The best books about heroines in history

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve been interested in exploring the characteristics and meaning of heroines in history since I met two fellow travelers in Nova Scotia in 1990 who introduced me to the work of Joseph Campbell and his The Hero with a Thousand Faces. As a history professor I am interested in women’s changing place in society and the history of heroines is an excellent way to explore this. I am passionate about moving beyond individual, celebratory stories to instead explore themes for a dynamic modern archetype of a heroine across time and cultures. I like to imagine a time when all humans can be heroes without the feminine suffix.


I wrote...

Heroines in History: A Thousand Faces

By Katie Pickles,

Book cover of Heroines in History: A Thousand Faces

What is my book about?

Heroines in History: A Thousand Faces moves beyond stories of individual heroines, taking a thematic, synthesising, and global approach to challenge previous understandings of heroines in history.

Responding to Joseph Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces, Katie Pickles explores the idea of a transcultural heroine archetype that recurs through time. Each chapter addresses an archetypal theme important for heroines in history. The volume offers a new consideration of the often-awkward position of women in history and embeds heroines in the context of their times, as well as interpreting and analysing how their stories are told, re-told, and represented at different moments. Pickles looks at the interplay of gender, race, heredity status, class, and politics in different ways and chronicles the emergence of heroines as historical subjects valued for their substance and achievements.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

Book cover of Narrative of Sojourner Truth, A Northern Slave: Emancipated from Bodily Servitude by the State of New York, in 1828

Katie Pickles Why did I love this book?

Autobiographies and narratives by heroines make for powerful reading and offer welcome wisdom.

Feminist and abolitionist Sojourner Truth’s story involves fighting sexism and racism out of first-hand experience and adversity. This book reminds us of the diversity present in the history of feminist heroines rather than the often privileged white, middle-class women’s voices.

Truth’s legendary ‘Ain’t I a woman?’ speech was delivered at the 1851 Women’s Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio.

By Sojourner Truth,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Narrative of Sojourner Truth, A Northern Slave as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Narrative of Sojourner Truth, A Northern Slave is a powerful, landmark narrative originally published in 1850 by abolitionist and preacher Sojourner Truth, who was born a slave in 1797 in rural New York. Truth was a nationally recognized proponent of civil rights and women's rights, speaking widely about gender and racial inequities. Narrative of Sojourner Truth, A Northern Slave is essential reading for anyone who wishes to understand the history of slavery and its cruel hardships in the United States.


Book cover of Eva Peron: The Myths of a Woman

Katie Pickles Why did I love this book?

J M Taylor captures the successes and tragedies of Argentina’s ‘Santa Evita’. She unravels the myth-making that surrounded her eventful life.

Eva Peron’s public image and iconography are contrasted with complex class politics, religious observation, political coups, and sexism. Peron’s untimely death from cancer and the story of her corpse not being left to rest in peace is particularly jarring. I like how the book reveals that the history of heroines is complicated and that myth-making can hide important nuances.

By Julie Taylor,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Eva Peron , one of the most powerful women in the world at the time of her death in 1952, rose from humble origins to international renown as First Lady of Argentina and the force behind her husband, Juan Peron. Despite her popularity she was inaccessible to the people of Argentina, and so images were constructed around her to fill that void. According to J.M. Taylor, these "myths" around Eva Peron reflect Argentine culture and political history at the time of her seven-year reign. With a brief biography of Eva Peron serving as a backdrop, this study offers an analysis…


Book cover of Joan of Arc: The Image of Female Heroism

Katie Pickles Why did I love this book?

This superbly researched book breaks new ground about the relationship between image and reality for heroines in history.

Warner manages to both bring Joan of Arc alive as an historical actor, and also show how her image has been invented and reinvented through history. Warner taught me that when it comes to heroines, there is often an important blurred relationship between fact and fiction. Importantly, gender and sexuality are also at the heart of Warner’s interpretations.

Warner captures the story of a truly amazing heroine and also reveals Joan’s incredible significance. 

By Marina Warner,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Joan has a unique role in Western imagination - she is one of the few true female heroes. Marina Warner uses her superb historical and literary skills to move beyond conventional biography and to capture the essence of "Joan of Arc", both as she lived in her own time and as she has 'grown' in the human imagination over the five centuries since her death. She has examined the court documents from Joan of Arc's 1431 Inquisition trial for heresy and woven the facts together with an analysis of the histories, biographies, plays, and paintings and sculptures that have appeared…


Book cover of Our Lady of the Rock: Vision and Pilgrimage in the Mojave Desert

Katie Pickles Why did I love this book?

This book combines thought-provoking text with stunning landscape photography.

In 2010 in the Californian Mojave Desert Maria Paula’s feet started bleeding with a similar pattern to the stigmata of Christ nailed to the cross. In this engaging book Bitel grapples with the modern resurgence of apparitions and cult. She makes the fascinating suggestion that modern technology has led to a new global audience for spiritual apparitions, contributing to the continuation of pre-modern Christian behaviour.

It is a theme that I take up and write about the modern transcultural emergence of shrines to female figures from Vietnam’s shrine of Ba Chua Xu, the Lady of the Realm, to the Weeping Madonna of Rockingham, Australia.  

By Lisa M. Bitel, Matt Gainer (photographer),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Our Lady of the Rock as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

For more than twenty years, Maria Paula Acuna has claimed to see the Virgin Mary, once a month, at a place called Our Lady of the Rock in the Mojave Desert of California. Hundreds of men, women, and children follow her into the desert to watch her see what they cannot. While she sees and speaks with the Virgin, onlookers search the skies for signs from heaven, snapping photographs of the sun and sky. Not all of them are convinced that Maria Paula can see the Virgin, yet at each vision event they watch for subtle clues to Mary's presence,…


Book cover of Women Warriors and Wartime Spies of China

Katie Pickles Why did I love this book?

This book is packed with the history of Chinese warrior heroines and spies. From Hua Mulan to Soong Ching-ling, the book resonates with connections across the centuries, as well as modern differences.

All too often the fate of these brave and outstanding women was to die for their cause, a theme that I think is so important for many heroines in history. Edwards is adept at identifying how her heroines challenge and defy their position in society. She also reveals the gendered position that heroines occupy as fighters, and in particular, the challenge that it poses to women’s transnational traditional place as gendered feminine carers and life-givers. 

By Louise Edwards,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Women Warriors and Wartime Spies of China as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In this compelling new study, Louise Edwards explores the lives of some of China's most famous women warriors and wartime spies through history. Focusing on key figures including Hua Mulan, Zheng Pingru and Liu Hulan, this book examines the ways in which these extraordinary women have been commemorated through a range of cultural mediums including film, theatre, museums and textbooks. Whether perceived as heroes or anti-heroes, Edwards shows that both the popular and official presentation of these women and their accomplishments has evolved in line with China's shifting political values and circumstances over the past one hundred years. Written in…


You might also like...

The Chomsky Effect: A Radical Works Beyond the Ivory Tower

By Robert F. Barsky,

Book cover of The Chomsky Effect: A Radical Works Beyond the Ivory Tower

Robert F. Barsky Author Of Clamouring for Legal Protection: What the Great Books Teach Us about People Fleeing from Persecution

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Writer Professor of Humanities Borders Radicalist

Robert's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

Noam Chomsky has been praised by the likes of Bono and Hugo Chávez and attacked by the likes of Tom Wolfe and Alan Dershowitz. Groundbreaking linguist and outspoken political dissenter—voted “most important public intellectual in the world today” in a 2005 magazine poll—Chomsky inspires fanatical devotion and fierce vituperation.

In The Chomsky Effect, Chomsky biographer Robert Barsky examines Chomsky's positions on a number of highly charged issues—including Vietnam, Israel, East Timor, and his work in linguistics—that illustrate not only “the Chomsky effect” but also “the Chomsky approach.”

Chomsky, writes Barsky, is an inspiration and a catalyst. Not just an analyst…

The Chomsky Effect: A Radical Works Beyond the Ivory Tower

By Robert F. Barsky,

What is this book about?

"People are dangerous. If they're able to involve themselves in issues that matter, they may change the distribution of power, to the detriment of those who are rich and privileged."--Noam Chomsky

Noam Chomsky has been praised by the likes of Bono and Hugo Chávez and attacked by the likes of Tom Wolfe and Alan Dershowitz. Groundbreaking linguist and outspoken political dissenter--voted "most important public intellectual in the world today" in a 2005 magazine poll--Chomsky inspires fanatical devotion and fierce vituperation. In The Chomsky Effect, Chomsky biographer Robert Barsky examines Chomsky's positions on a number of highly charged issues--Chomsky's signature issues,…


Topics
  • Coming soon!

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in pop culture, France, and American first ladies?

11,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about pop culture, France, and American first ladies.

Pop Culture Explore 153 books about pop culture
France Explore 903 books about France
American First Ladies Explore 40 books about American first ladies