16 Books About Trailblazing Women

Celebrate women who reshaped the world with these inspiring reads.

A well-behaved woman rarely makes history—and these empowering narratives prove it.

Check out our list of books about women who shattered gender norms, broke new ground, and helped blaze a path for generations of women to come.

Kaitlyn Johnston

Growing Up Biden

By Valerie Biden Owens

Her brother Joe may be the one discussed in history class, but Valerie Biden Owens has her own incredible story to share. In Biden Owens’ new memoir Growing Up Biden, the political strategist—and one of the first female campaign managers in United States history—chronicles her journey at the helm of her brother’s many campaigns, including seven straight U.S. Senate victories. Biden Owens also reflects on her youth in Delaware as the only daughter of the Biden family and what it was like to help raise her brother’s children in the wake of her sister-in-law’s tragic passing. Written with honesty and warmth, Growing Up Biden offers an intimate look at a family tied to America’s history, told by the woman who led the way.

Her Honor

By LaDoris Hazzard Cordell

As the first African American woman to sit on the Superior Court of Northern California, Judge LaDoris Hazzard Cordell possesses a unique perspective on America’s criminal justice system. She knows what works, she knows what’s broken, and she knows how to fix it. In Her Honor, Judge Cordell offers a rare and provocative look at U.S. law, highlighting the strengths, flaws, and biases at play, and mapping a path toward a more equitable future. Justice in America may be imperfect, but Judge Cordell believes in the system, and she’s determined to be part of its change for the better.

The Book of Hope

By Jane Goodall

Dr. Jane Goodall is an award-winning primatologist and conservationist whose pioneering work with chimpanzees has made her a household name. Goodall’s books In the Shadow of Man and its sequel, Through a Window, document her groundbreaking studies of chimpanzees in Tanzania in the 1960s. Both are well worth a read. In her most recent release, The Book of Hope, Goodall shares incredible stories from her decades-long career and reveals why she remains hopeful about the future in spite of trying global events—and why we should, too. Rich with infectious optimism, The Book of Hope will “resonate in your heart and soul, inspiring action, change, and, yes, hope” (Business Insider).

Wolfpack

By Abby Wambach

Hall-of-Famer Abby Wambach reigns supreme on the soccer field and beyond; she’s won two Olympic gold medals, a FIFA World Cup championship, and up until January 2020, was the highest international goal scorer for both male and female soccer players. In addition to her athletic prowess, Wambach’s activism for equality makes her an icon and a role model for young girls and women everywhere. In 2018 Wambach delivered the commencement speech to the graduating class of Barnard College. Her speech went viral and served as the inspiration for Wolfpack, which expands upon Wambach’s central rallying cry for women: We have never been Little Red Riding Hood. We are the Wolves. We must wander off the path and blaze a new one: together. A No. 1 New York Times bestseller, Wolfpack advocates for female empowerment, calling on women to reject exclusionary power structures in business and in life, and to unite with their pack to move forward in the world.

Good Boy: My Life in Seven Dogs

By Jennifer Finney Boylan

In 2003 Jennifer Finney Boylan became the first openly transgender American author to hit the bestseller list with her autobiography, She’s Not There: A Life in Two Genders. While the author and human rights activist has written a number of must-read narratives—including novels, memoirs, and a children’s series—we recommend Good Boy, Boylan’s heartwarming memoir centered around the seven dogs she has loved. Each dog represents a different phase in Boylan’s journey, from her youth to the present day. Warm, humorous, and wise, Good Boy is a remarkable account of the author’s life and a testament to the transformative power of loving our canine companions.

I Am Malala

By Malala Yousafzai

Malala Yousafzai, the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, shares her powerful story in this national bestseller. When the Taliban took control of the Swat Valley in Pakistan, Malala stood up for her right to an education. In October 2012, a Taliban gunman shot Malala point-blank in the head for speaking out. She was 15 years old. Malala’s chance of survival was slim. And yet, despite the odds, she pulled through. Today she stands as a global icon of peace and a fierce advocate for the education of girls and women everywhere. I Am Malala is the story of Malala Yousafzai and her family, who together rejected the paternalistic values of their society and championed love, education, and equality.

Women in White Coats

By Olivia Campbell

From Olivia Campbell, an author and journalist who specializes in medicine, comes Women in White Coats, the story of three women who broke through barriers in the male-dominated medical field to become the first female doctors of the Victorian era. In the 1800s, women often died of curable diseases because they avoided medical treatment. Exams performed by male doctors were demeaning and painful, and diagnoses negatively impacted a woman’s status because of the stigma surrounding female illness. Elizabeth Blackwell, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, and Sophia Jex-Blake fought to create space for women in medicine by providing woman-led treatment and care. Campbell’s deeply researched and wonderfully told account reveals how these three determined doctors revolutionized women’s healthcare, adding a “valuable chapter to the history of women and medicine” (Publishers Weekly).

Finding My Voice

By Valerie Jarrett

Valerie Jarrett, the longest-serving senior adviser to President Barack Obama, shares her uplifting story in Finding My Voice. Jarrett’s position overseeing the offices of Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs and chairing the White House Council on Women and Girls made her one of the most influential African American women in the last decade. Finding My Voice captures Jarrett’s experience braving setbacks and embracing the uncomfortable to achieve greatness in her private and public life.

Unbowed

By Wangari Maathai

Unbowed tells the story of Wangari Maathai, a leading environmentalist and the first African woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. While Maathai is best known as the founder and leader of the Green Belt Movement, Unbowed is a memoir of more than just her conservation efforts: It captures her courageous transformation from a young girl in rural Kenya to a global leader who risked her life combating government corruption and advocating for women’s rights. “Direct, honest, and beautifully written” (President Bill Clinton), Unbowed is a stirring account of one woman’s fight against poverty, sexism, and environmental degradation.

The Woman Who Smashed Codes

By Jason Fagone

In 1916, as WWI swept across Europe, an American Shakespeare expert named Elizabeth Smith applied her exceptional language abilities to a new undertaking: code-breaking. The Woman Who Smashed Codes by Jason Fagone traces Smith’s exemplary yet often overlooked career as a cryptologist, detailing her code-cracking work in WWI, her covert fight against Nazi spy rings in South America, and her successful cracking of Nazi Germany’s Enigma machine. Fagone charts America’s code-breaking history through Smith’s life and work, producing a rich and exciting portrait of a woman we should know better than we do.

Hidden Figures

By Margot Lee Shetterly

This award-winning #1 New York Times bestseller by Margot Lee Shetterly tells the extraordinary story of the Black female mathematicians who worked as “human computers” for NASA during WWII and up through the Cold War. Hidden Figures follows Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Christine Darden—four African American women who were instrumental in crunching the numbers that launched rockets and ultimately propelled the United States to victory in the great Space Race. Battling entrenched segregation and discrimination (Jim Crow laws required that the all-Black “West Computing” group be separated from their white counterparts while working at NASA), the women of Hidden Figures nevertheless persevered and proved themselves to be some of the brightest minds of their generation.

Tomorrow Will Be Different

By Sarah McBride

Sarah McBride is the first openly transgender state senator in American history. Tomorrow Will Be Different, McBride’s moving LGBTQ memoir, tracks the author’s experience from coming out in a viral post to advocating for equal rights at a national level. McBride’s story is one of finding love, experiencing great loss, and taking strides to fight for equality on behalf of the LGBTQ community. Harper’s Bazaar calls it “touching, thought-provoking, at times tear-jerking, and absolutely worth the read for all who care about equality.”

The Three Mothers

By Anna Malaika Tubbs

Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and James Baldwin were towering figures in the fight for racial equality in America. But what about the women who raised them? In her celebrated debut The Three Mothers, Anna Malaika Tubbs introduces us to Alberta King, Louise Little, and Berdis Baldwin, three extraordinary women who raised three of the most influential Black men in American history. A moving celebration of Black motherhood, The Three Mothers details how Alberta, Louise, and Berdis instilled in their sons a righteous belief in the inherent dignity of all people, encouraging them to fight the prejudice they faced and to strive for a more just and equal society.

A Woman of No Importance

By Sonia Purnell

In this New York Times bestseller, Sonia Purnell tells the story of Virginia Hall, a Baltimore socialite who became the first Allied woman deployed behind enemy lines during WWII. Purnell recounts Hall’s breathtaking work as a spy in Winston Churchill’s top-secret Special Operations Executive outfit, detailing the integral role she played in coordinating the French Resistance and leading guerrilla campaigns against the Nazis that ultimately helped win the war in Europe. “A meticulous history that reads like a thriller” (Ben Macintyre), A Woman of No Importance is an excellently researched biography of an extraordinary woman.

The Radium Girls

By Kate Moore

During the First World War, women across the United States tried to find work in watch-dial factories, where they would paint watch faces with radium, the luminous radioactive element. But those who were “lucky” enough to land the job had no idea of the fallout that lay before them. Kate Moore’s bestselling The Radium Girls tells their heartbreaking yet inspiring story. When the female factory workers began to fall ill and their employers refused to acknowledge the brutal—often fatal—side effects of their work, the so-called “shining girls” found themselves at the center of one of the biggest labor scandals of the 20th century. The ensuing controversy triggered an unprecedented fight for workers’ rights, ushering in new policies and life-saving regulations that echo through to the present day.

Reading Lolita in Tehran

By Azar Nafisi

Azar Nafisi’s #1 New York Times bestselling memoir Reading Lolita in Tehran recounts the author’s life in war-torn Tehran, where she held secret book club meetings with young women and encouraged her participants to read and discuss forbidden Western literature. Nafisi vividly re-creates her charged and tumultuous days in revolutionary Iran, revealing how the simple act of gathering to talk about Pride and Prejudice or Lolita was, for the women in her book club, an act of quiet rebellion against the regime. Eloquently written and deeply affecting, Reading Lolita in Tehran offers a “spirited tribute both to the classics of world literature and to the resistance against oppression” (Kirkus Reviews, starred review).

Share with your friends

Facebook
Twitter
LinkedIn
Pinterest

Related Articles

Some family narratives are heartening, others are heartbreaking — and, as you’ll read, many more are both. We pulled together an enticing mix of memoirs about family that cover all the emotions.
Celeste Ng set reading lists ablaze with her second novel, Little Fires Everywhere. If you loved Ng’s darkly layered drama, here are nine rich and compelling books like Little Fires Everywhere that you’re sure to enjoy.
These writers will keep you reading well past the witching hour, just like the King of Horror.

Connect with

Celadon

Sign up for our newsletter to see book giveaways, news, and more!