Book Review | In Praise of Difficult Women by Karen Karbo


In Praise of Difficult Women by Karen Karbo

Non-Fiction, Feminism, Essays

National Geographic Society | February 27, 2018

3/5 Stars



Smart, sassy, and unapologetically feminine, this elegantly illustrated book is an ode to the bold and charismatic women of modern history. Best-selling author Karen Karbo (The Gospel According to Coco Chanel) spotlights the spirited rule breakers who charted their way with little regard for expectations: Amelia Earhart, Helen Gurley Brown, Edie Sedgwick, Hillary Clinton, Amy Poehler, and Shonda Rhimes, among others. Their lives–imperfect, elegant, messy, glorious–provide inspiration and instruction for the new age of feminism we have entered. Karbo distills these lessons with wit and humor, examining the universal themes that connect us to each of these mesmerizing personalities today: success and style, love and authenticity, daring and courage. Being “difficult,” Karbo reveals, might not make life easier. But it can make it more fulfilling–whatever that means for you.

My Review

My rating was going to be four stars, then I read some reviews from people who gave this book one or two stars who made some valid points: most of the women mentioned in this book are white and there are two or three women in here who are daring and difficult, but they only have two or three pages whereas the other women have multiple pages. Why could you not have just dropped them and picked someone that was easier to get more information on preferably a woman of color just to even out the race of the book? I didn’t notice the lack of colored women in this book until I read these reviews and I agree, somewhat, but also these 29 women are not the only “difficult women” in existence these just happen to be the women the author obviously admired to some extent.


“A difficult woman isn’t a bitch, although on occasion she might be. She isn’t cruel or selfish or mean – although, again, on occasion, she might be. Just like anyone (by which I mean men), she has had bad days, she makes mistakes, she loses her temper. A difficult woman is a woman who insists on inhabiting the full range of her humanity.”

— Karen Karbo, In Praise of Difficult Women


This is a brilliant book about twenty-nine women who society would deem “difficult.” The women of this book range from feisty (J.K. Rowling) to droll (Carrie Fisher). Each woman mentioned in this wonderful book has a beautiful portrait and a short biography on why they are considered difficult. I learned a lot of things about these women that I would have never known had I not read this book.


Some interesting things I learned:

  • Elizabeth Taylor was married eight times (twice to the same guy).
  • K. Rowling writes an adult mystery series under the name Robert Galbraith.
  • I had no clue how awesome Ruth Bader Ginsburg is.
  • I didn’t know about all the things Josephine Baker had to go through to become the amazing woman she was.


There are so many great facts throughout this book about the wonderfully, difficult women. There were also some pretty great quotes throughout this book. Here are some of my favorite:


“How many loves on loses when one decides not to be something, but someone.”

— Coco Chanel


“Somewhere in the world, there must exist a culture where female rage is appreciated, where the moment a woman raises her voice, the village gathers around, believing that if a woman is freaking the hell out, it’s probably worth hearing what she has to say.”

— Rachel Maddow


“Whatever you choose, however many roads you travel, I hope that you choose not to be a lady. I hope you will find some way to break the rules and make a little trouble out there. And I also hope that you will choose to make some of that trouble on behalf of women”

— Nora Ephron

I actually won this book in a Goodreads giveaway and didn’t even know it until I got it in the mail. The only notice I remember getting was a tracking email from National Geographic and being thoroughly confused as to why National Geographic was mailing me anything. Nevertheless, I’m happy I had the chance to read it because I enjoyed it very much.

teal thanks for reading


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