Ten of the best biographies and autobiographies of amazing women

From warriors to queens, activists to scientists – over the last couple of millennia, amazing women have been proving that they can be all of these and more.

The stories of how these incredible women have changed – and continue to change – the world we live in serve as a timely reminder that if we are determined enough, we can do much more than we might think possible.

Dip into one of these inspirational biographies and autobiographies next time you need a little reminder that you can do amazing things too.

Unbowed by Wangari Maathai

Unbowed

Unbowed is Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai’s autobiography. Brought up in a rural Kenyan village, Wangari became the first woman to earn a doctorate in biology in East Africa. Delve into her work on environmental and women’s issues if you’re in need of a little uplift.

Geisha of Gion: The True Story of Japan’s Foremost Geisha by Mineko Iwasaki

Geisha of Gion

Feel like you’re stuck in a rut? Mineko describes the extraordinary true story of her life as a traditional Japanese geisha, tracing her experiences all the way from her earliest memories (moving into a geisha house at the age of four) to her ultimate decision to leave the ‘gloriously rewarding’ life she came to find ‘too constricting to continue’.

I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai and Christina Lamb

I Am Malala

Yes, this is the story of the teenage girl who stood up for education and was shot by the Taliban. Don’t believe one woman has the power to make a difference? Read this.

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Becoming by Michelle Obama

Becoming

Unerringly entertaining but also refreshingly candid, this insightful memoir traces the former First Lady’s journey from the south side of Chicago to the White House. Her secret? ‘Equal parts patience and rigour.’ Noted.

Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff

Cleopatra

Over the course of four (very) eventful decades, this infamous Egyptian ruler changed the world. But according to biographer Stacy Schiff, she’s gone down in history for all the wrong reasons. It’s time to sort the fact from the fiction.

Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman by Robert K. Massie

Catherine the Great

Born a minor German noble, Catherine the Great became Empress of Russia thanks to ‘sheer determination’. This is the exhilarating story of the woman described as one of the greatest rulers of all time.

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Eleanor of Aquitaine: By the Wrath of God, Queen of England by Alison Weir

Eleanor of Aquitaine

One of the most controversial women of the Middle Ages, Eleanor married Louis VII of France and Henry II of England, giving birth to Richard the Lionheart and King John. Historian Alison Weir retells the heartening tale of her triumphs over adversity.

Enchantress of Numbers by Jennifer Chiaverini

Enchantress of Numbers

This biographical novel tells the story of Ada Lovelace. You might not have heard of her, but if you couldn’t live without your smartphone, in a way you have her to thank. The daughter of Lord Byron made enormous contributions to science and technology and has even been described as the world’s first computer programmer.

The Glass Universe: How the Ladies of the Harvard Observatory Took the Measure of the Stars by Dava Sobel

The Glass Universe

This fascinating read charts the lives of a group of women who were employed as ‘human computers’ to work at the Harvard College Observatory during the 19th century, and the extraordinary, but largely unsung, contributions they made to the field of astronomy.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

The first volume of Maya Angelou’s collection of autobiographies is a classic for a reason. In this book, she stirringly describes the world of her childhood and her experiences of growing up with her grandmother in the American South during the 1930s. Need a bit of a metaphorical kick into action? This tale will give you heart – and guts.