Recommended Reads Books
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 - the first African American to serve in that role - she helped create the most welcoming and inclusive White House in history, while also establishing herself as a powerful advocate for women and girls in the U.S. and around the world, dramatically changing the ways that families pursue healthier and more active lives, and standing with her husband as he led America through some of its most harrowing moments. Along the way, she showed us a few dance moves, crushed Carpool Karaoke, and raised two down-to-earth daughters under an unforgiving media glare.
In her memoir, a work of deep reflection and mesmerizing storytelling, Michelle Obama invites readers into her world, chronicling the experiences that have shaped her - from her childhood on the South Side of Chicago to her years as an executive balancing the demands of motherhood and work, to her time spent at the world’s most famous address. With unerring honesty and lively wit, she describes her triumphs and her disappointments, both public and private, telling her full story as she has lived it - in her own words and on her own terms. Warm, wise, and revelatory, Becoming is the deeply personal reckoning of a woman of soul and substance who has steadily defied expectations - and whose story inspires us to do the same.
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.
She Came to Slay
Harriet Tubman is best known as one of the most famous conductors on the Underground Railroad. As a leading abolitionist, her bravery and selflessness has inspired generations in the continuing struggle for civil rights. Now, National Book Award nominee Erica Armstrong Dunbar presents a fresh take on this American icon blending traditional biography, illustrations, photos, and engaging sidebars that illuminate the life of Tubman as never before.
Not only did Tubman help liberate hundreds of slaves, she was the first woman to lead an armed expedition during the Civil War, worked as a spy for the Union Army, was a fierce suffragist, and was an advocate for the aged. She Came to Slay reveals the many complexities and varied accomplishments of one of our nation’s true heroes and offers an accessible and modern interpretation of Tubman’s life that is both informative and engaging.
Only four years old when she kicked her first soccer ball, Megan Rapinoe developed a love - and clear talent - for the game at a young age. But it was her parents who taught her that winning was much less important than how she lived her life. From childhood on, Rapinoe always did what she could to stand up for what was right - even if it meant going up against people who disagreed.
In One Life, Megan Rapinoe invites readers on a remarkable journey, looking back on both her victories and her failures, and pulls back the curtain on events we know only from the headlines. After the 2011 World Cup, discouraged by how few athletes were open about their sexuality, Rapinoe decided to come out publicly as gay and use her platform to advocate for marriage equality. Recognizing the power she had to bring attention to critical issues, in 2016 she took a knee during the national anthem in solidarity with former NFL player Colin Kaepernick to protest racial injustice and police brutality - the first high-profile white athlete to do so. The backlash was immediate, but it couldn’t compare to the overwhelming support. Rapinoe became a force of change.
Here for the first time, Rapinoe reflects upon some of the most pivotal moments in her life and career - from her realization in college that she was gay, through the disputes with soccer coaches and officials over her decision to kneel, to the first time she met her now-fiancé WNBA champion Sue Bird, and up through suing the US Soccer Federation over gender discrimination and equal pay. Throughout, Rapinoe makes clear the obligation we all have to speak up, and the impact each of us can have on our communities.
In this spirited account, Billie Jean King details her life's journey to find her true self. She recounts her groundbreaking tennis career - six years as the top-ranked woman in the world, twenty Wimbledon championships, thirty-nine grand-slam titles, and her watershed defeat of Bobby Riggs in the famous "Battle of the Sexes." She poignantly recalls the cultural backdrop of those years and the profound impact on her worldview from the women's movement, the assassinations and anti-war protests of the 1960s, the civil rights movement, and, eventually, the LGBTQ+ rights movement.
She describes the myriad challenges she's hurdled - entrenched sexism, an eating disorder, near financial peril after being outed - on her path to publicly and unequivocally acknowledging her sexual identity at the age of fifty-one. She talks about how her life today remains one of indefatigable service. She offers insights and advice on leadership, business, activism, sports, politics, marriage equality, parenting, sexuality, and love. And she shows how living honestly and openly has had a transformative effect on her relationships and happiness.
Hers is the story of a pathbreaking feminist, a world-class athlete, and an indomitable spirit whose impact has transcended even her spectacular achievements in sports.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg
In this comprehensive, revelatory biography - fifteen years of interviews and research in the making - historian Jane Sherron De Hart explores the central experiences that crucially shaped Ginsburg’s passion for justice, her advocacy for gender equality, and her meticulous jurisprudence.
At the heart of her story and abiding beliefs is her Jewish background, specifically the concept of tikkun olam , the Hebrew injunction to “repair the world,” with its profound meaning for a young girl who grew up during the Holocaust and World War II.
Ruth’s journey begins with her mother, who died tragically young but whose intellect inspired her daughter’s feminism. It stretches from Ruth’s days as a baton twirler at Brooklyn’s James Madison High School to Cornell University to Harvard and Columbia Law Schools; to becoming one of the first female law professors in the country and having to fight for equal pay and hide her second pregnancy to avoid losing her job; to becoming the director of the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project and arguing momentous anti-sex discrimination cases before the U.S. Supreme Court.
All this, even before being nominated in 1993 to become the second woman on the Court, where her crucial decisions and dissents are still making history. Intimately, personably told, this biography offers unprecedented insight into a pioneering life and legal career whose profound mark on American jurisprudence, American society, and our American character and spirit will reverberate deep into the twenty-first century and beyond.
With a wealth of never-before-accessed materials, Heather Clark brings to life the brilliant Sylvia Plath, who had precocious poetic ambition and was an accomplished published writer even before she became a star at Smith College. Refusing to read Plath’s work as if her every act was a harbinger of her tragic fate, Clark considers the sociopolitical context as she thoroughly explores Plath’s world: her early relationships and determination not to become a conventional woman and wife; her troubles with an unenlightened mental health industry; her Cambridge years and thunderclap meeting with Ted Hughes; and much more.
Clark’s clear-eyed portraits of Hughes, his lover Assia Wevill, and other demonized players in the arena of Plath’s suicide promote a deeper understanding of her final days. Along with illuminating readings of the poems themselves, Clark’s meticulous, compassionate research brings us closer than ever to the spirited woman and visionary artist who blazed a trail that still lights the way for women poets the world over.
She Made Me Laugh
Nora Ephron, one of the most famous writers, film makers, and personalities of her time is captured by her long-time and dear friend in a hilarious, blunt, raucous, and poignant recollection of their decades-long friendship.
Nora Ephron (1941–2012) was a phenomenal personality, journalist, essayist, novelist, playwright, Oscar-nominated screenwriter, and movie director (Sleepless in Seattle; You’ve Got Mail; When Harry Met Sally; Heartburn; Julie & Julia). She wrote a slew of bestsellers (I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman; I Remember Nothing: And Other Reflections; Scribble, Scribble: Notes on the Media; Crazy Salad: Some Things About Women). She was celebrated by Hollywood, embraced by literary New York, and adored by legions of fans throughout the world.
Award-winning journalist Richard Cohen, wrote this about his “third-person memoir”: “I call this book a third-person memoir. It is about my closest friend, Nora Ephron, and the lives we lived together and how her life got to be bigger until, finally, she wrote her last work, the play, Lucky Guy, about a newspaper columnist dying of cancer while she herself was dying of cancer. I have interviewed many of her other friends - Mike Nichols, Tom Hanks, Steven Spielberg, Meryl Streep, Arianna Huffington - but the book is not a name-dropping star turn, but an attempt to capture a remarkable woman who meant so much to so many other women."
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
Her name was Henrietta Lacks, but scientists know her as HeLa. She was a poor Southern tobacco farmer who worked the same land as her slave ancestors, yet her cells - taken without her knowledge - became one of the most important tools in medicine: The first “immortal” human cells grown in culture, which are still alive today, though she has been dead for more than sixty years. HeLa cells were vital for developing the polio vaccine; uncovered secrets of cancer, viruses, and the atom bomb’s effects; helped lead to important advances like in vitro fertilization, cloning, and gene mapping; and have been bought and sold by the billions.
Yet Henrietta Lacks remains virtually unknown, buried in an unmarked grave.
Henrietta’s family did not learn of her “immortality” until more than twenty years after her death, when scientists investigating HeLa began using her husband and children in research without informed consent. And though the cells had launched a multimillion-dollar industry that sells human biological materials, her family never saw any of the profits. As Rebecca Skloot so brilliantly shows, the story of the Lacks family - past and present - is inextricably connected to the dark history of experimentation on African Americans, the birth of bioethics, and the legal battles over whether we control the stuff we are made of.
Ida B. the Queen
Ida B. Wells committed herself to the needs of those who did not have power. In the eyes of the FBI, this made her a “dangerous negro agitator.” In the annals of history, it makes her an icon.
Ida B. the Queen tells the awe-inspiring story of an pioneering woman who was often overlooked and underestimated - a woman who refused to exit a train car meant for white passengers; a woman who brought to light the horrors of lynching in America; a woman who cofounded the NAACP. Written by Wells’s great-granddaughter Michelle Duster, this “warm remembrance of a civil rights icon” (Kirkus Reviews) is a unique visual celebration of Wells’s life, and of the Black experience.
A century after her death, Wells’s genius is being celebrated in popular culture by politicians, through song, public artwork, and landmarks. Like her contemporaries Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony, Wells left an indelible mark on history - one that can still be felt today. As America confronts the unfinished business of systemic racism, Ida B. the Queen pays tribute to a transformational leader and reminds us of the power we all hold to smash the status quo.
I Am Malala
When the Taliban took control of the Swat Valley in Pakistan, one girl spoke out. Malala Yousafzai refused to be silenced and fought for her right to an education.
On Tuesday, October 9, 2012, when she was fifteen, she almost paid the ultimate price. She was shot in the head at point-blank range while riding the bus home from school, and few expected her to survive.
Instead, Malala's miraculous recovery has taken her on an extraordinary journey from a remote valley in northern Pakistan to the halls of the United Nations in New York. At sixteen, she has become a global symbol of peaceful protest and the youngest nominee ever for the Nobel Peace Prize.
In the first single-volume cradle-to-grave portrait in six decades, acclaimed biographer David Michaelis delivers a stunning account of Eleanor Roosevelt’s remarkable life of transformation. An orphaned niece of President Theodore Roosevelt, she converted her Gilded Age childhood of denial and secrecy into an irreconcilable marriage with her ambitious fifth cousin Franklin. Despite their inability to make each other happy, Franklin Roosevelt transformed Eleanor from a settlement house volunteer on New York’s Lower East Side into a matching partner in New York’s most important power couple in a generation.
Drawing on new research, Michaelis’s riveting portrait is not just a comprehensive biography of a major American figure, but the story of an American ideal: how our freedom is always a choice. Eleanor rediscovers a model of what is noble and evergreen in the American character, a model we need today more than ever.
Code Name: Lise
The year is 1942, and World War II is in full swing. Odette Sansom decides to follow in her war hero father’s footsteps by becoming an SOE agent to aid Britain and her beloved homeland, France. Five failed attempts and one plane crash later, she finally lands in occupied France to begin her mission. It is here that she meets her commanding officer Captain Peter Churchill.
As they successfully complete mission after mission, Peter and Odette fall in love. All the while, they are being hunted by the cunning German secret police sergeant, Hugo Bleicher, who finally succeeds in capturing them. They are sent to Paris’s Fresnes prison, and from there to concentration camps in Germany where they are starved, beaten, and tortured. But in the face of despair, they never give up hope, their love for each other, or the whereabouts of their colleagues.
Young and Damned and Fair
On the morning of July 28, 1540, as King Henry’s VIII’s former confidante Thomas Cromwell was being led to his execution, a teenager named Catherine Howard began her reign as queen of a country simmering with rebellion and terrifying uncertainty. Sixteen months later, the king’s fifth wife would follow her cousin Anne Boleyn to the scaffold, having been convicted of adultery and high treason.
The broad outlines of Catherine’s career might be familiar, but her story up until now has been incomplete. Unlike previous accounts of her life, which portray her as a naïve victim of an ambitious family, this compelling and authoritative biography will shed new light on Catherine Howard’s rise and downfall by reexamining her motives and showing her in her context, a milieu that goes beyond her family and the influential men of the court to include the aristocrats and, most critically, the servants who surrounded her and who, in the end, conspired against her. By illuminating Catherine's entwined upstairs/downstairs worlds as well as societal tensions beyond the palace walls, the author offers a fascinating portrayal of court life in the sixteenth century and a fresh analysis of the forces beyond Catherine’s control that led to her execution - from diplomatic pressure and international politics to the long-festering resentments against the queen’s household at court.
The daughter of Indian and Pakistani intellectuals and advocates, Abedin grew up in the United States and Saudi Arabia and traveled widely. Both/And grapples with family, legacy, identity, faith, marriage, motherhood - and work - with wisdom, sophistication, grace, and clarity.
Abedin launched full steam into a college internship in the office of the First Lady in 1996, never imagining that her work at the White House would blossom into a career in public service, nor that her career would become an all-consuming way of life. She thrived in rooms with diplomats and sovereigns, entrepreneurs and artists, philanthropists and activists, and witnessed many crucial moments in 21st-century American history—Camp David for urgent efforts at Middle East peace in the waning months of the Clinton administration, Ground Zero in the days after the September 11 attacks, the inauguration of the first African American president of the United States, and the convention floor when America nominated its first female presidential candidate.
Abedin’s relationship with Hillary Clinton has seen both women through extraordinary personal and professional highs, as well as unimaginable lows. Here, for the first time, is a deeply personal account of Clinton as mentor, confidante, and role model. Abedin cuts through caricature, rumor, and misinformation to reveal a crystal-clear portrait of Clinton as a brilliant and caring leader, a steadfast friend, generous, funny, hardworking, and dedicated.
Acclaimed biographer Kati Marton set out to pierce the mystery of how Angela Merkel achieved all this. And she found the answer in Merkel's political genius: in her willingness to talk with adversaries rather than over them, her skill at negotiating without ever compromising on what's most important to her, her canniness in appointing political rivals to her cabinet and exacting their policies so they have no platform to run against her, the humility to allow others to take credit for things done in tandem, the wisdom to stay out of the papers and off Twitter, and the vision to take advantage of crises to enact bold change.
Famously private, the Angela Merkel who emerges in The Chancellor is a role model for anyone interested in gaining and keeping power while holding onto one's moral convictions - and for anyone looking to understand how to successfully bridge huge divisions within society. No modern leader has so ably confronted Russian aggression, provided homes to over a million refugees, and calmly unified Europe at a time when other countries are becoming more divided. But Marton also describes Merkel's many challenges, such as her complicated relationship with President Obama, who she at one point refused to speak to.
This captivating portrait shows a woman who has survived extraordinary challenges to transform her own country and return it to the global stage. Timely and revelatory, this great morality tale shows the difference an exceptional leader can make for the greater good of a country and the world.
We Are Never Meeting in Real Life.
Whether Samantha Irby is talking about how her difficult childhood has led to a problem in making “adult” budgets; explaining why she should be the new Bachelorette (she's "35-ish, but could easily pass for 60-something"); detailing a disastrous pilgrimage-slash-romantic-vacation to Nashville to scatter her estranged father's ashes; sharing awkward sexual encounters; or dispensing advice on how to navigate friendships with former drinking buddies who are now suburban moms (hang in there for the Costco loot!); she’s as deft at poking fun at the ghosts of her past self as she is at capturing powerful emotional truths.