Review: 100 Nasty Women of History by Hannah Jewell

Sometimes, you’ll read about an historical figure so amazing, so completely badass, that you know that your life will never be the same for having learned about them.

100 Nasty Women of History has 100 of these.*

I’ve always had an interest in history, particularly women’s history, and while this book doesn’t go into a lot of detail (it has a lot of ground to cover, after all), it’s a great introduction to some of the most incredible, groundbreaking, and trailblazing women throughout history. After reading it, I was inspired to do some of my own research into the figures that I knew less about.

Unlike most “history books”, however, this is an easy read. It’s entertaining, side-splittingly funny, and not at all dry like you’d expect an history book to be. Jewell does an amazing job of keeping things factual while bringing out the lighter side in some horrid situations. At the same time, she acknowledges that some of these women’s stories are too devastating to be laughed at, and in these cases the stories take on a more sombre tone.

The book is split into sections, all of which have hilarious names – “Women who wore trousers and enjoyed terrifying hobbies” and “Women who punched Nazis (metaphorically but also not)” being two of my favourites – and the stories themselves are written in a casual, conversational tone. There’s a lot of millennial humour and slang in here, but luckily there’s also a glossary of terms for older readers, or millennials who spend all of their time in their rooms playing video games and reading books instead of interacting with others and therefore don’t “get” their generation. (Who, me?)

Another wonderful aspect of this book was how diverse the historical figures in it were. Jewell made sure to include women from all over the globe – including my beloved New Zealand, tucked away in our little corner, which will now gain more exposure thanks to the inclusion of figures such as Nancy Wake, Jean Batten, and Whina Cooper. Pity we’re still not on all the maps.

If there’s one complaint that I have about the book (and it’s less a complaint than a minor annoyance, really), it’s that the stories aren’t in any particular order – they’re separated into sections, but inside those sections they just seem to be thrown in randomly. My chronology-loving brain had a hard time with that one.

Apart from that, though, I would recommend this book to anyone, even those not very well-versed in history. The writing style and short chapters make it a great read to dip in and out of when you want to feel inspired. And the humour, while it probably won’t gel with everyone, makes this already great book even better.

 

*Technically over 100, since one chapter encompasses four sisters. But I digress.

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