The best books on inspirational women athletes

Who am I?

My novels explore women whose contributions to culture have been relegated to the footnotes of mainstream history books, and in few areas have women been more overlooked than in sports. Because of the achievements of today’s female athletes, ranging from the many athletic opportunities available to our young daughters to the professional success of women like Serena Williams, it’s easy to think that progress for women’s sports has come a long way—and in many ways, it has, thanks to legislative protections like Title IX—but these achievements reflect over a century’s worth of sacrifice by many unheralded women athletes. Here are five books that highlight this journey.

I wrote...

Fast Girls: A Novel of the 1936 Women's Olympic Team

By Elise Hooper,

Book cover of Fast Girls: A Novel of the 1936 Women's Olympic Team

What is my book about?

Fast Girls is historical fiction inspired by the real-life women track stars of the late 1920s and ‘30s. Three young women—Betty Robinson, Louise Stokes, and Helen Stephens—will join with others to defy society’s expectations of what women can achieve. As tensions bring the United States and Europe closer and closer to the brink of war, these women must fight for the chance to compete as the fastest women in the world amidst the pomp and pageantry of the Nazi-sponsored 1936 Olympics in Berlin. 

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

The books I picked & why

We Ride Upon Sticks

By Quan Barry,

Book cover of We Ride Upon Sticks

Why did I love this book?

Big hair. Field hockey. Emilio Estevez. Witchcraft. Mash these things together and you get a clever and quirky novel about the members of the 1989 Danvers High School field hockey team who dabble in the dark arts to ensure a winning season. A perceptive look at the transformation of girls into young women, this one is wicked fun.

By Quan Barry,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked We Ride Upon Sticks as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In the town of Danvers, Massachusetts, home of the original 1692 witch trials, the 1989 Danvers Falcons will do anything to make it to the state finals—even if it means tapping into some devilishly dark powers.

Against a background of irresistible 1980s iconography, Quan Barry expertly weaves together the individual and collective progress of this enchanted team as they storm their way through an unforgettable season.
Helmed by good-girl captain Abby Putnam (a descendant of the infamous Salem accuser Ann Putnam) and her co-captain Jen Fiorenza (whose bleached blond “Claw” sees and knows all), the Falcons prove to be wily,…

Book cover of A Team of Their Own: How an International Sisterhood Made Olympic History

Why did I love this book?

A couple of weeks before the 2018 Olympics opened in Pyeongchang, an unlikely women’s South Korean hockey team hastily took shape. Why unlikely? Its roster, bolstered with women of Korean descent from the United States and Canada, suddenly added players from North Korea. Like most sports books, this isn’t really about sports; it’s about identity, belonging, sisterhood, and culture. Miracles on ice can take many forms.

By Seth Berkman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Team of Their Own as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A December Stephen Curry Book Club Pick

One of ESPN’s 25 Can’t Miss Books of 2019

“A feel-good story.”—New York Times Book Review

“This isn’t simply a sports book. Rather, it’s a book about inspiring and courageous women who just happened to be hockey players.”—Korea Times

The inspiring, unlikely story of the American, Canadian, South Korean and even North Korean women who joined together to form Korea’s first Olympic ice hockey team.

Two weeks before the opening ceremony of the 2018 Winter Olympics, South Korea’s women’s hockey team was forced into a predicament that no president, ambassador or general had…

Book cover of Young Woman and the Sea: How Trudy Ederle Conquered the English Channel and Inspired the World

Why did I love this book?

These days Gertrude Ederle is unfamiliar to many of us, but a century ago she was an athletic champion whose celebrity rivaled Babe Ruth’s. In 1926, two years after winning three medals at the Paris Olympics, she became the first woman to swim the English Channel, an amazing feat of endurance and perseverance that took 14 hours and 37 minutes, a time almost two hours faster than the speediest of the five men who had gone before her. Along with recreating Ederle’s harrowing Channel journey in vivid detail, renowned sportswriter Glenn Stout infuses life back into Ederle and shows us why President Coolidge called her “America’s Best Girl.”

By Glenn Stout,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Young Woman and the Sea as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The exhilarating true story of Trudy Ederle, the first woman to swim the English Channel, and inspire a "wave of confidence and emancipation" for women in sports (Parade).

By age twenty, at the height of the Jazz Age, Trudy Ederle was the most accomplished swimmer in the world. She'd won Olympic gold and set a host of world records. But the greatest challenge remained: the English Channel. Only a few swimmers, none of them women, had ever made the treacherous twenty-one mile crossing. Trudy's failed first attempt seemed to confirm what many naysayers believed: No woman could possibly accomplish such…

Book cover of The Happiest Girl in the World

Why did I love this book?

In this novel that feels ripped straight from the headlines, the life of a young woman training as an elite gymnast is upended when her best friend confides that their doctor has assaulted her. Not only is this story timely, but it provides a glimpse into the mind-boggling discipline and talent it takes to be an Olympic gymnast.

By Alena Dillon,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Happiest Girl in the World as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"Propulsive, transfixing, and disturbing. I could not set the book down. Harrowing and fearlessly honest, The Happiest Girl in the World is a haunting read because it couldn't have done justice to its subjects - fictional and real - any other way." -Popsugar

One of Good Morning America's Best Books of April!

From the acclaimed author of Mercy House comes a gripping new novel about a young woman's dreams of Olympic gymnastic gold-and what it takes to reach the top

For Sera Wheeler, the Olympics is the reason for everything. It's why she trains thirty hours a week, starves herself…

Tigerbelle: The Wyomia Tyus Story

By Wyomia Tyus, Elizabeth Terzakis,

Book cover of Tigerbelle: The Wyomia Tyus Story

Why did I love this book?

In this memoir, Wyomia Tyus tells of her journey from Georgia as a sharecropper’s daughter to how she landed a coveted spot on the Tennessee State women’s track and field team, the Tigerbelles, and her domination in Olympic sprinting during the 1960s, a reign that included three gold medals and one silver. The story of Tyus and the Tigerbelles has been likened to a sports version of Hidden Figures and the comparison is apt. Though Tyus and her teammates never graced the cover of a Wheaties box or Sports Illustrated, these African-American women became an unparalleled force in track and field, breaking barriers and setting records, and challenging the racism and sexism of their era.

By Wyomia Tyus, Elizabeth Terzakis,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Finalist for the Track and Field Writers of America’s 2018 Armory Foundation Book Award

"Tyus proves as winning a storyteller as she was a runner...The 'a' in Wyomia is silent, but thankfully, the woman who owns that name is not."
--New York Times Book Review

"Tigerbelle offers a fresh perspective on the history of women's sports in the United States. From her one-of-a-kind accomplishments on the track to her contributions to equal pay and publicity for women through the Women's Sports Foundation, Wyomia Tyus has earned her place in the pantheon of American sports sheroes and heroes."
--Billie Jean King…

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in witches, athletes, and South Korea?

9,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about witches, athletes, and South Korea.

Witches Explore 119 books about witches
Athletes Explore 15 books about athletes
South Korea Explore 31 books about South Korea