From memoirs written by iconic actors to manifestos by change-making activists, there is a wide range of books about female empowerment that showcase inspiring women and their incredible lives.
The stories of how these incredible women have changed – and continue to change – the world we live in serve as a timely reminder of the importance of drive, determination and passion. These thought-provoking and important reads belong on any best books list because they allow readers to learn more about the lives of some inspirational women, from Malala Yousafzai to Tarana Burke and Gloria Steinem.
Our list covers influential books of the past alongside more modern offerings, full of inspirational quotes by strong women, important lessons and courage.
Best biographies and empowering books written by women to read in 2023
Tara Westover was brought up in a survivalist Mormon family, who isolated their children from outside influences and institutions such as schools, hospitals, and progressive social attitudes. As she grows up and becomes more intrigued by the outside world, Westover finds she aches for a formal education, and later attends the University of Cambridge, going on to complete her PhD. An inspiring tale of resilience and hope, Westover’s memoir argues for the importance of education and explores the challenges involved in leaving behind a past life.
From her days as a Playboy bunny and her career-defining role in Baywatch, Pamela Anderson was one of the biggest stars of the ‘90s, and remains a cultural icon today. However, she has rarely been given the chance to tell her life story from her perspective, without society deciding for themselves who she is. In 2023 this changed, with the release of Anderson’s Netflix documentary Pamela, A Love Story and her accompanying memoir, Love, Pamela, which traces her journey from a small Canadian town to a life of stardom, through her oft-tumultuous marriages and her impressive work as an activist.
Known for her roles in iconic movies such as Cruel Intentions and Legally Blonde, here Selma Blair writes of her complex and eventful life, from her struggles with alcohol addiction to her recent multiple sclerosis diagnosis. With a title borne from the nickname she was given as a toddler due to her perpetual frown, Blair’s memoir is shocking, courageous and inspiring.
Known for her decades-long acting career and her hilarious honesty, Miriam Margolyes finally tells her life story in this surprising, riotous and inspirational memoir. From her early days in the Cambridge Footlights to her famous roles in Harry Potter and The Age of Innocence, Margolyes delves into her past with warmth and wit.
When she was a victim of sexual assault in the landmark Brock Turner case that shook the world and prompted then-Vice President Joe Biden to send her an open letter, Chanel Miller was known as Jane Doe throughout the highly publicized trial. Determined to write her own story, Miller released her memoir Know My Name, in which she fights for agency and reclaims her identity after it was taken from her during the trial. An inspirational, profound and empowering read.
Michelle Yeonmi Park bravely recounts her experiences growing up in North Korea, escaping from the repression she faced in the country before meeting an even darker fate, and finally finding her way to freedom. Now a human rights activist, Park’s memoir is heart-breaking yet full of hope, with her resilience shining through.
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.’ An international bestseller and one of the best book club books, Becoming sees Michelle reflecting on her incredible life with honesty and humour. Followed by 2022’s manifesto The Light We Carry, this inspirational memoir was an instant classic for a reason.
In the 1960s, before Neil Armstrong became the first person to walk on the moon, a group of Black women mathematicians for NASA calculated the equations that would help launch the rockets to get him there, and the flight paths that would enable the historic achievement. Segregated from their white colleagues and largely unrecognized for their contributions, the women worked as ‘human computers’ and overcame discrimination in the workplace - this is the story of how they did it and what came next.
Henrietta Lacks may not be a name known by everyone, but her contribution to the world of medicine and science was enormous. After cervical cancer cells were taken from Lacks without her consent, the HeLa cell line, named after Lacks, went on to be widely-used for scientific research, aiding years of research into different areas of medicine, including the formulation of life-saving vaccines. Rebecca Skloot’s account of Lacks’ life and the impact she unwittingly had on the world is fascinating, and was later made into a film starring Oprah Winfrey.
After winning the Booker prize in 2019 with her hugely successful experimental novel Girl, Woman, Other, writer and activist Bernadine Evaristo tells the story of how she rose from obscurity to center-stage, inspiring readers to stay true to their vision and refuse to give up in the face of adversity and hurdles. Manifesto is a guide for resilience and resistance.
While it’s most often considered to have began in 2017, the Me Too movement was actually founded in 2006 by activist Tarana Burke, inspired by her desire to support women and girls who have suffered from sexual abuse and harassment. Unbound is the invigorating story of Burke’s upbringing and her tireless activism, in which her bravery, courage and determination is awe-inspiring.
Cheryl Strayed’s memoir is an expansive, highly-detailed look at her life, weaving between scenes of her childhood and the account of her grueling, demanding and rewarding 1,100-mile hike across a section of the Pacific Crest Trail, California in 1995. After losing her beloved mother and getting divorced at a young age, Strayed - who went on to write the popular advice column Dear Sugar - decides to embark on the notoriously challenging and solitary journey with no prior hiking experience. Unique, thoughtful and heart-wrenching, you’ll want to reread this bestselling memoir before you’ve even reached the last page.
Recounting her journey from growing up in Rhode Island to landing her first roles as an actor in New York, Viola Davis writes her memoir with candor and vulnerability. Aiming to inspire readers to harness their own creativity, passion and drive, Davis tells the story of her incredible life in a refreshingly honest way.
In this inspiring manifesto, podcast host and presenter Angela Scanlon provides her tips for stepping back and appreciating the little things in life. Recognising that modern culture so often encourages us to strive for things we don’t have, Scanlon suggests focusing on what we do have, arguing that being mindful and practicing gratitude can change our lives for the better.
Doyle’s third memoir explains how she left behind a marriage and a life of addiction, as well as meeting the love of her life and the journey she went on to co-parent her children, learning more about herself on the way. Part memoir and part manifesto, Untamed provides its readers with the tools to, as Doyle says, ‘stop pleasing, start living’.
Using fifteen years of interviews and research, historian Jane Sherron de Hart recounts the incredible life of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the late lawyer and jurist who was only the second woman to be appointed to the Supreme Court. After changing and creating multiple laws which fought for women’s rights and abortion rights especially, Bader Ginsburg is considered one of the most influential feminist figures of all time. This biography is an intimate portrayal of the change-maker, tracing her inspirational life and career.
Written in an experimental, unique prose, Roxane Gay’s Hunger is an intimate, raw portrayal of her life and upbringing, as she explores what it means to be overweight in a culture that denigrates bigger bodies. Narrating difficult stories from her past with vulnerability and sometimes dark humor, Gay provides a portrayal of womanhood which is inspiring, complex and thought-provoking.
In this inspiring memoir and manifesto for change, retail consultant Mary Portas writes of how she climbed the ladder to further her successful career by suppressing her natural, creative instincts. Encouraging her readers to ‘work like a woman’ instead, Portas argues for a sensitive, community-focused approach to working life that enables a healthy relationship with our careers, and avoids burnout from work.
From her time reporting undercover as a Playboy bunny to co-founding Ms. magazine, Gloria Steinem was widely recognised as the leader of the second-wave feminism movement, and remains a truly change-making feminist and activist. My Life on the Road is Steinem’s account of her unique upbringing, her early career as a journalist in the 1960s to her ground-breaking activism in the 1970s and beyond, and an ode to the joys of travel.
Activist Malala Yousafzai is one of the most influential figures in the fight for a woman’s right to equal education; after campaigning in this fight, she was shot at point-blank range while coming home from school when she was just 15. Surviving the attack and going on to become the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, here Yousafzai tells her story, which is one of unimaginable bravery and resilience.
One of the most revered writers of her time, Toni Morrison famously claimed she would never write a memoir - The Source of Self-Regard is instead a collection of speeches, essays and letters written by the trailblazing literary figure. In this provocative book, Morrison examines social and cultural ideologies as well as taking a critical look at some of her own work.
Malorie Blackman was rejected by publishers 82 times for her first manuscript, but was determined not to give up, and eventually became one of the most celebrated children’s authors of her time, best known for her science-fiction series Noughts and Crosses. Written with an infectious enthusiasm for life, Blackman’s memoir details her upbringing, her celebrated career as a writer and the resilience and perseverance it took to get her there.
Frustrated by the lack of representation she noticed when it came to Black motherhood, journalist Candice Brathwaite resolved to write this guide to life as a Black mother. Encouraging her readers to write their own rules when it comes to parenting, Brathwaite shares advice and stories from her life with honesty, humor and passion.
Eat, Pray, Love sees writer Elizabeth Gilbert embark on a year-long solo trip around the world, after a painful divorce. The memoir is told in three parts, with ‘Eat’ documenting her months in Italy, ‘Pray’ following her spiritual discovery in India, and ‘Love’ seeing Gilbert meet and fall in love with her future husband in Bali.
Best known for her role as Patsy in Absolutely Fabulous, Joanna Lumley has enjoyed a long and rich career, which she details in her 2015 memoir Absolutely. Regaling her fascinating life story with to-be-expected hilarity and honesty, Lumley offers a no-holds-barred account of an iconic career and life.
A trailblazer of the entertainment industry, Shonda Rhimes is the creative force behind multiple small-screen hits, from Scandal and Grey’s Anatomy to Bridgerton. In her part memoir, part self-help book, Rhimes explains how one comment from her sister that she “never says yes to anything”, both changed and saved her life, and makes a convincing argument for saying ‘yes’ more, and giving in to fear less.
Rising to fame in the 1970s and ‘80s as a model, muse, actress and disco legend, Grace Jones has enjoyed an impressive and unique career. Here, she tells the story of her colorful life, from her upbringing in Jamaica and her early, career-defining days in Paris, to her move to New York City, and the ups and downs of her life along the way.
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Hannah is the UK Shopping Writer for woman&home. As a shopping writer, Hannah has written on everything from period pants to wine subscriptions, and is especially interested in sustainable alternatives to well-known products, as well as books and homeware accessories.
Before she joined the team at woman&home Hannah headed up the social media accounts for Wonderland in 2019, where she was also a Contributing Editor for the magazine’s sister titles. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Hannah also explored evolving shopping trends at New York Magazine’s The Strategist UK, researching everything from face masks to status candles and even pens.