BOOK REVIEW: The Little Book of Feminist Saints

by Julia Pierpont

Let us pick up our books and pens. They are our most powerful weapons. One child, one teacher, one pen and one book can change the world. Education is the only solution.
Malala Yousafzai, Matron Saint of Students (Feast Day 12th July)

Cover LBOFSIts publication date scheduled to coincide with International Women’s Day, Julia Pierpont’s The Little Book of Feminist Saints is a joyous celebration of one hundred women who achieved something of significance during their lives.

A variety of female voices contributed to the final selection of names included in the collection, from friends and editor of the author to people working at Random House. Pierpont says that when the list reached four-hundred it was, with some difficulty, whittled down to a more compact but concise selection of “matron saints”, each with her own unique feast day. We are told that during this process, Katharine Hepburn received five independent nominations, and Marie Curie eight.

Rather than produce a mundane roll-call of biographical facts, every individual in this “secular book of saints” is summed-up with a telling anecdote or pithy witticism, and each vignette is accompanied by a stunning full-colour portrait by the British artist Manjit Thapp.

Pierpont finds connections between a number of the women – sometimes fairly obscure, but often more direct – and she describes finding these as like stumbling upon a “great sisterhood.” She’s aware countless noteworthy individuals are missing from the collection, but attempting to include every single suggestion was never an option. Therefore, at the back of the book she provides a section for you to add your own matron saint.

She alone, out of an enormous and dull catalogue of heroines, does not get married at the end of the film, does not die, does not take the road to exile, does not gaze sadly at her declining youth in a silver-framed mirror in the worst possible taste.”
Colette on Mae West

The author is a New Yorker, so there is inevitably a strong US flavour to this volume, however, the selection is diverse in so much as the women’s accomplishments cover multifarious disciplines, with names ranging from Maya Angelou, Rachel Carson and Billie Jean King to Sappho, Mae West and Jane Austen.

This is a highly enjoyable romp through the lives of gutsy, gifted, awe-inspiring women whose lives have made – or continue to make – powerful impressions long after their passing. Every library, educational institution and young family should aspire to possess at least a single copy.

Many thanks to Random House for providing an advance review copy of this title.


International Women’s Day 2018 falls on 8th March. Its theme this year is Press For Progress and its slogan: ‘Individually, we’re one drop but together we’re an ocean!’


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15 replies

  1. This sounds like a great book, Paula! I’m always a little reluctant to pick up a collection of biographies, in the end I’m afraid I’ll just forget about everyone or just remember a handful of them. This one looks more unique and definitely more memorable! 🙂

    • Thanks, Ayunda.It’s definitely a fun book, and the illustrations are gorgeous. I know exactly what you mean about a squillion potted bios squished together in a single volume – this can never do justice to any one person – but I think these books do have their uses. They can, for instance, whet the appetite about a particular individual or historic event. In fact, I’ve made a couple of fascinating discoveries in TLBOFS and now intend to look them up for future reading. 😃

      • Great to know! It’s been a while since I’ve read biographies anyway, and I’m always on the lookout for more amazing women to look up to 🙂

  2. This sounds rather cheering!

  3. I have heard so much about this book, so your review is intriguing. I like the way you describe how the author put together the bios of each woman, which is not a straightforward biographical narrative. And I will be interested to see the connections between them.

    • Thanks, Laurie. You’re right, it isn’t your typical book of bios. I would describe it as an uplifting read – not academic or heavy in any way. I found the illustrations a big part of the enjoyment.

  4. This sounds like a good book to have lying around the house!

  5. How did I not know about this book already? Glad to have stumbled upon your review. I just added it to my Amazon wish list.

  6. Reblogged this on ReBirth: The Pursuit of Porsha and commented:
    Most Excellent; sounds like a great read that I can’t wait to own.!!!


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