My favorite books about women war correspondents

Why am I passionate about this?

Janet Somerville taught literature for 25 years in Toronto. She served on the PEN Canada Board and chaired many benefits that featured writers including Diana Athill, Margaret Atwood, Roddy Doyle, Stephen King, Alice Munro, Azar Nafisi, and Ian Rankin. She contributes frequently to the Toronto Star Book Pages, and has been handwriting a #LetterADay for 8 years. Since 2015 she has been immersed in Martha Gellhorn’s life and words, with ongoing access to Gellhorn’s restricted papers in Boston. Yours, for Probably Always: Martha Gellhorn’s Letters of Love & War 1930-1949 is her first book, now also available from Penguin Random House Audio, read by the Tony Award-winning Ellen Barkin. 


I wrote...

Yours, for Probably Always: Martha Gellhorn's Letters of Love and War 1930-1949

By Janet Somerville,

Book cover of Yours, for Probably Always: Martha Gellhorn's Letters of Love and War 1930-1949

What is my book about?

Reflecting on her six decades of journalism, Martha Gellhorn insisted, “All I wanted to do was go everywhere, see everything, and sometimes write about it.” Writing for newspapers and magazines was her passport to adventure. Gellhorn was a strong-willed, self-made, modern woman. An ardent anti-fascist, she wrote with intelligence and passion about real people doing real things. Collected here is previously unpublished correspondence featuring her friendship with Eleanor Roosevelt and her marriage to Ernest Hemingway, as well as excerpts from her journalism.

Anyone interested in the history of journalism, or of literary America, needs to know about Martha Gellhorn. Yours, for Probably Always brings to light a singular personality with a life-long advocacy of social justice, a writer who always remembered “the people who were the sufferers of history.”

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of You Don't Belong Here: How Three Women Rewrote the Story of War

Janet Somerville Why did I love this book?

Becker writes vibrantly about three intrepid journalists who covered the Vietnam War and the U.S. invasion of Cambodia: Pulitzer Prize-winning magazine writer Frances Fitzgerald, photojournalist Catherine Leroy, and combat reporter Kate Webb, whose insistence on getting close to the action led to her capture. Their individual stories, including traumas and injuries are set in relief against wider history.

By Elizabeth Becker,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked You Don't Belong Here as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The long buried story of three extraordinary female journalists who permanently shattered the official and cultural barriers to women covering war.

Kate Webb, an Australian iconoclast, Catherine Leroy, a French dare devil photographer, and Frances FitzGerald, a blue-blood American intellectual, arrived in Vietnam with starkly different life experiences but one shared purpose: to report on the most consequential story of the decade.

At a time when women were considered unfit to be foreign reporters, Frankie, Catherine and Kate paid their own way to war, arrived without jobs, challenged the rules imposed on them by the military, ignored the belittlement and…


Book cover of Looking for Trouble: The Classic Memoir of a Trailblazing War Correspondent

Janet Somerville Why did I love this book?

Originally published in 1941, this new 2022 edition has a foreword by Sunday Times chief foreign correspondent Christina Lamb. Gellhorn and Cowles met in Spain in the Spring 1937, where Cowles was unconventionally reporting on both sides of the civil war. She interviewed Mussolini and would later meet Hitler, to whom she referred as “an inconspicuous little man.” Like Gellhorn, Cowles understood that fascism in Europe was a threat to democracy everywhere. Her words remain true eighty years later.

By Virginia Cowles,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Looking for Trouble as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This sensational 1941 memoir of life on wartime Europe's frontline by a trailblazing female reporter is an 'unforgettable' (The Times) rediscovered classic, introduced by Christina Lamb (who calls her 'the Forrest Gump of journalism').

Paris as it fell to the Nazis
London on the first day of the Blitz
Berlin the day Germany invaded Poland
Madrid in the Spanish Civil War
Prague during the Munich crisis
Lapland as the Russians attacked
Moscow betrayed by the Germans
Virginia Cowles has seen it all.

As a pioneering female correspondent, she reported from the frontline of 1930s Europe into the Second World War,…


Book cover of In Extremis: The Life and Death of the War Correspondent Marie Colvin

Janet Somerville Why did I love this book?

Foreign correspondent Hilsum uses unpublished diaries and interviews with Colvin’s friends, family, and colleagues to create an incomparable portrait of this indefatigable, daring, modern woman who was killed in 2012 while reporting in Syria. Like Gellhorn, Colvin reviled “objectivity shit,” and wrote about the horrors she witnessed in Kosovo, “when you’re physically uncovering graves…I don’t think there are two sides to a story. To me there is a right and a wrong, a morality.”  

By Lindsey Hilsum,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice. Finalist for the Costa Biography Award and long-listed for the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence. Named a Best Book of 2018 by Esquire and Foreign Policy. An Amazon Best Book of November, the Guardian Bookshop Book of November, and one of the Evening Standard's Books to Read in November

"Now, thanks to Hilsum’s deeply reported and passionately written book, [Marie Colvin] has the full accounting that she deserves." --Joshua Hammer, The New York Times

The inspiring and devastating biography of Marie Colvin, the foremost war reporter of her generation, who was killed…


Book cover of The Correspondents: Six Women Writers on the Front Lines of World War II

Janet Somerville Why did I love this book?

Like their male counterparts, Virginia Cowles, Martha Gellhorn, Clare Hollingworth, Helen Kirkpatrick, Lee Miller, and Sigrid Schultz faced the danger inherent in reporting from war zones, but, unlike the men, these women often had to improvise to get access. Ever intrepid, Gellhorn noted, “If they don’t want to accredit you, you just do it, any little lie will do.” 

By 1945 there were 250 women accredited to the Allied armies as reporters and photographers. Everyone had something to do that felt necessary, though post-war many were “shredded up inside.” With the narrative drive of a well-paced thriller, Mackrell’s essential work will have you reaching for more about the words and lives of these trailblazing six.

By Judith Mackrell,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The riveting, untold history of a group of heroic women reporters who revolutionized the narrative of World War II—from Martha Gellhorn, who out-scooped her husband, Ernest Hemingway, to Lee Miller, a Vogue cover model turned war correspondent.

"Thrilling from the first page to the last." —Mary Gabriel, author of Ninth Street Women
 
"Just as women are so often written out of war, so it seems are the female correspondents. Mackrell corrects this omission admirably with stories of six of the best…Mackrell has done us all a great service by assembling their own fascinating stories." —New York Times Book Review
 
On…


Book cover of Lee Miller: A Woman's War

Janet Somerville Why did I love this book?

Miller was one of the great combat photographers of WWII, but she also documented the social consequences of the conflict, particularly the lives of women on the European front. She would also write about what she saw for British Vogue. She photographed Martha Gellhorn in London in 1943 as part of a series about women correspondents. 

In addition to an introduction by Miller’s son, Antony Penrose, Roberts provides insightful commentary that places each image within the context of women’s roles throughout the landscape of war.

By Hilary Roberts,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Lee Miller photographed innumerable women during her career, first as a fashion photographer and then as a journalist during the Second World War, documenting the social consequences of the conflict, particularly the impact of the war on women across Europe. Her work as a war photographer is perhaps that for which she is best remembered - in fact she was among the 20th century's most important photographers on the subject. Published to coincide with an exhibition at the Imperial War Museum, Lee Miller: A Woman's War tells the story beyond the battlefields of the Second World War by way of…


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The Emerald Necklace

By Linda Rosen,

Book cover of The Emerald Necklace

Linda Rosen Author Of The Emerald Necklace

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Why am I passionate about this?

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What is my book about?

It’s 1969. Women are fighting for equality. Rosalee, an insecure sculptor, and Fran, a best-selling novelist, have their issues. Will their bitter envy of each other and long-held secrets destroy their tenuous friendship? Or will Jill, Rosalee’s granddaughter, and the story behind her emerald necklace bind them together?

A multi-generational novel of friendship and frenemies, envy, and long-held secrets that explores current issues through a historical lens. The Emerald Necklace sheds light on that inevitable time when lovers, family, friends, and circumstances change and force you to reinvent yourself whether you want to or not.

The Emerald Necklace

By Linda Rosen,

What is this book about?

"Engaging and mysterious, The Emerald Necklace sheds light on that inevitable time when lovers, family, friends and circumstances change and force you to reinvent yourself whether you want to or not." –Rebecca Rosenberg, award-winning Champagne Widows series

Three months after her husband's death in 1969, Rosalee Linoff is determined to jump back into life.

For her, that means returning to her art. She desperately wants to be accepted as a talented sculptor, but that requires she dig up the courage to submit her work again - and be judged. Her paralyzing insecurity mounts when she meets her new neighbor, best-selling…


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