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Books & Authors

Reading Herstory

Women’s History Month is a great time to read books that bring women’s stories into focus. This list includes biographies that bring to light women often lost in history, and memoirs by women who tell their story in their own words.  For Women’s History Month this year, read books that focus on Herstory.

Civil Rights Queen : Constance Baker Motley and the Struggle for Equality by Tomiko Brown-Nagin
Born to an aspirational blue-collar family during the Great Depression, Constance Baker Motley was expected to find herself a good career as a hair dresser. Instead, she became the first black woman to argue a case in front of the Supreme Court, the first of ten she would eventually argue. Civil Rights Queen captures the story of a remarkable American life, a figure who remade law and inspired the imaginations of African Americans across the country. Brown-Nagin compels us to ponder some of our most timeless and urgent questions-how do the historically marginalized access the corridors of power? What is the price of the ticket? How does access to power shape individuals committed to social justice? In Civil Rights Queen, she dramatically fills out the picture of some of the most profound judicial and societal change made in twentieth-century America.

Dancing in the Mosque : An Afghan Mother's Letter to Her Son by Homeira Qaderi
In the days before Homeira Qaderi gave birth to her son, Siawash, the road to the hospital in Kabul would often be barricaded because of the frequent suicide explosions. With the city and the military on edge, it was not uncommon for an armed soldier to point his gun at the pregnant woman's bulging stomach, terrified that she was hiding a bomb. Frightened and in pain, she was once forced to make her way on foot. Propelled by the love she held for her soon-to-be-born child, Homeira walked through blood and wreckage to reach the hospital doors. But the joy of her beautiful son's birth was soon overshadowed by other dangers that would threaten her life. But Homeira refused to cower under the strictures of a misogynistic social order. Defying the law, she risked her freedom to teach children reading and writing and fought for women's rights in her theocratic and patriarchal society. Devastating in its power, Dancing in the Mosque is a mother's searing letter to a son she was forced to leave behind. In telling her story, Homeira challenges you to reconsider the meaning of motherhood, sacrifice, and survival.

Daughters of the Samurai : A Journey From East to West and Back by Janice P Nimura
In 1871, five young girls were sent by the Japanese government to the United States. Their mission: learn Western ways and return to help nurture a new generation of enlightened men to lead Japan. Raised in traditional samurai households during the turmoil of civil war, Sutematsu Yamakawa, Shige Nagai, and Ume Tsuda grew up as typical American schoolgirls. Upon their arrival in San Francisco they became celebrities, their travels feted by newspapers across the nation. The passionate friendships they formed reveal an intimate world of cross-cultural fascination and connection. Ten years later, they returned to Japan-- a land grown foreign to them-- determined to revolutionize women's education. Based on in-depth archival research in Japan and in the United States, Daughters of the Samurai is beautifully, cinematically written, a fascinating lens through which to view an extraordinary historical moment

Empress of the Nile : The Daredevil Archaeologist Who Saved Egypt's Ancient Temples From Destruction by Lynne Olson
In the 1960s, the world's attention was focused on an international campaign to save ancient Egyptian temples from drowning in the floodwaters of the new Aswan High Dam. But the press coverage of this unprecedented rescue effort completely overlooked the feisty French archaeologist who made it all happen. Without the intervention of Christiane Desroches-Noblecourt, the temples would now be at the bottom of a gigantic reservoir. It was a project of unimaginable size and complexity that required the fragile sandstone temples to be dismantled and rebuilt on higher ground. After a century and a half of Western plunder of Egypt's ancient monuments, Desroches-Noblecourt had done the opposite. She had helped preserve a crucial part of its cultural heritage and, just as important, made sure it remained in its homeland

Femina : A New History of the Middle Ages, Through the Women Written Out of It by Janina Ramirez
The Middle Ages are seen as a bloodthirsty time of Vikings, saints and kings; a patriarchal society that oppressed and excluded women. But when we dig a little deeper into the truth, we can see that the Dark Ages were anything but. Oxford and BBC historian Janina Ramirez has uncovered countless influential women's names struck out of historical records, with the word Femina annotated beside them. As gatekeepers of the past ordered books to be burned, artworks to be destroyed, and new versions of myths, legends and historical documents to be produced, our view of history has been manipulated.

Henrietta Maria : The Warrior Queen Who Divided a Nation by Leanda De Lisle
Henrietta Maria is British history's most reviled queen consort. This clear-eyed biography unpicks the myths and considers the story from Henrietta Maria's point of view. A portrait emerges of a woman whose closest friends included Puritans as well as Catholics, who crossed swords with Cardinal Richelieu, and led the anti-Spanish faction at the English court. A witty conversationalist, Henrietta Maria was a patron of the arts and a champion of the female voice, as well as a mediatrix for her persecuted fellow Catholics. Seeing events through her gaze reveals the truth behind the claims that she caused the war, explains her estrangement from her son Henry, and diminishes the image of the Restoration queen as an irrelevant crone. It is time to look again at this often-criticized queen and determine if she is not, in fact, one of British history's most remarkable women.

Listen, World! : How the Intrepid Elsie Robinson Became America's Most-Read Woman by Julia Scheeres
At 35, Elsie Robinson feared she'd lost it all. She was reeling from a hostile divorce to a wealthy man that played out in tabloids across the country and she faced an uncertain future as the single mother of a chronically-ill son. She had no clear means of financial support, no college education or training. She dreamed of becoming a professional writer and sacrificed everything in pursuit of a career in letters, going so far as to work a California gold mine to pay the bills. Through it all, she wrote-everything from features to essays to fiction. When the mine shut down, she moved to San Francisco in 1918-at the tail end of a world war and an influenza pandemic. Borrowing money to buy a pen and paper, she created a mock-up for a children's column, then barged into the Oakland Tribune to thrust it into the hands of the managing editor. He hired her on the spot. Told with drama and cinematic detail by bestselling author Julia Scheeres and award-winning journalist Allison Gilbert, Listen, World! is the first biography of this indefatigable woman, capturing what it means to take a gamble on happiness, stumble a few times, and ultimately land on your feet.

Mutinous Women : How French Convicts Became Founding Mothers of the Gulf Coast by Joan E DeJean
On December 12, 1719, a ship named La Mutine, or the Mutinous Woman, sailed from France to the vast North American territory then referred to as the Mississippi. Its principal commodity was a new kind of French export: women. The women who arrived in the New World from that frigate would go on to found Gulf dynasties, but their beginnings were less auspicious. Falsely accused of sex crimes, these women were prisoners, shackled in the ship's hold. Despite the bleakness of these women's origins, they achieved unlikely triumph across the Atlantic. Drawing on an impressive range of sources to restore the voices of these women to the historical record, DeJean introduces us to the Gulf's Founding Mothers-the mutinous women of La Mutine.

The Last Nomad : Coming of Age in the Somali Desert : A Memoir by Shugri Said Salh
A fresh, captivating memoir about an indomitable woman's journey from her idyllic childhood with her nomadic grandmother in the deserts of Somalia to her escape from her country's brutal civil war and eventually to America.

Woman, Captain, Rebel : The Extraordinary True Story of a Daring Icelandic Sea Captain by Margaret Willson
Many people may have heard the old sailing superstition that having women onboard a ship was bad luck. Thus, the sea remains in popular knowledge a male realm. When we think of examples of daring sea captains, swashbuckling pirates, or wise fishermen, many men come to mind. Cultural anthropologist Margaret Willson would like to introduce a fearless woman into our imagination of the sea: Thurídur Einarsdóttir. Captain Thurídur was a controversial woman constantly contesting social norms while simultaneously becoming a respected captain fighting for dignity and equality for underrepresented Icelanders. Both horrifying and magnificent, this story will captivate readers from the first page and keep them thinking long after they turn the last page.


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