Women Reading Women: Audiobooks that Celebrate Female Achievement

Highlighting women from Supreme Court Justices to explorers to queens and more, books that celebrate women and their accomplishments abound, and many are also available on audio. Discover their stories while you commute, walk, shop, cook, or simply relax.

51Bph0hVNzLBook of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklinby Jill Lepore, read by Robin Miles

Miles’ wonderfully effective performance immerses listeners in life in colonial times in general and, specifically, in the life of this inspiring and intelligent woman of wide interests and strong opinions. Her portrayal illuminates Lepore’s characterization of Jane as a woman of wit and intelligence, in many ways a match for her brother Benjamin.

Call the Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard Times, by Jennifer Worth, read by Nicola Barber

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Jennifer Worth was a fresh-faced 19-year-old who left a comfortable life to work with the poor as a midwife in London’s gritty East End.  Narrator Barber does an admirable job voicing a variety of British accents, from the upper-class tones of Worth’s fellow nurses to the many Cockney characters, with some Irish thrown into the mix as well.

51PMk6bMN5LCharlotte Brontë: A Fiery Heart, by Claire Harman, read by Corrie James

The focus here is on Charlotte, but the lives and works of Charlotte, Emily, and Anne, their eventual publication, and the aftermath are explored, with Harman quoting extensively from letters and manuscripts. James does a fine job dramatizing these excerpts, shifting easily into flawless French when needed.

51CEWGklDbL Elizabeth of York: A Tudor Queen and her Worldby Alison Weir, read by Maggie Mash

Weir’s history is scholarly and thorough, but Mash paces her reading so that listeners are engrossed not only in the detail but also in the daily lives of the first Tudor king and queen.

61pXaj8TCYL First Ladies: NPR American Chronicles, by NPR, read by Cokie Roberts

Shattering the misconception that First Ladies are merely behind-the-scenes “tea pourers,” this collection of interviews, profiles, and commentary—originally broadcast on National Public Radio from 1982 to 2015—reveals the personalities, roles, and contributions of numerous First Ladies, from Martha Washington to Michelle Obama.

51zL0bk9c7LGertrude Bell: Queen of the Desert, Shaper of Nationsby Georgina Howell, read by Corrie James

Narrator James brings to life the story and the woman with her warm, crisp British-accented voice. Her pronunciation of the various Arabic names is accurate and flows beautifully with the rest of the narrative. When key people are quoted within the story, James subtly differentiates between them. The ease with which she reads gives this book a narrative quality that’s rare in audiobook biographies.

61RiWkPXI4L Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race, by Margot Lee Shetterly, read by Robin Miles

Miles’ storytelling abilities are employed masterfully here, evoking a time and place and celebrating the skills and character of “the girls,” who often had to vigorously defend their computations against older, white, male engineers. Shetterly’s research offers valuable insights into the ways in which the women supported and learned from one another and other community members.

513HIeC14wLThe Lost Tudor Princess: A Life of Margaret Douglas, Countess of Lennox, by Alison Weir, read by Maggie Mash

Throughout the book, Mash distinguishes the panoply of characters clearly, noting French, Italian, Scottish, and English accents with skill. Weir’s depiction of Margaret is engrossing, and the thoughtful performance highlights both her strengths and her weaknesses.

51YqbdNWMELLouisa: The Extraordinary Life of Mrs. Adams. By Louisa Thomas, read by Kirsten Potter

Potter’s reading presents all of Louisa’s complexity with warmth, sympathy, and clarity. Her tone, which ranges from confident to confiding, conveys Thomas’ close familiarity with her subject and brings Louisa to life. Potter is particularly expressive when delivering quotations and conveys emotions well, notably the somberness of Louisa’s numerous tragedies in motherhood.

51XIh1Y5kyL Mademoiselle: Coco Chanel and the Pulse of History, by Rhonda K. Garelick, read by Tavia Gilbert

Gilbert’s readings of Chanel’s quotes subtly change as voice lessons erase Chanel’s humble origins. The voices of her friends and lovers (English spoken with French, German, Russian and royal-class British accents) are impeccably spot-on, as are the snatches of French, German, and Russian dialogue rendered with total credibility. As WWII rages, Coco’s tones become harsher as she’s sometimes likened to the occupying Nazi forces around her.

51ZZVCUwu+LNotorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsberg, by Irin Camron and Shana Knizhnik, read by Andi Arndt

In her narration, Arndt spins out the account of RBG’s personal and professional lives, capturing her character as a fiercely intelligent and generous woman on and off the Court. Anecdotes offer humor, and even in the sometimes lengthy dissents, Arndt’s reading provides glimpses into Ginsburg’s personality and intellect.

519-UZpxUDL Sally Ride: America’s First Woman in Space, by Lynn Sherr, read by Pam Ward

Sherr has done an impressive job of uncovering the pressures (and sometimes comical missteps) of NASA’s macho culture and its approach to the first class of women astronauts, the unparalleled commitment Ride brought to her job, and the zeal with which she embraced her later challenge to broaden science opportunities for girls. This is an intimate and enormously appealing biography of a fascinating woman, a triumph of research and sensitivity that lives up to its subject and will likely move readers to tears in its final, poignant pages.

51O6DbvrSaLVictoria: The Queen, by Julia Baird, read by Lucy Rayner

Rayner’s interpretation of Queen Victoria over the course of her long life is enchanting. Listeners can hear the subtle changes she makes to capture Victoria’s seemingly dual personalities, that of strong-willed monarch and submissive wife, as well as the toll her long life and many disappointments took upon her. Highly recommended.

51ew-tRW0SLThe Witches: Salem, 1692, by Stacy Schiff, read by Eliza Foss

As the narrative focuses on the players, Foss’ warm tones establish an emotional connection with accusers and accused through her sympathetic descriptions of their circumstances and her sincere delivery of their surviving words and actions. When pulling back to a broader picture of New England in the late 1600s, Foss adopts a more detached, scholarly manner but always returns to the residents of Salem with a gravity that maintains focus on the tragedy that befell the victims.

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About the Author:

Joyce Saricks is Booklist's Audio Editor. In addition to overseeing audiobook coverage, she writes the column "At Leisure with Joyce Saricks." While listening to audiobooks, she enjoys her hobbies—cooking, walking, and traveling. Follow her on Twitter at @Booklist_Joyce.

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