5 Women Leaders on the Books They Wish They'd Read Earlier

Posted by Elizabeth on March 8, 2018
As a working woman and mother, I’ve been on the edge of my seat observing the past six months. Some of the revelations across various industries have been a surprise, others, unfortunately, have not. My hope on this year's International Women’s Day is that in the future we look at the integrity of people in power and support and promote those who exhibit that quality, regardless of gender.

And I also deeply believe in supporting my fellow women. It’s incredibly challenging to do anything well in today’s high-stress, high-achieving society. Women and men are expected to be superhuman. So many people are balancing a lot behind closed doors (family, kids, relationships, health, parents, etc.).

I’m always tickled when I meet a woman “killing it” in her chosen profession: artist, mother, CEO. After all, “One woman’s success is another woman’s inspiration.” I try to use those women’s success stories as personal motivation and I hope you do, too.

In honor of International Women’s Day, we asked a variety of women to suggest some of the top books they wish they had read when they were younger. Interestingly, one book, in particular, resonated with several of us. I’d also like to share a few of my own life-changing recs!

Happy Reading,

-Elizabeth
Goodreads Co-Founder and Editor in Chief


Elizabeth recommends…

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This is sort of a kick-you-in-the-butt book—a book to remind you not to sleepwalk through your life. I was touched by the abruptness of the tale. Kalanithi does not even finish writing it before succumbing to lung cancer, and his wife is left to put together the last pieces. Go do your dreams! Now! That is a key takeaway, told in visceral, impossible-to-ignore terms.


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If you have creative desires—perhaps it’s a business endeavor, writing a book, playing an instrument—The Artist’s Way provides a regimen and plan for accomplishing those dreams. The answer is not glamorous: self-love, time, discipline, and actually doing the work. Julia Cameron puts you through the steps. Life changing.


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At one point in my life I struggled with a dangerous and depressing medical event and during the long and unsure recovery period, I picked this book up as a way to cope. Kabat-Zinn is a specialist in living in the moment. This book will lift you up in a very subtle way and give you the tools to refocus your life. Sometimes savoring is just as important as accomplishment.






Colleen Wachob is the co-founder and Chief Brand Officer at MindBodyGreen.com, a health and wellness website and community dedicated to inspiring mental, physical, spiritual, emotional, and environmental fitness.

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I love all of Dan's books on longevity and his most recent book on the habits of the world's happiest people is a good reminder to focus your time and energy on people and experiences that bring you joy.


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Marie Kondō's organization principles help you make your home a sanctuary and make investments in things you love.


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We live in an age when entrepreneurship is glamorized. Sheryl O'Loughlin talks candidly about the toll being an entrepreneur can take on yourself, your marriage, and your family—and offers lessons on staying sane during the journey.


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There's so much conflicting information around what to eat, but Michael Pollan lays out the ground rules that we can (mostly) all agree on.


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I didn't 'discover' Chinese medicine until my early 30s, but it's helped me understand so much about myself and my body. I wish I had gotten onto the acupuncture table decades earlier.






April Gargiulo is the founder of Vintner’s Daughter, a natural skincare line that uses a winemaking approach to beauty.

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Interestingly, I read this book way before I ever had a twinkle in my eye about being in the beauty world. I read it because it was about a woman who had built a global brand with integrity. Sadly, this is not the norm and I was deeply inspired by her work and the foundations she had laid out. She was a true visionary. All of us in the natural world are standing on her shoulders.


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I read this as a 22 year old just beginning my career. Someone on the subway was reading it and I thought it sounded like something I should read. I'm not sure how many of the tips I actually put to work, but for me that wasn’t necessarily the point. It was more about understanding how I felt about saving vs. spending and how to align my values around that.


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This is a super-fast read and much of it is anecdotal evidence for its main point, which is to say that there are many good companies, but not many great companies. It points out what truly great companies share in their cultures, goals, and values. With Vintner’s Daughter I want to create the absolute highest performing products made from the finest ingredients. I also want to build a great company that changes women’s lives for the better.


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This is a book that completely captivated me from the first page. She writes about a very painful time in her life with such grace and truth, it left me unable to be anything but grateful for every moment spent with the people I love, doing the things I love.






Abby Falik is the CEO and founder of Global Citizen Year, a non-profit organization that gives high school graduates from diverse backgrounds fellowships to work and make an impact abroad before attending college.

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Together these books transformed my view of what it means to be human, and were a powerful reminder of how small we are in the grand scheme of evolutionary time. Given this, what's the purpose of life if not to find meaning and be happy?!


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I read this book when my husband and I were living through the limbo of a medical diagnosis. The author, Paul, was my college classmate who was diagnosed with cancer in his mid-30s and the book chronicles his last years of life. As his brilliant wife Lucy writes in the epilogue, reading this book was like a "nutcracker that cracked the hard shell and brought me back to the nourishing meat of my marriage," but in our very fortunate case, without the heartbreak.


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This gem has been a life-long companion in healing my heart and soothing my soul when the going gets rough.


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This book changed my life in a very concrete way. At Sheryl Sandberg's suggestion, I now write a "joy journal" every night before bed. The practice of writing down three things that brought me joy helps me scan for what's delightful and inspiring each day—and when I have trouble listing three, I know I need to wake up and notice more!


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This book helped me see the opportunity to define success on my own terms (think: more fulfillment, community, and fun, less debt, status, and stuff). I wish I'd learned these lessons sooner!






Shiza Shahid is the co-founder of the Malala Fund, venture capitalist, and social entrepreneur.

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My friend Reshma does important work teaching girls to code. This book is an important read to inspire young girls to be passionate about technology and science, and know they can do anything they set their minds to.


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Malala is my cofounder, friend, and a hero to girls around the world. Her new book Malala’s Magic Pencil shows girls they have the power to be extraordinary in any way they choose.


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We are rarely aware of our own mortality, and the gift of life. Paul’s book is a life-giving story of finding meaning while dying.


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Claudia shares powerful stories about trailblazing women and how women can come to together to lift each other up.


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Adam Braun’s journey as a young entrepreneur striving to improve education around the world is an inspiring example for young people who want to change the world.



What books would you recommend for International Women's Day? Tell us in the comments!

Check out more recent blogs:
23 Big Books of Spring
Elaine F. Weiss' What to Read this Women's History Month
Young Leaders and True Heroes: How a 'Rebel of the Sands' Becomes Both

Comments Showing 1-26 of 26 (26 new)

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message 1: by Jon (new)

Jon Weird how they ALL recommend When Breath Becomes Air!


message 2: by Amanda (new)

Amanda I loved Drop the Ball: Achieving More by Doing Less. It made me think a lot about the things I need to prioritize in my life to be happy as a wife, mom, & professional. It made me strive to change the work/life balance conversation at work. It was just a great, honest book about what it takes to be a successful woman with a family.


message 3: by Jeanne (new)

Jeanne Jon wrote: "Weird how they ALL recommend When Breath Becomes Air!"

I find it fascinating that they all did.... now on my list to read!


message 4: by Belhor (new)

Belhor Girls who code? Girls need to read a specifically designed book just for them to learn how to code?


message 5: by Faye (new)

Faye Belhor wrote: "Girls who code? Girls need to read a specifically designed book just for them to learn how to code?"

Sometimes it can be helpful to see someone who looks like you doing what you dream of doing. I haven't read it, but I doubt the book is 'dumbed down' just for girls.


message 6: by Tova (new)

Tova Summary? I really need to read When Breath Becomes Air.


message 7: by René (new)

René Roth The critique against books like "Girls who Code" would hold a lot more weight if it actually came from girls for once.


message 8: by Belhor (new)

Belhor Chris wrote: "René wrote: "The critique against books like "Girls who Code" would hold a lot more weight if it actually came from girls for once."

I'm not sure what you're saying here. Critiques by boys that re..."


I second this.


message 9: by René (new)

René Roth Neither of you criticised the book's content itself, you've both been complaining about its mere existence without even knowing what it contains.
Why bother? If it's of no use for anyone, nobody will buy it. If it's of use for someone, why complain?


message 10: by René (new)

René Roth I'm more interested in why Goodreads is shilling for When Breath Becomes Air so hard.


message 11: by Belhor (last edited Mar 08, 2018 12:10PM) (new)

Belhor Faye wrote: "Belhor wrote: "Girls who code? Girls need to read a specifically designed book just for them to learn how to code?"

Sometimes it can be helpful to see someone who looks like you doing what you dre..."


This is exactly my point. So just because a book on coding isn't written by a female then a girl can't see herself in it? I can see your point if it was about some social issue. But coding? Computers don't care about gender. Also coding doesn't change if you're a woman or a man. I didn't say it was dumbed down. But come to think of it, why is the cover of the book even like that? You are either a coder or you're not. As a CS graduate who actually works in the field I know many people who can't code. I know many who can. Some are men, some are women. There are no female coders. There are just coders. Just like there are no female engineers. There are just engineers.
This is truly absurd. Please don't ruin this too with complete nonsense gender stuff! Why do people just have to put gender labels on everything! Now even computers!


message 12: by Belhor (new)

Belhor René wrote: "Neither of you criticised the book's content itself, you've both been complaining about its mere existence without even knowing what it contains.
Why bother? If it's of no use for anyone, nobody wi..."


I think it's a completely valid question or even objection to have. No matter how good or how bad the book actually is (I doubt that it's good) it's irrelevant.
Would it not be a little weird to say "Girls who can read" or "Girls who can drive"!


message 13: by Xantha (new)

Xantha Page "5 Capitalists on the Books They Wish They'd Read Earlier" I'll pass.


message 14: by Ugur (last edited Mar 09, 2018 01:45AM) (new)

Ugur Why so much surprise about a book title about women coding? Even in the more modern societies there is still a gap between the numbers of women and men studying the stem subjects, computer science is one of these, no need to get into disputes why, here. And she is the co-founder of Malala Fund, whose whole goal is to help girls get the same rights to study as the men all around the World. Maybe it's a rubbish book and she'll realise that, or maybe it's actually a very relevant topic, to her, to her fund and to some other women. She seems to be capable enough to make her choices.


message 15: by Maria (new)

Maria Waltner The interesting thing about coding between boys and girls is that boys like coding for the robots and mechanics of it all. Girls generally need a softer approach to get them interested - it's more about helping people and what they can accomplish for others than the straight hardware aspect. However, once you've got girls hooked they love the hardware too.

And, face it, boys can be particularly derisive when they see a girl doing something that they think they can do better. With the Girls Who Code program, girls are forced to step into leadership roles because there's no one else. (And just so nobody cries foul on behalf of boys, we do a Boys Who Code program too.)


message 16: by René (last edited Mar 08, 2018 11:00PM) (new)

René Roth Maria wrote: "And, face it, boys can be particularly derisive when they see a girl doing something that they think they can do better."

As is evident from the insecurities caused by just the "Girls Who Code" book title alone.


message 17: by Susan (new)

Susan Belhor wrote: "Faye wrote: "Belhor wrote: "Girls who code? Girls need to read a specifically designed book just for them to learn how to code?"

Sometimes it can be helpful to see someone who looks like you doing..."

As a female engineer, I'm just gonna say right now that we do exist! I'm not just an engineer. It's important to point out the incredibly large gender gap in STEM. And as for the book you clearly didn't read, it's meant to empower young girls who might otherwise be pushed away from STEM fields. It's incredibly important to encourage young girls especially when it comes it STEM. The book isn't a how to manual for girls. It's part tutorial and part story meant to inspire young girls. I don't know why female empowerment makes you so uncomfortable but you should probably know literally anything about the book before criticizing it purely by its cover.


message 18: by Ella (last edited Mar 09, 2018 06:15AM) (new)

Ella OK, so I bought a copy of Girls Who Code for my niece -- specifically because she has two brothers and a father who code, and she seemed hesitant. She is the type of little girl who excels but hangs back, doesn't raise her hand, sticks to the things she already knows she can do. I wanted her to try if she was interested. She's very young. She simply is drawn to stories about girls, much like her brothers are drawn to stories about boys. It drives me bonkers that they are so gender rigid, but they are. My sister raised her fraternal twins exactly the same, but they learned those roles somehow anyway. Long story short - my niece now plays around with coding as much as her twin brother, and she's actually better at it (I didn't say that.) She needed permission. Maybe that's a fault, but I don't care - she got what she needed from that book and a toy for girls aimed to do the same thing.

And why IS goodreads shilling When Breath Becomes Air so hard?


message 19: by Raven (new)

Raven I tried to read When Breath Becomes Air twice and couldn't get through the first chapter. I'm not knocking it and maybe I'll try again and stick with it, but it didn't capture me immediately.


message 20: by Shhhhh (last edited Mar 09, 2018 08:09AM) (new)

Shhhhh Ahhhhh Chris wrote: "Faye wrote: "Sometimes it can be helpful to see someone who looks like you doing what you dre..."

But are those the kind of people who will "change the world"? Being first to accomplish something ..."


Coding is platforming. A girl does not need to be driven to be the first person to teach themselves how to code, and if they are the type of person that will change the world, they'll be smart enough to know that they wouldn't be the first person to do that. Why wouldn't they use a specially tailored method to reach a proximal goal of knowing how to code quicker if their ultimate goal requires them to be able to code as a platform for achieving more?

Your response does not sound substantive or reasonable. If you do not like the book, when you've never even read it, then you can just as well not say anything about it. You are not beholden to buy it, read it, or review it, so why say anything?


message 21: by Shhhhh (new)

Shhhhh Ahhhhh Belhor wrote: "Faye wrote: "Belhor wrote: "Girls who code? Girls need to read a specifically designed book just for them to learn how to code?"

Sometimes it can be helpful to see someone who looks like you doing..."


And fish don't see water, Belhor. Your perspective as a coder is valuable. Your perspective as someone who isn't a woman, is not. You have just admitted to not reading the book. Why not let it alone? Why insist upon your display of ignorance?


message 22: by Belhor (new)

Belhor Guys, there's no need to call me ignorant for saying what I think. I might be wrong. Thank you.


message 23: by Shhhhh (new)

Shhhhh Ahhhhh Belhor wrote: "Guys, there's no need to call me ignorant for saying what I think. I might be wrong. Thank you."

Don't take something as an insult that is meant to be descriptive. You are literally ignorant of the contents of the book. That does not make you ignorant in general, but it does make you talking about the book a display of ignorance.


message 24: by Belhor (new)

Belhor Shhhhh wrote: "Belhor wrote: "Guys, there's no need to call me ignorant for saying what I think. I might be wrong. Thank you."

Don't take something as an insult that is meant to be descriptive. You are literally..."


Yes. That could be true. Still, I was not talking about the content of the book. Just its name and the the philosophy of the field the way I see it. Just an opinion nothing more. However, I now think it's better if I just don't. :)
Hope everyone enjoys coding as much as I do. :D


Isabel (Sab The Book Eater) Jon wrote: "Weird how they ALL recommend When Breath Becomes Air!"

I know! By the end of the article I thought, well now I REALLY have to get this book!


message 26: by Geeta (new)

Geeta Varma The Heart of Donna Rai by Sumita Dutta Shoam.

A book for young adults as well as adults. Sumita has succeeded in bringing adventure, humour, old world charm, relationships, social issues, ....all under one roof. Set in a remote village in Bengal, India, the story takes you to a world as seen and understood by Donna, a teenager, who is intelligent, dyslexic and charmingly sweet.


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