Nonfiction Redemption: Misunderstood Female Figures Throughout History

Read on for refreshing nonfiction titles that restore the true narrative of some of history’s most misjudged women!

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Throughout human existence, some women’s stories are etched into eternal historical gossip. For them, who they truly were became obscured by myth, the media, bias, and the sands of time. Let’s look at a few nonfiction books that recapture the true narratives of misread female voices throughout history that were totally sensationalized.

Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald: An American Woman’s Life by Linda Wagner-Martin

Born in the Roaring Twenties, this infamous “party girl” of the literary Jazz Age was destined to be more than media gossip!

Before she met her husband, Zelda was already a gifted writer, painter, and dancer. And she certainly aspired beyond being just “F. Scott Fitzgerald’s wife.” Her own talents were already overshadowed by her local fame, which she gained for her extraordinary beauty and spirited personality by the time F. Scott Fitzgerald found big success with his first novel. When they got married, they became overnight celebrities as the new power couple for the liberated spirits of the 1920s flappers. But beneath all the glitz and glamour, Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald was dealing with a tumultuous marriage and facing mental health battles — and her creativity was still being ignored. Not just ignored — copied!

A faded black and white photograph of Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald. The bottom of the cover fades completely. Across the top in white lettering there is a quote by Dale Spender that says " Linda Wagner-Martin maps the up and downs of a woman's life in thought provoking and illuminating ways." In the lower middle of the cover in gold lettering it says Zelda's name. Underneath that in black text it says An American Woman's Life - and the authors name Linda Wagner-Martin.

F. Scott Fitzgerald used entire passages from her diaries in his own work without ever citing her contributions. Constantly haunted by societal expectations and the flashing bulbs of the media, Zelda’s legacy deserves to lie far beyond being an Arm Candy Muse but as a talented artist and writer in her own right. For the first time, in this captivating biography by Linda Wagner-Martin, the full story of Zelda’s life is told from her own perspective rather than through the lens of her well-known husband.

Anne Boleyn: 500 Years of Lies by Hayley Nolan

Legend has it they really were in love…. but a childless King was bad for business!

black background with a picture of Queen Anne Boleyn, dressed in pearls. In bold orange lettering across the whole cover it says: Anne Boleyn 500 years of lies by Hayley Nolan.

One of the most intriguing and misunderstood women to become Queen of England, Anne Boleyn’s life has been shrouded in myth and misrepresentation for centuries. As the second wife to give it a try, Anne gave King Henry VIII everything he wanted…. except a baby boy. After multiple miscarriages and producing only one daughter, she failed to secure the Tudor dynasty’s succession with a male heir. What’s a king to do? Have her publicly accused of adultery, witchcraft, and conspiracy against the king and — gasp! — beheaded, I guess. Hayley Nolan explores uncensored evidence of Anne Boleyn’s real life and relationship with Henry VIII in this interesting exposé that reveals how this powerful woman’s voice was silenced…until now.

Love, Pamela: A Memoir of Prose, Poetry, and Truth by Pamela Anderson

In this bombshell of a book, Pamela reclaims the narrative of her real life and gives us the full spread.

A black and white glamour shot of Pamela Anderson with her hair pinned up. Across the top in white lettering, it says her name: Pamela Anderson. Along the bottom in handwritten style, it says the title: Love, Pamela.

Ah yes, Pamela Anderson — actress, activist, poet, football fan. And, infamous boob-a-licious Playboy Playmate, of course! Another female figure who was judged for her sex life, Pamela’s blond bombshell persona might be iconically 1990s, but her image was often misconstrued and stretched wide by the media and tabloids. She invites readers to look past the juicy headlines and glossy images and explore the real Pamela in this candid memoir that layers searing prose, original poetry, and unforgettable accounts of her experiences. Yes… even those experiences.

Agent Josephine: American Beauty, French Hero, British Spy by Damien Lewis

She was the Hannah Montana of SPIES!

Josephine Baker — dancer, performer, and diva extraordinaire — made history as the first person of color to star in a major motion picture (the 1934 film Zouzou). When it came to her beauty, sexuality, and performances, her reputation preceded her; at one point, she was Europe’s highest-paid female performer. She refused to perform for segregated audiences in the US and became known for her contributions to the Civil Rights Movement. She also acted as a spy for the French Resistance during WWII and smuggled secret messages in her sheet music! The Nazis had taken Paris and banned her — along with Jewish people and all people of color — from the stage. Instead of retreating back to America, this badass went from dance-hall diva to super spy and stayed to fight Nazi evil.

Agent Josephine, American Beauto, French Hero, British Spy by Damien Lewis, book cover

Afterward, she became highly misunderstood in the US in the 1950s when her campaign for racial tolerance made her a target of interest to the FBI, who maintained an extensive file on our heroine Josephine to track her actions and comments in the press that were critical of racial discrimination. They eventually made insinuations of possible affiliations with communist groups. The general public in America didn’t get to hear about her full heroic double life until bestselling author Damien Lewis took us on a journey through the life of Agent Josephine Baker — music hall celebrity by day, intelligence agent by night.

Christine Jorgensen: A Personal Autobiography by Christine Jorgensen

Forced into the spotlight, she used her newfound platform to advocate for transgender people.

Christine Jorgensen: A Personal Autobiography by Christine Jorgensen

In 1951, Jorgensen left for Denmark and, a year later, returned as the first American to undergo a sex reassignment operation. Christine Jorgensen planned to keep her transition a secret but was outed when a leaked letter to her parents became a front-page feature at the New York Daily News, making her an international celebrity before she even left the airport. Denied the quiet life she designed for herself, she found she could only earn a living through public appearances, and she chose to use them to demystify the trans-experience and challenge misconceptions. In a world that was not quite ready for transgender conversations, she became a pioneer who helped pave the way for trans rights and acceptance. Originally published in 1967, Christine Jorgensen’s autobiography gave us a firsthand — and truly historical — account of her life and ground-breaking destiny.

A Dingo’s Got My Baby: Words That Divided A Nation by Lindy Chamberlain-Creighton

A mother’s worst nightmare came true, and no one believed her!

A Dingo's Got My Baby: Words That Divided A Nation by Lindy Chamberlain-Creighton

Lindy Chamberlain-Creighton was the mother at the center of a tragic and highly publicized event most of us have heard of before. Her nine-week-old baby Azaria was taken and killed by a dingo at a campground in Australia in the summer of 1980. But no one believed poor Lindy, and she was wrongly accused of her daughter’s murder and sentenced to life in prison. A few years later, a backpacker fell to his death while rock climbing in the same area. During the search for him, police found crucial evidence that proved Lindy’s innocence — Azaria’s jacket…. partially buried in a Dingo lair. This compelling memoir is an emotionally raw and honest account of her hellish experiences, the media frenzy, and her sensationalized trial to dispel all myths and reveal the truth behind the headlines.

Joan of Arc: A History by Helen Castor

More than peasant, warrior, or witch, this misunderstood heroine defied social norms and kings!

Joan of Arc: A History by Helen Castor

The French heroine Joan of Arc was profoundly misunderstood during her short but explosive lifetime. She wore men’s clothes and claimed to have divine visions from God, which the Church considered inappropriate and blasphemous. After she led the French to victory against the English at only seventeen years old, she was accused just two years later of heresy and witchcraft and — as we all know — burned at the stake. Unlike most medieval figures, Joan’s story was meticulously documented, which has allowed many historians to study her life beyond myth. Helen Castor offers a fresh historical perspective in this retelling of Joan of Arc’s extraordinary story from peasant to saint.

Obscured by societal norms and biases, the lives of these misunderstood women became twisted and misconstrued. But through the lens of nonfiction, their true stories can echo across time and reveal their strength, courage, and unwavering resolve. Read these books and gain a new perspective on history, tear down the myths and headlines, and set the record straight.

Read my recommendations for nonfiction books about women who have been to hell & back here!

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