Toler (Heroines of Mercy Street: The Real Nurses of the Civil War, 2016, etc.) seeks out courageous women of history who “have been pushed into the shadows, hidden in the footnotes, or half-erased.”
The historical records are thin; men don’t like to admit that a woman could lead them, let alone conquer them. As such, victorious women are often ignored by history, and the author provides examples from the second millennium B.C.E. up through Russian women aviators. Even legendary warriors—e.g., Fu Hao of 13th-century China—aren’t always identified as women in the records. “The main thing that struck me when I looked at women warriors across cultures rather than in isolation is how many examples there are and how lightly they sit on our collective awareness,” writes Toler. Throughout the book, she uses numerous footnotes, asides, comments, absurdities, and personal opinions that should have been included in the main text. However, once readers learn to scan them, they will clearly see a pattern of women who have consistently stepped up to fight, for a variety of reasons, including revenge or loss of family, lands, or honor. Two useful examples are Boudica, who almost drove the Romans out of England, and Tomyris, who routed and killed the Persian king Cyrus the Great. Other women have fought to resist a takeover, becoming national icons in the process—e.g., Lakshmibai, who joined the Indian Rebellion in 1857. As the author suggests, female samurai and Viking-age Scandinavian leaders may have been more prevalent than we’ll ever know. Furthermore, they didn’t just dig earthworks, throw boiling oil over the ramparts, and defend castles against sieges; they also fought in place of absent husbands and joined armies to make money, own property, or get an education. Still others went to fight just because they enjoyed it.
A short book admirable for wide research that you can read in a day, if you don’t get bogged down in the footnotes.