It’s less than two weeks til Christmas and just a few days until Hanukkah begins, and it’s a season for giving gifts for lots of people in the US. For lots of us, that means turning to smile at the beautifully-wrapped gifts on a table or under a tree.
…and for others, that means it’s time to enter panic-shopping mode.
For those of you who aren’t such great gift planners, here’s a list of four nonfiction books written by women and about women for the readers in your life.
For your science-inclined sister: SALLY RIDE: AMERICA’S FIRST WOMAN IN SPACE by Lynn Sherr
There are a number of biographies available about Sally Ride, but SALLY RIDE: AMERICA’S FIRST WOMAN IN SPACE by Lynn Sherr is different: Sherr was a reporter from ABC News who covered Ride’s training for her mission to space.
In this biography, which contains “exclusive access to Ride’s partner, her former husband, her family, and countless friends and colleagues,” Sherr paints a portrait of the astronaut and scientist that’s more personal and even draws from Ride’s personal letters and diaries.
This biography is close to the top of my own to-read list. Sherr spoke at this year’s National Book Festival in Washington, D.C., and though I knew only a little about Sally Ride when I sat down in the panel room, by the end of her presentation, I was in tears. It was obvious from Sherr’s talk that she cared very much for Ride, and I look forward to finding out how Ride’s life is treated in the book.
This would make a great gift for any biography reader, but it would also be a great gift for anyone who was inspired by Sally Ride as a girl, or for women who work in the sciences.
For your other science-inclined sister: THE IMMORTAL LIFE OF HENRIETTA LACKS by Rebecca Skloot
If you haven’t heard of the 2010 science and health book THE IMMORTAL LIFE OF HENRIETTA LACKS and why, in my own opinion, every American needs to read it, I’ll let part of the book’s description explain for itself:
Henrietta Lacks, as HeLa, is known to present-day scientists for her cells from cervical cancer. She was a poor Southern tobacco farmer who worked the same land as her slave ancestors, yet her cells were taken without her knowledge and still live decades after her death. Cells descended from her may weigh more than 50M metric tons.
HeLa cells were vital for developing the polio vaccine; uncovered secrets of cancer, viruses, and the atom bomb’s effects; helped lead to important advances like in vitro fertilization, cloning, and gene mapping; and have been bought and sold by the billions. Yet Henrietta Lacks was buried in an unmarked grave.
THE IMMORTAL LIFE OF HENRIETTA LACKS is an exploration of the American medical industry’s history of experimentation on African-Americans, the theft-by-uneducation of Lacks’ cells without her or her family’s understanding of its consequences, and its contribution to bioethics and an ongoing debate about how genetics are “owned.”
Author Rebecca Skloot’s writing makes HENRIETTA LACKS an accessible read, and her interviews with Lacks’ family builds a human portrayal of a woman who, in many ways, is responsible for you not being dead. I’d argue that this is one of the most important books to read to understand the history of medicine in America, and it would make a fantastic gift for anyone science-inclined.
For your history buff mom: THE AMAZONS: LIVES AND LEGENDS OF WARRIOR WOMEN ACROSS THE WORLD by Adrienne Mayor
Who doesn’t love a good book on woman warriors?
In this title, Adrienne Mayor — a research scholar at Stanford University — explores the Amazon myth and archaeological discoveries that begin to piece together the historic influences on Amazon legends and other stories of women warrior cultures across the world.
According to its Goodreads page, THE AMAZONS: LIVES AND LEGENDS OF WARRIOR WOMEN ACROSS THE WORLD is the first comprehensive book on warrior women in myth and history, and Mayor takes into account classical myth and art, nomad traditions, and archaeology in her exploration of how woman warrior legends came to be — and how they may not exactly be legends at all.
One exciting thing about this book is that it addresses not only western Greek Amazon mythology but also other woman warrior legends and cultures across the world, including those in China, central Asia, and India.
Mayor has a fantastic reputation — she’s a National Book Awards finalist for a previous book — and reviews have been largely positive. It’s a bit on the dense side, though, with lots of references to archaeological finds, making it a much better gift for the history buff in your life than, say, your average one-book-a-year buddy.
For your weird-fact-loving best friend: THE SECRET HISTORY OF WONDER WOMAN by Jill Lepore
Yeah… we were’t going to make a gift list that didn’t have Wonder Woman on it.
THE SECRET HISTORY OF WONDER WOMAN was released at the end of October this year, with author and Harvard professor Jill Lepore making a round of cities on book tour and even stopping by the Colbert Report to promote the book.
Despite how it may sound, though, THE SECRET HISTORY OF WONDER WOMAN isn’t a book about Wonder Woman herself: it explains the circumstances of Wonder Woman’s creation — by somewhat controversial and very unconventional William Moulton Marston — and explores the relationship of the character to both the first-wave feminist movement of the early 1900s and the second-wave feminist movement of the 60s and 70s.
While anyone with an interest in pop culture history would want to check out this book, Marston was… really unconventional, and descriptions of his polyamorous lifestyle — he lived with what was essentially two wives — may not be quite for everyone.
A definite recommended title for your weird-fact-loving friends or for those interested in quirky histories.
Did we miss any great nonfiction reads by or about women? Let us know in the comments!
Feliza Casano is a fan of anime, manga, and every sort of book as well as editor in chief at Girls in Capes. She writes for all sections of the site, and she’s the one behind GiC’s Facebook and Twitter. Follow her on Twitter @FelizaCasano.