Illuminated Voices: 12 Remarkable History Books About Brave and Brilliant Women

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Throughout history, women have always been innovators and change-makers. And although their contributions and legacies have been undeniably powerful, their stories have also often gone untold. These top histories and biographies, ranked highly by reviewers at Goodreads, aim to change that narrative and ensure that the trailblazing women who populate these pages are never forgotten. 

The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women by Kate Moore 

Imagine having your dream job turn into a nightmare. In The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women, Kate Moss introduces readers to courageous women factory workers of the 1920s navigating the effects of working with a radioactive material that’s covertly poisoning them. Although the factories where they were employed refused to help them, they fought back — and changed U.S. labor rights in the process. Their resilience and bravery are sure to inspire and intrigue if you’re looking to learn about a lesser-known slice of history. 

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Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly 

NAACP Image Award recipient Margot Lee Shetterly was enchanted by the story of the “human computers” who helped men land on the moon. Her research led her to write Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race. In this enlightening book, Shetterly unveils the brilliant Black women behind some of the most valuable scientific achievements in American history while remaining truthful about the oppressive society that tried to stifle their genius. 

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The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper by Hallie Rubenhold

There are endless stories dedicated to the horrifying crimes of Jack the Ripper, but how many stories have been told about the women whom he murdered? The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper weaves together the stories of the “canonical five” victims of the serial killer into a tale that turns the prevailing narrative on its head. This award-winning biography from best-selling author Hallie Rubenhold invites you to consider the humanity of Polly, Annie, Elizabeth, Catherine and Mary-Jane. 

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Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg by Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik 

Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a groundbreaking woman who shaped the 20th-century history of the United States through her work as a Supreme Court Justice. Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik teamed up to honor Ginsburg in their 2015 book, Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. This must-read title ventures beyond exploring the public image of the judiciary icon to create a more personal portrait of Ginsburg. If you’re looking to delve a bit deeper into this legendary woman’s life, you’re bound to love this unique biography. 

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A Woman of No Importance: The Untold Story of the American Spy Who Helped Win World War II by Sonia Purnell

In Sonia Purnell’s A Woman of No Importance: The Untold Story of the American Spy Who Helped Win World War II, rejection leads to amazing opportunities — and a woman’s intellect leads her to a career as a world-class spy. Purnell illuminates Special Agent Virginia Hall’s accomplishments and the clever ways that she traversed a field dominated by men, all in the name of ending WWII. Throughout the book, you’ll discover why Hall is an everyday hero while enjoying a story that reads like a spy movie plot with the most incredible story.

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The Romanov Sisters: The Lost Lives of the Daughters of Nicolas and Alexandra by Helen Rappaport 

Helen Rappaport’s The Romanov Sisters: The Lost Lives of the Daughters of Nicolas and Alexandra explores the lives of the four Romanov daughters, based on their own writings. The story of these young women and their place in Russian history has endured many transformations, many of which have been influenced by the perspectives of the storytellers. But in Rappaport’s book, the sisters’ ideas and opinions are centered. This fascinating book takes a look at the sisters’ diaries and letters to provide a more intimate understanding of who they were. 

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The Witches: Salem, 1692 by Stacy Schiff 

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Stacy Schiff shares a unique perspective on the infamous Salem witch trials in The Witches: Salem, 1692. This book focuses on the experiences of young women in the repressive Salem community and how they influenced American history. Schiff vividly portrays their lives and interrogates the public understanding of the Salem Witch Trials in this page-turner that’s even more enthralling than it sounds. 

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The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II by Denise Kiernan

Oak Ridge, Tennessee, was an average town that held the key to a weapon that would change the course of history: the atomic bomb. Denise Kiernan’s The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II shines a light on the voices of the women who enriched uranium for the bomb code-named “Little Boy” while exploring the details of their secretive and demanding work environments. From the role of company spies to the dire consequences for small infractions, the narrative surrounding these women and their place in history is unnerving yet marvelous. 

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A Black Women’s History of the United States by Daina Ramey Berry and Kali Nicole Gross

All too often the experiences and perspectives of Black women have been pushed aside. Scholars Daina Ramey Berry and Kali Nicole Gross are committed to shifting that paradigm in their 2020 release, A Black Women’s History of the United States, which was lauded by Booklist as “Captivating, highly readable” and “A timely and much-needed restoration.” This groundbreaking book presents a powerful narrative that propels you through American history while simultaneously centering vital perspectives that deserve more attention. 

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All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation by Rebecca Traister 

What happens when women feel less obligated to focus on their role within a marriage? That question lies at the center of All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation by Rebecca Traister. Throughout the book, Traister explores the history of single women in the U.S. and posits that huge cultural shifts often align with the work of single women. Traister’s extensive research uncovers astonishing patterns that are masterfully presented in this daring and witty 2016 book. 

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Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers Who Helped Win World War II by Liza Mundy 

Thousands of women committed to a secret code-breaking mission that led to victory in World War II. In a book that The New York Times praised as “prodigiously researched and engrossing,” Liza Mundy uncovers their efforts. Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers Who Helped Win World War reveals the captivating stories of the women responsible for saving lives, shortening the war and opening up new career opportunities across the country. Liza Mundy turns her journalistic eye on these brilliant women in this page-turner that celebrates their skill and tenacity. 

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The Woman They Could Not Silence: One Woman, Her Incredible Fight for Freedom, and the Men Who Tried to Make Her Disappear by Kate Moore 

A fearful husband wields the threat of sending his wife to a psychiatric hospital and that wife fights back against unbelievable odds in Kate Moore’s The Women They Could Not Silence: One Woman, Her Incredible Fight for Freedom, and the Men Who Tried to Make Her Disappear. Throughout the book, Moore chronicles Elizabeth Packard’s battle with the U.S. mental health system of the 1860s. The book emphasizes Packard’s resilience and the development of her sense of self against the backdrop of a world that continually seeks to silence her and a “treatment system” that offers trauma instead of healing. 

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