia Hall, who served in Britain’s Special Operations Executive during World War Two. She was the first Allied woman to go behind enemy lines and in so doing helped establish spy networks throughout occupied France. Purnell tells how Hall shed her Baltimore socialite lifestyle to answer a higher purpose.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in France, circumnavigation, and mountaineering?

5,888 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about France, circumnavigation, and mountaineering.

France Explore 587 books about France
Circumnavigation Explore 14 books about circumnavigation
Mountaineering Explore 23 books about mountaineering

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

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