The best books about women

60 authors have picked their favorite books about women and why they recommend each book.

Soon, you will be able to filter by genre, age group, and more. Sign up here to follow our story as we build a better way to explore books.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy through links on our website, we may earn an affiliate commission (learn more).

Daughter of Persia

By Sattareh Farman Farmaian, Dona Munker,

Book cover of Daughter of Persia: A Woman's Journey from Her Father's Harem Through the Islamic Revolution

An astounding 20th century life-story told with honesty and warmth by one of Iran’s most impressive and pioneering women. From growing up as part of her father’s harem before setting sail for the USA during WWII to attend university, then returning to Iran to create a national social care system and finally, the unbearable tragedy of her life’s work being destroyed by the Islamic regime, this is an inspiring but heartbreaking story of bravery and humanity at its best.


Who am I?

Lois Pryce is a British author who has travelled extensively in Iran. Her book, Revolutionary Ride tells the story of her 2013 solo motorcycle tour of the country and was shortlisted for the Edward Stanford ‘Adventure Book of the Year’ Award. Her travels have taken her to over fifty countries and her writing has featured in The New York Times, The Guardian, CNN, BBC, The Telegraph and The Independent.


I wrote...

Revolutionary Ride: On the Road to Shiraz, the Heart of Iran

By Lois Pryce,

Book cover of Revolutionary Ride: On the Road to Shiraz, the Heart of Iran

What is my book about?

Travel writer Lois Pryce sets off alone on a 3,000-mile motorcycle ride from Tabriz to Shiraz, to try to uncover the heart of this most complex and incongruous country. Along the way, she meets carpet sellers and drug addicts, war veterans and housewives, doctors and teachers - people living ordinary lives under the rule of an extraordinarily strict Islamic government.

Confederate Reckoning

By Stephanie McCurry,

Book cover of Confederate Reckoning: Power and Politics in the Civil War South

McCurry’s book opens up the remarkable story of angry white southern women using their power to make the Confederate and state governments responsive to their wartime needs. McCurry writes about women householders from families disrupted when mostly non-slaveholding farmers were drafted to fight a war for slavery while wealthier plantation owners were exempt. Building on her original work on southern yeoman families and the way gender shaped their practices and ideas, McCurry depicts the political actions and riots that women organized, that sprung from their shared ideas of community justice

Who am I?

My first job out of college was doing research on seventeenth-century Connecticut. I studied Pequot Indians, medical treatments, religious disputes, witchcraft trials, women’s daily chores, and the activities of an extraordinary assortment of men, women, and children who intrigued and haunted me for years.  Eventually, I got a doctorate to be able to explore more fully and teach students about some of the remarkable paths of early Americans.


I wrote...

The Widow Washington: The Life of Mary Washington

By Martha Saxton,

Book cover of The Widow Washington: The Life of Mary Washington

What is my book about?

The Widow Washington is the first life of Mary Ball Washington, George Washington’s mother, based on archival sources. Her son’s biographers have, for the most part, painted her as self-centered and crude, a trial and an obstacle to her oldest child. But the records tell a very different story.

Mary Ball Washington had a greater impact on George than mothers of that time and place usually had on their sons. George did not have the wealth or freedom to enjoy the indulged adolescence typical of young men among the planter class. Mary’s demanding mothering imbued him with many of the moral and religious principles by which he lived.The Widow Washington is a necessary and deeply insightful corrective, telling the story of Mary’s long, arduous life on its own terms, and not treating her as her son’s satellite.

Women in the Viking Age

By Judith Jesch,

Book cover of Women in the Viking Age

Myths about viking women abound, but Judith Jesch’s book is grounded in what we can know from the archeological, historical, and literary record. That still paints a vivid picture of the Viking women who remained in the traditional feminine sphere, and those who ventured into men’s. As Women in the Viking Age reveals, Viking women were farmers, housewives, managers of hundreds of servants, explorers, priestesses, rich benefactors, and war-leaders. In many ways, their lives were more varied than men’s.


Who am I?

I am a writer of historical fiction. When I was in my teens, my family embarked on a project to trace our ancestry and identify our living relatives. Through church records in Sweden and Norway, we found that Harald Fairhair (Harfagr), the first king of Norway is one of our ancestors. Those explorations gave me the seeds of my first novel of Viking-Age Norway, The Half-Drowned King, and the subsequent books in the trilogy.


I wrote...

The Golden Wolf Saga: The Half-Drowned King

By Linnea Hartsuyker,

Book cover of The Golden Wolf Saga: The Half-Drowned King

What is my book about?

An exhilarating saga of the Vikings that conjures a brutal, superstitious, and thrilling ninth-century world and the birth of a kingdom—the debut installment in a historical literary trilogy that combines the bold imagination and sweeping narrative power of Game of Thrones, Vikings, and Outlander. Centuries ago, in a blood-soaked land ruled by legendary gods and warring men, a prophecy foretold of a high king who would come to reign over all of the north...

Women's Life and Work in the Southern Colonies

By Julia Cherry Spruill,

Book cover of Women's Life and Work in the Southern Colonies

A classic work on the social history of women in the colonial south (originally published in 1938), this book examines the daily lives of 17th and 18th century American women, how they “lived and worked and passed their time; what they ate and what they read; how courtships were conducted, who married whom, and the perils and joys of married life.” Spruill drew extensively from colonial manuscripts, court records, and newspapers for firsthand accounts, because in 1938 there were few (if any) works of this sort to draw from. In my research for novels I try to find a source like this on a given subject written by someone more than a generation before me. It helps give the subject a balanced view. Spruill’s is the book of this sort I choose for this subject.


Who am I?

Lori Benton is an award-winning, multi-published author of historical novels set during 18th century North America. Her literary passion is bringing little-known historical events to life through the eyes of those who lived it, either set along the Appalachian frontier, where European and Native American cultures collided, or amidst the conflict-laden setting of the southern plantation. Her novel, Mountain Laurel, begins an epic family saga that immerses readers in 1790s North Carolina plantation life and the moral dilemmas created by the evils of slavery.


I wrote...

Mountain Laurel

By Lori Benton,

Book cover of Mountain Laurel

What is my book about?

Ian Cameron, a Boston cabinetmaker turned frontier trapper, has come to Mountain Laurel hoping to remake himself yet again--into his planter uncle's heir. No matter how uneasily the role of slave owner rests upon his shoulders. Then he meets Seona--beautiful, artistic, and enslaved to his kin.

Seona has a secret: she's been drawing for years, ever since that day she picked up a broken slate to sketch a portrait. When Ian catches her at it, he offers her opportunity to let her talent flourish, still secretly, in his cabinetmaking shop. Taking a frightening leap of faith, Seona puts her trust in Ian. A trust that leads to a deeper, more complicated bond.

Behind the Rifle

By Shelby Harriel,

Book cover of Behind the Rifle: Women Soldiers in Civil War Mississippi

When Lauren Cook and I published They Fought Like Demons, we knew that our book, although groundbreaking, was only the tip of the iceberg in the story of women soldiers in the Civil War, and we always hoped that another scholar would pick up the torch and move the story forward.  Shelby Harriel has done just that.  Behind the Rifle is a meticulously researched and ably written account of the distaff soldiers who hailed from Mississippi, or found themselves there.  Citing previously unknown sources along with revealing newly-located photographs, Harriel’s contribution to the history of women soldiers is remarkable.


Who am I?

DeAnne Blanton retired from the National Archives in Washington, DC after 31 years of service as a reference archivist specializing in 18th and 19th century U.S. Army records. She was recognized within the National Archives as well as in the historical and genealogical communities as a leading authority on the American Civil War; 19th century women’s history; and the history of American women in the military.


I wrote...

They Fought Like Demons: Women Soldiers in the American Civil War

By DeAnne Blanton, Lauren Cook,

Book cover of They Fought Like Demons: Women Soldiers in the American Civil War

What is my book about?

Popular images of women during the American Civil War include self-sacrificing nurses, romantic spies, and brave ladies maintaining hearth and home in the absence of their men. However, as DeAnne Blanton and Lauren M. Cook show in their remarkable new study, that conventional picture does not tell the entire story. Hundreds of women assumed male aliases, disguised themselves in men's uniforms, and charged into battle as Union and Confederate soldiers--facing down not only the guns of the adversary but also the gender prejudices of society. They Fought Like Demons is the first book to fully explore and explain these women, their experiences as combatants, and the controversial issues surrounding their military service.

Women of the Civil War (Women Who Dare)

By Michelle A Krowl,

Book cover of Women of the Civil War (Women Who Dare)

This book provides outstanding biographies of the female luminaries of the Civil War, such as Clara Barton, Harriet Tubman, and Dr. Mary Walker, while also introducing readers to lesser-known women who made an impact during the great sectional conflict.  Beautifully written and full of rare photographs, Women of the Civil War is captivating.


Who am I?

DeAnne Blanton retired from the National Archives in Washington, DC after 31 years of service as a reference archivist specializing in 18th and 19th century U.S. Army records. She was recognized within the National Archives as well as in the historical and genealogical communities as a leading authority on the American Civil War; 19th century women’s history; and the history of American women in the military.


I wrote...

They Fought Like Demons: Women Soldiers in the American Civil War

By DeAnne Blanton, Lauren Cook,

Book cover of They Fought Like Demons: Women Soldiers in the American Civil War

What is my book about?

Popular images of women during the American Civil War include self-sacrificing nurses, romantic spies, and brave ladies maintaining hearth and home in the absence of their men. However, as DeAnne Blanton and Lauren M. Cook show in their remarkable new study, that conventional picture does not tell the entire story. Hundreds of women assumed male aliases, disguised themselves in men's uniforms, and charged into battle as Union and Confederate soldiers--facing down not only the guns of the adversary but also the gender prejudices of society. They Fought Like Demons is the first book to fully explore and explain these women, their experiences as combatants, and the controversial issues surrounding their military service.

Everything You Ever Wanted

By Jillian Lauren,

Book cover of Everything You Ever Wanted: A Memoir

In this exquisitely written poem of a memoir, Jillian Lauren splays her heart wide open, on every page as she transforms from an addict whose used up most of her luck to a mother whose role requires great stores of grit, determination, and love. We’re right there with her as she and her husband decide to adopt a boy from Ethiopia, and we’re along for the bumpy, often painful, occasionally joyful, ride through the challenges of parenting this tiny person who has already lost so much, but has so much to give. Outside of motherhood, she’s so funny and interesting I kind of want to be best friends with her. Not in a weirdo-stalker way, though.


Who am I?

I don’t just write stories, I study them. I’ve noticed that nearly every major hero/ine’s journey and epic tale has an adoption component. From Bible stories and Greek myths (adoption worked out well for Moses, not so much for Oedipus) to Star Wars through This Is Us, we humans are obsessed with origin stories. And it’s no wonder: “Where do I come from?” and “Where do I belong?” are questions that confound and comfort us from the time we are tiny until we take our final breath. As an adoptive mother and advocate for continuing contact with birth families, I love stories about adoption, because no two are alike. They give us light and insight into how families are created and what it means to be a family—by blood, by love, and sometimes, the combination of the two.


I wrote...

Rock Needs River: A Memoir About a Very Open Adoption

By Vanessa McGrady,

Book cover of Rock Needs River: A Memoir About a Very Open Adoption

What is my book about?

Every family is complicated. None of us has a perfectly linear story. But if we are lucky, our stories are laced with love and compassion and humor. This was most surely the case in Vanessa McGrady’s life. In Rock Needs River: A Memoir About a Very Open Adoption, her deft and moving love letter to her daughter, Grace.

After two years of waiting to adopt—years spent slogging through paperwork and bouncing between hope and despair—a miracle finally happened for Vanessa McGrady. Her sweet baby, Grace, was a dream come true. Then she made a highly uncommon decision: when Grace’s biological parents became homeless, Vanessa invited them to stay. Without a blueprint for navigating the practical basics of an open adoption or any discussion of expectations or boundaries, the unusual living arrangement became a bottomless well of conflicting emotions and increasingly difficult decisions complicated by missed opportunities, regret, social chaos, and broken hearts.

Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy

By Karen Abbott,

Book cover of Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War

As not only a reader but also as a writer I enjoy coming at significant moments in American history through distinct experiences and characters, with all of their talents and trials and shortcomings explored along the way. This look at the Civil War is intimate and engrossing, taking readers through tremendous conflict with four very unique women as their guides.


Who am I?

Denise Kiernan is a multiple New York Times bestselling author of narrative nonfiction books including The Girls Of Atomic City, The Last Castle, and We Gather Together. Throughout her career as a journalist and an author, she has explored underrepresented stories and characters and the impact they have had on history. These stories of the unsung offer fresh perspectives on historical tales we think we already know. At the heart of many of Kiernan’s nonfiction explorations are women from a variety of different backgrounds and time periods.


I wrote...

We Gather Together: A Nation Divided, a President in Turmoil, and a Historic Campaign to Embrace Gratitude and Grace

By Denise Kiernan,

Book cover of We Gather Together: A Nation Divided, a President in Turmoil, and a Historic Campaign to Embrace Gratitude and Grace

What is my book about?

From Ancient Rome through 21st-century America, bestselling author Denise Kiernan brings us a biography of an idea: gratitude, as a compelling human instinct and a global concept, more than just a mere holiday. Spanning centuries, We Gather Together is anchored amid the strife of the Civil War, and driven by the fascinating story of Sarah Josepha Hale, a widowed mother with no formal schooling who became one of the 19th century’s most influential tastemakers and who campaigned for decades to make real an annual day of thanks.

Populated by an enthralling supporting cast of characters including Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, Sojourner Truth, Walt Whitman, Norman Rockwell, and others, We Gather Together is ultimately a story of tenacity and dedication, an inspiring tale of how imperfect people in challenging times can create powerful legacies.

Sargent's Women

By Donna M. Lucey,

Book cover of Sargent's Women: Four Lives Behind the Canvas

There are many ways to approach history. Donna Lucey brilliantly chose to usher readers into the world of the Gilded Age via the captivating canvases of that era’s most sought-after portraitist, John Singer Sargent. There are always more stories lurking behind Sargent’s luxurious depictions of his subjects, and Lucey gets beneath the paint and the posing to give us her own picture of four very real women whose lives are far more nuanced than any portrait sitting can convey.


Who am I?

Denise Kiernan is a multiple New York Times bestselling author of narrative nonfiction books including The Girls Of Atomic City, The Last Castle, and We Gather Together. Throughout her career as a journalist and an author, she has explored underrepresented stories and characters and the impact they have had on history. These stories of the unsung offer fresh perspectives on historical tales we think we already know. At the heart of many of Kiernan’s nonfiction explorations are women from a variety of different backgrounds and time periods.


I wrote...

We Gather Together: A Nation Divided, a President in Turmoil, and a Historic Campaign to Embrace Gratitude and Grace

By Denise Kiernan,

Book cover of We Gather Together: A Nation Divided, a President in Turmoil, and a Historic Campaign to Embrace Gratitude and Grace

What is my book about?

From Ancient Rome through 21st-century America, bestselling author Denise Kiernan brings us a biography of an idea: gratitude, as a compelling human instinct and a global concept, more than just a mere holiday. Spanning centuries, We Gather Together is anchored amid the strife of the Civil War, and driven by the fascinating story of Sarah Josepha Hale, a widowed mother with no formal schooling who became one of the 19th century’s most influential tastemakers and who campaigned for decades to make real an annual day of thanks.

Populated by an enthralling supporting cast of characters including Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, Sojourner Truth, Walt Whitman, Norman Rockwell, and others, We Gather Together is ultimately a story of tenacity and dedication, an inspiring tale of how imperfect people in challenging times can create powerful legacies.

You Play the Girl

By Carina Chocano,

Book cover of You Play the Girl: On Playboy Bunnies, Stepford Wives, Train Wrecks, & Other Mixed Messages

You’d think the subtitle says it all, but nope. Chocano loved reading bedtime stories to her daughter, but when even Alice and Wonderland proved problematic, she peered through the looking glass to see why. She explores the challenges of raising a female in a world of Disney Princesses, Playboy bunnies, and popular TV shows and movies. She even takes aim at the female manifesto, Eat Pray Love, bless her heart. I met Chocano at a reading of this book when I was nervously submitting A Boob’s Life to publishers. I was thrilled to find overlap with such a kindred spirit. You’ll find Chocana’s byline in major magazines featuring celebrity interviews, but without the snark. Personally, I love the snark - it makes the facts more fun.


Who am I?

From Lehr’s prize-winning fiction to her viral New York Times Modern Love essay, exploring the challenges facing contemporary women has been Lehr’s life-long passion. A Boob’s Life, her first project since breast cancer treatment, continues this mission, taking all who will join her on a wildly informative, deeply personal, and utterly relatable journey.  And that’s exactly the kind of books she likes to read – the ones that make her laugh, nod in recognition, and understand a little more about life. She recommends these five books to everyone who asks.


I wrote...

A Boob's Life: How America's Obsession Shaped Me--And You

By Leslie Lehr,

Book cover of A Boob's Life: How America's Obsession Shaped Me--And You

What is my book about?

A Boob’s Life explores the surprising truth about women’s most popular body part with vulnerable, witty frankness and true nuggets of American culture that will resonate with everyone who has breasts – or loves them.

Author Leslie Lehr has gone from size AA to DDDDD and everything between, from puberty to motherhood, enhancement to cancer, and beyond. And she’s not alone—these are classic life stages for women. At turns funny and heartbreaking, A Boob’s Life explores both the joys and hazards inherent to living in a woman’s body. Lehr deftly blends her personal narrative with national history, starting in the 1960s with the women’s liberation movement and moving to the current feminist dialogue and what it means to be a woman. Her insightful and clever writing analyzes how America’s obsession with the female form has affected her own life’s journey and the psyche of all women today.

Or, view all 315 books about women

New book lists related to women

All book lists related to women

Bookshelves related to women