When I’m not at work, I am a voracious reader and book blogger. I blame it on my mom. She read to me all the time as a child, and then read with me as I learned to read. She instilled in me a life-long a love of words and books. #SheiswhyIRead. In celebration of Women’s History Month, I thought I would share five recommendations of non-fiction books by or about women who have led extraordinary lives- these #womenwhoinspire
The Radium Girls by Kate Moore recounts the story of factory girls post WW1 who were exposed to lethal doses radium as part of their jobs and without adequate protections. When they began to fall horrifically, terribly ill, the factories ignored the plight of the women and refused to admit any culpability. The women fought back and, in the process, helped enact life-changing regulations and ultimately saved thousands and thousands of lives.
The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II by Denise Kiernan. Kiernan profiles several women from all different backgrounds who came to Oak Ridge, TN, looking for a good job and a way to contribute to the war effort. Oak Ridge was created by the US Government to house the men and women who would be building the atomic bomb. Of course, most people in Oak Ridge had no idea what they were manufacturing. You did your job, only your job, and you talked about it with no one. You didn’t need to know the step before; what happened after your part didn’t matter.
Jobs like this, coming out of the Depression and for women, were few and far between and this was a rare opportunity for most of these ladies. A handful were highly educated and for once their knowledge and skills were sought after. Yet life at Oak Ridge certainly wasn’t posh and easy, and cultural issues like racial discrimination existed on base as they did in the real world. One of the most intriguing aspects of the book to me was the reaction from people who had contributed to building this bomb once they found out what the bomb was and how it was used in Japan. The Girls of the Atomic City offers a glimpse into a piece of history we’ve not seen the likes of in my lifetime.
Malala Yousafzai’s memoir, I Am Malala. When I started reading I Am Malala I began telling friends, almost immediately, that everyone should read this book. We know the news cycle details- that the Taliban boarded Malala’s school bus and shot her in the head simply because she dared to seek an education in defiance of Taliban rule. What the book gives us beyond that is insight into the Pashtun culture and details about how the Taliban came to power in Pakistan. It also highlights the value of education, and the embodiment of true courage.
Drop the Act, It’s Exhausting!: Free Yourself from Your So-Called Put-Together Life In her 2015 release, Beth Thomas Cohen shared her mission to empower women to stop pretending everything is perfect and embrace all the wonderful messiness of our lives. It isn’t really a new message, but it is told in a vibrant “write like you talk” style that makes it an entertaining read.
You should read this book because it celebrates our imperfections. It calls us on our BS. It reminds us to be open-minded and maybe a little nicer and not quite so judgmental. This is my favorite passage from the book:
“How is it a daring greatly moment to stop hoping? Because when you stop hoping for
something, you are actually choosing to believe in yourself and in your own power to make things happen. Wow, to believe in yourself- no doubts, no act necessary, just you and your goal? Is there anything more daring than that?”
The Astronaut Wives Club by Lily Koppel. Most of us are familiar with Alan Shepard, John Glenn, and Neil Armstrong, but The Astronaut Wives Club tells the story of the women standing by the men. These women were thrust into sudden fame as the space program exploded. And NASA was selling an image. The wives were expected to conform to it. Yet life behind the ideal family image was often far from perfect.
Much like First Ladies, the Astronaut Wives were a pretty exclusive club- there simply weren’t that many other people who truly understood what they were going through as their husbands pioneered space exploration- and all the glory and danger that came with it.
Koppel doesn’t whitewash the story. A number of these marriages were far from perfect. The Wives’ partnership with LIFE magazine provided a better living to the astronaut families than did the US government. If an astronaut was killed, there wasn’t a good safety net, except for the other wives who dropped everything to go wait with one another when bad news was coming.