Books About Strong, Influential Women

For the past several years, my husband has had the tradition of gifting me non-fiction books about strong, influential women. Their fields of study and backgrounds vary, but each woman has contributed to society in significant ways. Some of these are memoirs, other are biographies and some are simply non-fiction stories of women (and some men) taking risks to do what they love or stand up for what they believe in. Some are helping others, some are helping themselves. All of these books will leave you feeling thankful for these women, and motivated to get out and make a difference in the world around you.

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I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai

An incredible story and insight into the life of families living under the Taliban rule. After being shot in the head, Malala did not silence her outcry for education for herself and her female classmates. A story about the influence we can provide as parents for our children, and an example of how one strong and outspoken girl can change the world.

Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace One School at a Time by Greg Mortenson

While not actually written by or about women specifically, this book makes the list anyway for its great humanitarian story. Greg Mortenson unexpectedly found himself devoting his life to the schools and education of children in one of the most inaccessible and dangerous areas of the world. His hiking adventures lead to his discovery of a lack of educational resources that he could not help but get involved in. In this case, one man really does make a difference in his quest to bring peace and education to the children of Pakistan.

Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books by Azar Nafisi

Set in Iran, this is the true story of a secret book club lead by author Azar Nafisi. Her young students learned about literature and the ways of the world through the pages of Jane Austen, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Henry James, and Vladimir Nabokov. The parallels in the literature and their own lives helped them to mentally survive a time of tyrannical revolution in their home, as they learned together to speak their minds and think for themselves. A small but heroic undertaking, Ms. Nafisi risked her life to provide a life worth living for her students.

In the Shadow of Man by Jane Goodall

In this fascinating book Jane Goodall writes about her amazing experiences while living with the wild chimpanzees of Gombe. You will cheer as she makes breakthroughs and builds relationships with the chimpanzees, learning about them as individuals and as a species. After an inordinate amount of patience in the beginning of her project, her persistence pays off and she (and the reader) are rewarded with a look inside the lives of these amazing creatures. A feel-good book chronicling the research that brought us invaluable knowledge about our closest primate relatives.

Sally Ride: America's First Woman in Space by Lynn Sherr

The newest book in my collection, I am about 3/4 finished reading the riveting adventures of Sally Ride. Written by a journalist that covered Ms. Ride in her prime, this book starts with her childhood and follows the course of her life and career at NASA and beyond. I didn't even know I was interested in Sally Ride, and I'm not what you would call a space geek by any means, but I can't put this book down. Ms. Ride's drive, intelligence and determination led to her successes and it is fascinating to follow.

Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali

A truly powerful and often disturbing story. Reading it made me feel both shocked and ashamed that I knew so little of what goes on in other parts of the world. At times it feels like too much to handle, because the problem is so big and so broad that how can we help? But education is the first step toward bettering ourselves and the world, so I highly recommend this autobiographical book by Ms. Ali. Her endurance and achievement in the face of so much hardship is encouraging and a lesson to us all.


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