The best books about trailblazing smart women whose achievements are astonishing

Shaz Kahng Author Of The Closer
By Shaz Kahng

Who am I?

Books have the power to change your life, that is, if you can find a story that inspires you. As a multiple-time CEO and board director I noticed the lack of fiction books with smart, strong, and positive female leaders- that’s why I started writing the Ceiling Smasher series. My first novel, The Closer, is about the first female CEO of a sports company and the secret society of professional women, called the Ceiling Smashers, who help her succeed. The books on this list are based on true stories about extraordinary women who demonstrated courage, brainpower, and grit to achieve great things and blaze new trails- who wouldn’t be inspired by that?

I wrote...

The Closer

By Shaz Kahng,

Book cover of The Closer

What is my book about?

The Closer is a riveting tale about a strong woman endeavoring to succeed with smarts, scruples, and style.

There’s a secret society of professional women, called the Ceiling Smashers, who help each other succeed. And the founder of the Ceiling Smashers, Vivien Lee, is about to go after her dream of running a business. A lifelong athlete, Vivien arrives at the Smart Sports campus in Portland, Oregon and is introduced as the first female president. It’s one of the highest-profile jobs in an industry inhospitable to women. A tight-knit group of male sports executives is determined to show that an industry outsider cannot prevail. The challenge is all too clear: will Vivien triumph against impossible odds?

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race

Why did I love this book?

This book makes you fall in love with smart, capable women and it got my twin middle school daughters excited about mastering mathematics. Hidden Figures follows the careers of not one but four extraordinary women—Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Christine Darden. These African-American women used their creativity and their exceptional math and engineering skills to succeed in the aeronautics industry. They not only had to excel at their jobs but had to do it during the Civil Rights era in a male-dominated industry. They approached challenges with confidence and determination and opened up opportunities by simply asking, “Why can’t I?” If you think about the time period during which these women worked at NASA it makes their achievements even more incredible.

By Margot Lee Shetterly,

Why should I read it?

8 authors picked Hidden Figures as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Soon to be a major motion picture starring Golden Globe-winner Taraji P. Henson and Academy Award-winners Octavia Spencer and Kevin Costner Set against the backdrop of the Jim Crow South and the civil rights movement, the never-before-told true story of NASA's African-American female mathematicians who played a crucial role in America's space program-and whose contributions have been unheralded, until now. Before John Glenn orbited the Earth or Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, a group of professionals worked as "Human Computers," calculating the flight paths that would enable these historic achievements. Among these were a coterie of bright, talented African-American…

Book cover of Out of Africa: And Shadows on the Grass

Why did I love this book?

I like the fact that Out of Africa is about a strong woman who was also an entrepreneur and an enlightened leader. Karen Blixen, a Danish countess, took up residence in Kenya and actually ran a coffee plantation—who doesn’t love a brave businesswoman? She built successful relationships with the Masai, Kikuyu, and Somali natives who worked on her plantation. A woman of many talents, Blixen’s poetic style of writing led to a profession as author Isak Dineson after she left her beloved Africa.  

By Isak Dinesen,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

With classic simplicity and a painter's feeling for atmosphere and detail, Isak Dinesen tells of the years she spent from 1914 to 1931 managing a coffee plantation in Kenya.

Little Women

By Louisa May Alcott,

Book cover of Little Women

Why did I love this book?

What I loved most about Little Women was that it focuses on living the values of honor, family, being a good person, and finding the path that is right for you—these are some of the most important lessons of a life well spent. A semi-autobiographical novel Little Women follows the lives of March sisters Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy during the time of the Civil War as they grow up and each of them dreams of their own destiny. Something that was particularly inspiring to me was Jo’s burning desire to become a writer and the difficulties she encounters until she ultimately succeeds through a combination of hard work and sheer will. Alcott weaves her own meaningful experiences into the book which helps to create a strong emotional connection with readers.

By Louisa May Alcott,

Why should I read it?

16 authors picked Little Women as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Louisa May Alcott shares the innocence of girlhood in this classic coming of age story about four sisters-Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy.

In picturesque nineteenth-century New England, tomboyish Jo, beautiful Meg, fragile Beth, and romantic Amy are responsible for keeping a home while their father is off to war. At the same time, they must come to terms with their individual personalities-and make the transition from girlhood to womanhood. It can all be quite a challenge. But the March sisters, however different, are nurtured by their wise and beloved Marmee, bound by their love for each other and the feminine…

Little House on the Prairie

By Laura Ingalls Wilder, Garth Williams (illustrator),

Book cover of Little House on the Prairie

Why did I love this book?

What an amazing time to grow up in America as a pioneer settling into life on the prairie. This is the true story of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s resilient and loving family as they built their own home, hunted for their own food, and farmed the land. I read this book and others from the series to my daughters who were mesmerized by the life Laura led and the courage she displayed. The story depicts the challenges and the joys her family found in forging their own path and living life the way they wanted. The fact that the author captured all the ups, downs, and lessons learned and became a writer during that time period is another remarkable pioneering effort.

By Laura Ingalls Wilder, Garth Williams (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Little House on the Prairie as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Classic tales by Laura Ingalls Wilder about life on the frontier and America's best-loved pioneer family.

The sun-kissed prairie stretches out around the Ingalls family, smiling its welcome after their long, hard journey across America. But looks can be deceiving and they soon find that they must share the land with wild bears and Indians. Will there be enough land for all of them?

The timeless stories that inspired a TV series can now be read by a new generation of children. Readers who loved Anne of Green Gables, Little Women, and Heidi will be swept up by this timeless…

The Only Woman in the Room

By Marie Benedict,

Book cover of The Only Woman in the Room

Why did I love this book?

This novel took me by surprise because it was based on the true story about the woman who would become silver screen star Hedy Lamar. As a young woman she was both a scientist and an actress. To help protect her family she married an Austrian arms dealer who ended up having deep connections to the Nazi party. Hedy overheard plans and secrets about the Third Reich and ended up creating a broad spectrum technology that revolutionized modern communication and helped defeat the Nazis. Looking at the woman on the screen you’d never imagine the brains that went along with her beauty.

By Marie Benedict,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Only Woman in the Room as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?



Bestselling author Marie Benedict reveals the story of a brilliant woman scientist only remembered for her beauty.

Her beauty almost certainly saved her from the rising Nazi party and led to marriage with an Austrian arms dealer. Underestimated in everything else, she overheard the Third Reich's plans while at her husband's side and understood more than anyone would guess. She devised a plan to flee in disguise from their castle, and the whirlwind escape landed her in Hollywood. She became Hedy Lamarr, screen star.

But she kept a secret more shocking…

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