We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.

“Show me a mother who runs for school board, and I’ll show you a daughter who runs for governor,” says Laura Liswood, who speaks one-to-one with influential women in Women World Leaders: Fifteen Great Politicians Tell Their Stories. While writing this balanced overview, Liswood discovered that almost all her subjects had a family member who served in a political office.

Liswood, a visiting scholar at Mount Vernon College and a consultant to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, secured meetings with current and former heads of state including Margaret Thatcher, former French Prime Minister Edith Cresson, Dominica’s Eugenia Charles, and Turkey’s Tansu Ciller. Rather than simply transcribe the interviews, the author compiles the women’s words into chapters on leadership styles, public response, and advice for political hopefuls. Her report suggests that unmarried leaders command the greatest respect; their decisions can’t be attributed to a husband’s behind-the-scenes advice.

Liswood portrays her subjects as role models, even when she disagrees with their policies. “I’m not a journalist, and the purpose was more to tell their experience as leaders,” she says. “I could have been more aggressive about someone who says, ‘I’m the mother of my country,’ [and asked,] ‘But what about all those people you’re not so motherly to?’” Instead, Liswood took a neutral stance. “Part of what I hoped was, women and girls would look at this and say, I could be that, too”—whether the interviewee is Corazon Aquino of the Philippines, Violeta Chamorro of Nicaragua, Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan, or Mary Robinson of Ireland.

Readers hoping for a civil rights debate must look elsewhere, but this unbiased survey does introduce key international figures who just happen to be female. “What we’re really talking about is a sense of entitlement, a sense of birthright, how that can be so shaped by what people see,” Liswood explains. She cites the example of Vigdis Finnbogadóttir, Iceland’s president since 1980: Many Icelandic children have grown up thinking that female presidents are the norm. CP