Nonfiction by women authors
April 30, 2012 8:13 AM   Subscribe

Can you recommend me some great nonfiction books by women authors?

I've finally begun reading more nonfiction, after decades of a strictly fiction diet. I'm noticing, though, that the books I'm reading are mostly by men. What women authors are writing some of the most engaging nonfiction?

Some examples of what I've read and enjoyed:

Cosmos by Carl Sagan
Bill Bryson's travelogues and books on the English language
Any of Jack Zipes's folklore studies
Anything by Thich Nhat Hanh
The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat by Oliver Sacks
Textual Poachers by Henry Jenkins

Recommendations don't necessarily have to be on these topics or in the same style. Mary Roach's books seem like they'd be exactly what I'm looking for, but there must be others. What have you got, MetaFilter?
posted by xenization to Media & Arts (55 answers total) 54 users marked this as a favorite
A Natural History of the Senses by Diane Ackerman
posted by moonmilk at 8:15 AM on April 30, 2012

Check out Susan Orlean and Mary Roach.
posted by mdrew at 8:17 AM on April 30, 2012 [3 favorites]

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand.
posted by Sassyfras at 8:18 AM on April 30, 2012

Sarah Vowell -- Assassination Vacation or Leave the Cannoli

Jane Mayer for current political stuff, if you have the stomach for it.
posted by pantarei70 at 8:20 AM on April 30, 2012

Twenty Chickens for a Saddle by Robyn Scott
Margret Atwood
posted by nickrussell at 8:23 AM on April 30, 2012

Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick.
posted by something something at 8:25 AM on April 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

"America's Women : Four Hundred Years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates, and Heroines" and "When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present" by Gail Collins.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:26 AM on April 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Anything by Barbara Tuchman - she's a brilliant, totally readable historian. The Guns of August, about the beginning of World War 1, is her best-known work, but my favorite is A Distant Mirror, about life in 14th century Europe.
posted by restless_nomad at 8:27 AM on April 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Try Deborah Blum's books.
posted by Uniformitarianism Now! at 8:27 AM on April 30, 2012

Are you interested in travel writing? Because there's some great writers there. I love Gertrude Bell, becuase there's a great mix of travel, archaeology, and photography in her work, and she's a fabulous observer.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 8:29 AM on April 30, 2012

Eugenia Bone's Mycophilia is delightful, even if you think mushrooms are kinda gross.
posted by troika at 8:32 AM on April 30, 2012

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard
posted by hydatius at 8:32 AM on April 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Seconding Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. It always blows my frakkin' mind.

A Short History of Myth is a particularly good introduction to Karen Armstrong, who was recommended above.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:35 AM on April 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Elif Batuman: The Possessed [more]

Katherine Boo: Behind the Beautiful Forevers [more]

Connie Barlow: The Ghosts of Evolution [more]
posted by ryanshepard at 8:39 AM on April 30, 2012

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebeca Skloot.
posted by marcusesses at 8:40 AM on April 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

Thirding Karen Armstrong...

One of my favourite books ever is On Longing by Susan Stewart:
"...a fascinating analysis of the ways in which everyday objects are narrated to animate or realize certain versions of the world."
posted by 0bvious at 8:44 AM on April 30, 2012

Seconding Rebecca Skloot.

Doris Kearns Goodwin.
posted by angels in the architecture at 8:44 AM on April 30, 2012

Jennifer Michael Hecht - Doubt: A History
posted by John Cohen at 8:45 AM on April 30, 2012

Woman, by Natalie Angier. Really engaging book that covers a ton of topics--biology, evolution, psychology, gender, culture.
posted by Mavri at 8:48 AM on April 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

Seconding Deborah Blum's books; I liked The Poisoner's Handbook.

Perhaps something by Sherry Turkle? Alone Together, about the disconnect between the proliferation of technology and of aloneness is very topical right now. Relatedly, Ilana Gershon's The Breakup 2.0 is a good read as well.
posted by mlle valentine at 8:57 AM on April 30, 2012

Coal: A Human History by Barbara Freese is very engaging, I thought.

Mary Roach's books are engaging, too, if not necessarily weighty.
posted by crush-onastick at 8:59 AM on April 30, 2012

About 1/3 of the books recommended in my history books askme are by women, and all are excellent reads.
posted by elizardbits at 9:00 AM on April 30, 2012

If you like Thich Nhat Hanh, you may also like Pema Chodron.
posted by judith at 9:09 AM on April 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Anything by Rebecca Solnit. My favorites are Wanderlust and River of Shadows.
posted by aparrish at 9:10 AM on April 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot.

The Reason Why: The Story of the Fatal Charge of the Light Brigade by Cecil Woodham-Smith. Don't let the author's first name fool you.
posted by Currer Belfry at 9:18 AM on April 30, 2012

Temporarily forgot about The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson. Probably the best book I read last year.
posted by Currer Belfry at 9:20 AM on April 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Janet Reitman - Inside Scientology. A really excellent contemporary history of Scientology, focusing on the post-Hubbard years.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 9:30 AM on April 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Island of the Lost by Joan Druett. I loved this book.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 9:35 AM on April 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

The Poisoner's Handbook, by Deborah Blum.
posted by dzot at 10:17 AM on April 30, 2012

Rebecca West - Black Lamb and Grey Falcon
posted by AceRock at 10:40 AM on April 30, 2012

Marina Warner, especially "From the Beast to the Blonde" and "No Go the Bogeyman" (on why children's literature is so bloody terrifying). I also like "Six Myths for Our Time", but that's more an essay collection.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 10:47 AM on April 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Ariel Gore -- Atlas of the Human Heart, All the Pretty People, Portland Queer (those are all memoir, she also has books on parenting and happiness which I haven't read).

Sin in the Second City by Karen Abbott

Also seconding The Warmth of Other Suns and Sarah Vowell.
posted by milkweed at 10:48 AM on April 30, 2012

Liza Picard's books on the history of London are great reads.

Delusions of Gender by Cordelia Fine is excellent.

I liked
Stolen World, by Jennie Erin Smith, which reports on the bizarre criminal community of reptile smugglers.

My Beautiful Genome, by Lone Frank, is a quirky Scandinavian journalist's look into the world of genome research.

Now You See It, by Cathy N. Davidson, is an interesting roundup of neuroscience and psychology research into attention that's targeted at an engaged lay audience.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:26 AM on April 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Do memoirs count? Gabrielle Hamilton's Blood, Bones, and Butter has a lot of beautiful scenes and sentences in it.

Mary Douglas' Purity and Danger is famous in academic circles, rightly so, and translates well for laypeople.
posted by ifjuly at 1:02 PM on April 30, 2012

Here are a couple of non-fiction books, written by women, that I've enjoyed:

84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff

Breaking the Code: A Father's Secret, a Daughter's Journey, and the Question That Changed Everything by Fisher-Alaniz

Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President by Candace Millard

I also loved The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, which has already been recommended a couple of times.
posted by stampsgal at 1:04 PM on April 30, 2012

Check out Frances Yates and Elaine Pagels.
posted by rjs at 1:50 PM on April 30, 2012

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, by Anne Fadiman. Medicine, cultural anthropology, and communication.
posted by Flannery Culp at 1:51 PM on April 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Anything by Barbara Ehrenreich, "Nickle and Dimed", "Bright Sided", many more. Social and political critism.

"I'm Dysfunctional, You're Dysfuctional" by Wendy Kaminer. Critique of pop psychology

Betty Jean Lifton, "The King of Children", about Janusz Korszak and the Holocaust, and her adoption-related books

Like others I too recommend Karen Armstrong, also Frances Yates and Elaine Pagels
posted by mermayd at 3:01 PM on April 30, 2012

Oooh ooh ooh Molly Ivins, who coined Shrub as a monicker for George W. Bush, but published quite a few more general political essay collections as well. Hilarious and trenchant, if not actually current. (We lost her a couple years ago, to my eternal sadness.)
posted by restless_nomad at 3:03 PM on April 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

I really enjoyed Sarah Vowell's The Wordy Shipmates.
posted by JHarris at 4:13 PM on April 30, 2012

Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth by Margaret Atwood blew my mind.
Bright-sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America by Barbara Ehrenreich gave me a sense of relief that I'm not the only one out there who rails against the tyranny of blind optimism.
Blood, Bones, and Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef by Gabrielle Hamilton renewed my resolve to work my ass off at building a business in a field I am passionate about.
The Chronology of Water by Lidia Yuknavitch was the first gift ever given to me by my girlfriend.
Trespass: Living at the Edge of the Promised Land by Amy Irvine helped explain to me the dichotomy of wanting to belong to a group that stands for so many things you don't believe in and the fallout that ensues.
Finding Beauty in a Broken World by Terry Tempest Williiams brought new meaning to the word, Mosaic
Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel is the comic narrative at its finest.
posted by ikahime at 5:41 PM on April 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

In the Freud Archives by Janet Malcolm is about so much more than psychoanalysis and is my favorite long essay of all time.
On a lighter note, I really like the essay collection / memoir My Misspent Youth, by Meghan Daum, particularly "Music is my Bag," probably the best short treatment of American nerddom in print.
posted by escabeche at 6:59 PM on April 30, 2012

Oh, you know what else is really good? In The Land of Invented Languages, by Anita Okrent, about the strange world of artificial languages and the people who speak them.

And Perfection Salad: Women and Cooking at the Turn of the Century, by Laura Shapiro. You will learn more about the history of "home economics" as a discipline than you ever imagined you would fervently want to know.
posted by escabeche at 7:01 PM on April 30, 2012

A little older, but Women's Work by Elizabeth Barber is great.
posted by pupstocks at 7:26 PM on April 30, 2012

Seconding Sin and the Second City, as well as books by Barbara Ehrenreich and Molly Ivins.

Random Family by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc
Backlash by Susan Faludi (20 years old but still extremely relevant)
Power Failure: The Inside Story of the Collapse of Enron by Mimi Swartz and Sherron Watkins
The Mommy Myth: The Idealization of Motherhood and How It Has Undermined All Women by Susan J. Douglas and Meredith Michaels
Can't Buy My Love: How Advertising Changes The Way We Think and Feel by Jean Kilbourne
posted by SisterHavana at 7:39 PM on April 30, 2012

I loved Lindy Woodhead's War Paint. It's ostensibly the story of the cosmetics magnates Elizabeth Arden and HElena Rubenstein, but it also covers social history, feminism, business and a whiole lot of everything else.

I also enjoyed Anna Funder's Stasiland, about occupied East Germany.
posted by mippy at 4:37 AM on May 1, 2012

this book made me cry

posted by sergeicheddar at 6:12 AM on May 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

this book
posted by sergeicheddar at 6:15 AM on May 1, 2012

You're all fantastic! I'm not going to mark any answers as best, as these have all given me books to check out. So many books.

Thanks so much.
posted by xenization at 10:24 AM on May 2, 2012

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