Women Who Ruled: History’s 50 Most Remarkable Women

Written by Claudia Gold
Review by Sarah Bower

This broad survey of women and power from Hatshepsut, Queen of Egypt in the 15th century BCE to Benazir Bhutto, the Pakistani Prime Minister assassinated in 2007, was first published as Queen, Empress, Concubine in 2008. The change of title at least indicates an improvement in feminist sensibility in the intervening years.

The concept of the book is excellent. It contributes to redressing the historical and political balance by giving a series of brief essays about the lives of various women who have exercised power, directly or indirectly, throughout history. However, it is a victim of its own ambition. Because its focus is so wide, none of the women featured is done full justice by the author. The brevity of the essays compels her to present ambiguities and uncertainties as facts and to gloss over contradictions. Ultimately, therefore, while she does us a service in bringing these women to our attention, she does them a disservice by over-simplifying their lives and careers. I would not recommend this book as more than a starting point for any reader interested in the historical roles of great women.