PUBLISHED October 1st, 2020 10:07 am | UPDATED December 12th, 2020 10:53 pm
The recent passing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg (RBG) rocked the world, prompting an outpouring of dedications and reflections charting her contributions to the US justice system. We think this is the perfect time to step back and reflect not only on the ‘notorious’ RBG, but also other awesome females that have made waves throughout history. Here are five books about amazingly badass women from ancient times to present day that have made a mark on the world.
Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik
RBG was uniquely popular and beloved for a Supreme Court justice, cementing herself as a signifier of liberal idealism. Playfully dubbed the Notorious RBG (in a nod to rapper the Notorious B.I.G.) in then-law student Shana Knizhnik’s blog after a powerful dissent defending voting rights, RBG became a pop culture icon. Knizhnik, along with Irin Carmon, puts together this biography that’s a little tongue-in-cheek but asks to be read seriously.
This book brings the enigmatic Justice to life, talking about everything from her (impressive) workout and (numerous) lace collars to her hard-fought battle through the ranks of the US justice system. While one in a number of books, movies, and other works about RBG, this one’s storytelling style and panache make it a must-read.
Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg is available at Kinokuniya.
No One Is Too Small to Make a Difference, Greta Thunberg
A young climate activist whose impassioned speech about the world on fire took the world by fire, Greta Thunberg is now a name synonymous with the climate movement. Her powerful and straightforward speeches emphasising the urgency of resolving global warming have made it all the way to the UN, and now, they’re making their way to your home too.
No One Is Too Small to Make a Difference is a compilation of 11 speeches she’s presented at the World Economic Forum, UN, EU, and more. While her (justifiably) bleak outlook on the state of the world might make you feel a little pessimistic, Thunberg is a powerful reminder of how words aren’t action; action is action. But words (especially as starkly moving as hers) can inspire action, and great amounts of it.
Cleopatra: A Life, Stacy Schiff
History books have barely done justice to the amazing woman that is Cleopatra. The popular account of Cleopatra constructed by poets, historians, and biographers alike portrays her as a sensual seductress known for her adulterous affairs with Julius Caesar and Mark Antony, but this Ptolemaic monarch is likely one of the most intelligent and impressive rulers in history.
Stacy Schiff takes on the arduous task of wading through the brambles of biased biography, returning to and reinterpreting classic sources to reconstruct the complex character of Cleopatra. The result of this labour is a storied historical account that gives this charismatic and mysterious ruler the recognition she deserves.
Cleopatra: A Life is available at Kinokuniya.
Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman, Robert K. Massie
We all know Catherine the Great as one of the most (in)famous rulers of Russia, but did you know that she wasn’t even Russian? Or that her name wasn’t even Catherine? Born Sophie of Anhalt-Zerbst, this Prussian princess came to power after her husband, Peter III of Russia, was overthrown in a coup d’état. What followed was the 34 year-long reign of one of the most fascinating rulers in history.
Robert K. Massie constructs a brilliant biography of this interesting, intelligent, and strong ruler, charting her influence on the government, foreign policy, and cultural development of Russia. Massie combines historical accuracy and deep understanding with a penchant for detail and characterisation, giving you an edifying book that’s also a fun read.
Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman is available at Kinokuniya.
Empress Dowager Cixi: The Concubine Who Launched Modern China, Jung Chang
Empress Dowager Cixi was one of the most important figures in Chinese history. Credited for bringing the medieval empire of China into the modern age, her intelligence, wit, and penchant for manipulation allowed her to rule China behind the curtain (literally) for 47 years.
China saw massive changes under her rule, attaining railways, electricity, the telegraph, and a well-armed military; virtually all the features of a modern state. She also made great strides in women’s rights (putting an end to foot-binding) and moved towards introducing parliamentary elections to China. While most narratives depict her as a conservative and cruel despot, Jung Chang draws on a range of sources to create a more comprehensive picture of this powerful ruler.
Empress Dowager Cixi: The Concubine Who Launched Modern China is available at Kinokuniya.
Top image: Ted Eytan on Flickr.com