Hi everyone, in continuing our month long celebration of the contributions of women in world history, this posting features a reading list of titles focusing on famous women who have made their marks in government and/or politics.

And just a note on the selection of titles, the titles are predominantly about contemporary women, with a few historical figures thrown in.

I haven’t forgotten about the Suffragettes nor early women’s rights activists like Margret Sanger, I’m just going to include them in my next posting which will feature renowned women of the 19th and 20th Centuries – so many books and so little time!

And without futher ado, here is a reading list of titles on women renowned for their contributions to government and/or politics:

Barbara Jordan: American Hero by Mary Beth Rogers:

Barbara Jordan was the first African American to serve in the Texas Senate since Reconstruction, Barbara Jordan was also the first black woman elected to Congress from the South, and the first to deliver the keynote address at a national party convention. Her powerful oratory stirred a nation; her ideals of ethical leadership inspired millions.

Mary Beth Rogers first met Barbara Jordan in the 1960s, and their paths crossed over the years as they pursued their academic and political careers. Now Rogers’s meticulously documented biography deftly combines personal insight and impeccable research to explore the forces that shaped the moral character and quiet dignity of this extraordinary woman

 

Becoming by Michelle Obama:

In a life filled with meaning and accomplishment, Michelle Obama has emerged as one of the most iconic and compelling women of our era. As First Lady of the United States of America, she helped create the most welcoming and inclusive White House in history. With unerring honesty and lively wit, she describes her triumphs and her disappointments, both public and private. A deeply personal reckoning of a woman of soul and substance who has steadily defied expectations.

 

Clementine: The Life of Mrs. Winston Churchill:

Late in life, Winston Churchill claimed that victory in the Second World War would have been “impossible” without the woman who stood by his side for fifty-seven turbulent years. Why, then, do we know so little about her? In this landmark biography, a finalist for the Plutarch prize, Sonia Purnell finally gives Clementine Churchill her due.

Through the ups and downs of his tumultuous career, in the tense days when he stood against Chamberlain and the many months when he helped inspire his fellow countrymen and women to keep strong and carry on, Clementine made her husband’s career her mission, at the expense of her family, her health and, fatefully, of her children. Any real consideration of Winston Churchill is incomplete without an understanding of their relationship. Clementine is both the first real biography of this remarkable woman and a fascinating look inside their private world.

 

Eleanor of Aquitaine: A Life by Alison Weir:

Renowned in her time for being the most beautiful woman in Europe, the wife of two kings and mother of three, Eleanor of Aquitaine was one of the great heroines of the Middle Ages. Despite the fact she lived in an age in which women were regarded as little more than chattel, Eleanor managed to defy convention as she exercised power in the political sphere and crucial influence over her husbands and sons. In this beautifully written new biography, Alison Weir, author of five widely acclaimed chronicles of England’s royal rulers, paints a vibrant portrait of this truly exceptional woman, and provides new insights into her intimate life.

Born in 1122 into the sophisticated and cultured court of Poitiers, Eleanor came of age in a world of luxury, intrigue, bloody combat, and unbridled ambition. At only fifteen, she inherited one of the great fortunes of Europe–the prize duchy of Aquitaine–yet her father had been shrewd enough to realize that her future security lay in a powerful marriage. Consequently the sensual Duchess submitted to a union with the handsome but sexually withholding Louis VII, the teenage king of France. The marriage endured for fifteen fraught years, until Eleanor finally succeeded in having it annulled–only to enter an even stormier match with the aggressively virile, hot-tempered Henry of Anjou, who would soon ascend to the English throne as Henry II.

As Weir traces the fascinating intersection of public and private lives in Europe’s twelfth-century courts, Eleanor comes to life as a complex, boldly original woman who transcended the mores of society. Eventually, after enduring Henry’s flagrant infidelities, she showed herself a formidable and dangerous enemy of the King’s interests by plotting to overthrow him with their sons Henry, Richard, and Geoffrey. A tireless political fighter and a born survivor, the humbled Queen emerged from sixteen years of imprisonment, age sixty-seven, to rule England with wisdom and panache during the absence of her son, King Richard the Lion Heart, while he fought in the ruinous Third Crusade.

 

Elena Kagan: A Biography by Meg Greene:

Elena Kagan can be considered a “wild card” in terms of how she will vote and affect Supreme Court decisions. While largely considered a liberal, her lack of a judicial “track record” and previous work as Solicitor General lend an air of uncertainty as to how she will react to upcoming cases that have proven highly divisive and controversial. This full-length biography sheds light on Elena Kagan’s life, covering her college years at Princeton and her experience in law school as well as her legal career, which eventually led her to a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court.

 

Elizabeth the Queen: The Life of a Modern Monarch:

Drawing on numerous interviews and never-before-revealed documents, acclaimed biographer Sally Bedell Smith pulls back the curtain to show in intimate detail the public and private lives of Queen Elizabeth II, who has led her country and Commonwealth through the wars and upheavals of the last sixty years with unparalleled composure, intelligence, and grace.

 

The Firebrand and the First Lady: Portrait of a Friendship: Pauli Murray, Eleanor Roosevelt, and the Struggle for Social Justice Patricia Bell-Scott:

A finalist for the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction, and longlisted for the National Book Award, The Firebrand and the First Lady is the riveting history, two decades in the making, of how a brilliant writer-turned-activist and the first lady of the United States forged an enduring friendship that helped to alter the course of race and racism in America.

In 1938, the twenty-eight-year-old Pauli Murray wrote a letter to the President and First Lady, Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, protesting racial segregation in the South. Eleanor wrote back. So began a friendship that would last for a quarter of a century, as Pauli became a lawyer, principal strategist in the fight to protect Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and a co-founder of the National Organization of Women, and Eleanor became a diplomat and first chair of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights.

 

First: Sandra Day O’Connor by Evan Thomas:

She was born in 1930 in El Paso and grew up on a cattle ranch in Arizona. At a time when women were expected to be homemakers, she set her sights on Stanford University. When she graduated near the top of her law school class in 1952, no firm would even interview her. But Sandra Day O’Connor’s story is that of a woman who repeatedly shattered glass ceilings—doing so with a blend of grace, wisdom, humor, understatement, and cowgirl toughness.

She became the first ever female majority leader of a state senate. As a judge on the Arizona Court of Appeals, she stood up to corrupt lawyers and humanized the law. When she arrived at the United States Supreme Court, appointed by President Ronald Reagan in 1981, she began a quarter-century tenure on the Court, hearing cases that ultimately shaped American law. Diagnosed with cancer at fifty-eight, and caring for a husband with Alzheimer’s, O’Connor endured every difficulty with grit and poise.

Women and men who want to be leaders and be first in their own lives—who want to learn when to walk away and when to stand their ground—will be inspired by O’Connor’s example. This is a remarkably vivid and personal portrait of a woman who loved her family, who believed in serving her country, and who, when she became the most powerful woman in America, built a bridge forward for all women.

 

From the Corner of the Oval by Beck Dorey-Stein:

In 2012, Beck Dorey-Stein is working five part-time jobs and just scraping by when a posting on Craigslist lands her, improbably, in the Oval Office as one of Barack Obama’s stenographers. The ultimate D.C. outsider, she joins the elite team who accompany the president wherever he goes, recorder and mic in hand. On whirlwind trips across time zones, Beck forges friendships with a dynamic group of fellow travelers, young men and women who, like her, leave their real lives behind to hop aboard Air Force One in service of the president

 

Four Queens: The Provencal Sisters Who Ruled Europe by Nancy Goldstone:

For fans of Alison Weir and Antonia Fraser, acclaimed author Nancy Goldstone’s thrilling history of the royal daughters who succeeded in ruling—and shaping—thirteenth-century Europe

Set against the backdrop of the thirteenth century, a time of chivalry and crusades, troubadors, knights and monarchs, Four Queens is the story of four provocative sisters—Marguerite, Eleanor, Sanchia, and Beatrice of Provence—who rose from near obscurity to become the most coveted and powerful women in Europe. Each sister in this extraordinary family was beautiful, cultured, and accomplished but what made these women so remarkable was that each became queen of a principal European power—France, England, Germany and Sicily. During their reigns, they exercised considerable political authority, raised armies, intervened diplomatically and helped redraw the map of Europe. Theirs is a drama of courage, sagacity and ambition that re-examines the concept of leadership in the Middle Ages.

 

Gabby: A Story of Courage and Hope by Gabrielle Giffords:

Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, showed Americans how optimism, an adventurous spirit, and a call to service can help change the world. Their arrival in the spotlight came under the worst of circumstances. On January 8, 2011, while meeting with constituents in Tucson, Arizona, Gabby was the victim of an assassination attempt that left six people dead and thirteen wounded. Gabby was shot in the head; doctors called her survival “miraculous.” As the nation grieved and sought to understand the attack, Gabby remained focused on her against-all-odds recovery. Mark spent every possible moment by her side, as he also prepared for his final mission as commander of Space Shuttle Endeavour. Now, as Gabby’s health continues to improve, the couple is sharing their remarkable untold story, an unflinching look at the overwhelming challenges of brain injury, the painstaking process of learning to communicate again, and the responsibilities that fall to a loving spouse who wants the best possible treatment for his wife.

 

Maharanis: The Extraordinary Tale of Four Indian Queens and Their Journey from Purdah to Parliament by Lucy Moore:

Until the 1920s, to be a Maharani, wife to the Maharajah, was to be tantalizingly close to the power and glamour of the Raj, but locked away in purdah as near chattel. Even the educated, progressive Maharani of Baroda, Chimnabai—born into the aftermath of the 1857 Indian Mutiny—began her marriage this way, but her ravishing daughter, Indira, had other ideas. She became the Regent of Cooch Behar, one of the wealthiest regions of India while her daughter, Ayesha, was elected to the Indian Parliament.

The lives of these influential women embodied the delicate interplay between rulers and ruled, race and culture, subservience and independence, Eastern and Western ideas, and ancient and modern ways of life in the bejeweled exuberance of Indian aristocratic life in the final days both of the Raj, and the British Empire. Tracing these larger than life characters as they bust every known stereotype, Lucy Moore creates a vivid picture of an emerging modern, democratic society in India and the tumultous period of Imperialism from which it arose.

Through the sumptuous, adventurous lives of three generations of Indian queens—from the period following the Indian Mutiny of 1857 to the present, Lucy Moore traces the cultural and political changes that transformed their world.

 

My Beloved World by Sonia Sotomayer:

An instant American icon–the first Hispanic on the U.S. Supreme Court–tells the story of her life before becoming a judge in an inspiring, surprisingly personal memoir. With startling candor and intimacy, Sonia Sotomayor recounts her life from a Bronx housing project to the federal bench, a progress that is testament to her extraordinary determination and the power of believing in oneself. She writes of her precarious childhood and the refuge she took with her passionately spirited paternal grandmother. She describes her resolve as a young girl to become a lawyer, and how she made this dream become reality: valedictorian of her high school class, summa cum laude at Princeton, Yale Law, prosecutor in the Manhattan D.A.’s office, private practice, federal district judge before the age of forty. She writes about her deeply valued mentors, about her failed marriage, about her cherished family of friends. Through her still-astonished eyes, America’s infinite possibilities are envisioned anew in this … book

 

My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem:

Gloria Steinem had an itinerant childhood. When she was a young girl, her father would pack the family in the car every fall and drive across country searching for adventure and trying to make a living. The seeds were planted: Gloria realized that growing up didn’t have to mean settling down. And so began a lifetime of travel, of activism and leadership, of listening to people whose voices and ideas would inspire change and revolution.

My Life on the Road is the moving, funny, and profound story of Gloria’s growth and also the growth of a revolutionary movement for equality—and the story of how surprising encounters on the road shaped both. From her first experience of social activism among women in India to her work as a journalist in the 1960s; from the whirlwind of political campaigns to the founding of Ms. magazine; from the historic 1977 National Women’s Conference to her travels through Indian Country—a lifetime spent on the road allowed Gloria to listen and connect deeply with people, to understand that context is everything, and to become part of a movement that would change the world.

 

Nine And Counting: The Women of the Senate by Barbara Mikulski:

Note: This book was published in 2001, however it still contains cool information on the nine women who were Senators at that time – some of whom, including Susan Collins of Maine and Dianne Feinstein of California still are!

Here’s a description of the book:

The Women of the United States Senate have forever changed the political landscape. Their backgrounds, personal styles, and political ideals may be as diverse as the nation they serve. Yet they share a commonality that runs deeper than politics or geography — they desire to give a voice to all their constituents while serving as role models for women young and old.

Once every month, these distinguished women for an informal dinner to share their knowledge, their hearts, and a good meal. Leaving behind partisanship and rhetoric, they discuss and debate the issues, both political and personal, affecting their lives. And following the 2000 election of four women to the Senate, the table is now set for thirteen. Weaving together their individual stories of triumph, adversity, adaptability, and leadership, Nine and Counting gives voice to these charismatic women as never before, offering a rare, insider’s glimpse into Washington and sending the powerful message that membership in the “world’s most exclusive club” is open to every woman in America.

 

This Little Light of Mine: The Life of Fannie Lou Hamer by Kay Mills:

The award-winning biography of black civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer. “”Riveting. Provides a history that helps us to understand the choices made by so many black men and women of Hamer’s generation, who somehow found the courage to join a movement in which they risked everything.”” ―New York Times Book Review “”One is forced to pause and consider that this black daughter of the Old South might have been braver than King and Malcolm.”” ―Washington Post Book World “”An epic that nurtures us as we confront today’s challenges and helps us Keep Hope Alive.'”” ―Jesse L. Jackson “”Not only does This Little Light of Mine recount a vital part of America””s history, but it lights our future as readers are inspired anew by Mrs. Hamer’s spirit, courage, and commitment.”” ―Marian Wright Edelman “”This book is the essence of raw courage. It must be read.”” ―Rep. John Lewis

 

Off The Sidelines by Kirsten Gillibrand 

Off the Sidelines is a playbook for women who want to step up, whether in Congress or the boardroom or the local PTA. If women were fully represented in politics, Gillibrand says, national priorities would shift to issues that directly impact them: affordable daycare, paid family medical leave, and equal pay. Pulling back the curtain on Beltway politics, she speaks candidly about her legislative successes (securing federally funded medical care for 9/11 first responders, repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell) and her crushing disappointments (failing by five votes to pass a bill protecting survivors of sexual assault in the military).

Gillibrand also shares stories of growing up the daughter and granddaughter of two trailblazing feminists in a politically active family in Albany, New York, and retraces her nonlinear path to public office. She lays bare the highs and lows of being a young (pregnant!) woman in Congress, the joys and sacrifices every working mother shares, and the support system she turns to in her darkest moments: her husband, their two little boys, and lots of girlfriends.

In Off the Sidelines, Gillibrand is the tough-love older sister and cheerleader every woman needs. She explains why “ambition” is not a dirty word, failure is a gift, listening is the most effective tool, and the debate over women “having it all” is absurd at best and demeaning at worst. In her sharp, honest, and refreshingly relatable voice, she dares us all to tap into our inner strength, find personal fulfillment, and speak up for what we believe in.

In Off the Sidelines, Gillibrand is the tough-love older sister and cheerleader every woman needs. She explains why “ambition” is not a dirty word, failure is a gift, listening is the most effective tool, and the debate over women “having it all” is absurd at best and demeaning at worst. In her sharp, honest, and refreshingly relatable voice, she dares us all to tap into our inner strength, find personal fulfillment, and speak up for what we believe in.

 

No Higher Honor: A Memoir of My Years in Washington by Condoleezza Rice:

From one of the world’s most admired women, this is former National Security Advisor and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s compelling story of eight years serving at the highest levels of government.  In her position as America’s chief diplomat, Rice traveled almost continuously around the globe, seeking common ground among sometimes bitter enemies, forging agreement on divisive issues, and compiling a remarkable record of achievement.

No Higher Honor takes the reader into secret negotiating rooms where the fates of Israel, the Palestinian Authority, and Lebanon often hung in the balance, and it draws back the curtain on how frighteningly close all-out war loomed in clashes involving Pakistan-India and Russia-Georgia, and in East Africa.

Surprisingly candid in her appraisals of various Administration colleagues and the hundreds of foreign leaders with whom she dealt, Rice also offers here keen insight into how history actually proceeds. In No Higher Honor, she delivers a master class in statecraft — but always in a way that reveals her essential warmth and humility, and her deep reverence for the ideals on which America was founded.

 

The Truths We Hold: An American Journey by Kamla Harris:

From one of America’s most inspiring political leaders, a book about the core truths that unite us, and the shared values that will see us into the future.

Known for bringing a voice to the voiceless, Senator Kamala Harris is committed to speaking the truth. The daughter of immigrants, she was raised in a community that cared deeply about social justice and, growing up, Harris herself never hid her passion for doing what is right.

Throughout her career, from starting out as a prosecutor right up to her position as California’s Attorney General, and now as a US Senator, her hallmarks have been applying a holistic, data-driven approach to the thorniest issues, whether it’s taking on the big banks or rejecting stale ‘tough on crime’ rhetoric as presenting a series of false choices. Neither ‘tough’ nor ‘soft’ but smart on crime became her mantra. Being smart means learning the truths that can make us better as a community, and supporting those truths with all our might.

Through the arc of her own life, Harris communicates a vision of shared struggle, shared purpose, and shared values and grapples with complex issues that affect America and the world at large, from health care and the new economy to immigration, national security, the opioid crisis, and accelerating inequality. By reckoning with the big challenges we face together, drawing on the hard-won wisdom and insight from her own career and the work of those who have most inspired her, Kamala Harris offers in The Truths We Hold a master class in problem solving, crisis management, and leadership in challenging times.

 

A Woman in Charge by Carl Bernstein:

While he plows some of the same emotional terrain as previous Hillary biographers—notably Gail Sheehy in Hillary’s Choice—his book holds together as a piece of writing, and he keeps the psychobabble to a merciful minimum. He also attempts to write a genuine biography, describing and interpreting the life Hillary has led and the varieties of forces that shaped her.
—The New York Times Book Review, Jennifer Senior

Have a great weekend!

Linda, SSCL

References

50 Women Who Made American Political History, Time Magazine Site, http://time.com/4551817/50-women-political-history/

A Reading List Celebrating Women in Politics. Penguin Random House Site, https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/the-read-down/women-in-politics

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