Nonfiction is the broadest publishing category, with books that delve into the past, present and future of every aspect of our world. There are books that rifle through our innermost emotions and books that search the outer universe. Books that strike while the iron is hot and books that are cool and classic. You’ll find a little bit of everything on our list of our most highly recommended nonfiction books of 2021—from timeless instant classics to breathlessly of-the-moment reports.
20. Cultish by Amanda Montell
In her incredibly timely book, Amanda Montell’s expertise as a linguist melds with her research into the psychological underpinnings of cults.
19. Cuba by Ada Ferrer
With interesting characters, new historical insights and dramatic yet accessible writing, Ada Ferrer’s epic history of Cuba will grab and hold your attention.
18. Fuzz by Mary Roach
Mary Roach’s enthusiasm and sense of humor are contagious in her around-the-world survey of human-wildlife relations.
17. Dear Senthuran by Akwaeke Emezi
Akwaeke Emezi generously shares both their wounds and their wisdom, offering aspiring artists fresh inspiration for creating new forms of being.
16. American Republics by Alan Taylor
Pulitzer Prize winner Alan Taylor’s latest American history, covering the United States’ expansion from 1783 to 1850, is sweeping, beautifully written, prodigiously researched and myth-busting.
15. My Broken Language by Quiara Alegría Hudes
Joyful, righteous, indignant, self-assured, exuberant: All of these words describe Quiara Alegría Hudes’ memoir.
14. Blow Your House Down by Gina Frangello
Frangello’s raw, eloquent memoir is singed with rage and tinged with optimism about the power to recover one’s life from the depth of suffering.
13. Unbound by Tarana Burke
Unbound is Tarana Burke’s unflinching, beautifully told account of founding the #MeToo movement and becoming one of the most consequential activists in America.
12. The Code Breaker by Walter Isaacson
For readers seeking to understand the twists, turns and amazing potential of gene-editing CRISPR technology, there’s no better place to turn than The Code Breaker.
11. 1000 Years of Joys and Sorrows by Ai Weiwei
This heart-rending yet exhilarating memoir by a world-famous artist gives a rare look into how war and revolution affect innocent bystanders who are just trying to live.
10. The Secret to Superhuman Strength by Alison Bechdel
Alison Bechdel’s unique combination of personal narrative, a search for higher meaning and comic ingenuity will leave you pumped up and smiling.
9. Four Hundred Souls edited by Ibram X. Kendi and Keisha N. Blain
This epic, transformative book covers 400 years of Black history with the help of a choir of exceptional poets, critics, essayists, novelists and scholars.
8. A Most Remarkable Creature by Jonathan Meiburg
Gorgeously written and sophisticated, Jonathan Meiburg’s book about a wickedly clever falcon will move readers to protect this truly remarkable creature.
7. Chasing Me to My Grave by Winfred Rembert
From surviving a lynching to discovering the transformative power of art while imprisoned in a chain gang, Winfred Rembert recounts his life story in his distinct and unforgettable voice.
6. Facing the Mountain by Daniel James Brown
Most of the Japanese American patriots who formed the 442nd Infantry Regiment are gone, but their stories live on in this empathetic tribute to their courage.
5. A Swim in a Pond in the Rain by George Saunders
Beloved author George Saunders shares invaluable insights into classic Russian short stories, unlocking their magic for bibliophiles everywhere.
4. How the Word Is Passed by Clint Smith
Clint Smith’s gifts as both a poet and a scholar make this a richly provocative read about the ways America does (and doesn’t) acknowledge its history of slavery.
3. Empire of Pain by Patrick Radden Keefe
In jaw-dropping detail, Patrick Radden Keefe recounts the greed and corruption at the heart of the Sackler family’s quest for wealth and social status.
2. Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner
In her debut memoir, Michelle Zauner perfectly distills the palpable ache for her late mother, wrapping her grief in an aromatic conjuring of her mother’s presence.
1. A Little Devil in America by Hanif Abdurraqib
Hanif Abdurraqib’s brilliant commentary shuffles forward, steps sideways, leaps diagonally and waltzes gracefully throughout this survey of Black creative performance in America.