Looking for your next great read? Why not spend the summer getting inspired by incredible women public leaders? That’s my plan, and I don’t know anyone who has read more books about women in politics than Ruth B. Mandel, founder of the Center for American Women and Politics and currently director of the Eagleton Institute of Politics and Board of Governors Professor of Politics at Rutgers University. Ruth also wrote one of the seminal books on women candidates, In the Running: The New Woman Candidate – so naturally I turned to her for ideas.
In her own words, here are Ruth’s recommendations for some great summer reads:
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings – Maya Angelou
Given her recent death, Maya Angelou is on everyone’s mind. This book is worth reading or revisiting if you have already read it. In terms of politics, she influenced so many leaders in her life, from Martin Luther King, Jr., with whom she worked, to President Clinton, who selected her to write and recite a poem for his inauguration (the first African American and first female poet to do so.) I’ll never forget one time when she came and spoke to one of my classes. A student asked her a question and she sang her response. You caught your breath – there was something so beautiful and so powerful about this woman. She had gone through some of life’s most horrible experiences and lost her voice as a result of a trauma. But she rose from that childhood of poverty and extreme challenges to become a voice for everyone.
[Editor’s note – for young kids, check out Maya Angelou: Diversity Makes for a Rich Tapestry and Maya Angelou: Journey of the Heart.]
My Beloved World – Sonia Sotomayor
The spirit of the book and the spirit of the person who wrote it are in the book title. It’s a pleasure to read. Justice Sotomayor embraces life, from the most difficult moments and challenges to great experiences. She gives a very personal, open and candid description of growing up in difficult circumstances but with a loving family and a community of beloved friends. She took on every new experience with a determination to do well and with a gusto for life and learning. You admire her when you finish reading the book and are in awe of her achievement of rising to the Supreme Court. But you could also imagine sitting down with her and feeling completely comfortable.
[Editor’s note – young kids can learn about Justice Sotomayor in A Judge Grows in the Bronx by Jonah Winter.]
The Autobiography of Eleanor Roosevelt – Eleanor Roosevelt
Here’s the story of someone who comes from a very prominent family, whose childhood was difficult and painful…one disappointment after another. She did not have a life of emotional luxury. It’s a fascinating story of a woman who became a global leader through her role as First Lady and later her own appointment to the United Nations. Her leadership left us with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the most important document to light our way through the 21st century. That alone is enough to read her story. Ken Burns also has a new documentary coming out about her. Before that comes out, read her own book.
It’s My Party Too: The Battle for the Heart of the GOP and the Future of America – Christine Todd Whitman
There is a lot of discussion these days about what’s going on with the Republican party and the future of the party. This book is a good insider look at that debate from a lifelong Republican with a long political career, including serving as the only woman governor of New Jersey and as a presidential appointee. She’s been discussed as a possible vice presidential candidate, and she is now taking a leading role on climate change issues. Her thoughts about her party are definitely worth a read.
Living History and Hard Choices – Hillary Rodham Clinton
I recommend these two books to everyone because they are about the life of the most important political woman of our time – someone who served as a First Lady, a US Senator, and Secretary of State. She was the first woman to be taken seriously as a Presidential candidate in 2008, and now, in the ramp-up to 2016, she is constantly on everyone’s minds. For that reason alone, women – and young women in particular – owe it to themselves to read her story in her own words.
[Editor’s note – for young kids, read Hillary Rodham Clinton: Dreams Taking Flight.]
There you have it – six books on women public leaders with which to kick off your summer reading. Ruth would love to hear from you about what you think of these suggestions and if you have any suggestions of your own. Please share!