The best women’s writing on women’s lives

Megan Marshall Author Of Margaret Fuller: A New American Life
By Megan Marshall

Who am I?

I am the grown-up little girl who loved to read. I loved novels and children’s biographies—Amelia Earhart, Marie Curie, Annie Oakley. I imagined that if I could learn to write books that inspired readers and moved them to tears like my favorite books, I would have accomplished a great good. My first biography, The Peabody Sisters, took twenty years and won awards for historical writing. My second biography, Margaret Fuller, won the Pulitzer. But what matters more than all the prizes is when people tell me they cried at the end of my books. I hope you, too, will read them and weep over lives lived fully and well.    


I wrote...

Margaret Fuller: A New American Life

By Megan Marshall,

Book cover of Margaret Fuller: A New American Life

What is my book about?

Pulitzer Prize winner Megan Marshall recounts the trailblazing life of Margaret Fuller: Thoreau’s first editor, Emerson’s close friend, daring war correspondent, tragic heroine. After her untimely death in a shipwreck off Fire Island, the sense and passion of her life’s work were eclipsed by scandal. Marshall’s inspired narrative brings her back to indelible life.

Whether detailing her front-page New-York Tribune editorials against poor conditions in the city’s prisons and mental hospitals, or illuminating her late-in-life hunger for passionate experience—including a secret affair with a young officer in the Roman Guard—Marshall’s biography gives the most thorough and compassionate view of an extraordinary woman. No biography of Fuller has made her ideas so alive or her life so moving.

The books I picked & why

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Alice James: A Biography

By Jean Strouse,

Book cover of Alice James: A Biography

Why this book?

Alice James changed my life as a writer. It completely opened up the field of biography and pointed the way to the work I’ve been doing for almost four decades: writing women’s lives. Before Alice James, biographies had to be of famous people, usually men. Here was a book about the little sister of the great novelist Henry James and the eminent philosopher William James, a woman who had essentially done nothing with her own talent and brilliance except—luckily!—keep a diary. Jean Strouse read that diary and used it as the entry point for a whole book about the dynamics of an extraordinary family, about women’s choices in 19th century America, about invalidism and suppressed ambition. It’s a riveting psychological tale full of poignance and unexpected heroism.  

Alice James: A Biography

By Jean Strouse,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Alice James was the youngest child and only girl in a family that produced two of the most brilliant individuals in 19th-century America. Her elder brother, William, became the foremost psychologist of his time and her second brother, Henry, its greatest novelist. Her story reveals a troubled, highly intelligent woman who struggled to extract a sense of meaning and self from a life that had every outward appearance of failure. She was articulate, politically radical, funny, wise, difficult and intensely involved with her brothers and friends. This portrait sheds new light on the history of women, on the nature of…

Véra: Mrs. Vladimir Nabokov

By Stacy Schiff,

Book cover of Véra: Mrs. Vladimir Nabokov

Why this book?

Stacy Schiff is a master biographer. Any subject she chooses (Cleopatra, Benjamin Franklin, Antoine de St. Exupéry, the accused witches of Salem) is elevated by the passion and persistence she brings to research and writing. Her Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of Véra Nabokov, the wife of Vladimir, is another pioneering work that proves you don’t have to be at center stage to be worthy of a book. What did Véra do for Vladimir, and he for her? This is no take-down, not the kind of exposé that reveals the great man’s wife as the true genius, exploited and forgotten. It’s a love story of equals, two against (and for) the world.

Véra: Mrs. Vladimir Nabokov

By Stacy Schiff,

Why should I read it?

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


Sojourner Truth: A Life, a Symbol

By Nell Irvin Painter,

Book cover of Sojourner Truth: A Life, a Symbol

Why this book?

Nell Painter’s biography of Sojourner Truth breaks new ground in a different way. Sojourner Truth is famous, an iconic freedom fighter and advocate for Black and female suffrage. We all know her demand for recognition, “Ain’t I a woman?” Or do we? Painter’s research reveals a much more complicated woman and investigates why history has reduced a fascinating life story to that one simple question, which might never have been asked, at least in those precise words. Read this book to find out the true story of Sojourner Truth.  

Sojourner Truth: A Life, a Symbol

By Nell Irvin Painter,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Sojourner Truth first gained prominence at an 1851 Akron, Ohio, women's rights conference, saying, "Dat man over dar say dat woman needs to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches. . . . Nobody eber helps me into carriages, or ober mud-puddles . . . and ar'n't I a woman?"

Sojourner Truth: ex-slave and fiery abolitionist, figure of imposing physique, riveting preacher and spellbinding singer who dazzled listeners with her wit and originality. Straight-talking and unsentimental, Truth became a national symbol for strong black women--indeed, for all strong women. Like Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass, she is regarded as…

Sargent's Daughters: The Biography of a Painting

By Erica Hirshler,

Book cover of Sargent's Daughters: The Biography of a Painting

Why this book?

Anyone who admires the portraits of John Singer Sargent is sure to know his gorgeous Daughters of Edward Darley Boit, the exquisite grouping of four girls in white pinafores emerging from the shadowy rooms of an elegant Parisian apartment. But do you know the girls, and how Sargent came to paint them? And what became of them all? Erica Hirshler, a curator at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, where the painting is on permanent exhibition, has written a book that reveals all in a stylish and richly nuanced historical detective story.  

Sargent's Daughters: The Biography of a Painting

By Erica Hirshler,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Sargent's Daughters as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


Daughters of the Samurai: A Journey from East to West and Back

By Janice P. Nimura,

Book cover of Daughters of the Samurai: A Journey from East to West and Back

Why this book?

Janice Nimura has uncovered a marvelous and strange tale of five Japanese girls selected by the Meiji Restoration government to travel to the United States to learn Western ways during a period of modernization. Three of them remained through their school years, their lives entwining with host families and new friends as they overcame prejudice and proved themselves bright, eager learners. Yet they returned with their new knowledge to a Japan once again suspicious of outside influence, their lives forever altered by their time away as the human subjects of a grand social experiment with unintended consequences. I loved getting to know these girls as they grew into womanhood, striving to realize their hopes and dreams as the world changed around them.  

Daughters of the Samurai: A Journey from East to West and Back

By Janice P. Nimura,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Daughters of the Samurai as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In 1871, five young girls were sent by the Japanese government to the United States. Their mission: learn Western ways and return to help nurture a new generation of enlightened men to lead Japan.

Raised in traditional samurai households during the turmoil of civil war, three of these unusual ambassadors-Sutematsu Yamakawa, Shige Nagai, and Ume Tsuda-grew up as typical American schoolgirls. Upon their arrival in San Francisco they became celebrities, their travels and traditional clothing exclaimed over by newspapers across the nation. As they learned English and Western customs, their American friends grew to love them for their high spirits…


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