BOOKS - NON-FICTION
Goodreads News & Interviews: 64 Top Nonfiction Books to Read for Women's History Month
Afkhami, Mahnaz, editor, In The Eye of the Storm: Women in Post-Revolutionary Iran. (Syracuse Univ. Press, 1994) – (Iranian-American)
Essays exploring the “intellectual schizophrenia” experienced by Iranian women.
Alexievich, Svetlana. Trans, Richard Pevear & Larissa Volokhonsky. The Unwomanly Face of War (1985, trans. 2017). Non-fiction (Russia-Belarus) Nobel Prize 2015
Captures officially silenced stories of Soviet women who fought in WWII
Ali, Ayaan Hirsi. The Caged Virgin: An Emancipation Proclamation for Women and Islam (Non-fiction, 2006) – (Somali/Dutch)
Condemnation of Islam, the role of women, and the absent individual. In 1992, Ali fled to Netherlands to avoid an arranged marriage; became outspoken critic of Islam and particularly the practice of ablation; elected member of the Dutch parliament; wrote script for Theo van Gogh's Submission (TV, 2004); death threats. Prefact printed on amazon.com. Author of several other non-fiction works:
Memoirs: Infidel (2008); Nomad (2010)
Islam: Heretic (2015) Unveiled (2019); Prey (2021)
Batalion, Judy. The Nazi-Fighting Women of the Jewish Resistance, NYT (3/18/21)
Author of the forthcoming The Light of Days
Chong, Denise Chong. The Girl in the Picture: The Story of Kim Phuc, the Photograph and the Vietnam War (Biography, 2001)
Story of what happened to that severely burned 9-year old girl running from her South Vietnam blazing village as she was caught in an unforgetable photograph (6/8/1972); one of the most unforgettable images of the 20th C. helped turn public opinion against the War. A rare look at the Vietnam War from the Vietnamese point-of-view and description of everyday life in the wake of the war, its lingering effects on the village.
Craft, Kimberly. Infamous Lady: The True Story of Countess Erzsébet Bathory (Biography, 2nd ed, 2014) - (American)
Attempt to reclaim the reputation of the 16th-C. "Blood Countess" of Hungary, reputed to be both a vampire and the world's worst female serial killer, she allegedly bathed in the blood of her 650 victims.
Craft, Kimberly. The Private Letters of Countess Erzsébet Báthory (Non-fiction, 2011) - Companion volume to Infamous Lady
While the letters do not dwell on the crimes of which the countess was convicted, they explain her precarious existence in the complex and dangerous times in which the Countess lived at the mercy of various predatory political agendas.
Del Ponte, Carla. Madame Prosecutor: Confrontations with Humanity's Worst Criminals and the Culture of Impunity (Memoir, 2009) - (Italian)
Former Attorney General (Switzerland) who prosecuted the Sicilian mafia, and Chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rawanda (1999-2003) and Former Yugoslavia (1999-2008), del Ponte explores the difficulties of bringing high-ranking individuals to justice without the authority to arrest or subpoena the accused amid threats to her life.
Dubey, Priyanka. No Nation for Women: Reportage on Rape from India, the World's Largest Democracy
(non-fiction, 2018) - Indian
Patriarchy and widespread sexual violence make India unsafe for its women – custodial rapes, honor killings, rapes of minors, and trafficking. Stories of multiple rapes of women who resist, no recourse to justice, victimized lower-caste girls, dislocation of survivor families, political wrath turned to rape. Personal note (SLM): My son would never take his Thai fiancee to India because she would be harassed – or worse.
Fagon, Jason. The Woman Who Smashed Codes: A True Story of Love, Spies, and the Unlikely Heroine Who Outwitted America's Enemies (Non-fiction, 2018)
Shakespeare scholar, Elizebeth Smith is asked to apply her linguistic skills to code-breaking, a new science in 1916. She continued, cracking several Enigma versions while her husband, William Friedman, worked on Purple, the Japanese version of Enigma.
Feldman, Deborah. Exodus: A Memoir (Memoir, 2015) - (American); sequel to Unorthodox
Re-traces her Hungarian grandmother's life during the Holocaust; searches for a welcoming community that includes individuality; confronts contemporary European antisemitism
Feldman, Deborah. Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of my Hasidic Roots (Memoir, 2012) – (American)
also TV series based on the book (2020)
As a young bride, Feldman flees her Satmar sect, a branch of Williamsburg's Hasidic community, and heads to Germany to find who she really is and what she wants.
Goudeau, Jessica. After the Last Border: Two Families and the Story of Refuge in America (non-fiction, 2020). American
Immigrant experiences of two women – Mu Naw, a refugee from Myanmar (2007) after spending 18 years in a Thai camp; and Hasna al-Salam, after escaping the horror and violence of modern-day Syria (2016) - dislocation from language, customs, and family; isolation and loneliness; small triumphs and lacerating defeats of trying to find one's way in a new world that, increasingly, doesn't welcome them.
Review: “The Story of Refugees in America Through the Gripping Tales of Two Women,” Mimi Swartz, NYT (4 August 2020)
Hartman, Saidiya. Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments: Intimate Histories of Social Upheaval (non-fiction, 2019) - American
Explores the lives of various Black women in Harlem and Philadelphia during the 1890s and describes the boundaries of Black life and womanhood through both interracial and intra-racial relationships; examines how Black women's sexuality was policed and constructed within an ideology of criminality at the turn of the 20th century. Winner: National Book Critics Award (2020); MacArthur Grant (2019)
Re-released in paperback as Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments: Intimate Histories of Riotous Black Girls, Troublesome Women, and Queer Radicals (2020).
Hayslip, Le Ly. with Jay Wurts. When Heaven and Earth Changed Places: A Vietnamese Woman's Journey from War to Peace (2008)
Born 1950 in the village of Ky La, Le Ly lived between corrupt Republicans and fanatical Viet Cong zealots, survived by deceiving one side while serving the other; endured torture, rape, and near execution. From Da Nang's Americans, she got food for her mother and baby son by black-market jobs, boyfriends, and a “bar girl” career. Escaping to the United States, she returned to Vietnam in 1986 for a reunion.
Hejaiej, Monia. Behind Closed Doors: Women's Oral Narratives in Tunis (Non-Fiction, 1996) - (Tunisian)
Telling tales recounts past events, reflects present cultural values, and recreates the past for present purposes. They are platforms that shift from imaginative to actual as the women express personal trauma, comment on, and criticize their culture.
Hendelman-Baavur, Liora. Creating the Modern Iranian Woman: Popular Culture between Two Revolutions (History, 2019) – (Israel)
Study explores the history and popularity of Iranian women's magazines and their formation of the modern woman in the decades between the “White Revolution” (1963), and the Islamic Revolution (1979). Covers popular culture aspects including Iranian youth culture, brain drain and exogamy, beauty pageants and popularization of the Pahlavi royal family.
Herzog, Susan. Dangerous Ambition: Dorothy Thompson and Rebecca West: New Women in Search of Love and Power (Biography, 2011) - (American)
Duel biography of interpenetrating lives, similar desires, and parallel careers of two dynamic women who enhanced journalism and literature in the 1930s.
Jacobs, Harriet. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl – (Autobiography, 1861)
Several annotated editions reprinted, including Norton Critical Edition (2018)
True story by Jacobs (1813-1897) who lived 7 years (1835-1842) in a tiny attic while a runaway bounty was on her head. Having learned to read by a childhood mistress, she wrote her story to help the Abolitionist cause by addressing northern middle class Christian women about how slavery destroys women's virtue.
Lamb, Christina. Our Bodies, Their Battlefields: War Through the Lives of Women (non-fiction, 2020) – British; co-author of I am Malala
By Judith Matloff, NYT (Sept. 22, 2020) -
Herodotus, credited with writing the first history of Western civilization. He claimed that women didn’t mind being carried off by the Phoenicians, the Greeks and the Trojans.
Laveau-Harvie, Vicki. The Erratics, (Memoir, 2020) – (Canadian)
After childhoods of abuse, daughters return to care for aging parents; winner of Australia's Stella Prize.
Review: Parul Sehgal, “The Erratics Remembers a Mother With a Monstrous Talent for Twisting Reality,” NY Times, 11 August 2020
Lev, Elizabeth. The Tigress of Forli: Renaissance Italy's Most Courageous and Notorious Countess (Biography, 2011)
Life of Caterina Riario Sforza de' Medici (1463 Milan – 1509 Florence) a true Renaissance celebrity. Raised in the court of Milan and wed at 10 to the pope’s nephew, Later moved to Forli where she outlived two more husbands, ruled with iron will, martial strength, political savvy, and heroic resistance until she was captured & imprisoned by Cesare Borgia.
Loftis, Larry. Code Name: Lise: The True Story of the Woman Who Became WWII's Most Highly Decorated Spy (Non-fiction, 2019)
Odette Sansom's story of recruitment & training into SOE, her work as “Lise” in the Spindle network (Marseilles) under Peter Churchill, and imprisonment in a German concentration camp where she never divulged any secrets even though she was tortured. Odette was the only woman to be awarded the George Cross for WWII.
Macintyre, Ben. Agent Sonya: Moscow's Most Daring Wartime Spy (non-fiction, 2020) - British
Ursula Kuczynski Burton appeared to be an ordinary housewife with husband and 2 children living in a Cotswolds cottage, but multitasking domestic duties and spy drops of coded messages. Actually, she was “Agent Sonya,” hunted for 20 years by Chinese, Japanese, Nazis, MI5, MI6, and FBI who ended up her days in East Germany. Her success – including passing along nuclear secrets from Klaus Fuchs to Stalin – is attributed to the fact that men searching for her also underestimated her. But, … I won't spoil it.
Mahmoody, Betty. & William Hoffer. Not Without My Daughter: The Harrowing True Story of a Mother's Courage (Non-fiction, 1991)
Betty joined her husband to his native Iran for a two-week vacation where she finds herself and her four-year-old daughter, Mahtob, virtual prisoners of a man rededicated to his Shiite Moslem faith. Also film version starring Sally Field.
Manne, Kate. Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny. (Non-fiction, 2019)
Ways in which society controls, polices, & punishes “bad” women in public and private life who violate or question patriarchal codes; misogyny signals that women are out of line; imposes a cost not borne by men.
Manne, Kate. Entitled: How Male Privilege Hurts Women (Non-fiction, 2020)
Hidden assumptions of what men think they deserve and what women owe. Analysis of the underlying logic that fuels misogynistic violence and other forms of resistance to women holding positions of power in sexual relations, health care, work place.
Followup to Down Girl.
Martin, Dahris. Among the Faithful: Tunisia in the 1920s (Memoir, 1937; reprint 2012) - (American)
Martin was taken in by a wealthy Tunisian family where she partakes in the intimate experiences of the women – birth, death, marriage, Islam and the simultaneous belief in djinns, the oppression of women and the life of the desert Bedouin.
Meltzer, Brad & Josh Mensch. The Lincoln Conspiracy: The Secret Plot to Kill America's 16th President – and Why It Failed. (History, 2020)
Basically the story of 26-year old Kate Warne who, working for the Pinkerton Company as America's first professional detective, foils the attempts of a pro-Southern conspiracy to assassinate Lincoln in Baltimore on his way to the 1861 inauguration.
Mitra, Durba. Indian Sex Life: Sexuality and the Colonial Origins of Modern Social Thought (study, 2020) – Indian/American
The colonial Contagious Diseases Act (1868) mandated that any woman registered as a prostitute must present herself for genital examinations by law enforcement and medical professionals. The definition of “prostitute,” however, was assigned to any woman who was not in an upper-caste, monogamous Hindu marriage. This sexual control and subjugation of “deviant female sexuality” became the primary way to think about Indian society by white men who imagined undifferentiated hordes of brown women's sexuality available for purchase. Much of the Western worldview today is constructed on this foundation of condemnation of Indian women so that Empire could be thought of as good and noble.
Moore, Kate. The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women (Non-fiction, 2016) – (British)
True story of the young women who painted radium on watch hands in the early 20th century, how they were unprotected, poisoned & died, dismissed by businesses, denied medical assistance, and ignored by the government.
Moore directed 'These Shining Lives' by Melanie Marnich (UK, 2015) which dramatizes the Ottawa dial-painters' experiences.
Mrazek, Robert J. The Indomitable Florence Finch: The Untold Story of a War Widow Turned Resistance Fighter and Savior of American POWs (Biography, 2020)
From the journal of prisoner Carl Engelhart and letters of Florence Finch pieces together her work in Philippines smuggling food to POWs, stealing gasoline, and falsifying records. Imprisoned and tortured, she was awared US Medal of Freedom.
Obituary: “Florence Finch, Unsung War Hero Who Took On Japanese, Dies at 101”
Mundy, Liza. Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II (Non-fiction, 2018) – (American)
Sworn to secrecy even after WWII, few knew about the educated women hired as code breakers during WWII. Focusing on Japanese codes, the book weaves narrative strands between code breaking organizations and personal stories. Not surprisingly, the women earned 25% less than the men doing the same work and were told in 1945 it was their patriotic duty to resign so that returning men could take their positions.
Nafisir, Azar. Reading “Lolita” in Tehran: A Memoir in Books, (Memoir, 2009) – (Iranian-American)
Secret gatherings of Iranian women studying forbidden Western classics; novels intertwine with their own stories of censorship, stifled artistic expression, dreams.
Nafisi, Azar. Things I've Been Silent About: Memories of a Prodigal Daughter (Memoir, 2010) - (Iranian-American)
Growing up in Iran caught between tight family ties and strict Islamic rules which allow little flexibility for interpersonal relations lead to loveless marriages and a dysfunctional environment.
Olson, Lynne. Madame Fourcade's Secret War: The Daring Young Woman Who Led France's Largest Spy Network Against Hitler (Biography, 2020) – (American)
Another heroic effort discounted by male officers and historians who established the official record of WWII. Dramatic account of Marie-Madeleine Fourcade (“Hedgehog),” the only women to serve as chef de résistance in WWII France, ran the “Alliance” group of 3,000 agents (20% women), provided crucial intelligence for Allied Military. Not taken seriously, her sex, social position, and beauty allowed her to make daring intelligence coups. Captured and escaped twice, she held the network together.
Phongpaichit, Pasuk & Sungsidh Piriyarangsan & Nualnoi Treerat. Guns, Girls, Gambling, Ganja: Thailand's Illegal Economy and Public Policy (Non-fiction,1998) - (Thailand)
Gambling, prostitution, drugs, arms trading, oil smuggling, and human trafficking are increasingly linked together through networks of protection and organized crime to sustain Thailand's corrosive "money politics" and police corruption.
Polcz, Alaine. Trans. Albert Tezla. One woman in the War: Hungary 1944-1946 (Biography, 1991) - (Hungarian)
Revelation of past horrors in Hungary which had lingered on in the farthest reaches of the national memory as rumor and suspicion about the violent acts committed against women during a time of chaos, havoc, and savagery. Polcz relives wandering from Transylvania to Hungary, through misery, hunger, and gang rapes by Soviet soldiers. Despite the terror, she survived with strength enough to re-live her story in its telling.
Purnell, Sonia. Clementine: The Life of Mrs Winston Churchill – (Biography, 2016)
in GB: First Lady: The Life and Wars of Clementine Churchill - (British)
From her birth, childhood, and through fascinating adulthood. Clementine’s control was done behind-the-scenes with grace and tact. Beautiful, aristocratic, well-intentioned woman, who had real human frailties and struggled to be "useful" to Winston and her country. Interesting contrasts with Eleanor Roosevelt.
Purnell, Sonia. A Woman of No Importance: The Untold Story of the American Spy Who Helped Win World War II (Biography/History, 2019) – (British)
Biography of Virginia Hall, an American working for the British SOE (prior to U.S.'s OSS/CIA) in occupied France, created and ran a network in France, escaped the Nazis, and returned. Important corrective to the lack of appreciation of female intelligence operatives during WWII.
Rose, Sarah. D-Day Girls: The Spies Who Armed the Resistance, Sabotaged the Nazis, and Helped Win World War II (History, 2020) - (American)
During WWII, 39 women volunteered with British Special Operations (SOE), to infiltrate France in order to sabotage trains & amunitions, ambush Nazis, plot prison breaks, and gather intelligence prior to the D-Day landing. Some were captured and tortured. This is the untold story of three: Andrée Borrel, Lise de Baissac, Odette Sansom
Satrapi, Marjane. Persepolis – Memoir graphic novel form - (Iranian-French)
Part I: The Story of Childhood (2003)
Part II: The Story of a Return (2004)
Complete (4 parts - 2007)
Delightful but serious stories of a girl confronting Islamic law, her education abroad, and her return to explore where she really belongs. Also an animated film (2007)
Scroggins, Deborah. Wanted Women: Faith, Lies, and the War on Terror: The Lives of Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Aafia Siddiqui (Biography, 2012) - (American)
Two moslem women forge different modern identities: Ali (Somali reformer); Siddiqui (Pakistani jihadist); exploration in sexual/cultural stereotypes; role of mothers/family
Shapland, Jenn. My Autobiography of Carson McCullers (memoir/biography, 2020) – American
Having discovered the love letters written to McCullers from Annemarie Clarac-Schwarzenbach, Shapland weaves McCullters' own life with that of her own and asks why women writer's are misrepresented and revised by others in order to fit an acceptable narrative.
Reference: McCullers. The Member of the Wedding (fiction, 1946)
Solnit, Rebecca. Recollections of my Nonexistence (Memoir, 2020) - American
Weaves together two strands: individual stories of women acquiring an audible voice and being a woman who faces threats, harassment. Considers the interior experience of being silenced and what it does to the psyche. Explores tensions between learning how to be a woman in a world working to erase her; violence and its impact on women's self-transformation. Originator of “mansplaining” in Men Explain Things to Me
Reference mansplaining – IWCV “fiction”: Tersigni, Men to Avoid in Art and Life
Related Interview: Rafia Zakaria, “How to exist in a world that seeks to erase women,” CNN (30 April 2020). Consequences of voice, those who have too little and get silenced and those have too much and are able to shout down others.
Steil, Jennifer. The Woman Who Fell from the Sky: An American Woman's Adventures in the Oldest City on Earth (Memoir, 2010) – (American)
Surprising look at the role of the media in Muslim culture and a fascinating cultural tour of Yemeni women in a male-dominated society where people are carefully defined
Trethewey, Natasha. Memorial Road: A Daughter's Memoir (memoir, 2020) – American
As a Pulitzer Prize winning poet and former US Poet Laureate, Trethewey uses her poetic language to plumb the psychic and cultural costs of her life and that of her talented Black mother who married a White poet in America's South. This is the attempt to give her mother, who was murdered by her second husband, a voice and come to terms with the losses in her own life.
Walker, Alice. In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens (Essays, non-fiction, 2003)
Essays (36) covering her childhood, her own work and that that of other writers, civil rights (1960s) and antinuclear (1980s) movements, theories and practices of what she calls the "womanist" tradition of black women writers.
Woolf, Virginia. A Room of One's Own (Essay, 1929) – based on her lectures, “Women and Fiction” at Newnham & Girton Colleges, Cambridge (1928). Various new editions and collections.
In order to create, women need the freedom permitted by financial independence and a room she can lock. Examines the careers of several women authors and how patriarchy treats women in literature.
Zakaria, Rafia. The Upstairs Wife: An Intimate History of Pakistan (Memoir, 2016) - Indian/Pakistani
Growing up in post-Partition Pakistan, Rafia tells parallel stories of Pakistan's 1980s descent into violence, poverty, corruption, and Islamization with the resulting effects on women's freedom, safety, and domestic misery where women have little power, except, sometimes, over each other. Polygamy, permitted under the country's new laws, extract an poisonous emotional toll on wives: depression, self-doubt, jealousy.
Zakaria, Rafia. Veil (Memoir, Study, 2017) – Indian/Pakistani; part of the Object Lessons series.
Short vignettes challenging the false binary whereby veiled equates oppression and unveiled with liberation. Rafia's reflections also compare her own experiences at different stages of her life wearing a scarf, veil, or neither. Under some circumstances the veil can be empowering for women, and both wearing or not wearing a veil have profound psychic resonances for those who make these choices -- as well as for those who regard wearing a veil with hostility or even just curiosity.