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A History of the World in 21 Women: A Personal Selection

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They led while others followed. They stood up and spoke out when no one else would. They broke the mould in art, music and literature. Each of them fought, in their own way, for change. Encompassing artists, politicians, activists, reporters and heads of state from past and present, A History of the World in 21 Women celebrates the lives, struggles and achievements of wome They led while others followed. They stood up and spoke out when no one else would. They broke the mould in art, music and literature. Each of them fought, in their own way, for change. Encompassing artists, politicians, activists, reporters and heads of state from past and present, A History of the World in 21 Women celebrates the lives, struggles and achievements of women who have had a profound impact on the shaping of our world. Jenni's 21 are: Joan of Arc, Artemesia Gentileschi, Angela Merkel, Benazir Bhutto, Hillary Clinton, Coco Chanel, Empress Dowager Cixi, Catherine the Great, Clara Schumann, Hatshepsut, Wangari Maathai, Golda Meir, Frida Kahlo, Toni Morrison, Margaret Atwood, Isabella of Castile, Cathy Freeman, Anna Politokovskaya, Sirimavo Bandaranaike, Madonna and Marie Curie.


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They led while others followed. They stood up and spoke out when no one else would. They broke the mould in art, music and literature. Each of them fought, in their own way, for change. Encompassing artists, politicians, activists, reporters and heads of state from past and present, A History of the World in 21 Women celebrates the lives, struggles and achievements of wome They led while others followed. They stood up and spoke out when no one else would. They broke the mould in art, music and literature. Each of them fought, in their own way, for change. Encompassing artists, politicians, activists, reporters and heads of state from past and present, A History of the World in 21 Women celebrates the lives, struggles and achievements of women who have had a profound impact on the shaping of our world. Jenni's 21 are: Joan of Arc, Artemesia Gentileschi, Angela Merkel, Benazir Bhutto, Hillary Clinton, Coco Chanel, Empress Dowager Cixi, Catherine the Great, Clara Schumann, Hatshepsut, Wangari Maathai, Golda Meir, Frida Kahlo, Toni Morrison, Margaret Atwood, Isabella of Castile, Cathy Freeman, Anna Politokovskaya, Sirimavo Bandaranaike, Madonna and Marie Curie.

30 review for A History of the World in 21 Women: A Personal Selection

  1. 5 out of 5

    Stef D

    The idea behind this book is great- write a book about 21 women who impacted the world on their time. And I did enjoy reading about these women- some whom I had never heard of and some whose stories I already knew. But I wanted this to be so much better than it was. It read like a blog entry at times, it missed bits and added bits of the author’s own stories that I felt didn’t need to be there. Overall interesting to read about such strong women, but I wanted much more out of it.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Christine

    Disclaimer: ARC via Librarything We love lists. We make shopping lists, reading lists, to read lists, movie lists, and on and on. Any book or article that publishes a list is going to get called on that list. So, let’s get that bit out of the way. Murray’s list of 21 women starts in Ancient Egypt and goes to Cathy Freeman. There is a total of eight women of color, three from the US, and two from France and Russia. Every continent is represented, except South America, which is a bit annoying. Bon Disclaimer: ARC via Librarything We love lists. We make shopping lists, reading lists, to read lists, movie lists, and on and on. Any book or article that publishes a list is going to get called on that list. So, let’s get that bit out of the way. Murray’s list of 21 women starts in Ancient Egypt and goes to Cathy Freeman. There is a total of eight women of color, three from the US, and two from France and Russia. Every continent is represented, except South America, which is a bit annoying. Bonus points for having Australia represented by an Aboriginal woman. There is a nice mixture of women in the arts, politics, and sciences. It’s true that a reader does wonder why some lesser known women aren’t mentioned, why, in some cases, the standard women are trotted out. And couldn’t a woman from South America make the list? But all the women either were or are highly influential, usually in more than one field. But quite frankly, it was so wonderful to see Toni Morrison here, and she isn’t the only artist. Jenni Murray, host of BBC’s Women Hour, details 21 women using an amazing personal voice as well as with a good critical eye. At times her personal admiration really does shine though. Honesty, Merkel, c’mon, let Murray talk to you, basically so she can ask you if you really did read Playboy to understand Trump. Murray also does not whitewash the flaws in the women. In fact, at times, she notes her own conflicts with some of the actions the women take – for instance Queen Isabella’s prosecutions of Jews. She handles Bhutto’s political history deftly. The tone of the writing is totally engaging, and the book is quite easy to dip in and out of. It is as if you are listening to Murray present on the radio. The portraits of each woman are incredibly lovely.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Alice-Elizabeth (marriedtobooks)

    This is a strong historical collection of 21 women, all from the Pharaoh Hatshepsut to Marie Curie and Madonna just to name a few. It is a slow-moving read, however, very knowledgable and learnt lots of interesting details along the way!

  4. 4 out of 5

    Charlie

    Jenni Murray gives a personal selection of 21 women from history and the present. The opening pushes feminist ideology, perhaps assuming that all readers will be a feminist? And then there then goes on to describe intersectionality. I’m here for history, not ideology. The part where the author talks about her visit to Egypt in 1998 was unnecessary. But the book gets better once it gets to the actual history. The author describes and then debunks the myths surrounding Joan of Arc, although she do Jenni Murray gives a personal selection of 21 women from history and the present. The opening pushes feminist ideology, perhaps assuming that all readers will be a feminist? And then there then goes on to describe intersectionality. I’m here for history, not ideology. The part where the author talks about her visit to Egypt in 1998 was unnecessary. But the book gets better once it gets to the actual history. The author describes and then debunks the myths surrounding Joan of Arc, although she doesn’t emphasise that was the Burgundians and not the English who killed her. She has since been a martyr for French propaganda. She says that Isabella of Castile was an “Islamophobe”, (which she admits is anachronistic) a loaded term that reeks of presentism. I can only see its use here as virtue signalling. In the context of the times, the Reconquista was justified after centuries of Muslim occupation of Spain. When Cixi rebuilt the Summer Palace, that author doesn’t mention that the funds for that had been meant to develop China’s navy. The chapter on Marie Curie was my favourite. The ideology is also pushed on the chapter on Margaret Atwood. The chapter on Hillary Clinton is the worst one, it was so awful that I removed 2 stars. It is deeply sanitized, and the focus is on the author’s interview with Clinton. But there is no mention of her corruption, the Benghazi attack or numerous over scandals. She talks about Clinton tackling women’s issues in Saudi Arabia, but makes no mention of the money she made from the Saudis. It is hard to believe Clinton is sincerely committed to addressing those issues when the system of oppression in Saudi Arabia is one that Clinton has directly benefited from. This is who she describes as ‘an important advocate and role model for women’. She finds it ‘thoroughly depressing’ that there are women who choose to vote against Clinton. But given Clinton’s record, it is easy to see why anyone would vote against that. The author is a journalist and must be aware of the unsavory aspects of Clinton's career. Not to mention them shows a lack of journalistic integrity. It also doesn’t bode well for her belief that women in this book are to be celebrated and emulated (with the exception of Isabella of Castile). With so many scandals and shady dealings behind her, Clinton is not one to be emulated and a terrible option for breaking the ‘glass ceiling’. The chapter on Angela Merkel whitewashes her failures over migration and is more concerned with the rise of the populist right. The book ends with the author returning to feminism and lauding the #metoo movement. But that comes off as hubristic, given that the movement has backfired. . Bill Clinton was lucky not to have been president during #metoo. Since this is a personal selection, I thought about who I would have included if had made the choices. Forgoing for obvious choice of Cleopatra, there is Sappho, Livia, the Trung Sisters, Theodora, Empress Wu, Murasaki Shikibu, Empress Irene, Anna Komnene, Caterina Sforza, Catherine de Medici, Marie Antoinette, Harriet Tubman, George Eliot, Amelia Earhart, Hannah Arendt, Margaret Sanger, Ayn Rand, Phyllis Schlafly, Corazon Aquino, Aung San Suu Kyi and Ayaan Hirsi Ali (Emma Goldman and Rosa Luxembourg wouldn’t make the cut in my selection). Now I want to know, who would you have picked?

  5. 5 out of 5

    Liv

    This book had been sat on my shelf unread for over a year before I finally picked it up and I was entirely surprised by how interesting, accessible and enjoyable the book was. Jenni Murray is a journalist who has picked 21 women that she admires or thinks were/are interesting from around the world and throughout history. She makes very clear that this is her own personal selection based on her own experiences which I think is important and relevant. This book therefore isn't intending to be a pi This book had been sat on my shelf unread for over a year before I finally picked it up and I was entirely surprised by how interesting, accessible and enjoyable the book was. Jenni Murray is a journalist who has picked 21 women that she admires or thinks were/are interesting from around the world and throughout history. She makes very clear that this is her own personal selection based on her own experiences which I think is important and relevant. This book therefore isn't intending to be a pinnacle text on women of the world or a full biography of these women. However, I think Murray does a good job of selecting a range of women from different fields, backgrounds, periods and experiences to showcase women's role and lives throughout history. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Murray's selection of women is diverse and interesting and some of my personal favourites were her biographies of Frida Kahlo, Coco Channel, Hatshepshut, Benazir Bhutto and Hillary Clinton. She offered an interesting introduction into the lives of these women and sought to channel stereotypes that have been associated with them. The book also covered chapters on Joan of Arc, Artemisia Gentileschi, Angela Merkel, Empress Dowager Cixi, Catherine the Great, Clara Schumann, Wangari Maathai, Golda Meir, Toni Morrison, Margaret Atwood, Isabella of Castille, Cathy Freeman, Madonna, Anna Politkovskaya, Sirimavo Bandaranaike and Marie Curie. All of them were fascinating and interesting explorations of these women. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ This book reminded me of why I love history and made me buy books on Benazir Bhutto and Frida Khalo to learn more about their lives. I think this is an enjoyable look into the lives of women throughout history. I would only say there are a couple of trigger warning/explicit sections where she talks about a rape that happened to one of the women that could be uncomfortable for readers and unsuitable for younger readers. Besides this I thought the book was really well written and I want to learn more about all of the fascinating women in this book.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Laura

    A great comprehensive List of 21 of the most influential women from across the world. Each woman has her own chapter and the author eloquently describes the achievements of each woman ranging from science to art to politics. Personally I have not heard of a lot of these women so I was very intrigued to read mini biographies on each one. This would be an excellent book for young women looking for inspiration in strong-powerful female role models.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Jenny Mackinlay

    There are two books: history of BRITAIN in 21 women, which is the description here, and history of the WORLD in 21 women, which is a different playlist entirely. I read/listened to WORLD, and I'm still trying to decide if I should round 2.5 stars up to 3 or down to 2. In a book covering what its title proclaims there isn't space for cozy little paragraphs about the author's Chihuahuas and while I realise this is necessarily a highly subjective choice of subject(s) the girlish asides set my teeth There are two books: history of BRITAIN in 21 women, which is the description here, and history of the WORLD in 21 women, which is a different playlist entirely. I read/listened to WORLD, and I'm still trying to decide if I should round 2.5 stars up to 3 or down to 2. In a book covering what its title proclaims there isn't space for cozy little paragraphs about the author's Chihuahuas and while I realise this is necessarily a highly subjective choice of subject(s) the girlish asides set my teeth on edge. She also leaves out the most extraordinary things, in a book on women being successful despite the world they live in, for example how they raise their children and what happened to those children--Marie Curie had a father in law who was willing to baby-sit, but compliant relatives are unusual. What about Artemisia's children, for example? Unless my audible download missed a paragraph they just disappear. And speaking of audible, Murray herself reads, and her overuse of significant pauses in totally inappropriate places started making me crazy by about halfway through. I'm not going to engage with her choices: they're an interesting if eccentric bunch and I certainly learned about women I had either never or barely heard of, and want to read up on some of them. But I'm now a confirmed non-fan of Murray and I'll probably give BRITAIN a miss.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Niamh

    This book has had some interesting reviews, and glancing through them I find some points of connection and others that I want to dispute. Jenni Murray, perhaps best known for her work on BBC's Woman's Hour, has hand-selected a group of twenty one women that she looks up to, and used their lives and historical significance to explore a cultural history of the world. Granted, these figures can be polarising at times and often, aren't the most important people in the historical canon. But, touching This book has had some interesting reviews, and glancing through them I find some points of connection and others that I want to dispute. Jenni Murray, perhaps best known for her work on BBC's Woman's Hour, has hand-selected a group of twenty one women that she looks up to, and used their lives and historical significance to explore a cultural history of the world. Granted, these figures can be polarising at times and often, aren't the most important people in the historical canon. But, touching on every era from Ancient Egypt to the modern day, she manages to encompass a growing feeling of power amongst women, one that has stemmed from our sisters in the past. Because of how short the book is, the histories are often relatively short, and can gloss over certain elements of these womens lives, but that's not what this book is truly designed for. She speaks highly about intersectional feminism and this book is filled with women from all races and walks of life. Though none of the picks are outrightly LGBTQIA+, one can be forgiven for not quite knowing how to talk about them. There are other books that address this imbalance in a much better format. Overall, I really enjoyed this book. Murray is eloquent and personable with her work, and writes with a sincere passion that makes you want to find out more about these incredible women.

  9. 4 out of 5

    my bookworm life

    I was very kindly sent a review copy of this title from the publisher, but all opinions are my own. Now when i was at school my History lessons were not something i look back and think fondly about at all! and that is not because i don't have an interest or love of History, it's down to the teachers i had and the topics we covered (mostly Tudors, and....oh the Tudors), if we had had much more variation then it probably would have been one of my favourite subjects. Since leaving school many years I was very kindly sent a review copy of this title from the publisher, but all opinions are my own. Now when i was at school my History lessons were not something i look back and think fondly about at all! and that is not because i don't have an interest or love of History, it's down to the teachers i had and the topics we covered (mostly Tudors, and....oh the Tudors), if we had had much more variation then it probably would have been one of my favourite subjects. Since leaving school many years ago, i have really enjoyed picking up books that enable me to learn about historic events that took place that interest me , and also historical figures who did amazing and brave acts, so better late than never i guess! Now that's out the way, i can talk about the brilliance that is this book. it is so well put together and written, that i feel anyone would enjoy picking it up and having a read. This book covers 21 women throughout History that have made an impact by standing up for what they believe in and care about, most aren't even well known names so it was great to learn about them and what they did. But equally it was really great to read and learn about the one's i had heard of too, and find out the full picture more in depth. I think this would be great for schools! such a great book that i think would go down well, and be such a good teaching aid. Equally i would recommend this to anyone with any interest in History, specifically women through history and their stories. Overall it's an interesting , educational and empowering read. Very easily accessible down to the great writing and knowledge, and i loved the added touch of having the women's illustrated portraits at the end of their sections too!

  10. 4 out of 5

    Charlie Watkins

    I really enjoyed this. An unusual but excellent selection of women, their stories elegantly and intelligently told by the fabulous Jenni Murray.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Alison

    Murray compiled a list of truly accomplished women and these mini-biographies have made me incredibly curious to read more in-depth biographies on most of these women. It was written with a nice light touch of humour and I could easily discern the respect Murray holds for every one she chose. She has also included a great mix of women from those you would expect (Marie Curie and Catherine the Great) and those you wouldn't (Cathy Freeman and Empress Dowager Cixi). I do feel that the book would ha Murray compiled a list of truly accomplished women and these mini-biographies have made me incredibly curious to read more in-depth biographies on most of these women. It was written with a nice light touch of humour and I could easily discern the respect Murray holds for every one she chose. She has also included a great mix of women from those you would expect (Marie Curie and Catherine the Great) and those you wouldn't (Cathy Freeman and Empress Dowager Cixi). I do feel that the book would have been better split into two with one focusing more on women in history and one on current women. I also found the chapters on historical figures better just because their place and effect on history has better context and were better summarised than the still living selections. Still a great read and I'll be reserving her book on 21 British Women once I have a library hold free.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Gulben

    It is a good attempt to show that the world history of course was not made only by men. It is not clear how the selection of these women were made. Surely there are many more women who has not accepted the role that was taught to them / succeeded so greatly and affected the history of the world. Also in some instances it was a bit disturbing to see that not so good facts about these women were left out, even tough "women does not need to be gooder" was one of the ideas that was stressed througho It is a good attempt to show that the world history of course was not made only by men. It is not clear how the selection of these women were made. Surely there are many more women who has not accepted the role that was taught to them / succeeded so greatly and affected the history of the world. Also in some instances it was a bit disturbing to see that not so good facts about these women were left out, even tough "women does not need to be gooder" was one of the ideas that was stressed throughout. If we want to learn history, we need to see it all, not only the bits and pieces that the writer wants us to see. Or just not call it a history and make it clear that it is a personal selection of observations on people that the writer likes.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Helen White

    This is a potted history of 21 women and their influence on history. Ranging from Joan of Arc, Frida Kahlo, Madonna to Hilary Clinton. There's some varied choices. Some are women that the author has met and interviewed, most she's a fan of and the couple that she's not - she can still see their importance. If you're interested in interesting women,history,feminism then this is a good background read. I'd heard of most of the women and knew some of their histories already but some myth debunking This is a potted history of 21 women and their influence on history. Ranging from Joan of Arc, Frida Kahlo, Madonna to Hilary Clinton. There's some varied choices. Some are women that the author has met and interviewed, most she's a fan of and the couple that she's not - she can still see their importance. If you're interested in interesting women,history,feminism then this is a good background read. I'd heard of most of the women and knew some of their histories already but some myth debunking and new perspectives are always interesting. Thank you to Hearst, the publishers and Red magazine for the free copy of this book as part of the Big Book Awards.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Kate

    A history of pure inspiration and information, as Jenni Murray presents 21 very different women from around the world and how their defiance and strength has made an impact in the world. Not only do you learn how so many women have suffered from the prejudice of society and culture, but it allows you to feel included in this great sweep of women’s history. I love her personable writing style and the way the women she selects have inspired or surprised her throughout her personal and work life.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Bookwormandtheatremouse

    I have enjoyed this, just as I enjoyed the one about the women of Britain. There are some fascinating choices - all of them proving that women are not the weaker sex but are equal to all the men who have made history and all the men in the world in fact. I am inspired to find out more about many of these women and the issues that they confronted or spearheaded. A great read!

  16. 4 out of 5

    Emma Maclean

    Listened to this on audiobook and loved it. Chapters long enough to give enough detail but short enough to keep you interested. I was definitely more engaged with the chapters about people I already knew something about but it also introduced me to lots more women. Great narration.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Becky Rushton

    Lovely, educational book I could pick up at any time and learn about amazing women I didn't know about. Jenni's writing is easy to read and I liked her selection of heroines. I feel inspired and I would recommend this book to everyone not only for a lesson about feminism but a historical one too!

  18. 4 out of 5

    Shivangi

    Loved reading about powerful women through out history. While the authors writing style was a bit casual at times, it was easy to pick up and read short biographies about badass women.

  19. 5 out of 5

    claudia v

    I got through it 😊 not a fan of the angry feminist voice nor of fat shaming a female pharaoh.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Kathryn

    Jenni Murray❤️

  21. 5 out of 5

    Athena Kyr

    Interesting and easily read collection of short biographies for 21 women. However, I think the book could give much more depth and analysis in the life-story of each one of them and of their interaction with their historical environment.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Abhipsa Das

    Just read it, it's one of the best books I've read this year !

  23. 4 out of 5

    Malene

    Inspirational and well written, this was a great book which made me reflect on women’s achievements through the times.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Emma

    A limited selection of women from a biased, often orientalist lens.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Kim

    I really enjoyed this series of short biographies of influential and relevant women. I found them all interesting and I feel more edcated now I am also going to go an research a few of the women from history - I think my Joan or Arc book needs reading Easy to consume this book does not need to be done in one sitting. It can just as easily be dipped into and out of.

  26. 5 out of 5

    stastna_karolina

    ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆ 6/10 An interesting book to read. Definitely not just a dry history book, thanks to the author’s personal comments and opinions. I enjoyed the variety in the selection of women, coming from different historical times, professions and countries. Majority of things written about the selected women are positive but I appreciated that not all these women and their acts were painted in a positive light. I still feel, however, that some historical or controversial facts were omitted. But I u ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆ 6/10 An interesting book to read. Definitely not just a dry history book, thanks to the author’s personal comments and opinions. I enjoyed the variety in the selection of women, coming from different historical times, professions and countries. Majority of things written about the selected women are positive but I appreciated that not all these women and their acts were painted in a positive light. I still feel, however, that some historical or controversial facts were omitted. But I understand that what is interesting for me in this regard doesn't have to be significant to the author. GOOD: engaging and easy to read VS BAD: may be too simplistic and I felt some controversial facts very omitted about some of the women IS THIS A BOOK FOR YOU?: If you are looking for an accessible book about history and significant women, I highly recommend reading this one. -------------------------------------- FAVORITE QUOTE: "In the twenty-first century, we often speak of role models. It is my passionate desire that others - male or female, young or old - should learn of the determination and courage of so many women throughout the history of the world. They should be known, remembered, cheered and emulated by who follow them."

  27. 5 out of 5

    Caterina Buizza

    I was excited to learn something about the women in this book (and I did), though actually I felt that it came up short in a number of ways. The overall tone of the book is somehow condescending and there are several comments throughout that are actually quite sexist. A lot of these world-changing women are described first in terms of classical beauty standards (including fat shaming a pharaoh!!), and as usual a significant part of their ‘story’ is to talk about husbands and children, even when I was excited to learn something about the women in this book (and I did), though actually I felt that it came up short in a number of ways. The overall tone of the book is somehow condescending and there are several comments throughout that are actually quite sexist. A lot of these world-changing women are described first in terms of classical beauty standards (including fat shaming a pharaoh!!), and as usual a significant part of their ‘story’ is to talk about husbands and children, even when these are actually irrelevant to their achievements in life. Murray also states in her conclusion that a requirement for female success is to have a supportive father (no comment on the mother). Overall a nice idea but disappointing in its execution.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Suzey Ingold

    I'm not totally sure who this book is aimed at; from the writing, maybe this is good for people in their mid-teens. Although, even then, it makes up an odd selection of women. If it were a completely objective account, then that would be one thing, but the writer speaks with clear passion about these women, even though some are certainly questionable as figures to look up for. Overall, I was a little underwhelmed and confused by the whole purpose of the book, not least when the latter chapters t I'm not totally sure who this book is aimed at; from the writing, maybe this is good for people in their mid-teens. Although, even then, it makes up an odd selection of women. If it were a completely objective account, then that would be one thing, but the writer speaks with clear passion about these women, even though some are certainly questionable as figures to look up for. Overall, I was a little underwhelmed and confused by the whole purpose of the book, not least when the latter chapters turned into rehashes of interviews the author had done with the women in question.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Molly Berger

    I enjoyed this book. It was an easy read, the chapters are all short and easily digestible. I thought the writing was a little casual/colloquial but I learned a lot about a few historical women that I wasn't too informed on. The author has incredible experience!

  30. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    Not what I was expecting, and it didn’t really do what it said on the tin, but I still very much enjoyed this book and would recommend to any man.

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