11 Books on How Women Have Made (and Continue to Make) History

Adrian Liang on March 01, 2018

Welcome to Women's History Month.

As many of you regular readers of the Amazon Book Review know, we've highlighted several of these books in the past months and years. But Women's History Month is a great excuse for us to pull together in one place a list of books about decisive moments in history in which women made change happen as well as books about strong women who continue to make change happen today.

You'll notice that a number of these books include the words "the untold story" in their subtitles. That's a bit of marketing hype (few of us want to spend our precious reading time on "the well-worn story"), but there's a lot of truth there as well, unfortunately. So dive into one—or four, or eleven!—of these books to expand your knowledge and gain a new perspective.

Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly - Black women! Math! Science! One reason why Hidden Figures tops our list of books for Women's History Month is that it manages to disprove so many mythologies (a polite term for misogynistic thinking) in one book. Another reason is that there's oh-so-much more in the book than there is in the movie, and you'll thank yourself for plunging deeper into this pivotal moment in history by reading this book instead of just watching the screen version.

Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II by Liza Mundy - This fascinating slice of history explores how smart young women were recruited from women's colleges and out of teaching positions to travel to Washington, DC, to join the top-secret code-breaking efforts of the Allies. Mundy uses first-person recollections and sources as well as more well-known facts about Allied code breaking to forge a recounting of how intelligent, daring, and tenacious women helped turn the war around.

Broad Band: The Untold Story of the Women Who Made the Internet by Claire L. Evans - No, Al Gore didn't create the Internet. A "broad" group of people brought their insights and dreams to the structure that now underpins our digital world, arguably starting with Ada Lovelace, who wrote the world’s first theoretical software algorithm in the mid-1800s. Until recently, technology has frequently been seen as the fiefdom of men, and Evans pulls back the curtains to show that women have been an important part of the technology revolution since the very beginning. (Available March 6)

Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder by Caroline Fraser - The author of the Little House on the Prairie books steps again into the literary spotlight in Fraser's enlightening historical biography of Wilder and her family as they created their lives on the harsh American frontier. Fraser winds together the complex, sometimes dark story of the expansion of the frontier with the biography of a woman who was on the front lines, watching it happen, and whose books continue to be read by children eighty years after their first publication. Prairie Fires was recently named a National Book Critic Circle finalist.

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Women in Sports: 50 Fearless Athletes Who Played to Win by Rachel Ignotofsky - Aimed at a younger crowd, this illustrated history of 50 female athletes will inspire women of all ages. Whether you like pole vaulting, swimming, or simply hollering your head off during competitive events, this book will get your blood pumping as it recounts stories about powerful women, many of which you've likely never heard before but now won't want to forget.

The Woman's Hour: The Great Fight to Win the Vote by Elaine Weiss - Almost 170 years after the Seneca Falls convention, in which women gathered to proclaim their political autonomy, Weiss delivers an all-encompassing history of the slow pivot of the U.S. toward allowing women to vote. A number of startling—and sometimes horrifying—facts about the battles women faced to be accepted as something other than an extension of their father, husband, or brother will open your eyes to the courage that these women and their allies displayed as they strove to make their voices heard. (Available March 6)

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Bad Girls Throughout History: 100 Remarkable Women Who Changed the World by Ann Shen - As the saying goes, Well-behaved women seldom make history…and this book of 100 women who were absolutely not well-behaved provide a road map to those who want to continue to make change happen. From Sojourner Truth to Joan Jett, this illustrated collection showcases how the women who refused to take no for an answer made an impact on all of us.

The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America's Shining Women by Kate Moore - This true story of how young women were slowly poisoned by radium in factories during the early 1900s—and how the factories denied the effects and their workers' ill health—gave rise to a struggle for more workers' rights and the demand for companies to admit culpability. Both horrifying and inspiring, The Radium Girls is a breathtaking read that has gained an average of 4.7 stars from Amazon customers across almost 900 reviews.

Rise of the Rocket Girls: The Women Who Propelled Us, from Missiles to the Moon to Mars by Nathalia Holt - Those who enjoyed Hidden Figures should next try Rise of the Rocket Girls. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) needed "human computers" when they started up in the 1940s in Pasadena, California, and young women were brought in to do the necessary calculations. The mathematics that supported the all-important rocket trajectory was done by the all-female calculator group, and Holt's stories of how women were integral to JPL's initial and ongoing success will dispel any lingering wrongheaded assumptions about women's abilities and interest in math and science.

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Why I March: Images from The Women’s March Around the World by Abrams Books - If you couldn't make the march, these photographs of the 2017 Women's March will envelop you in the worldwide phenomenon in which women, men, and kids took to the streets to proclaim their support of women's rights and women's equality.

The Girl with Seven Names by Hyeonseo Lee - Most of the books on this list focus on women in the United States, but Lee's memoir is set in North Korea, and she recounts her experience of growing up under a cruel, jingoistic dictatorship. Lee's story reminds us that persecution and the silencing of protests still afflict women (and men) today.

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