The best books about women in war

Why am I passionate about this?

I've been fascinated by the concept of women warriors ever since I was a nerdy kid who read every biography of famous women I could get my hands—and I've been collecting their stories almost as long. Today I write historical non-fiction that puts women back into the story, whether it's women warriors, civil war nurses, or groundbreaking journalists. The impact of this can be profound. When we re-introduce overlooked populations into history, we get a very different story.


I wrote...

Book cover of Women Warriors: An Unexpected History

What is my book about?

In Women Warriors: An Unexpected History, historian Pamela Toler tells the stories of historical women for whom battle was not a metaphor, using both well-known and obscure examples, drawn from the ancient world through the twentieth century and from Asia and Africa as well as from the West. Looking at specific examples of historical women warriors, she considers why they went to war, the ways in which their presence on the ramparts or the battlefield has been erased from history, and the patterns and parallels that emerge when we look at similar stories across historical periods and geographical boundaries.

Women warriors are often assumed to be historical anomalies—Joan of Arc, not G.I. Jane. By comparing the stories of individual women across historical periods and geographical boundaries, Toler uncovers a different story. Women have always fought, not in spite of being women but because they are women.

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The books I picked & why

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

Pamela D. Toler Why did I love 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.

By Antonia Fraser,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In this panoramic work of history, Lady Antonia Fraser looks at women who led armies and empires: Cleopatra, Isabella of Spain, Jinga Mbandi, Margaret Thatcher, and Indira Gandhi, among others.


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

Pamela D. Toler Why did I love 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.

By Adrienne Mayor,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Amazons as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Amazons--fierce warrior women dwelling on the fringes of the known world--were the mythic archenemies of the ancient Greeks. Heracles and Achilles displayed their valor in duels with Amazon queens, and the Athenians reveled in their victory over a powerful Amazon army. In historical times, Cyrus of Persia, Alexander the Great, and the Roman general Pompey tangled with Amazons. But just who were these bold barbarian archers on horseback who gloried in fighting, hunting, and sexual freedom? Were Amazons real? In this deeply researched, wide-ranging, and lavishly illustrated book, National Book Award finalist Adrienne Mayor presents the Amazons as they have…


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

Pamela D. Toler Why did I love 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.

By Mary Jennings Hegar,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Shoot Like a Girl as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

On July 29, 2009, Air National Guard major Mary Jennings 'MJ' Hegar was shot down while on a Medevac mission on her third tour in Afghanistan. Despite being wounded, she continued to fight and saved the lives of her crew and their patients. But soon she would face a new battle: to give women who serve on the front lines the credit they deserve.

After being commissioned into the U.S. Air Force, MJ Hegar was selected for pilot training by the Air National Guard, finished at the top of her class, then served three tours in Afghanistan, flying combat search-and-rescue…


Book cover of Women, Armies, and Warfare in Early Modern Europe

Pamela D. Toler Why did I love 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.

By John A. Lynn II,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Women, Armies, and Warfare in Early Modern Europe as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Women, Armies, and Warfare in Early Modern Europe examines the important roles of women who campaigned with armies from 1500 to 1815. This included those notable female individuals who assumed male identities to serve in the ranks, but far more numerous and essential were the formidable women who, as women, marched in the train of armies. While some worked as full-time or part-time prostitutes, they more generally performed a variety of necessary gendered tasks, including laundering, sewing, cooking, and nursing. Early modern armies were always accompanied by women and regarded them as essential to the well-being of the troops. Lynn…


Book cover of The Real Valkyrie: The Hidden History of Viking Warrior Women

Pamela D. Toler Why did I love 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.

By Nancy Marie Brown,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Real Valkyrie as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In the tradition of Stacy Schiff’s Cleopatra, Brown lays to rest the hoary myth that Viking society was ruled by men and celebrates the dramatic lives of female Viking warriors

“Once again, Brown brings Viking history to vivid, unexpected life―and in the process, turns what we thought we knew about Norse culture on its head. Superb.” ―Scott Weidensaul, author of New York Times bestselling A World on the Wing

"Magnificent. It captured me from the very first page." ―Pat Shipman, author of The Invaders

In 2017, DNA tests revealed to the collective shock of many scholars that a Viking warrior…


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Native Nations: A Millennium in North America

By Kathleen DuVal,

Book cover of Native Nations: A Millennium in North America

Kathleen DuVal Author Of Independence Lost: Lives on the Edge of the American Revolution

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a professional historian and life-long lover of early American history. My fascination with the American Revolution began during the bicentennial in 1976, when my family traveled across the country for celebrations in Williamsburg and Philadelphia. That history, though, seemed disconnected to the place I grew up—Arkansas—so when I went to graduate school in history, I researched in French and Spanish archives to learn about their eighteenth-century interactions with Arkansas’s Native nations, the Osages and Quapaws. Now I teach early American history and Native American history at UNC-Chapel Hill and have written several books on how Native American, European, and African people interacted across North America.

Kathleen's book list on the American Revolution beyond the Founding Fathers

What is my book about?

A magisterial history of Indigenous North America that places the power of Native nations at its center, telling their story from the rise of ancient cities more than a thousand years ago to fights for sovereignty that continue today

Native Nations: A Millennium in North America

By Kathleen DuVal,

What is this book about?

Long before the colonization of North America, Indigenous Americans built diverse civilizations and adapted to a changing world in ways that reverberated globally. And, as award-winning historian Kathleen DuVal vividly recounts, when Europeans did arrive, no civilization came to a halt because of a few wandering explorers, even when the strangers came well armed.

A millennium ago, North American cities rivaled urban centers around the world in size. Then, following a period of climate change and instability, numerous smaller nations emerged, moving away from rather than toward urbanization. From this urban past, egalitarian government structures, diplomacy, and complex economies spread…


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Interested in women, Vikings, and Afghanistan War?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about women, Vikings, and Afghanistan War.

Women Explore 590 books about women
Vikings Explore 113 books about Vikings
Afghanistan War Explore 21 books about Afghanistan War