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A History of Britain in 21 Women

3.92  ·  Rating details ·  2,612 ratings  ·  316 reviews
Britain has been defined by its conflicts, its conquests, its men, and its monarchs. To say that it’s high time that it was defined by its women falls some way short of an understatement.

Jenni Murray draws together the lives 21 women to shed light upon a variety of social, political, religious and cultural aspects of British history. In lively prose Murray reinvigorates th
Hardcover, 277 pages
Published October 11th 2016 by Oneworld Publications (first published October 6th 2016)
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I seem to be reading a lot of feminist texts at the moment, but they’ve all been so good and empowering and, most importantly, inspirational. This was no exception. Easy to dip in and out of, it charts a personal look at 21 great women in British history. The author states at the beginning that this is very much a selective and individual take on what it is to be an inspiring woman in British history. There are some rather controversial picks (Margaret Thatcher stands out as probably the most po ...more
Apr 04, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: biography
3.5 stars
This pretty much does what it says on the cover and provides a pen picture of twenty-one significant women in British history. These are only pen pictures, ten to twelve pages; she has done a similar book for world history. The list is Boudicca (Murray insists on Boadicea), Elizabeth I, Aphra Behn, Caroline Herschel, Fanny Burney, Mary Wollstoncraft, Jane Austen, Mary Somerville, Mary Seacole, Ada Lovelace, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, Millicent Garrett Fawcett, Emmeline Pankhurst, Ethel
Katheryn Thompson
“The history of the world is but the biography of great men.” Or so Thomas Carlyle claimed.

Jenni Murray, a journalist and broadcaster who has presented BBC Radio 4’s Women’s Hour since 1987, provides an alternative history, in A History of Britain in 21 Women, through short, fascinating, and humorous biographies on twenty-one women who have made Britain what it is today: Great.

While the selection of women was never going to please everyone, Murray makes it clear from the start that her choices w
BAM Endlessly Booked
Dec 11, 2016 rated it really liked it
What a topical book! This is a must-have for high school girls in doubt, women interested in women's history, feminists. I wish I had a hard copy so I could go through the women with you, but there is mention of nurses and doctors, a composer, legislators, a designer, suffragettes, a warrior and a queen. This is not your typical discussion. ...more
Anyone had a particular book slump where there’s a book you’re mildly interested in but cannot get yourself to pick up and read? Yeah.

DNF AT 45%
Apr 25, 2017 rated it really liked it
A really great book that looks at 21 women who have changed history for the female sex. There are a wide range of women from ones we all know, such as Elizabeth I, Margaret Thatcher and Emmeline Pankhurst, to ones I've ashamedly never heard of but I have come to wholeheartedly respect such as Fanny Burney (author and firsr woman to document a successful mastectomy without pain relief), Elizabeth Garrett Anderson (first female doctor) and Aphra Behn (who I knew as a playwright but not as a spy!). ...more
Mar 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Not only very interesting short biographies of the 21 women, but also a good reminder to appreciate the freedoms women now enjoy which shouldn't be taken for granted. ...more
Feb 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: history lovers, feminists,
Shelves: historical-reads
I received this book as a gift from my best friend when I went back home to visit and it was such a lovely surprise! I'm really glad I finally had the chance to read it.

I've always been a lover of history, and in more recently got into the feminist side of life so this seemed to be a great idea! I felt the book covered a wide selection of different women, for all different reasons. Some were for their political contributions, others artistic, scientific, medical, etc. Each held their own!

The aut
Rachel Ruddick
Mar 02, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: politics, biography
I had read Mary beards SPQR recently and was hoping for a history book that was equally rich and satisfying. This book is not that kind of book. It reads like a cross between a set of Wikipedia pages and a set of personal remarks that are mostly just fandom and admiration. Its only contribution is the authors own encounters with some of these people, such as Thatcher. It's feminist intention is admirable. However this is not a real history book. ...more
charlotte, (½ of readsrainbow)
some thoughts:

(1) shame the author's a terf huh...

(2) it was interesting in a way, because about half of these women are ones i've never heard of so that was cool, but then later on it went with some really boring choices (important women, yes, but boring choices) and yeah

(3) it's really interesting how murray didn't include marie stopes because of her interest in eugenics but included both millicent fawcett who was a staunch imperialist and classist, and maggie thatcher who was homophobic so!

J.A. Ironside
Sep 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
Ok so this was history lite, but then it was never intended to be anything else and it's delivered in a very enjoyable and engaging way. A while back I read Cailyn Moran's 'How to be a Woman'. While shd is very funny and astute as well as savvy with gender politics, she made a comment that struck me with unease: that there is no proper canon of women scientists, entrepreneurs, inventors, artists, musicians, leaders and politicians. For about 5 mins I was horribly afraid she was right. Women thro ...more
Jan 02, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It is worth pointing out, author Jenni Murray is clear, that this is a very personal selection. I think if you asked any group of people who would make their list they would all look very different. I fully admit I raised an eye brow at the inclusion of one or two and wondered at the exclusion of others. In reality, the book is twenty-one chapters of short biographies, there is very little from one chapter that feeds into another. Still, it does provide some fascinating information, the stories ...more
This book is very hard for me to rate. I started by enjoying it immensely. I did not (do not) mind what some of the reviewers see as the arbitrariness of the author's choice of historical figures. Her book, her choice. I certainly never heard of some of the women before I found this book, and I am glad I finally have. As I said in one of my status' updates - we do owe a lot to the 19th/early 20th century feminists. A lot we nowadays take for granted. However, what has spoilt the whole experience ...more
Mary Arkless
This was a very personal choice of which women to include by the author. Every single one was a very strong person, every one promoted women in some way. Personally, I wouldn't have included Nicola Sturgeon, but I can't stand the woman. I am sure many wouldn't put in Margaret Thatcher. Murray admits that that woman's name wouldn't even be mentioned in the circles where Murray grew up (her family were miners). There is a lot to be learnt in this book. Some of these women were authors, and I will ...more
Jul 18, 2019 rated it really liked it
There were a few here I hadn't heard of - or had heard but knew nothing. They're a mixed bag including an Irish nationalist and a Scottish one, as well as Thatcher, along with a wide range of writers, scientists, campaigners.
The stories are about the right length for an introduction like this and I've made notes to find out a bit more about a couple of them (Aphra Behn and Fanny Burney) when I get a chance.
Lauren James
A feminist look at women from Boudiccia to the suffragettes, this is a nice little non-fiction collection of biographies. There's a few women I hadn't heard of that I want to learn more about. ...more
Ellen Thomson
*3.5 stars
Rebecca Alcazaze
3.5 stars.

Great for younger readers who want a brief introduction to our important women, I’ll definitely be lending this to my teenage niece, but I wish this had featured fewer women while offering a more comprehensive insight into those selected.

The illustrations and introductory quotations at the start of each section were delightful.
Feb 02, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: feminism, non-fiction
A very informative and interesting read! I find myself attracted to these kinds of books when I'm in the mood for some not too heavy non fiction (like Wonder Women: 25 Innovators, Inventors, and Trailblazers Who Changed History), and I enjoyed this one.

I guess this is essentially a collection of 10ish page long biographies, and is better suited to reading in short bursts. That said, it never gets boring, and the vast majority of these women were fascinating characters who I had never heard of be
Such a great concept!

It really felt like a journey through time, progressing from the story of a warrior to playwrights and artists and more, with much focus on the suffrage movement and politics later on.

I really enjoyed hearing the stories of these women, though my eyes glazed over more in the latter half of the book, as there were a lot of names being shared (spouses, acquaintances etc) that I probably instantly forgot.

I would have liked to hear more analysis about their influence and less o
Apr 12, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: did-not-enjoy
This book just didn’t quite sit right with me. I enjoyed learning more about some women in British history, but 20 of the 21 women were white, and Nancy Astor, a Nazi sympathiser, and Margaret Thatcher, who did immeasurable damage to many communities in Britain, were included.
Just because a woman has achieved an impressive position, like Thatcher being the first PM, doesn’t mean they should be applauded by default. I would like to find a book about women in British history( or from anywhere, rea
David Swanson
This is the sort of Audible book I really enjoy because it delves into the stories of individuals in history who made a difference. Unfortunately, the delivery of these stories is dull so I regard the content as 4* but the delivery as 2* resulting in a blended 3*
Nicoleta Fedorca
I like her selection of women and the explanation for some of her choices. She chose from all the tiers of the society. I would recommend the book it's easy to read and entertaining. ...more
Jenna Kathleen
The intention to highlight the achievements of women throughout history is admirable and important, but the author doesn't go into a lot of details of each of the women. It feels like I could have searched the JSTOR biography of each of these women, found the same information and not missed out on many facts.

Of course, the point of this introductory novel is to inspire people to go out and learn more about these incredible women, but the way that the information is delivered is dull and hasn't
Oct 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, britain, women
I had casually come across its title among recently recommended new books somewhere on the internet a week or two before, as if dictated by fate or luck, I thought it would literally stare at me from the new arrivals shelf in the Dasa BookCafe in Bangkok in the middle of last month; eventually, I was determined to read it after a brief browse over the pages. I kept asking myself why 21 and left it at that, knowing its solution should arise later.

To continue . . .
Jul 22, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audiobooks
Captivating and sensational. A brief but fascinating journey highlighting influential women from the invasion of the Romans to present day Britain. Through Murray’s gripping writing, this book will excite, shock and enthrall you.

A History of Britain in 21 Women successfully showcases a small selection of incredible women that will give you a desire to explore each of their captivating stories in depth. A truly brilliant read.
Dec 21, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really enjoyed this book, I learnt a lot. Some well known women, Elizabeth I. Boudicca, Jane Austen but some women I knew nothing about; Fanny Burney who documented a mastectomy operation without anaesthesia or Barbara Castle who introduced compulsory seat belts and breathalyser tests. I loved the Emmeline Pankhurst section but it was also really good to read about other women who played a part in the movement.

All of the women faced a common challenge, the men around them. It seems that if you
Zoe Rogers
Dec 31, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: book-club, helpful
Despite being interested in both history and feminism i now realise how little I knew about key women in Britain who have made my life possible. This book is an enjoyable read and a very digestible glimpse into 21 amazing women. It got me thinking who I would put up there and what more I can do for the future.
Henry Tegner
Jul 12, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I found A History of Britain in 21 Women by Jenni Murray an interesting read and well written. At the outset I would say though that I feel a little uneasy writing about a feminist author writing about feminist issues from the perspective of a man and this is perhaps because, as a man, I am inevitable marginalised to a greater or lesser degree from its content. My copies of the book are in two forms – and electronic script version downloaded on to my Kindle, and similarly downloaded the Audible ...more
An interesting listen, including some women I'd never heard of before. Delightfully narrated (you can hear the joy in Jenni Murray's voice when talking about the women who have most inspired her). I would have preferred more time spent on the women's achievements and accomplishments than background on their parents, siblings, husbands and children. I appreciate that context is important and in some cases the histories wouldn't make sense without them, but it became formulaic and I started diseng ...more
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