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PEOPLE Picks Our Favorite Books by and About Powerful Women

Celebrate Women's History Month with these staff picks in historical fiction, memoir and fiction by and about women

PEOPLE
PEOPLE's Women's History Month reads book covers

Get ready to celebrate Women's History Month with some powerful and entertaining historical reads.

The days when books by and about women were relegated to beach bags or derided as "chick lit" are speeding toward the rearview. Bookworms don't need to be told that a good page-turner knows no gender, and anyone can enjoy books that might once have been shelved solely under "women's fiction." But any woman who has had her own work "mansplained" to her knows that there's still a long way to go until women writers reach full, meaningful equality.

Women's History Month is a great opportunity to pick up some books that shed light on important female figures throughout history, learn a little more about women's lives or simply discover a new favorite.

Read on for some of PEOPLE's staff favorites written by and about women.

'Little Women' by Louisa May Alcott

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

Whether you consider yourself an Amy, Jo, Meg or Beth, this literary classic is beloved for its heartwarming portrayal of a family of sisters just trying to get by. There's love, laughter, heartache and so much more to enjoy. It's well worth a re-read, if it's been awhile.

'The Book of Longings' by Sue Monk Kidd

The Book of Longings
The Book of Longings

This moving story follows Ana, a young woman born to a wealthy Galilee family who expects her to marry an elderly widower. When she meets a young Jesus (yes, that one) her life changes forever. As Ana makes a home with Jesus, his brothers and his mother Mary, her brother Judas is busy stirring up resistance to the Roman occupation of Israel. It's a beautiful, vivid story.

'The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks' by Rebecca Skloot

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

The first “immortal” culture-grown human cells are still alive today and have been used to develop the polio vaccine and make strides in cancer research, but the woman from whom they were harvested without her knowledge was all but forgotten. That woman is named Henrietta Lacks, and this stunning book explores her story and her family's in this stunning true medical mystery.

'In the Time of the Butterflies' by Julia Alvarez

In The Time of The Butterflies
In The Time of The Butterflies

On November 25, 1960, the bodies of sisters Minerva, Patria and María Teresa are found near their wrecked Jeep at the bottom of a 150-foot cliff in the Dominican Republic. Official reports rule it an accident, but those who knew them — and their surviving fourth sister, Dedé — know better. The sisters were known as Las Mariposas, or The Butterflies. This is the gripping account of the sisters' campaign against brutal dictator General Rafael Leónidas Trujillo.

'Whose Names Are Unknown' by Sanora Babb

Whose Names are Unknown
Whose Names are Unknown

If all you know about dust bowl farmers during the Great Depression are a couple of iconic old photos, this novel based on a true story is a must-read. It follows the fictional Dunne family as they fight to survive in the Oklahoma Panhandle, sharing a cramped dugout and subsisting on little food and dreams for the future.

'The Neapolitan Novels' by Elena Ferrante

The Neapolitan Novels
The Neapolitan Novels

Stories about platonic relationships often take a backseat to tales of romantic love, but the bond between friends can be as strong and unbreakable as a marriage. This boxed set is an epic exploration of two women's long friendship, and it's a modern classic in the making.

'Giving Up the Ghost' by Hilary Mantel

Giving Up the Ghost
Giving Up the Ghost

"The story of my own childhood is a complicated sentence that I am always trying to finish, to finish and put behind me,” writes Mantel. The prize-winning author fell ill when she was 19 and endured years of misdiagnoses, misguided treatment and devastating surgery that left her infertile. This seminal memoir is widely regarded as one of the best out there, for good reason.

'Circe' by Madeline Miller

Circe
Circe

The family rivalry, royal intrigue and suspense that follows the daughter of Zeus after she's banished to a deserted island is enough to win over readers who may not be up on their mythology. It's a page-turning read on the power women can hold, even in a world run by men.

'Pride and Prejudice' by Jane Austen

Pride and Prejudice
Pride and Prejudice

A slew of adaptations of this 1813 classic have hit shelves over recent years, but nothing beats the original. If you haven't sunk your teeth into what well may be the original story about marrying for love instead of money, there's no time like the present.

'Ahab's Wife: or, The Star-Gazer" by Sena Jeter Naslund

Ahab's Wife or The Star-Gazer
Ahab's Wife or The Star-Gazer

You'll be locked into this one from the first line: "Captain Ahab was neither my first husband nor my last." Inspired by a passage in Moby Dick, this is a love story, a family saga and an adventure worth taking even if you've never read the original whale of a tale.

'Bright Young Women' by Jessica Knoll

Bright Young Women
Bright Young Women

You don't need to know the story behind the Ted Bundy murders to love this searing, fast-paced story about two women whose lives are forever altered by his heinous sorority house killing spree. It's a fascinating look at true crime and tabloid culture that's as thoughtful as it is gripping.

'The Women' by Kristin Hannah

The Women
The Women

Hannah again shines her light on overlooked women in history, this time the Army Nurse Corps who served in Vietnam. “Good girl” Frances “Frankie” McGrath follows her brother into war and finds confidence and purpose as a surgical nurse. (Her parents are less evolved, with her military father withholding a place for her on his Wall of Heroes.) The book is at its best when it focuses on the nurses in the evac hospital but doesn’t skirt the issues that plague military homecomings.

Related: PEOPLE’s Best Books to Read in February 2024: Savannah Guthrie’s Essay Collection and New Nonfiction from Sloane Crosley

'All That She Carried: The Journey of Ashley's Sack, a Black Family Keepsake' by Tiya Miles

All that She Carried
All that She Carried

Historian Miles traces the lives of an enslaved woman named Rose and her daughter Ashley, partly based on a cotton sack the mother gave to her daughter and Ashley's granddaughter Ruth later embroidered with their story. Hinging the story on scant archival records, everyday objects, art and the resourcefulness of family members to hold their own legacy where the official historical record falls short, it's a poignant, brilliant account.

'Marie Antoinette: The Journey' by Antonia Fraser

Marie Antoinette
Marie Antoinette

If your knowledge of Marie Antoinette starts and ends with "let them eat cake," dig into this dramatic tale of how a young girl from Vienna ended up the wife of Louis XVI and later, sent to the guillotine. Perfect for fans of regency dramas (Bridgerton, anyone?), it paints a complex portrait of the French queen.

Related: All Eight of Julia Quinn's 'Bridgerton' Novels, Ranked

'Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague' by Geraldine Brooks

Year of Wonders
Year of Wonders

This plague novel has taken on new significance since it first came out in 2001, but it remains spellbinding. Set over one year in an isolated 17th century English village, inhabitants turn from prayer to witch-hunting as their society all but crumbles. If that sounds a little too familiar, read on for the love story that binds it all together.

'Master Slave Husband Wife: An Epic Journey from Slavery to Freedom' by Ilyon Woo

Master Slave Husband Wife
Master Slave Husband Wife

In 1848, a young enslaved couple, Ellen and William Craft, posed as master and slave to pull off one of the most brazen feats of self-emancipation on record. Dodging slave traders, the military and Americans acting under the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, this is an amazing story of enduring love and three epic journeys toward freedom.

'Their Eyes Were Watching God' by Zora Neale Hurston

Their Eyes Were Watching God
Their Eyes Were Watching God

Some novels defy description, and this is one. Zadie Smith calls it "one of the very greatest American novels of the 20th century. It is so lyrical it should be sentimental; it is so passionate it should be overwrought, but it is instead a rigorous, convincing and dazzling piece of prose, as emotionally satisfying as it is impressive. There is no novel I love more."

'Carrie Soto is Back' by Carrie Jenkins Reid

Carrie Soto is Back
Carrie Soto is Back

By the time Carrie Soto retires from tennis, she's sacrificed almost everything to become the best player in the world. So six years later, when she watches from the stands of the 1994 U.S. Open as Nicki Chan shatters her record, it stings badly enough to force her out of retirement. An emotional, richly-painted novel that hews close to life, it's about what being a strong, independent woman really means — and what it doesn't.

'Never Caught' by Erica Armstrong Dunbar

Never Caught
Never Caught

When George Washington was elected president, he left his beloved Mount Vernon for Philadelphia, the nation's capital at the time. He brought with him eight enslaved people, including Ona Judge. In Pennsylvania, enslaved people had to be freed after six months of residency in the state. To circumvent the law, Washington sent Judge back South every six months instead to restart the clock. When the 22-year-old saw her chance at freedom, it set off an intense manhunt. This account of a woman history often forgets is a must-read for American history fans.

'H is for Hawk' by Helen MacDonald

H is for Hawk
H is for Hawk

After her father's death, Macdonald adopts a goshawk named Mabel, whose fierce temperament often reflects the author's own grief. It's a gorgeous memoir of loss and love, grief and moving through it and the pain of living that's essential reading for anyone dealing with loss.

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