Going back through my Goodreads categories, I discovered something surprising. Once upon a time, I’d read non-fiction regularly–particularly non-fiction of the ladies-in-history sort. Mostly, I picked up these types of books right out of college when I was missing all my History and English courses and looking to expand my horizons. I wasn’t drawn to the dry stuff though (I had gotten enough of that in school). I preferred histories with some scandal and lushness to them.
I blame watching a lot of biopics on the Tudors for this.
So, if you’re looking to expand your horizons and read more about prominent (and not-so-prominent) ladies in history, these books are a good place to start. Especially if you don’t mind a bit of outrageousness.
Five Books About Fascinating Women in History
Elizabeth and Leicester by Elizabeth Jenkins
Funny story time: In college, I was sitting on a bench reading this book about the scandalous romance between Elizabeth I and Dudley when some random dude walked up and told me I was beautiful. Me, being the very picture of tack, said “Thanks” before promptly returning to my book. (I was that girl in college who sat on benches and read and had to listen to people walking past me whispering in horror “Is she reading a book?!?!?” Basically, I am Rory Gilmore.) Gossipy historicals are completely my thing and so a book about one of my favorite historical couples (thanks entirely to Anne-Marie Duff’s Elizabeth miniseries) was pretty much un-put-downable. While it is more about the relationship between Elizabeth and Dudley, there is a lot of information about the early years of Elizabeth’s life to be had within its pages. Sadly, this book is ancient, but you just might be able to find it through the library. If not, there’s a book of the same name by Sarah Gristwood that might be worth checking out.
Bride of Science by Benjamin Woolley
Speaking of gossipy non-fiction, Woolley’s biography of Ada Lovelace is gloriously chatty about all the scandalous goings on of Ada’s life. I started reading this book entirely thanks to the webcomic Lovelace and Babbage and I wasn’t disappointed. While there might not be as much of a focus on the science-y aspects of her life, it was interesting to get a picture of what she was like as a person. I especially remember there being some focus on the relationship between Ada’s mother and Byron–which really is fascinating in and of itself.
Princesses Behaving Badly by Linda Rodriguez McRobbie
There are plenty of books out there compiling biographies of kings, queens, bad marriages, and scandal. (Surprisingly, I don’t read as many of those as you might think.) Princesses Behaving Badly was one book of that sort I couldn’t pass up. Just reread that title! It’s so easy to overdose on toned down princess stories, but this was definitely not toned down. If you want stories of princesses who murder, cheat, and rule countries with an iron fist, this is the book to check out.
Cleopatra by Stacy Schiff ~ While not heavy on the melodrama (for once), Cleopatra’s a fascinating read. (Except maybe the parts about agriculture and the economy.) I loved taking courses on world history in college and Schiff’s book totally satisfied that longing for more information about the ancient world. I’m really looking forward to reading Schiff’s new book about the Salem witch trials. How interesting will that be!
Wild Romance by Chloe Schama ~ Back to the melodrama for a moment. If you want to get mad about the plight of women in Victorian England, this is the book to read. It reminded me of the book/miniseries He Knew He Was Right because it was all about marriage, divorce, and who’s telling the truth. Theresa Longworth isn’t famous–like most of the others on this list–but her story was cool to read none-the-less.
What are some of your favorite non-fiction books? Any slightly gossipy histories to recommend?