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With International Women’s Day falling within Women’s History Month, March is all about championing female empowerment. However, trailblazing women don’t wait until an annual moment comes along to leave their mark on history. Whether you’re interested in learning more about pivotal female figures who are already notorious for how they shaped history or uncovering the true stories of powerhouse women who worked behind the scenes to demand change for the better, we’ve compiled some of the best recent books on those topics, according to Goodreads members.
Among the options below are stories of women in history, from the mothers who raised Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X and James Baldwin to sisters who became the first female doctors, as well as tales of fearless wartime spies. To determine which books to include, Goodreads weighed the number of Goodreads members who reviewed them and the number of members who added the books to "want to read" lists, as well as the books' average ratings.
1. “A Black Women's History of the United States” by Daina Ramey Berry and Kali Nicole Gross
- Goodreads rating: 4.29-star average, more than 1,300 ratings
Authors and historians Ramey Berry and Kali Nicole Gross examine American history from the vantage of Black women, from the first African women who arrived in what is now the U.S. to the lived experience of African American women today.
2. “Agent Sonya: Moscow's Most Daring Wartime Spy” by Ben Macintyre
- Goodreads rating: 4.22-star average, more than 2,900 ratings
This book unravels the true life story behind legendary secret agent “Sonya,” a Cold War-era female spy. Through access to Sonya’s revealing diaries, author Ben Macintyre analyzes who she influenced during a nuclear standoff as she evaded the Chinese, the Japanese and the Nazis.
3. “The Doctors Blackwell: How Two Pioneering Sisters Brought Medicine to Women and Women to Medicine” by Janice P. Nimura
- Goodreads rating: 3.8-star average rating, more than 400 ratings
Janice P. Nimura shares the story of the Blackwell sisters, the first females to break through the exclusively male field of medicine. Elizabeth was the first woman in America to receive an M.D. in 1849 and younger sister Emily became a physician shortly thereafter — the two later founded the first hospital with an entirely female staff.
4. “Vanguard: How Black Women Broke Barriers, Won the Vote, and Insisted on Equality for All” by Martha S. Jones
- Goodreads: 4.05-star average rating, more than 200 ratings
Author and historian Martha S. Jones offers an alternative to the traditional American suffrage story from a white woman’s perspective by recounting the history of African American women's political lives and how they fought for political power and equality for all.
5. “Red Comet: The Short Life and Blazing Art of Sylvia Plath” by Heather Clark
- Goodreads: 4.67-star average rating, more than 400 ratings
In this new Slyvia Plath biography, author Heather Clark explores her life with new light, including never-before-accessed materials, while striving to bring to life the real woman behind them.
6. “The Three Mothers: How the Mothers of Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and James Baldwin Shaped a Nation” by Anna Malaika Tubbs
- Goodreads: 4.34-star average rating, more than 300 ratings
Scholar Anna Malaika Tubbs explores Black motherhood with the stories of the women behind Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X and James Baldwin: their mothers. This book showcases Berdis Baldwin, Alberta King and Louise Little, and how they raised sons who would become American icons, heroes and legends.
7. “The Princess Spy: The True Story of World War II Spy Aline Griffith, Countess of Romanones” by Larry Loftis
- Goodreads: 3.92-star average rating, more than 175 ratings
Author Larry Loftis tells the thrilling and suspenseful life story of Aline Griffith, an intrepid American spy during World War II who risked her life to serve her country.
8. “Confident Women: Swindlers, Grifters, and Shapeshifters of the Feminine Persuasion” by Tori Telfer
- Goodreads: 4.08-star average rating, 100 ratings
This roundup of history’s notorious female con artists brings dark humor while examining how these women across centuries were able to so artfully swindle their victims.
9. “Come Fly the World: The Jet-Age Story of the Women of Pan Am” by Julia Cooke
- Goodreads: 3.91-star average rating, 80 ratings
Working as a Pan Am stewardess in the 1960s and 1970s wasn’t for the faint of heart. Through real stories of these constrained women, author Julia Cooke illuminates the role stewardesses had in the Vietnam War and an evacuation of 2,000 children during the fall of Saigon.
10. “With Her Fist Raised: Dorothy Pitman Hughes and the Transformative Power of Black Community Activism” by Laura Lovett
- Goodreads: 4.16-star average rating, 25 ratings
In this first biography of Dorothy Pitman Hughes, Laura L. Lovett how this trailblazer became a powerhouse Black feminist activist as she fought to transform her community while fighting for civil rights and equality.