I love books, I read them and I can bore the bits off anyone talking about them! Maybe like you? Whether they are fiction and non-fiction, current best-sellers or the classics, I love them all. I do have a particular soft spot for historical fiction. I’m partial to Margaret George, Tracey Chevalier and Jung Chang to just get started. I want anything that helps me understand and empathise with a fascinating time period through what life must have been like for its people and particularly the people history books often forget or misrepresents - women. Give me a 100 historical novels over 1 textbook, any day!
So, to get you in the mood for upcoming Women’s History Month, I wanted to share my ‘Book Recommendations for Women in History” … although I must confess, none of these have been in the bestseller list in the last few years. Hope you enjoy.
Memoirs of Cleopatra by Margaret George
You couldn’t get more office politics in a book if you tried! Though you know from your history lessons and watching Elizabeth Taylor, that all does not end well for Cleopatra, you will be gripped until the very end. Told in novel form, this biography shows Cleopatra as the ultimate business woman. She was able to use charm but also straightforward asset management with such aplomb she was able to turn the deteriorating and bankrupt dynasty she inherited into a prosperous civilisation that continues to fascinate us today. She could eat the Dragons’ Den for breakfast!
The Red Tent by Anita Diamont
This was a NY Times bestseller and it’s not hard to see why. The book reads as if the bible elaborated on the details of women’s lives the way it does men. The story focuses on Dinah, who in the Bible is a virtual afterthought as the daughter of Jacob. Here she gets her own very rich and dramatic story regarding her life and those of her ‘mothers’ (co-wives to Jacob). This is a perfect read for any woman like me, curious about what the Bible missed out in not telling the truth about women’s lives.
The Road from Coorain by Jill Kerr Conway
This memoir looks at the life of a young girl born in the harsh Australian outback who went on to become the first female President of the esteemed women’s university, Smith College, in the United States. Being born in Alice Springs, Australia myself the book had extra resonance for me personally. However, I’d recommend it for any woman who believes in quiet ambition and the transformative power of a childhood love of books.
Mary Reibey: From Convict to First Lady of Trade by Kathleen Pullan*
When I was in Sydney a few years ago, I took a guided tour of the Rocks area. Our guide pulled out a much crumpled $20 note to highlight what I had assumed was a man - but was actually one of the most important women in Australian history. I've often noticed that portraits of formidable women are often not flattering, like Harriet Tubman or even Cleopatra, as history is written by the winners. But I digress. Back to Mary, she was exported from England to Australia in 1777 as a 13 year old when she was caught stealing a neighbour's horse while dressed up as a boy.. Fast forward, and she worked her time, eventually married a navy lieutenant and set up a trading store. But it was only when he died and left her with over half a dozen children that things began to get interesting...as she grew the business to such an extent that she became one of the founders of the Bank of New South Wales. What an amazing woman! I was only dismayed it took me several attempts to find the 1975 book, eventually discovering it in a used book shop - which are my favourite places to hang out in anyway. This life story reads like a novel - and is inspiration to anyone who has made a few bad choices (haven't we all) that they can still go on to great things!
*We’ve got no link for this one, you’ll need to get rummaging in your local charity shop… and you must drop us a note if you find a copy telling us where you found it!
Suzanne Doyle-Morris, Author, Speaker & Gender Balance Expert for 25+ years.
Hear what I told BBC Radio about what to do about the worsening gender pay gap data