The best books on or by maverick women

Who am I?

Denise Kiernan is a multiple New York Times bestselling author of narrative nonfiction books including The Girls Of Atomic City, The Last Castle, and We Gather Together. Throughout her career as a journalist and an author, she has explored underrepresented stories and characters and the impact they have had on history. These stories of the unsung offer fresh perspectives on historical tales we think we already know. At the heart of many of Kiernan’s nonfiction explorations are women from a variety of different backgrounds and time periods.


I wrote...

We Gather Together: A Nation Divided, a President in Turmoil, and a Historic Campaign to Embrace Gratitude and Grace

By Denise Kiernan,

Book cover of We Gather Together: A Nation Divided, a President in Turmoil, and a Historic Campaign to Embrace Gratitude and Grace

What is my book about?

From Ancient Rome through 21st-century America, bestselling author Denise Kiernan brings us a biography of an idea: gratitude, as a compelling human instinct and a global concept, more than just a mere holiday. Spanning centuries, We Gather Together is anchored amid the strife of the Civil War, and driven by the fascinating story of Sarah Josepha Hale, a widowed mother with no formal schooling who became one of the 19th century’s most influential tastemakers and who campaigned for decades to make real an annual day of thanks.

Populated by an enthralling supporting cast of characters including Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, Sojourner Truth, Walt Whitman, Norman Rockwell, and others, We Gather Together is ultimately a story of tenacity and dedication, an inspiring tale of how imperfect people in challenging times can create powerful legacies.

The books I picked & why

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The Gastronomical Me

By M.F.K. Fisher,

Book cover of The Gastronomical Me

Why this book?

To call Fisher merely a food writer is to miss out on one of the most provocative essayists of the 20th century. This exploration of her departure from American life to live in Dijon, France, is a celebration of what it means to be truly engaged in one’s own story. For those with ravenous appetites for not just food, but the stuff of life.

The Gastronomical Me

By M.F.K. Fisher,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In 1929, a newly married M.F.K. Fisher said goodbye to a milquetoast American culinary upbringing and sailed with her husband to Dijon, where she tasted real French cooking for the first time. The Gastronomical Me is a chronicle of her passionate embrace of a whole new way of eating, drinking, and celebrating the senses. As she recounts memorable meals shared with an assortment of eccentric and fascinating characters, set against a backdrop of mounting pre-war tensions, we witness the formation not only of her taste but of her character and her prodigious talent.


Slouching Towards Bethlehem: Essays

By Joan Didion,

Book cover of Slouching Towards Bethlehem: Essays

Why this book?

Joan Didion is one of my all-time favorite writers. Ever. Full stop. Choosing one book by this remarkable journalist and author was difficult, but this collection of essays—centered mainly on Didion’s experiences reporting on life during the late ‘60s in California—showcases not only her talents as a storyteller, but also her uncanny ability to at once inhabit and observe events. I have read it multiple times and find something new to admire with every visit to her prose.

Slouching Towards Bethlehem: Essays

By Joan Didion,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked Slouching Towards Bethlehem as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Joan Didion's savage masterpiece, which, since first publication in 1968, has been acknowledged as an unparalleled report on the state of America during the upheaval of the Sixties Revolution.

We forget all too soon the things we thought we could never forget. We forget the loves and the betrayals alike, forget what we whispered and what we screamed, forget who we were

In her non-fiction work, Joan Didion not only describes the subject at hand - her younger self loving and leaving New York, the murderous housewife, the little girl trailing the rock group, the millionaire bunkered in his mansion…


Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War

By Karen Abbott,

Book cover of Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War

Why this book?

As not only a reader but also as a writer I enjoy coming at significant moments in American history through distinct experiences and characters, with all of their talents and trials and shortcomings explored along the way. This look at the Civil War is intimate and engrossing, taking readers through tremendous conflict with four very unique women as their guides.

Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War

By Karen Abbott,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

“Not for nothing has Abbott been called a ‘pioneer of sizzle history.’ Here she creates a gripping page-turner that moves at a breathtaking clip through the dramatic events of the Civil War.”  — Los Angeles Times

Karen Abbott, the New York Times bestselling author of Sin in the Second City and “pioneer of sizzle history” (USA Today), tells the spellbinding true story of four women - a socialite, a farmgirl, an abolitionist, and a widow - who risked everything to become spies during the Civil War.

After shooting a Union soldier in her front hall with a pocket pistol, Belle…


Sargent's Women: Four Lives Behind the Canvas

By Donna M. Lucey,

Book cover of Sargent's Women: Four Lives Behind the Canvas

Why this book?

There are many ways to approach history. Donna Lucey brilliantly chose to usher readers into the world of the Gilded Age via the captivating canvases of that era’s most sought-after portraitist, John Singer Sargent. There are always more stories lurking behind Sargent’s luxurious depictions of his subjects, and Lucey gets beneath the paint and the posing to give us her own picture of four very real women whose lives are far more nuanced than any portrait sitting can convey.

Sargent's Women: Four Lives Behind the Canvas

By Donna M. Lucey,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Sargent's Women as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

With unprecedented access to newly discovered sources, Donna M. Lucey illuminates the lives of four women painted by the society portraitist John Singer Sargent. With uncanny clairvoyance, Sargent's portraits hint at the mysteries, passions and tragedies that unfolded in his subjects' lives. Elsie Palmer carried on a labyrinthine love life in a Rocky Mountain castle; Elizabeth Chanler stepped into a maze of infidelity with her best friend's husband; as the veiled image of Sally Fairchild emerged on the canvas, her sister was lured into an ill-fated life in art; and shrewd Isabella Stewart Gardner collected both art and young men.…


First Women: The Grace and Power of America's Modern First Ladies

By Kate Andersen Brower,

Book cover of First Women: The Grace and Power of America's Modern First Ladies

Why this book?

The First Lady of the United States is a challenging role that has been navigated by an incredibly wide array of women over the years. Brower has interviewed many of them, and the insights she gives readers into their day-to-day lives—at turns uplifting and heartbreaking—make for an incredibly relatable and inspiring book. This is as behind-the-White House-scenes as you can get. From Jaqueline Kennedy to Michelle Obama, Brower offers an incredibly intimate look at this often misunderstood role in American politics.

First Women: The Grace and Power of America's Modern First Ladies

By Kate Andersen Brower,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the groundbreaking backstairs look at the White House, The Residence, comes an intimate, news-making look at the true modern power brokers at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue: the First Ladies, from Jackie Kennedy to Michelle Obama and Melania Trump. One of the most underestimated-and challenging-positions in the world, the First Lady of the United States must be many things: an inspiring leader with a forward-thinking agenda of her own; a savvy politician, skilled at navigating the treacherous rapids of Washington; a wife and mother operating under constant scrutiny; and an able CEO responsible…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in women, the upper class, and gastronomy?

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And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

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