11 Groundbreaking Books About Women Making History

by Amy Sachs

March marks the arrival of Women's History Month. It's a great time to dive into nonfiction and learn about the real stories of some seriously impressive women who were determined to uproot the status quo — ladies like Hatshepsut and Nellie Bly who've changed the course of life as we know it.

But what about the women who are shaping history right now? Across scales global and local, women are making impacts as we speak — they're revolutionizing everything from global policy to how females are perceived in society.

There's Malala Yousafzai, whose pioneering work on girls' education continues to make waves around the world. There's Roxane Gay, who uses her ever-growing platform to make empowering, important statements for feminism. There's Sonia Sotomayor, whose appointment to the Supreme Court marked an incredible milestone for Latinas. And you know that's just the start. Women are making and changing history everyday. Here are 11 works of nonfiction about women redefining history, success, and activism. Read them during Women's History Month; celebrate them all year.

I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai

Winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, Malala Yousafzai is a name most people have come to know by now. Her memoir details her experience standing up to the Taliban in order to secure the right to education for girls and young women in Pakistan. I am Malala is moving, and shows what an impact just one voice can have.

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Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay

Bad Feminist takes a critical look at popular culture and the myriad ways it tackles not just gender, but race and social issues, as well. Roxane Gay extinguishes the belief that every woman must be a "perfect" feminist — it's simply not possible. Instead, Gay empowers women to stand up for whatever brand of feminism they believe in, and embrace the fact that no one is flawless, and therefore no feminist can be anything but a "bad" one.

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I Am Not a Slut by Leora Tanenbaum

In an age where being a woman on the Internet exposes you to the risk of threats and shaming, Leora Tanenbaum's I am Not a Slut reclaims the word, defining it in today's terms. It puts in perspective what is done when a girl is called a slut, and explores what it means to be a woman in the era of the Internet where people make snap judgments of girls based on what they post on social media. Tanenbaum has published previous books on the subject, all of which encourage women to think before using that term towards another woman.

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My Beloved World by Sonia Sotomayor

Sotomayor made history when she became the first Latina to serve on the United States Supreme Court in 2009. My Beloved World tells the story of that journey and more, detailing Sotomayor's life in the Bronx, and her climb up the legal and political ladders. A must read for any woman in politics — or any field largely dominated by men.

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Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? by Jeanette Winterson

Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal is a groundbreaking memoir that explored the life of a young Winterson as she tries to find out who she is. Raised by strictly religious parents, growing up was difficult, as she never truly felt like she belonged. She didn't understand her place in the world, her sexuality, or how to find her own way to happiness. Winterson's memoir explores how to find happiness out of pain, and learning and accepting who you are along the way.

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We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Known for her stunning works of fiction, Adichie's We Should All Be Feminists was originally given as a TED Talk, but was later published as a short work of nonfiction. Adichie looks at feminism from a global perspective, examining the importance of inclusion for all races and backgrounds within feminism. She includes personal experience and commentary that makes this short work unmissable for feminists, and those looking to understand feminism from a global point of view.

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Sister Citizen by Melissa V. Harris-Perry

Similar to Roxane Gay's Bad Feminist in that it examines critical racial stereotypes, Sister Citizen goes further in exploring how African American women can escape those ideas. Harris-Perry delves into what it means to be an American citizen, and how joining together would be to the benefit of often marginalized women.

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Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed: 16 Writers on the Decision Not to Have Kids by Meghan Daum

Women get asked personal questions about having children from their mid-20s and older. While it is no one's business, society has yet to come to terms with the fact a woman is not necessarily a selfish or "bad" person if she chooses not to. Meghan Daum collects the works of 16 women on their choice not to have children, and how it has impacted them. A moving and necessary read, Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed is essential for any woman who has felt pressured to be a mother at the expense of her own desires.

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Excavation: A Memoir by Wendy C. Ortiz

In Excavation , Wendy C. Ortiz gives voice to victims of sexual crimes at the hands of someone they trust. Ortiz was involved with her (much older, not-registered sex offender) teacher when she was just 15 years old. He encouraged her in her writing— as long as she promised she would not leave any evidence of their relationship within it. Excavation is powerful and gripping, the story of a woman learning to reclaim her heart and her voice.

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Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi

Reading Lolita is all about teaching young women in Tehran, Iran to read. She gathered the girls in secret and they read classics: Nabokov, Fitzgerald, Austen, and other forbidden Western writers. In a country where girls were forbidden to read such things, Nafisi was risking everything to show them the power of literature and story telling. The perfect read to pair with I Am Malala, Reading Lolita in Tehran is the story of the power of education and words.

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Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo

A Pulitzer Prize-winning work of nonfiction, looking at the poverty stricken settlement of Annawadi, Mumbai, in Beautiful Forevers Boo looks at tragedy: a false conviction in a crime, but she also looks at hope and success in the form of a girl being the first to graduate college. Beautiful Forevers is an incredible look at the future, and the hope is has for people who refuse to give up.

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