The best books on forgotten women in history

The Books I Picked & Why

America's First Daughter

By Stephanie Dray, Laura Kamoie

Book cover of America's First Daughter

Why this book?

This meticulously researched bestseller breathes life into the story of Thomas Jefferson’s daughter, Patsy, as she helps guide her father and the new nation of America. An avid fan and teacher of U.S. history, I learned so much about Thomas Jefferson—including his post-presidency years and his relationship with Sally Hemings—while reading about this forgotten American daughter.

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The Memoirs of Cleopatra

By Margaret George

Book cover of The Memoirs of Cleopatra

Why this book?

Everyone thinks they know Cleopatra, but this amazing novel made me feel like I was peering over Cleopatra’s shoulder while she fought civil wars against her siblings, snuck into the palace to meet Julius Caesar, and fell in love with Marc Antony. There are so many forgotten details of Cleopatra’s history that are brought to life here!

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The Serpent and the Pearl

By Kate Quinn

Book cover of The Serpent and the Pearl

Why this book?

While this novel moves effortlessly between three narrators, I loved that one of them is plucked straight from the dusty pages of history. While Lucrezia Borgia typically gets plenty of press, her contemporary Giulia Farnese was the beautiful young woman who didn’t have a choice in becoming the mistress of Cardinal Borgia, who became Pope Alexander VI. Here we see her learning to wade through Italian politics at the height of Borgia treachery.

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The Invisible Woman

By Erika Robuck

Book cover of The Invisible Woman

Why this book?

Any woman who worked as a spy against the Nazis during World War II is worth reading about, but Virginia Hall was a pioneering agent for the SOE who has only started to gain widespread recognition in recent years. Hall was known as the “limping lady” because she had lost part of her leg and used a prosthesis that she named Cuthbert. Now that’s a woman I’d happily invite to dinner!

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Becoming Josephine: A Novel

By Heather Webb

Book cover of Becoming Josephine: A Novel

Why this book?

I think most history fans know about the ill-fated relationship between Napoleon and Josephine, but I loved that this novel also highlighted Josephine’s early—and mostly forgotten—years spent in Haiti as France’s ideals of equality spurred the bloody Haitian Revolution. Josephine then also has to survive the French Revolution before she catches Napoleon’s eye.

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