Ms. Readers’ Choice: Top 100 Non-Fiction Books?

Time’s recent article on the 100 best non-fiction reads got us Ms. bloggers thinking about what we’d put on our own list. Time included a respectable number of arguable feminist classics such as Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective’s Our Bodies, Ourselves, Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique, Margaret Mead’s Coming of Age in Samoa and Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth, but, as we all know, feminist women have a lot more to say. That’s where you come in. We invite our trusty Ms. blog readers to speak up and help us create a top 100 best feminist non-fiction reads. Participate below by writing in the comments section, or vote on our list at Goodreads. We’ll post our “official” list in two weeks’ time.

And here are my (decidedly subjective) picks to get it started:

  1. Women, Race and Class by Angela Y. Davis: This book really opened my eyes to historic struggles over basic women’s rights such as suffrage and access to birth control. Davis’ careful attention to class issues is rare and is reason enough to crack the book.I could go on and on about this one.
  2. Frida Kahlo: Face to Face by Judy Chicago: As Chicago put it, “although there have been so many books about [Kahlo], there has never been a systematic analysis of her themes and her subject matter.” She leaves behind the cartoony myth-making and delivers a comprehensive look at Kahlo’s oeuvre.
  3. The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir: Talk about a founding mother. If you can make it through this exhaustive philosophical tome, it will forever change the way you think about what it means to be a woman in society.
  4. Marilyn by Gloria Steinem: Steinem dedicated this book to “the real Marilyn. And to the reality in all of us.” Then she plumbs Norma Jeane’s psyche for a feminist reframing of her relationships and career motivations that is both warm-hearted and refreshing. And there’s no skeevy list of all her alleged sexual trysts. Take that, Norman Mailer!
  5. Out of the Vinyl Deeps by Ellen Willis: This book collects essays from the New Yorker’s first-ever pop-music writer, who happened to be a woman, as well as a founding member of the radical feminist group Redstockings. (Radical feminist rocker girls are just too rare for my tastes.) In his forward to Out of the Vinyl Deeps, current critic Sasha Frere-Jones excellently described Willis as “unbiddable.” I.e., she made her own rules.

What books are your feminist non-fiction favorites? Add your picks to the comments below or to our list at Goodreads.

Photo from Flickr user Spirit-Fire under Creative Commons 2.0.


  1. Any book of Sappho’s poetry.

    Mary Wollstonecraft, A Revolutionary Life by Janet Todd

    The Singing Creek Where the Willows Grow by Opal Whiteley

    Ariel by Sylvia Plath

    The Country Between Us by Carolyn Forche

    The Gold Cell by Sharon Olds

    A Crazy Occupation, Eyewitness to the Intifada by Jamie Tarabay

    Band of Sisters, American Women at War in Iraq by Kirsten Holmstedt

  2. In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens by Alice Walker and The World Has Changed: Conversations with Alice Walker edited by Rudolph Byrd

    Words of Fire: An Anthology of African American Feminist Thought edited by Beverly Guy Sheftall

    Sisters of the Yam by bell hooks

    Sister Outsider and Zami: A New Spelling of My Name by Audre Lorde

    How to Suppress Women’s Writing by Joanna Russ

  3. Full frontal feminism by Jessica Valenti. That book was my “click” moment. It was like I had a feeling something was wrong with society all my life – and Valenti’s words shook me. It made me the awesome feminist I am today. <3

    • Esther Essinger says:

      Brava, Brava – I know that feeling – “Sisterhood is Powerful” (ed. Robin Morgan) in what – 1971? was what brought this moment to me.
      Thank you for being an awesome feminist! As another awesome feminist/woman/mother/grandmother/artist/writer/Goddesswoman/human beings – I thank you!

    • Me too. I love Jessica.

  4. Backlash, by Susan Faludi.

  5. Judith Butler – Gender Trouble: feminism and the subversion of identity

  6. Susan Faludi, Backlash

    Uta Ranke-Heineman, Eunuchs for the Kingdom of Heaven

    Joanna Russ, What Are We Fighting For?

    –and perhaps most importantly:

    Joanna Russ, How To Suppress Women’s Writing

  7. Bananas, Beaches and Bases by Cynthia Enloe

  8. Whipping Girl, by Julia Serano

    Self-Made Man, by Norah Vincent

    The Beauty Myth, by Naomi Wolf

  9. Women, Resistance and Revolution (1972) and Hidden from History (1974)

    Sheila Rowbotham

    The UK socialist/feminist connection.

  10. Delusions of Gender by Cordelia Fine

  11. Backlash – Susan Faludi

    Gender Outlaw – Kate Bornstein

    Borderlands – Gloria Anzaldua

    Savage Beauty: The Life of Edna St. Vincent Millay – Nancy Milford

  12. Bodies by Susie Orbach

    • Yes! Love Bodies! I can’t say enough about that book and how it simultaneously confirmed and yet radicalized all notions I had about our relationships with our bodies.

  13. How to Suppress Women’s Writing — Joanna Russ

    The Politics of Reality — Marilyn Frye

    Making Face, Making Soul/Haciendo Caras — Gloria Anzaldua, ed.

    The Dialectic of Sex — Shulamith Firestone

    Rebellion — Minnie Bruce Pratt

    A Restricted Country — Joan Nestle

  14. and one more…

    Skin — Dorothy Allison

  15. “Manifesta: Young Women, Feminism, and the Future” by Jennifer Baumgardner

    “Cunt: A Declaration of Independence” by Inga Muscio

    EVERYTHING by bell hooks.

    “A Vindication of the Rights of Women” -Mary Wollstonecraft

  16. The Creation of Patriarchy- Gerda Lerner

  17. Why so slow? by Virginia Valian

  18. I really enjoyed “Colonize This” by Daisy Hernandez and Bushra Rehman – it goes beyond feminist issues to show the struggle between race and feminism.

    “Manifesta” by Jennifer Baumgardner and Amy Richards is really good as well.

  19. Reading Lolita in Tehran – Azar Nafisi

  20. Sara Clarke says:

    Sisterhood is Powerful – Robin Morgan (ed)

    The Equality Illusion – Kat Banyard

    Living Dolls – Natasha Walter

    Pornland – Gail Dines

    Wifework – Susan Maushart

    Counting for Nothing – Madelyn Waring

    Reclaiming the F-word – Catherine Redfern and Kristin Aune

  21. Loving in the War Years by Cherrie Moraga.

  22. Woman Native Other – Trinh T Minh Ha

    The Ernies Book: 1000 terrible things Australian men have said about women – Meredith Burgmann Yvette Andrews (no feminist talk as such, just a lot of horrid things Aussie men have said which keeps the anger burning for me, and something to point to when I come across the “no oppression in the West” argument).

    The End of Equality – Anne Summers (another Aussie read)

    Only Words – Catherine MacKinnon

    The Dialectic of Sex – Shulamith Firestone

    The Beauty Myth – Naomi Wolf

  23. If Women Counted by Marilyn Waring

  24. Black Feminist Politics from Kennedy to Obama

  25. Get to Work…and Get a Life Before It’s Too Late by Linda Hirshman

    Fight Like a Girl by Megan Seely

    Paradoxes of Gender by Judith Lorber

    Jane Sexes It Up: True Confessions of Feminist Desire by Merri Lisa Johnson

    How the Pro-Choice Movement Saved America by Cristina Page

  26. I really enjoyed Female Chauvinist Pigs by Ariel Levy and Living Dolls by Natasha Walter.

  27. Maternal Thinking – Sara Ruddick

    Manifesta – Jennifer Baumgardner & Amy Richards

    Pink Think – Lynn Peril

    How the Pro-Choice Movement Saved America – Cristina Page

  28. Big Girls don’t Cry by Rebecca Traister

  29. America’s Women by Gail Collins (a Leslie Knope supported book of great interest, highlighting strong women throughout the history of the U.S…a MUST read!)

    Helen of Troy by Bettany Hughes (a fantastic look at the real Helen of Troy and essentially debunking the idealized version we all know and hate into one that’s less of a victim and more of a warrior woman)

    Women Warriors by David E. Jones (though not well-written at all, the content is highly fascinating and a great starting point for the capability of women doing what men can do)

  30. Woman, an Intimate Geography by Natalie Angiers

  31. Staying Alive: Women, Ecology and Development by Vandana Shiva.

  32. You forgot Maya Angelou!!

  33. Esther Essinger says:

    Riane Eisler’s “The Chalice and the Blade” is essential reading for an understanding of patriarchy and how to put it out of its misery.

    Dr. Phyllis Chesler’s “Women and Madness” and “Woman’s Inhumanity to Woman”.

    Kate Millett’s “Sexual Politics”.

    Hallie Iglehart Austen’s “The Heart of the Goddess.”

    So many magnificent books, too many to list – how great is that!

  34. Most of my favorites have already been listed, either in the main article or in the comments. But here’s one book that has not yet been mentioned:

    Feminism is for Everybody by bell hooks

    (well, one person did suggest “EVERYTHING by bell hooks” but I think this book deserves a specific mention)

  35. Manifesta: Young Women, Feminism and the Future by Jennifer Baumgardner and Amy Richards!!!

  36. The Story of Jane Doe – by Jane Doe

  37. “I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou

    “The Second Sex” by Simone DeBeauvoir – changed my life when I read it 47 years ago.

  38. Linda D'Amato says:

    Sisterhood is Powerful….Robin Morgan

  39. Sappho Was a Right-On Woman, Abbott and Love

    Sexual Politics, Kate Millett

    Borderlands/La Frontera, Gloria Anzaldua

    Radical Feminism, Ann Koedt

    The Groundings of Modern Feminism, Nancy Cott

  40. No Turning Back- Estelle Freedman

    Inside the Gender Jihad- Amina Wadud

    Women, Race and Class- Angela Davis

  41. Body panic: gender, health and the selling of fitness by shari l dworkin and faye linda wachs

    The hungry self and the obsession by susan bordo

    Landscape for a good woman by carolyn steedman

    Female sexualization by figga haug

    Pink ribbons inc. By samantha king

    • *the hungry self and the obession are by KIM CHERNIN!….

      susan bordo wrote unbearbale weight: feminism, western culture and the body.. also great!

  42. Moving Beyond Words or Revolution from Within by Gloria Steinem. And I’m also a fan of a deceptively fun book called Where the Girls Are: Growing Up Female with the Mass Media by Susan J. Douglas.

  43. The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination by Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar.

  44. My Dangerous Desires by Amber Hollibaugh. I read that in conjunction with Skin by Dorothy Allison and the pair of them changed me forever.

  45. A History of Their Own – 2 volumes by Bonnie S Anderson and Judith P Zinsser

  46. The Dance of Anger by Harriet Lerner – or any of her awesome books. Not explicitly marketed as feminist, but she’s a pioneering feminist psychologist who penetrated the mainstream and made “being” feminist accessible and understandable. She’s one of the main influences to my own feminism. Love me some Harriet Lerner!

  47. ‘The Dance of Deception: A Guide to Authenticity and Truth-Telling in Women’s Relationships’ is another by Harriet Lerner. Love it.

  48. Reading Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls was my feminist “click” moment. It opened my eyes to how much our culture is misogynistic.

  49. Great collection of feminist non-fiction books. I’m reading “Women, Race and Class” that covers historic struggles over basic women’s rights. I’m very impressed reading this book. I’ll suggest to everyone reading it who takes interest in reading books.

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