Scholar, activist, provocateur, teacher, community-builder, inspiration: No one word can span the career of bell hooks or capture how much we love her work. According to Ms. readers’ selections of the best feminist non-fiction of all time, she’s your favorite writer, with three books in our top ten–including number one–and a total of seven books throughout the list. To judge by the final picks, issues of work, sex and intersectionality ranked highest among our reader’s feminist concerns.
Below the top ten, we’ve included a handy list of all 100. These rankings came from two-and-a-half weeks of reader voting on Goodreads, the Ms. Blog and Facebook (see bottom for more methodological details). Eager to hear your thoughts, disputes and favorites!
10. The Purity Myth: How America’s Obsession with Virginity is Hurting Young Women
by Jessica Valenti
Seal Press, 2009
Jessica Valenti combats a nation’s virginity complex, arguing that myths about “purity” are damaging to both girls and women. She points the way forward toward a world where women are perceived as more than vessels of chastity. Find it here.
9. Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center
by bell hooks
South End Press, 1985
Cementing her place as one of the most influential feminist theorists, hooks’ Feminist Theory explores Kimberle Crenshaw’s conversation-changing idea of intersectionality: the way racism, classism and sexism work together to foster oppression. Find it here.
8. Ain’t I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism
by bell hooks
South End Press, 1999
Named after the famous speech by Sojourner Truth, this must-read by bell hooks discusses black women’s struggle with U.S. racism and sexism since the time of slavery and doesn’t shirk from how white middle- and upper-class feminists have at times failed poor and non-white women. Find it here.
7. Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture
by Ariel Levy
Free Press, 2005
What do phenomena such as Girls Gone Wild say about feminism? This book looks at the ways women today make sex objects of themselves, and she’s not impressed. She chews out false “empowerment” based on self-objectification and offers feminist alternatives. Find it here.
6. Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women
by Susan Faludi
This landmark book sounded the alarm about a pervasive backlash against feminism. She painstakingly refutes each insidious anti-feminist argument–for instance, that feminism is responsible for a supposed epidemic of unhappiness in women. What’s really wrong, she says, is that equality hasn’t been achieved; in fact, the struggle has only just begun. Find it here.
5. Nickel and Dimed
by Barbara Ehrenreich
Metropolitan Books, 2001
Long-time Ms. columnist Barbara Ehrenreich posed undercover as a low-income worker to gain material for this empathetic portrait of how the bottom half lives. She reveals that simply making ends meet is a silent struggle for many Americans, especially for women with families to support. Find it here.
4. A Room of One’s Own
by Virginia Woolf
Harcourt Brace, 1929
This classic from the 1920s makes a devastatingly eloquent argument with a simple takeaway: For a women artist to thrive, she must have space in which to work and some money for her efforts. Find it here.
3. Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches
by Audre Lorde
Crossing Press, 1984
This master work by Audre Lorde, a Caribbean American lesbian feminist writer, collects her prose from the late 70s and early 80s. Many of these pieces made feminist history, including her candid dialogue with Adrienne Rich about race and feminism, her oft-quoted critique of academia “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House” and her Open Letter to Mary Daly. Find it here.
2. Cunt: A Declaration of Independence
by Inga Muscio
Seal Press 2002
Inga Muscio’s 2002 feminist manifesto radicalized a new generation. She argues for the reclaiming of the tarnished word cunt, and discusses her personal experiences with self-protection, sex work, abortion and solidarity. Find it here.
1. Feminism is For Everybody: Passionate Politics
by bell hooks
South End Press, 2000
Fittingly, in Ms. readers’ favorite feminist book of all time, bell hooks argues that feminism is for everybody, regardless of race, gender or creed. She urges all to live a feminism that finds commonality across differences and makes room for impassioned debate. Find it here.
Here are the rest of our readers’ picks! Click on the links to each ten for more detailed descriptions.
11. Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World Without Rape by Jaclyn Friedman and Jessica Valenti Find it here.
12. The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir Find it here.
13. Full Frontal Feminism: A Young Woman’s Guide to Why Feminism Matters by Jessica Valenti Find it here.
14. Our Bodies, Ourselves by the Boston Women’s Health Collective Find it here.
15. Havana Real by Yoani Sánchez Find it here.
16. Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity by Julia Serano Find it here.
17. The Vagina Monologues by Eve Ensler Find it here.
18. Persepolis 1 & 2 — The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi. Find it here and here.
19. The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty Are Used Against Women by Naomi Wolf Find it here.
20. The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan Find it here.
21. Manifesta: Young Women, Feminism, and the Future by Jennifer Baumgardner and Amy Richards Find it here.
22. This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color by Cherrie Moraga and Gloria Anzaldua, editors Find it here.
23. When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present by Gail Collins Find it here.
24. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou Find it here.
25. Sexual Politics by Kate Millett Find it here.
26. Moving Beyond Words: Age, Rage, Sex, Power, Money, Muscles: Breaking the Boundries of Gender by Gloria Steinem Find it here.
27. Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza by Gloria Anzaldua Find it here.
28. A Vindication of the Rights of Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft Find it here.
29. Colonize This!: Young Women of Color on Today’s Feminism coedited by Daisy Hernandez and Bushra Rehman Find it here.
30. How the Pro-Choice Movement Saved America: Freedom, Politics, And the War on Sex by Cristina Page Find it here.
31. Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity by Judith Butler Find it here.
32. Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn Find it here.
33. Feminism and Pop Culture by Andi Zeisler Find it here.
34. Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions by Gloria Steinem Find it here.
35. Women, Race & Class by Angela Y. Davis Find it here.
36. Gender Outlaw: On Men, Women and the Rest of Us by Kate Bornstein Find it here.
37. Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls by Mary Pipher Find it here.
38. Girls to the Front: The True Story of the Riot Grrrl Revolution by Sara Marcus Find it here.
39. Fat Is a Feminist Issue by Susie Orbach Find it here.
40. Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment by Patricia Hill Collins Find it here.
41. Zami: A New Spelling of My Name by Audre Lorde Find it here.
42. Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution by Adrienne Rich Find it here.
43. Learning to Drive: And Other Life Stories by Katha Pollitt Find it here.
44. The Means of Reproduction: Sex, Power, and the Future of the World by Michelle Goldberg Find it here.
45. Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel Find it here.
46. Staying Alive: Women, Ecology and Development by Vandana Shiva Find it here.
47. How to Suppress Women’s Writing by Joanna Russ Find it here.
48. The Dialectic of Sex: The Case for Feminist Revolution by Shulamith Firestone Find it here.
49. The Color of Violence: The Incite! Anthology by INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence Find it here.
50. Communion: The Female Search for Love by bell hooks Find it here.
51. The Chalice and the Blade: Our History, Our Future by Riane Eisler Find it here.
52. The Creation of Patriarchy by Gerda Lerner Find it here.
53. Jane Sexes It Up: True Confessions of Feminist Desire by Merri Lisa Johnson, editor Find it here.
54. Revolution from Within: A Book of Self-Esteem by Gloria Steinem Find it here.
55. Big Girls Don’t Cry: The Election that Changed Everything for American Women by Rebecca Traister Find it here.
56. America’s Women: 400 Years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates, and Heroines by Gail Collins Find it here.
57. Feminism FOR REAL: Deconstructing the Academic Industrial Complex of Feminism by Jessica Yee, editor Find it here.
58. This Common Secret: My Journey as an Abortion Doctor by Susan Wicklund Find it here.
59. Nobody Passes: Rejecting the Rules of Gender and Conformity by Matthew (Mattilda) Bernstein Sycamore, editor Find it here.
60. Wounds of Passion: A Writing Life by bell hooks Find it here.
61. Against Our Will: Men, Women, and Rape by Susan Brownmiller Find it here.
62. Conquest: Sexual Violence and American Indian Genocide by Andrea Smith Find it here.
63. I am an Emotional Creature: The Secret Life of Girls Around the World by Eve Ensler Find it here.
64. Assata: An Autobiography by Assata Shakur Find it here.
65. The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe v. Wade by Ann Fessler Find it here.
66. Stone Butch Blues by Leslie Feinberg Find it here.
67. Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty by Dorothy Roberts Find it here.
68. Women Don’t Ask: Negotiation and the Gender Divide by Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever Find it here.
69. Outlaw Culture by bell hooks Find it here.
70. Feminists Theorize the Political by Judith Butler and Joan Wallach Scott, editors Find it here.
71. Manhood for Amateurs by Michael Chabon Find it here.
72. The Sacred Hoop: Recovering the Feminine in American Indian Traditions by Paula Gunn Allen Find it here.
73. The War on Choice: The Right-Wing Attack on Women’s Rights and How to Fight Back by Gloria Feldt Find it here.
74. The Less Noble Sex: Scientific, Religious, and Philosophical Conceptions of Woman’s Nature by Nancy Tuana Find it here.
75. A Woman Speaks: The Lectures, Seminars and Interviews of Anaïs Nin by Evelyn Hinz, editor Find it here.
76. This Bridge We Call Home: Radical Visions for Transformation by Gloria Anzaldúa and AnaLouise Keating, editors Find it here.
77. Tough Girls: Women Warriors and Wonder Women in Popular Culture by Sherrie A. Inness Find it here.
78. Reality Bites Back: The Troubling Truth About Guilty Pleasure TV by Jennifer L. Pozner Find it here.
79. The Great Women Superheroes by Trina Robbins Find it here.
80. Sisterhood is Powerful: An Anthology of Writings from the Women’s Liberation Movement by Robin Morgan, editor Find it here.
81. Living Dolls: The Return of Sexism by Natasha Walter Find it here.
82. In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens by Alice Walker Find it here.
83. Unbearable Weight by Susan Bordo Find it here.
84. Sisters of the Yam by bell hooks Find it here.
85. The Work of a Common Woman: The Collected Poetry of Judy Grahn, 1964-1977 by Judy Grahn Find it here.
86. Myths of Gender: Biological Theories About Women And Men by Anne Fausto-Sterling Find it here.
87. When God Was a Woman by Merlin Stone Find it here.
88. Marriage Confidential: The Post-Romantic Age of Workhorse Wives, Royal Children, Undersexed Spouses and Rebel Couples Who Are Rewriting the Rules by Pamela Haag Find it here.
89. The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory by Carol J. Adams Find the 20th anniversary edition here.
90. Cinderella Ate My Daughter by Peggy Orenstein Find it here.
91. Talking from 9 to 5: Women and Men at Work by Deborah Tannen Find it here.
92. Reading Women: How the Great Books of Feminism Changed My Life by Stephanie Staal
Find it here.
93. James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon by Julie Phillips Find it here.
94. Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America by Melissa Harris-Perry Find it here.
95. Mysteries of the Middle Ages: The Rise of Feminism, Science & Art from the Cults of Catholic Europe by Thomas Cahill Find it here.
96. In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women’s Development by Carol Gilligan Find it here.
97. Bitches, Bimbos, and Ballbreakers: The Guerrilla Girls’ Illustrated Guide to Female Stereotypes
by Guerilla Girls Find it here.
98. Century of Struggle: The Women’s Rights Movement in the United States by Eleanor Flexner Find it here.
99. Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers: A History of Lesbian Life in Twentieth-Century America by Lillian Faderman Find it here.
100. The Body Project: An Intimate History of American Girls by Joan Jacobs Brumberg Find it here.
How we did it (our pseudo-scientific methodology): After calling for nominations on September 9, 2011, we counted all reader picks that appeared on the Ms. Blog, Ms. Facebook page or Goodreads list before noon on September 25, 2011. To break ties, we went first by whether books got votes on multiple platforms, then by Goodreads rank. (Don’t be fooled by the current order of the Goodreads list–thanks to all the other votes, the final list differs significantly.)
Many thanks to Cortney Rock, Sarah Richardson, Holly Derr, Jessica Stites and Mimi Seldner, who contributed long hours to this project!