If you spend even five minutes watching the nightly news these days, it’s easy to start believing that nothing good has ever come from politics, ever. And in some ways, it seems like we’re all starting to take for granted that every politician is corrupt (and the few that aren’t will only get steamrolled in Congress or attacked on Twitter,) the White House will never truly be anything more than a good ol’ boys club, and the entire democratic process has become more about playing games of party loyalty than making decisions that benefit the country — and I’m totally with you on all these points. But that’s why I’m recommending you read these political biographies; as a friendly reminder that there currently are, and historically have been, plenty of political figures (in the Oval Office and beyond) who have actually made the world a better place. (I mean, there aren’t a TON, per se… but there are some.)
The political biographies on this list, in addition to taking you back to some seriously tumultuous times in history (sound familiar?) will also remind you that there are global leaders out there right now who you can depend on (Angela Merkel, Ruth Bader Ginsberg. And we’re totally not letting Michelle Obama just disappear.) Here are 14 political biographies that every woman should read.
1. ‘Michelle Obama: A Life’ by Peter Slevin
The first comprehensive account of the life of the beloved and badass First Lady Michelle Obama, Peter Slevin’s Michelle Obama: A Life traces the FLOTUS from her childhood on the South Side of Chicago, through her studies at Princeton University and Harvard Law School, all the way to her iconic residency at the White House. Few first ladies — at least in recent history — have been quite as loved as Michelle Obama, and this biography is a beautiful and inspiring tribute to the lady we’re all wishing would now make a run for president herself.
2. ‘The Secretary: A Journey with Hillary Clinton from Beirut to the Heart of American Power’ by Kim Ghattas
Although the 2016 election was painful, the life and work of Hillary Clinton was made no less inspiring by her difficult loss in the presidential race. Kim Ghattas’s The Secretary: A Journey with Hillary Clinton from Beirut to the Heart of American Power features the BBC foreign correspondent's writings from the road, where from 2008 Ghattas traveled with then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, interviewing Clinton and her advisers, administration officials, and key political figures in Washington D.C. and overseas. Offering readers not only a first-hand account of what it was like to witness Clinton deal with everything from Arab Spring to WikiLeaks to the war in Libya, this biography also explores both the power of a woman like Clinton, and the massive global influence of the United States of America.
3. ‘The Iron Lady: Margaret Thatcher, from Grocer's Daughter to Prime Minister’ by John Campbell
One of the most infamous political figures, and political women, of all time (not to mention being immortalized by Meryl Streep in a 2011 film of the same name) Margaret Thatcher served as the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1979 to 1990, and was the country’s first female prime minister. In The Iron Lady: Margaret Thatcher, from Grocer's Daughter to Prime Minister, biographer John Campbell traces the political rise and fall of Thatcher, offering readers a balanced portrait of her complex and controversial life.
4. ‘Until We Are Free: My Fight for Human Rights in Iran’ by Shirin Ebadi
As the first Muslim woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, Shirin Ebadi is recognized around the world for her work as a human rights lawyer, defending women and children oppressed by the regime of the Islamic Republic of Iran. But when her own government turned against her —stripping her of her home, her marriage, her friends, her career, and finally her Nobel Prize — Ebadi took up a life in exile in the U.K. Her political autobiography, Until We Are Free: My Fight for Human Rights in Iran, details Ebadi’s relentless spirit for service and heart for social justice, as her work continues to inspire millions of women.
5. ‘Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom: My Story of the Selma Voting Rights March’ by Lynda Blackmon Lowery
A middle grade political autobiography — but one that readers of any age will fall in love with — Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom: My Story of the Selma Voting Rights March tells the story of Lynda Blackmon Lowery, the youngest marcher in the 1965 voting rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. She marched alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., was jailed for civil disobedience nine times before she turned 15, and participated in some of the most influential nonviolent protests of the Civil Rights Movement.
6. ‘When Women Win: EMILY’s List and the Rise of Women in American Politics’ by Ellen Malcolm
If you haven’t heard of EMILY’s List, it’s a political organization that seeks to inspire change both within politics and through political action by getting more women elected to office. Founded in 1985, EMILY’s List has worked to help elect 19 women Senators, 11 women governors, and 110 Democratic women to the House in the last three decades. Reading like a collection of short biographies and featuring the stories of iconic figures from Hillary Clinton, to Elizabeth Warren, to Barbara Mikulski, When Women Win: EMILY’s List and the Rise of Women in American Politics is a much-needed reminder that when women win, we all win.
7. ‘Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln’ by Doris Kearns Goodwin
Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln is hands-down one of the best books ever written about former President Abraham Lincoln, offering readers an expansive portrait of the brilliant and complex man: the political genius, inspirations, motivations, and compassion that made Lincoln one of the most influential and memorable American leaders of all time. It also tells the story of three of Lincoln’s more controversial picks for his cabinet: William H. Seward, Salmon P. Chase, and Edward Bates, who all lost the 1860 Republican presidential nomination to the then relatively-unknown Lincoln himself.
8. ‘Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg’ by Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik
There is possibly more riding on the intelligence and strength of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg than ever before, and as an unrelenting feminist, a fierce civil rights advocate, and an all-around political badass, we’re glad we’ve got her on our side. Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg details the life and work of Justice Ginsburg, and might even restore a little bit of your hope for the future of America.
9. ‘This Child Will Be Great: Memoir of a Remarkable Life by Africa's First Woman President’ by Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
Winner of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize and the first African female president in modern politics, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf became president of the Republic of Liberia in 2006. Her political autobiography, This Child Will Be Great: Memoir of a Remarkable Life by Africa's First Woman President, tells the story of Sirleaf’s unique and inspiring life — starting with her childhood and taking readers through the Liberian civil war, to her presidential election win. As a champion of women’s rights, economic equality, and free education, Sirleaf is definitely a woman whose story you want on your bookshelves.
10. ‘Angela Merkel: The Authorized Biography’ by Stefan Kornelius
Described as the “liberal West’s last defender” by the New York Times back in November, Angela Merkel is the current Chancellor of Germany, and has been a measured and steadfast voice for progressive politics, social justice, and human dignity since she took office in 2005. In Angela Merkel: The Authorized Biography, Stefan Kornelius tells the story of Merkel’s life, from her childhood in East Germany, through her global travels, all the way to her election as the single most powerful political figure in Europe.
11. ‘Alexander Hamilton’ by Ron Chernow
At 731 pages, Ron Chernow’s political biography of Alexander Hamilton is definitely going to take up some space on your shelves — but between the Chernow’s prize-winning writing and the fact that this is the biography-turned-musical that EVERYONE has been talking about, you’re going to want to read this one. Alexander Hamilton tells the story of the controversial, compelling, and revolutionary political figure whose ideas and actions were pivotal to the birth of America.
12. 'Emmeline Pankhurst: A Biography’ by June Purvis
You’re already familiar with the stories of Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, two of the most recognized figures in the women’s suffrage movement. But you may not be as familiar with Emmeline Pankhurst, the woman behind women’s suffrage in the United Kingdom — a movement that rose several years before suffrage in the United States, and won women in the U.K. the right to vote in 1918. June Purvis’s biography, Emmeline Pankhurst: A Biography tells the story of one of the bravest and most ardent feminists in history.
13. ‘Upstairs at the White House: My Life with the First Ladies’ by J.B. West
For 28 years J.B. West worked as assistant to the chief usher and then as chief usher of the White House, in charge of coordinating the daily living of the president of the United States and the first family: directing state functions; planning parties, weddings and funerals; supervising the creation of gardens, playgrounds, and renovations; and organizing the major activities of the presidential home. In Upstairs at the White House: My Life with the First Ladies, West tells the stories of his experiences in the White House, and particularly with America’s first ladies.
14. ‘Eleanor Roosevelt: The Defining Years, 1933-38’ by Blanche Wiesen Cook
Considered the “definitive portrait” of the United States’ longest-serving First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, Eleanor Roosevelt: The Defining Years, 1933-38 is the second title in Blanche Wiesen Cook’s trilogy of political biographies about the life and times of the exceptional former-FLOTUS. Chronicling some of the most difficult and challenging years in the Roosevelts’ political lives: the Great Depression, the New Deal, the impending world war, and more, this biography demonstrates the strength and intellect of a woman who worked as policymaker and social activist for women’s rights and civil rights, even if it meant often opposing her president-husband.