This year saw a wealth of great reads — and we rounded up the best of the best. From celebrated memoirs and blockbuster biographies to a deeply felt true-crime account, the Celadon team shares our favorite nonfiction books of 2021.
Our Favorite Nonfiction Books of 2021
These acclaimed narratives deserve a top spot on your to-read list.
By Kaitlyn Johnston
By Ashley C. Ford
Ashley C. Ford’s extraordinary memoir explores coming of age as a young Black girl in Indiana, raised in poverty, subject to trauma, and adjusting to her father being incarcerated for reasons she doesn’t know. Through descriptions of her anxiety, isolation, and tumultuous relationship with her mother, Ford bravely chronicles the hurt and heartbreak she experienced as a child and the many challenges she overcame on her path to self-acceptance. “A classic in the making” (author John Green) and an instant New York Times bestseller, Somebody’s Daughter is a must-read debut from Ford.
A Swim in a Pond in the Rain
By George Saunders
In this New York Times bestseller, Booker Prize–winning author George Saunders delivers a master class on the inner workings of short stories and what happens to our minds when we read. Seven distinct literary essays make up the book, and at the heart of each lesson is a celebrated short story by a 19th-century Russian author, from Chekhov’s “Gooseberries” and Tolstoy’s “Master and Man” to Turgenev’s “The Singers” and Gogol’s “The Nose.” Written with “infectious enthusiasm and generosity of spirit” (BookPage), A Swim in a Pond in the Rain is an exuberant plunge into literature and the joys of reading.
The Book of Hope
By Jane Goodall and Douglas Abrams
From world-renowned naturalist Jane Goodall and bestselling author Douglas Abrams comes The Book of Hope, a stirring conversation on hope, humanity, and the future of our planet. Goodall draws on her years of experience as a conservationist and environmental justice advocate to share her outlook on life, offering a candid look back at her legendary career and the experiences that transformed her into the activist she is today. Goodall also reveals the four reasons why she remains optimistic about the future, reminding us that there’s still hope for a better world so long as we act now. Replete with photos from Goodall’s personal collection, The Book of Hope is a rousing call to action that doubles as an “informative road map of ideas for ways in which every person may help bring about positive change in the world” (NPR).
By Erin French
Erin French is the owner and chef of The Lost Kitchen, a world-renowned dining destination in Freedom, Maine. In this moving memoir, French chronicles her culinary journey from working in her dad’s diner as a teenager to opening her own restaurant. And yet, French’s transformation into a successful restaurateur and cook was far from easy. Throughout Finding Freedom, French shares the struggles she faced, from difficult relationships and addiction to the challenges of raising a child as a young single mother. An instant New York Times bestseller, Finding Freedom is a “compelling, authentic tale of grit and determination” (Associated Press).
Crying in H Mart
By Michelle Zauner
Singer and guitarist Michelle Zauner delivers a wholehearted narrative of family, food, and identity in her bestselling debut memoir. Zauner chronicles her experiences as one of the few Asian American kids in her hometown of Eugene, Oregon, describing how her connection to her Korean-ness ebbed and flowed through the different phases of her life. From finding closeness with her mother over late-night meals during summers in Seoul, to decamping to the East Coast and playing gigs with her band Japanese Breakfast, and then reconnecting with her Korean heritage in the face of her mother’s terminal diagnosis, Zauner’s Crying in H Mart is “an honest and detailed account of grief over time, studded with moments of hope, humor, beauty, and clear-eyed observation” (The Seattle Times).
Brothers on Three
By Abe Streep
In this celebrated sports book, award-winning journalist Abe Streep introduces us to Will Mesteth, Jr., and Phillip Malatare, two high school basketball players who led their team to victory in 2017 by bringing home the state championship title to the Flathead Indian Reservation in Montana. The final game quickly became the stuff of legend, while the players were celebrated as hometown heroes. And yet, for Will and Phil, their lives were just beginning. Brothers on Three movingly traces the Arlee Warriors’ winning season and Will and Phil’s journey from adolescence to adulthood, exploring themes of identity and community in the American West, as well as the challenges faced by Indigenous youth today.
By Elon Green
In Last Call, Elon Green crafts a powerful true-crime narrative set against the backdrop of ’80s and ’90s queer New York. The book examines the case of the Last Call Killer, a serial murderer who targeted gay men in and around New York City, yet whose crimes and victims were largely overlooked by the media. Green tells their story, producing a compelling account of the investigation and a compassionate portrait of NYC’s queer community while never losing sight of the individuals whose lives were cut short.
Taste: My Life Through Food
By Stanley Tucci
Award-winning actor Stanley Tucci shares his zest for life in this bestselling food memoir. Tucci serves up stories from movie sets and dinner tables, describing everything from his passion for food and preparing for culinary films like Julia & Julia and Big Night to falling in love over dinner. Entertaining, charming, and wry — just like the actor himself — Tucci’s Taste: My Life Through Food is a delicious literary treat and a fine companion to the author’s previous books, The Tucci Cookbook and The Tucci Table.
The Genome Odyssey
By Euan Angus Ashley
In this eye-opening and narrative-driven science book, Stanford professor of medicine and genetics Dr. Euan Angus Ashley shines a light on the mysteries of the human genome, offering a fascinating look at the life-saving potential of gene-sequencing technology. Dr. Ashley introduces us to an array of scientists and doctors who have dedicated their lives to unlocking our genetic data in order to better diagnose diseases. He also shares the stories of the courageous patients who inspired Dr. Ashley and his fellow researchers to seek out answers. Written with “authority, elegance, and simplicity” (Siddhartha Mukherjee, author of The Emperor of Maladies), The Genome Odyssey celebrates the advances already made in genetic medicine and looks forward to the life-saving diagnoses it will provide.
By Mike Hayes
Former SEAL Team TWO commander Mike Hayes shares his insights on leading a life of excellence and meaning in his rousing leadership book Never Enough. Hayes draws on a lifetime of high-stakes experiences — from being threatened with execution and negotiating international arms treaties to presiding over meetings at the White House — to craft his clear-eyed lessons on leadership, motivating readers to improve their lives both professionally and personally by striving for greatness and becoming more effective leaders.
By Walter Isaacson
In this bestselling narrative, celebrated biographer Walter Isaacson presents the story of Jennifer Doudna, a Nobel Prize–winning scientist who led a team of scientists to create CRISPR — a tool for editing DNA. Doudna’s breakthrough technology was revolutionary. But what to make of the serious ethical quandaries that arose in its wake? A “deftly written” (New York Review of Books) account of discovery and drive on the bleeding edge of science, The Codebreaker is a gripping read for scientists and laypeople alike.
By LaDoris Hazzard Cordell
Judge LaDoris Hazzard Cordell was the first African American woman to sit on the Supreme Court of Northern California. She knows firsthand what works in America’s legal system — and she knows what needs fixing. In this memoir, Judge Cordell offers an unflinching look at criminal justice in the United States, drawing on real-life cases from her career as a jurist to highlight the strengths of American law and to underscore the reforms necessary to ensure a more equitable system. Insightful and engaging, Her Honor is a beautifully written narrative for anyone interested in the challenges and triumphs of the courtroom.
Love People, Use Things
By Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus
Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus are better known as The Minimalists. Perhaps you’ve listened to their chart-topping podcast, seen their documentaries on Netflix, or read one of their celebrated books about minimalism. In their latest bestseller, Millburn and Nicodemus go well beyond simple tidying-up tips to reveal how a life of less stuff creates more room for meaning, love, and contentment. Love People, Use Things is an inspiring guide to decluttering your surroundings, breaking free from materialism, and leading a life of intention.
When Harry Met Minnie
By Martha Teichner
From Emmy Award–winning news correspondent Martha Teichner, When Harry Met Minnie is a heartfelt meditation on companionship and the many ways in which bonds both human and canine enrich our lives. Teichner’s narrative takes place in New York City, where unique connections develop between pet owners and their pooches at dog parks across the city. Minnie, Martha Teichner’s bull terrier, soon finds the perfect playmate in another bull terrier named Harry. But Harry’s owner, Carol, is dying of cancer. As she approaches the end of her life, she needs to secure a loving new home for her dog. Would Martha be open to welcoming Harry into her family? What begins as the adoption of a dog transforms into a deep and meaningful friendship — one that affects the life of every party involved.