Gloria Steinem, a leading voice of the American feminist movement from the 1960s well into today, has spent her life advocating for the disenfranchised. Her dedication and devotion to a world of justice and peace has inspired generations of activists, and her many accomplishments – from her undercover stint as a Playboy Bunny to co-founding the feminist magazine Ms. – are detailed in her 2015 memoir, My Life on the Road. The author of several feminist tomes, she was a book lover from a young age, and like many, loved getting lost in the world of literature.

Growing up, she says: “Books were my escape, I didn’t really go to school full time until I was 10 or so, so I just read anything and everything: Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys, anything about horses, grown-up novels, and a multivolume history of the Civil War.” And just as Maya Angelou encouraged everyone to read everything, Steinem devoured “anything with a story, I just kept reading from beginning to end, with or without snatches of sleep.”

Like Alice Walker, Steinem liked to “focus on writers who are making the invisible visible.” Asked of her favorite contemporary feminist writers, she lists: “bell hooks, Robin Morgan, Alice Walker, Margaret Atwood, Louise Erdrich, Catharine MacKinnon, Ann Jones, Lynn Nottage, Jo Freeman, Anne Lamott, Angela Davis, Diana E. H. Russell, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Beverly Guy-Sheftall, Naomi Klein, Patricia Williams, Barbara Ehrenreich, Kimberle Crenshaw, Nick Kristof, Rebecca Traister, Charles Blow, Roxane Gay, Katha Pollitt, Suzanne Braun Levine, Courtney Martin, Michael Kimmel, Salamishah Tillet, Amy Richards, Mary Kathryn Nagle, Rebecca Solnit, Michelle Goldberg, Lena Dunham — and more. Plus many we have lost, from Audre Lorde and Andrea Dworkin to Marilyn French.”

And as for underrated and underappreciated writers, she recommends: “Bessie Head from South Africa, Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay in India, and also writers like Octavia Butler and Ursula Le Guin, who were said to write science fiction, though their male counterparts were called magical realists.”

Read on for a list of books that gave Gloria Steinem “the pleasure of big and new understandings,” and complement with The Books Alice Walker Championed. For a deeper look at her approach to women’s issues and advocacy work, check out Steinem’s Masterclass on redefining the feminist movement.

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (also rec’d by John Lennon, Maya Angelou, Patti Smith & Shonda Rhimes)

The Sacred Hoop by Paula Gunn Allen
“By teaching us lessons from the hundreds of advanced cultures that prospered on this North American continent…Allen helps us to see that patriarchy is neither universal nor inevitable, but the first step in normalizing hierarchy.” -GS

This Bridge Called My Back by Gloria Anzaldua & Cherríe Moraga

Two Thousand Seasons by Ayi Kwei Armah

“In the communal voice of a storyteller, this great Ghanaian novelist describes Africa before Arab and European invasions and slave-taking. He not only redefines history, but how history is told.” -GS

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (also rec’d by Emma Watson)

“We’ve learned that Atwood’s novel should be read…as a warning about patriarchy and its control of reproduction as the underpinning of everything undemocratic.” -GS
Our Bodies, Ourselves by Boston Women’s Health Book Collective
“Since patriarchy is about controlling female bodies in order to control reproduction, this was and will always be basic.” -GS

Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler

“If there is one thing scarier than a dystopian novel about the future, it’s one written in the past that has already begun to come true.” -GS

Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote (also rec’d by Philip Seymour Hoffman)

The Great Santini by Pat Conroy

“It stands as a classic account of families whose structure is shaped by the rigid patriarchy around them.” -GS

The Mermaid and the Minotaur by Dorothy Dinnerstein (also rec’d by bell hooks)

“Enough to convince you that men raising children—and boys being raised to raise children, as girls are, whether either will choose to have children or not—is nothing less than the long term and only reliable path to peace.” -GS

Bossypants by Tina Fey (also rec’d by Annie Clark)

The Recognitions by William Gaddis

Collected Works by Mahatma Gandhi (also rec’d by Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X & Marina Abramovic)

In the late 1950s, Steinem spent two years in India studying Mahatma Gandhi’s guiding principles, which she would later bring to her work in American feminism.

Ida: A Sword Among Lions by Paula J Giddings 

Trauma and Recovery by Judith Herman

“From shell shock in World War I to childhood sexual abuse today, the reality of trauma has been denied. But as this indispensable book makes clear, ‘Remembering and telling the truth about terrible events are prerequisites both for the restoration of the social order and for the healing of individual victims.'” -GS

Sex & World Peace by Valerie M. Hudson 

“All the many forms of violence against females have now added up to fewer females on earth than males. Since violence against females is the normalizer of all other forms of violence, this book is vital, from family life to foreign policy.” -GS

Next Time, She’ll Be Dead by Ann Jones

“A mind-blowing, sanity-saving, revolutionary book.” -GS

The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston

“If a Chinese girl living in the back of a laundry in San Francisco can imagine herself as a woman warrior riding down from the hills of China to rescue her people, I can imagine myself off this island.” -GS

The History of History by Vinay Lal

“I was drawn to the author because he wrote about Gandhi as abandoning “masculine” leadership. Then I was knocked out by his title because it tells you right away how political history is.” -GS

Exterminate All the Brutes by Sven Lindqvist

“Proves the high price we have paid—and continue to pay—for being limited to a version of world history seen mostly through the eyes of colonizers from a small area called Europe.” -GS

Girls Like Us: Fighting for a World Where Girls Are Not for Sale by Rachel Lloyd

The Group by Mary McCarthy

The Group lasts because it is read or re-read as an indicator of change—or the lack of it.” -GS

The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers

At the Dark End of the Street by Danielle McGuire

“For a decade before Rosa Parks began the Montgomery bus boycott, she had been protesting the rapes at bus stops of black women by white men. This book helps make the female half of the civil rights movement visible.” -GS

Dark Matter by Robin Morgan

“Though I plan to stay off desert islands, and live to be 100, this soon-to-be published book of poetry contains my favorite lines: ‘….It’s sweetness/ that turns leaving sour, joy that makes dying hard.'” -GS

The Demon Lover by Robin Morgan

“A key to understanding and uprooting terrorism in all its forms.” -GS

Sisterhood is Powerful, Sisterhood is Global & Sisterhood is Forever by Robin Morgan

Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy

“[Woman on the Edge of Time] makes us feel both powerful enough and angry enough to do something about steering toward the more humane future.” -GS

All the Women Are White, All the Blacks Are Men, but Some of Us Are Brave by Barbara Smith

The Color Purple by Alice Walker (also rec’d by Chimamanda AdichieEmma Watson & Gabrielle Union)

“Because she makes the invisible visible, and redeems people who seem irredeemable, she makes every reader feel visible and redeemable, too.” -GS

Indian Givers by Jack Weatherford

(via The New York TimesEarly Bird BooksOne Grand Books)

Books by Gloria Steinem

The Beach Book (1963)

Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions (1983)

Marilyn (1986)

Revolution from Within (1992)

Moving Beyond Words (1993)

Doing Sixty & Seventy (2006)

My Life on the Road (2015)

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