The Best Books About Women in War

Pamela D. Toler Author Of Women Warriors: An Unexpected History
By Pamela D. Toler

The Books I Picked & Why

Warrior Queens: The Legends and the Lives of the Women Who Have Led Their Nations to War

By Antonia Fraser

Warrior Queens: The Legends and the Lives of the Women Who Have Led Their Nations to War

Why this book?

In many ways, Antonia Fraser's Warrior Queens spurred my long-term interest in women warriors. Fraser not only introduced me to historical women I had never heard of, but to the idea that women had fought as a normal part of the army in far more epochs and far more civilizations than is normally appreciated. Fraser looks at her warring queens as a group as well as individually, trying to understand the tropes that (mostly male) historians have used both to make them bigger than life and to demean them as women. A fascinating read that has held up well over time.


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The Amazons: Lives and Legends of Warrior Women Across the Ancient World

By Adrienne Mayor

The Amazons: Lives and Legends of Warrior Women Across the Ancient World

Why this book?

Adrienne Mayor's The Amazons is a breathtaking exploration of women warriors of the ancient world.  Working with myth, ancient historical sources, and modern archeological finds, Mayor draws links between story and history, making a strong argument for the nomadic armed horsewomen of the ancient steppes as a model for the Amazons of myth. She ends the book with a quick look at ancient women warriors across the Eurasian steppes from the Caucasus, through Central Asia, and into China. The Amazons is both scholarly and readable—not as easy to pull off as you might think.


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Shoot Like a Girl: One Woman's Dramatic Fight in Afghanistan and on the Home Front

By Mary Jennings Hegar

Shoot Like a Girl: One Woman's Dramatic Fight in Afghanistan and on the Home Front

Why this book?

In 2012, former Air National Guard pilot and Purple Heart recipient Mary Jennings Hegar joined forces with the ACLU to challenge the ban that kept American women out of ground combat units. In Shoot Like A Girl, Hegar tells the story of the career that led her to that point.

Hegar’s love for flying, her commitment to her job, and her bonds with teammates are vividly portrayed. The incident for which she received the Purple Heart–her helicopter shot down in Afghanistan with wounded men aboard—is gripping. But the heart of the book is the systemic sexism Hegar faced throughout her career. This is a powerful account of one woman's determination to serve in the face of acts of casual prejudice, active hazing, sexual assault—and institutional cover-ups.


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Women, Armies, and Warfare in Early Modern Europe

By John A. Lynn II

Women, Armies, and Warfare in Early Modern Europe

Why this book?

This is one of the first scholarly studies of women in and around the battlefield. It is notable for its depiction of women who were active in warfare who were not queens or larger-than-life heroines. It also includes what I think is hands-down the best discussion of the uncomfortable relationship between military history and gender studies that plagues all attempts to write about women in war.


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The Real Valkyrie: The Hidden History of Viking Warrior Women

By Nancy Marie Brown

The Real Valkyrie: The Hidden History of Viking Warrior Women

Why this book?

In 2017, Swedish bioarchaeologists announced the discovery that an iconic Viking warrior known as the Birka man was in fact the Birka woman. In The Real Valkyrie, Nancy Marie Brown takes the reader on a deeply researched and richly imagined exploration of what life might have been like for the Birka woman, whom she names Hervor. She asks new questions of sagas, chronicles, and archeological sources—and leads the reader through what those sources can tell us. She introduces us to a broader version of the Viking world, and to many powerful Viking women who have been previously dismissed as fiction. In the process, she upends much of what we have traditionally believed about Viking women.  This is a complex, important, and delightful read.


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