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With today marking International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month in full swing, this month is as good a time as any to champion women empowerment and give back to female-focused causes. And if you’re interested in learning more about pivotal female figures who have shaped history and the true stories of powerhouse women demanding change for the better, we’ve compiled some of the best biographies and memoirs on inspiring women published within the last year, according to Goodreads members.
To determine which books to include, Goodreads weighed the number of Goodreads members who reviewed each book and the number of members who added the books to their "want to read" lists, as well as each book's average rating. Among the options below are stories about the mothers who raised Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X and James Baldwin as well as the Jewish female resistance fighters who fought back during World War II.
Best biographies about influential and inspiring women in 2022
Below, we’ve listed the best biographies by and about women published within the last year based on Goodreads data.
‘All That She Carried’ by Tiya Miles
Goodreads: 4.08-star average rating from 1,721 reviews
Historian Tiya Miles tracks the story of Ashley’s Sack, which was passed down through three generations of Black women and evokes love, loss and resilience. The story starts with Rose, an enslaved woman in 1850s South Carolina, who gave this sack filled with precious items to her daughter, Ashley.
‘All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days’ by Rebecca Donner
Goodreads: 4.37-star average rating from 1,936 reviews
During the rise of the Nazi party, Mildred Harnack started holding secret meetings at her apartment, which comprised a small number of political activists — by 1940, the group had grown into the largest underground resistance group in Berlin. Harnack, whom historians identify as the only American in the leadership of the German resistance, helped Jews escape, recruited working-class Germans in the resistance and wrote leaflets that denounced Hitler.
‘Come Fly the World’ by Julia Cooke
Goodreads: 3.71-star average rating from 4,980 reviews
“Come Fly the World” tells the story of the stewardesses of Pan Am World Airways, who played a major role during the Vietnam War as the airline transported young soldiers from the battlefields in South Vietnam to Hong Kong on R&R flights — these typically lasted for five days before troops were flown back to war. The book also follows the real-life characters during Operation Babylift, the evacuation of 2,000 children during the fall of Saigon in Vietnam.
‘The Doctors Blackwell’ by Janice P. Nimura
Goodreads: 3.65-star average rating from 2,908 reviews
At a time when the world recoiled at the thought of a woman studying medicine, Elizabeth Blackwell became the first woman in America to earn an M.D. — her sister Emily soon joined her in this achievement. The Blackwell sisters later founded the New York Infirmary for Indigent Women and Children, the first hospital staffed entirely by women.
‘The Light of Days’ by Judy Batalion
Goodreads: 4.1-star average rating from 4,119 reviews
During World War II, a number of Jewish female resistance fighters in Poland transformed Jewish youth into resistance groups to fight against the Nazis after witnessing the brutal murder of their families and the destruction of their communities. In addition to fighting and killing German soldiers, these women built systems of underground bunkers, nursed the sick, taught children and hid families. In addition to telling the story of these resistance fighters, the book also features 20 black and white photographs of the women and their exploits.
‘The Nine’ by Gwen Strauss
Goodreads: 4.27-star average rating from 1,777 reviews
“The Nine” tells the story of author Gwen Strauss’ great aunt, Hélène Podliasky, who led nine female resistance fighters to escape the final death march at a German labor camp in Leipzig. The women, all under 30 years old at the time, embarked on a 10-day journey from Germany back to Paris.
‘On Juneteenth’ by Annette Gordon-Reed
Goodreads: 4.21-star average rating from 4,649 reviews
Annette Gordon-Reed combines anecdotes and historical accounts to chart the United States’ long road to Juneteeth and the end of legalized slavery in Texas. Through essays, Gordon-Reed demonstrates how the slave- and race-based economy defined the era of Texas independence from Mexico, the Mexican-American war and the Civil War itself.
‘The Three Mothers’ by Anna Malaika Tubbs
Goodreads: 4.120-star average rating from 3,079 reviews
Celebrating Black motherhood, "The Three Mothers" focuses on the women who raised some of the most influential figures in history: Malcolm X, James Baldwin and Martin Luther King, Jr. It addresses the discrimination and prejudice faced by these Black women during Jim Crow as they taught, cared for and supported their sons.
‘The Woman They Could Not Silence’ by Kate Moore
Goodreads: 4.32-star average rating from 8,040 reviews
A housewife and a mother of six in Jacksonville, Illinois, Elizabeth Packard was intelligent and independent — qualities that threatened her husband, who committed her to an insane asylum after 21 years of marriage. The story follows Packard as she navigates the horrific conditions of the Illinois State Hospital, overseen by Dr. Andrew McFarland, and meets other sane women who were conveniently labeled “crazy.”
Best memoirs about influential and inspiring women in 2022
We also list out some of the best memoirs written by women published in the last year, according to Goodreads members.
‘Admissions’ by Kendra James
Goodreads: 3.8-star average rating from 370 reviews
Kendra James recounts her work as an admissions officer specializing in diversity recruitment for independent prep schools, in which she persuaded students to attend largely white schools like she did just a few years back. She reflects on her time at The Taft School, where she had been the first African-American legacy student, and the lies and half-truths she told as an admissions professional.
‘Aftershocks’ by Nadia Owusu
Goodreads: 3.94-star average rating from 4,294 reviews
Nadia Owusu’s memoir details the aftermath of being abandoned by her mother as a toddler and the loss of her father at age 13, which prompted a difficult search for identity and sense of belonging. As a young woman, Nadia arrived in New York feeling uncertain about her future, and she tells of how she overcame struggles, periods of depression and a bombshell revelation about her family.
‘Beautiful Country’ by Qian Julie Wang
Goodreads: 4.21-star average rating from 15,778 reviews
“Beautiful Country” highlights Qian Julie Wang’s coming-of-age story as an undocumented child in 1990s New York City. Though her parents were professors in China, her family was considered “illegal” in the U.S., which caused strain, fear and scarcity.
‘Between Two Kingdoms’ by Suleika Jaouad
Goodreads: 4.43-star average rating from 35,223 reviews
Suleika Jaouad was diagnosed with leukemia at the age of 23 with a 35 percent chance of survival. After three and a half years of chemo, a clinical trial and a bone marrow transplant, Jaouad left the cancer ward — but she struggled to return to a “normal” life. She embarked on a 100-day, 15,000-mile road trip across the country to meet people with a wide range of stories, from a teenage girl recovering from cancer to a death row inmate.
‘Crying in H Mart’ by Michelle Zauner
Goodreads: 4.34-star average rating from 107,404 reviews
“Crying in H Mart” is a memoir by Michelle Zauner, who tells her story of family, grief and forging identity. She details her journey growing up Korean American and as one of the few Asian American kids at her school in Eugene, Oregon. In the memoir, Zauner explains how the painful experience of losing her mother forced a reckoning with her identity and encouraged her to reclaim her culture and history.
‘I Came All This Way to Meet You’ by Jami Attenberg
Goodreads: 3.94-star average rating from 662 reviews
Jami Attenberg, the daughter of a traveling salesman in the Midwest, always wanted a life on the road — and her desire for new experiences led her to travel across the country and eventually around the world. During her expeditions, she reflects on her youth and her growth as an artist and writer.
‘In the Shadow of the Mountain’ by Silvia Vasquez-Lavado
Goodreads: 4.47-star average rating from 194 reviews
Silvia Vasquez-Lavado, a victim of sexual abuse, gathered a group of young female abuse survivors and embarked on a journey to climb Mount Everest. The memoir describes the challenges, resilience and anxieties of leading a group of novice climbers up the tallest mountain in the world.
‘Just as I Am’ by Cicely Tyson
Goodreads: 4.51-star average rating from 6,542 reviews
Cicely Tyson reflects on her life and acting career that spanned over six decades. In her memoir, which was released just two days before her death last year, Tyson describes her teen pregnancy, an early marriage and her rise to fame, which began as a modeling career and blossomed into iconic movie roles.
‘Manifesto’ by Bernardine Evaristo
Goodreads: 4.08-star average rating from 1,135 reviews
Bernardine Evaristo won the 2019 Booker Prize for her novel “Girl, Woman, Other,” making her the first Black woman and Black British person to ever win the prize in its 55-year history. “Manifesto” details Evaristo’s life and career over several decades, from helping set up Britain's first Black women's theater company to her experiences growing up in a mixed-race family of 10.
‘Mothertrucker’ by Amy Butcher
Goodreads: 4.06-star average rating from 2,705 reviews
Amy Butcher, emotionally burdened by an abusive relationship at home, turns to Instagram celebrity Joy “Mothertrucker” Wiebe, the country’s only female ice road trucker and an inspiration to Butcher. Wiebe invites her to ride shotgun on a 400-mile journey through snow-glazed overpasses, curves and near plummets.
‘My Mess Is a Bit of a Life’ by Georgia Pritchett
Goodreads: 4.07-star average rating from 1,276 reviews
“My Mess Is a Bit of a Life” originally started as a therapist-recommended list of things that worried comedy writer Georgia Pritchett — the book later transformed into a powerful memoir about her anxiety-filled childhood, the challenges of breaking into a male-dominated field and the ups and downs of motherhood.
‘Somebody's Daughter’ by Ashley C. Ford
Goodreads: 4.11-star average rating from 34,968 reviews
In “Somebody’s Daughter,” writer, educator and podcaster Ashley C. Ford shares her experience as a poor Black girl in Indiana whose family is fragmented due to her father’s incarceration. Ford details her fraught relationship with her mother and the aftermath of a rape that she keeps a secret from her family — her world is ultimately turned upside down when she learns the real reason why her father is in prison.
‘Unbound’ by Tarana Burke
Goodreads: 4.62-star average rating from 6,179 reviews
Tarana Burke is the founder and activist behind the Me Too, the largest social movement of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. In her memoir, she shares how she came to say “me too” and her road to healing after a painful childhood.
‘Wake’ by Rebecca Hall
Goodreads: 4.30-star average rating from 1,901 reviews
“Wake” is part graphic novel and part memoir — it tells the story of women-led slave revolts on slave ships during the Middle Passage and highlights the women behind them. The book also documents the author’s journey to uncover the truth about these women, most of whom have been left out of historical records.