The best Women's history books 📚

Browse the best books on Women's history as recommended by authors, experts, and creators. Along with notes on why they recommend those books.

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Book cover of Women & Power: A Manifesto

Women & Power: A Manifesto

By Mary Beard

Why this book?

This might not be your most obvious pick for an Odyssey list, but Mary Beard’s book is special to me for a couple of reasons. She taught me when I was an undergraduate at Cambridge, and I’ll never forget our very first lecture as newly-minted freshmen when she stunned us into silence by parading before us a slideshow of images of winged, bell-bedecked Roman phalluses... Her straight-to-the-point, incisive writing always reminds me of the lessons she taught us, always to question and open things up to rigorous analysis, and her opening feminist discussion in this book (which is a great…

From the list:

The best books that put a new twist on the Odyssey

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Book cover of The Roses of No Man’s Land

The Roses of No Man’s Land

By Lyn MacDonald

Why this book?

This is the very best book on nursing during the First World War. Packed with first-hand accounts of the ‘roses’ and their heroic efforts to nurse the wounded during and after that ghastly war that killed so many and destroyed the lives of many more who survived. Expertly contextualized, the author included the memories of the soldiers who were nursed and comforted by these extraordinary women who rose to the Government’s plea to ‘do their bit’. It is a profoundly moving book that should be read by anyone interested in the First World War and its painful aftermath.
From the list:

The best books on women’s history

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Book cover of Can Any Mother Help Me?

Can Any Mother Help Me?

By Jenna Bailey

Why this book?

This is an extraordinary story of a group of wives and mothers whose lives connected through a magazine called The Cooperative Correspondence Club. It is a brilliant read: a moving and intimate collection of personal stories and inseparable friendship covering the 1920s to the 1970s. I enjoyed every page, it was an exhilarating read, well written, and well researched. Anyone interested in twentieth-century women’s history must read this book.
From the list:

The best books on women’s history

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Book cover of The Oldest Vocation: Christian Motherhood in the Medieval West

The Oldest Vocation: Christian Motherhood in the Medieval West

By Clarissa W. Atkinson

Why this book?

Another companion on my journey to becoming a medievalist, The Oldest Vocation is one of the earliest works of medieval scholarship to take the history of motherhood seriously. Atkinson showed us how mothering was a calling in the medieval world, whether it was a physical experience or a spiritual one. I think this was the first book I ever bought the moment it was available!
From the list:

The best foundational books on medieval women’s history

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Book cover of The Fatal Passion of Alma Rattenbury

The Fatal Passion of Alma Rattenbury

By Sean O’Connor

Why this book?

It is the best true crime book I have read in recent years. It is a gripping murder story and tragic romance, and a terrific biography of a thoroughly modern woman trapped between the freedoms earned on the one hand by women’s critical participation in two world wars, and the suffocating conservatism of the 1920s and 1920s. For challenging the status quo Alma Rattenbury paid the heaviest price. On a broader note, this book offers a fascinating slice of women’s lives in the years leading up to the outbreak of the Second World War.
From the list:

The best books on women’s history

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Book cover of Daughters of the Reconquest: Women in Castilian Town Society, 1100-1300

Daughters of the Reconquest: Women in Castilian Town Society, 1100-1300

By Heath Dillard

Why this book?

Heath Dillard uses a very special source, the Castilian municipal codes known as the fueros, to tell us about the lives of ordinary women in Castile in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. These municipal codes were given to settler communities during the Christian conquest of southern Iberia, and so reveal the value and roles of all community members: married women and girls, Muslim and Jewish women, widows, and outsiders like prostitutes, concubines, and sorceresses. This book was published just before I began my graduate study and became my constant companion once I settled on Iberian women’s history.
From the list:

The best foundational books on medieval women’s history

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