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The 10 Best Nonfiction Books of 2021

There are so many good books in 2021 — how can a reader choose?  But we narrowed the list.

Last Updated on January 4, 2024 by BiblioLifestyle

10 Best Nonfiction Books of 2021

Another year has come and gone, and what a year it was! 2021 brought both triumphs and trials, but through it all, the words in books offered comfort, insight, and escape.  In its wake, 2021 has left us some parting gifts—namely, a trove of illuminating nonfiction works.  From vivid memoirs to wide-ranging histories, this year saw some of the most absorbing true stories put to page. In this list of best books of 2021, I’m sharing ten extraordinary works of nonfiction that have earned permanent spaces on my shelves and in my mind.  May they prove worthwhile companions as we leap joyfully into the unknowns of the new year.

Aftershocks by Nadia Owusu

Aftershocks by Nadia Owusu

A deeply felt memoir that grapples with the multiplicity of identity, the push and pull of belonging, the meaning of home,  the emotional toll of family secrets, the complexities of family, and the ripple effects, both personal and generational, of emotional trauma. 

The Sum of Us by Heather McGhee

The Sum of Us by Heather McGhee

One of today’s most insightful and influential thinkers offers a powerful exploration of inequality and the lesson that generations of Americans have failed to learn: Racism has a cost for everyone–not just for people of color.

Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner

Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner 

Michelle chronicles her Korean-American upbringing, musical career, reckoning with identity, reclaiming the gifts her mother had given her, and the aftermath of her mother’s death with whom she had a difficult relationship. A story of family, food, grief, and endurance.

The Unfit Heiress by Audrey Clare Farley

The Unfit Heiress by Audrey Clare Farley

In 1934, aided by a California eugenics law, the socialite Maryon Cooper Hewitt had her “promiscuous” daughter declared feebleminded and sterilized without her knowledge. She did this to deprive Ann of millions of dollars from her father’s estate, which contained a child-bearing stipulation. When a sensational court case ensued, the American public was captivated. So were eugenicists, who saw an opportunity to restrict reproductive rights in America for decades to come.

Downeast by Gigi Georges

Downeast by Gigi Georges

In Downeast, Gigi Georges follows five girls as they come of age in one of the most challenging and geographically isolated regions on the Eastern seaboard. Their stories reveal surprising truths about rural America and offer hope for its future.

The Lost Boys of Montauk by Amanda M. Fairbanks

The Lost Boys of Montauk by Amanda M. Fairbanks

On March 22, 1984, the Wind Blown left Montauk Harbor and disappeared in a nor’easter somewhere between Montauk Point and Block Island. The book explores the circumstances leading to the ship’s disappearance, how it affected their loved ones, and how Montauk and other Long Island villages became playgrounds for wealthy New Yorkers.

Beautiful Country by Qian Julie Wang

Beautiful Country by Qian Julie Wang

A civil rights lawyer recounts her childhood growing up as an undocumented immigrant living in New York’s Chinatown.  It tells the story about a family fracturing under the weight of invisibility and a girl coming of age in the shadows, who never stops seeking the light.

Invisible Child by Andrea Elliott

Invisible Child by Andrea Elliott 

Invisible Child follows eight dramatic years in the life of a girl whose imagination is as soaring as the skyscrapers near her Brooklyn shelter. Dasani was named after the bottled water that signaled Brooklyn’s gentrification and the shared aspirations of a divided city. In this sweeping narrative, Elliott weaves the story of Dasani’s childhood with the history of her family, tracing the passage of their ancestors from slavery to the Great Migration north. As Dasani comes of age, the homeless crisis in New York City has exploded amid the deepening chasm between rich and poor.

Concepcion by Albert Samaha

Concepcion by Albert Samaha

A journalist uncovers his family’s story while giving us a window into Filipino history, experiences of Filipinx immigrants, colonialism, and American imperialism.

Orwell’s Roses by Rebecca Solnit

Orwell’s Roses by Rebecca Solnit

A new biography on George Orwell focused on him being an avid gardener, his love of roses, and all things natural – things that influenced his political writing.

What do you think about this list of nonfiction best books of 2021?

Have you read any books from this list?  What are your favorite nonfiction books of 2021?  What books would you add to the list?  Let’s talk all about the best books of 2021 in the comments below.

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