3.9k Share this
Goodreads has released a list of the 20 most popular biographies and histories of women, according to their members, published over the last 10 years. Danny Feekes, Managing Editor, Goodreads, said in an interview, “To compile this collection, we looked at how many of our members have read, rated, and added these books to their want-to-read shelves.” They all appear, along with 44 other books, on a list of Goodreads’ top nonfiction books for Women’s History Month.
The 20 most popular women’s biographies and histories are The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women by Kate Moore, Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly, The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper by Hallie Rubenhold, Notorious RBG by Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik, A Woman of No Importance: The Untold Story of the American Spy Who Helped Win World War II by Sonia Purnell, The Romanov Sisters: The Lost Lives of the Daughters of Nicholas and Alexandra by Helen Rappaport, The Witches: Salem, 1692 by Stacey Schiff, The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II by Denise Kiernan, The Women They Could Not Silence: One Woman, Her Incredible Fight for Freedom, and the Men Who Tried to Make Her Disappear by Kate Moore, Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers Who Helped Win World War II by Liza Mundy, The Light of Days: The Untold Story of Women Resistance Fighters in Hitler’s Ghettos by Judy Batalion, All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation by Rebecca Traister, Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War by Karen Abbott, Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder by Caroline Fraser, A Black Women’s History of the United States, by Daina Ramey and Kali Nicole Gross, 999: The Extraordinary Young Women of the First Official Jewish Transport to Auschwitz by Heather Dune Macadam and Caroline Moorehead, Madame Fourcade’s Secret War: The Daring Young Woman Who Led France’s Largest Spy Network Against Hitler by Lynee Olson, Victoria The Queen: An Intimate Biography of the Woman Who Ruled an Empire, by Julia Baird, Grandma Gatewood’s Walk: The Inspiring Story of the Woman Who Saved the Appalachian Trail by Ben Montgomery and Agent Sonya: Moscow’s Most Daring Wartime Spy by Ben Macintyre.
Of the popular titles, Feekes said there were two main trends driving them. “The interest in learning more about the heroic—and often historically ignored—stories of women during WWII continues to be strong…The second trend is the increased interest in books about Black women; we saw a spike of interest in 2020 and readers continue to seek to learn about and honor their achievements which have also been historically overlooked.”
According to Feekes, Goodreads members are interested in both new and backlist titles. Of the most popular books in this category, Feekes said, “There’s something about those books that have achieved pinnacle popularity that propels people to want to be a part of the conversation. A perfect example of this is The Five, which tells the tale of the five women murdered by Jack the Ripper in 1888. Our members loved this book so much that they voted it the Best History & Biography book in the 2019 Goodreads Choice Awards.”
Of the qualities readers are looking for from biographies and histories of women, Feekes says storytelling is “key” and that “First and foremost readers want a good story.” Feekes elaborated on the appeal, saying, “If the narrative doesn’t grab you from the first page then it won’t work out. Readers want to learn about someone they didn’t know about or they want to learn more about someone they did. Notorious RBG, for example, allowed readers to discover even more about someone they likely already knew, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.”
MORE FOR YOU
Asked how histories of women fare against memoir, Feekes said that both categories have wide readerships, but memoir seems to be more popular in recent years. Feekes noted that “bestsellers are not always by well-known people.” Among the notable memoirs that “have been read so widely that they’ve been nearly impossible to miss” are titles such as Educated by Tara Westover, Becoming by Michelle Obama, and Wild by Cheryl Strayed, which “have become part of the cultural zeitgeist in a way that few biographies have,” said Feekes.