The best books about women who beat the patriarchy at its own game

Who am I?

For a long time I’ve been fascinated by the challenge of writing novels with strong female protagonists—this is what I set out to do with my books Romance Language and The Diplomatic Coup. Is a male author capable of doing this? Read the books and judge for yourself. I’m fascinated by history, politics, and the pursuit of power both in real life and fiction. Lately, I’ve become more alarmed about the threat posed to the world by a resurgent Russia determined to undermine western democracy and that interest also influenced my choices. As a former journalist, I covered some of the world’s most important leaders and biggest stories and got to see them operating firsthand. 


I wrote...

The Diplomatic Coup

By Alan Elsner,

Book cover of The Diplomatic Coup

What is my book about?

The Diplomatic Coup is a thriller with a strong female protagonist based on the life of a reporter covering the US State Department. It is eerily prophetic featuring a politician with no regard for democracy determined to use any and all means to seize power. Written by a former State Department correspondent, this book is full of authentic detail. What's it like to travel on the plane of the Secretary of State, to file stories under pressure, to attend press conferences with heads of state? Only someone who has really been there can answer these questions. It also features a sweet and unusual love affair and a pounding climax.

The books I picked & why

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There Is Nothing for You Here: Finding Opportunity in the Twenty-First Century

By Fiona Hill,

Book cover of There Is Nothing for You Here: Finding Opportunity in the Twenty-First Century

Why this book?

This memoir by a brave woman who stood up to both Presidents Trump and Putin is a revealing look at the inner workings of the Trump administration’s dysfunctional foreign policy. Fiona Hill bears an uncanny resemblance to my heroine, Delphine Roget. Born to a poor mining family in the North of England, she worked her way to the top through sheer intellectual brilliance and willpower. When push came to shove, she told the truth to Congress about Trump’s outrageous misuse of presidential power. But the book is much more than that. It is a searching examination of how capitalism has left whole communities behind as industries crumble, posing a threat to democracies worldwide.


Red Sparrow: A Novel

By Jason Matthews,

Book cover of Red Sparrow: A Novel

Why this book?

This is a tremendously exciting thriller, the first of a trilogy, again with a wonderful female protagonist. It is written by a former CIA agent who brings real knowledge and authenticity to the book. The heroine, Dominika Egorova, is a KGB officer tasked to compomise a young CIA operative—but she has her own moral compass and her own agenda. She also has an uncanny ability to see colors associated with people. Putin appears as a malevolent presence and the book is also a warning of the danger posed by Russia to the West. This book features wonderful meals in each chapter and the author provides recipes for each. If you like espionage, forbidden love, food, and realism, you will definitely enjoy this book.


Jean de Florette

By Marcel Pagnol,

Book cover of Jean de Florette

Why this book?

This is a pair of novels, French classics that were also made into two memorable movies. In a rural village in Provence, an old man and his only remaining relative cast a greedy eyes on some land. They need a hidden spring that is on the land to irrigate the flowers they intend to grow which they think will make them a fortune. But first, they need to drive out the owner and his family.The father of this family is a hunchback trying to succeed in a hostile world. An evil plot slowly unfolds and comes to tragic fruition. Ten years later, the daughter of the family returns to seek her revenge. A moral tale full of wonderful local detail, like my other choices it features a brave, invincible female protagonist battling overwhelming odds. 


And After the Fire

By Lauren Belfer,

Book cover of And After the Fire

Why this book?

This is a wonderful historical novel. A woman trying to recover from a personal tragedy is bequeathed a mysterious manuscript. It turns out to be the score of a previously unknown cantata by Bach—but there is a problem. The lyrics contain hateful anti-Semitic texts. What is she to do? Publish the score and allow this music to be heardalong with the awful wordsor suppress it? The author traces the history of the manuscript and how it came into the possession of the heroine. We meet many strong women as we travel 200 years into the past and learn much about the history of Jews in Germany, about Bach and his times, Mendelssohn and his times as well as World War Two. This is a fascinating book featuring several inspiring female characters and is rich in historic background and steeped in music.


Catherine the Great & Potemkin: The Imperial Love Affair

By Simon Sebag Montefiore,

Book cover of Catherine the Great & Potemkin: The Imperial Love Affair

Why this book?

This historical work traces the improbable rise to power of Catherine the Great and her partnership and love affair with Prince Potemkin. Catherine, a German princess, seizes the throne from her mentally-unstable husband and begins to rule the vast empire that is Russia. She is largely responsible for the partition of Poland. Together she and her lover Potemkin conquer Ukraine and Crimea. It hardly needs stating that these territories are at the center of today’s headlines. Thus we learn a great deal about the background of the current war. Their affair was unbridled but it went far beyond sex. It was a marriage of intellects and politics. Ultimately, they agreed to share power, leaving each of them free to take younger lovers. This is another book about a woman operating in a man’s world, wielding power ruthlessly and giving free rein to her sexuality.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Russia, the patriarchy, and family secrets?

5,809 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Russia, the patriarchy, and family secrets.

Russia Explore 234 books about Russia
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And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

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