Skip to content

Today's Hours: Thu: 9 am – 9 pm

View Hours

Mon – Thu: 9 am – 9 pm
Fri: 9 am – 6 pm
Sat: 9 am – 5 pm
Sun: 12 – 5 pm

View Closures

The Best Nonfiction of 2021

Yesterday I examined fiction that received the most love in 2021 from book reviewers. Today I will look at nonfiction. I compiled 27 notable lists with more than 500 books, including our own favorites from the Cook Memorial Public Library District staffers. Thirty-four books, from social commentary and history to climate change and humor, rose to the top. I’ve added links to our catalog for book descriptions, and listed the Cook staffers who recommended the titles. Did any of your favorites make it?

If you are looking for even more great books, come to the library to pick up the booklet featuring our Staff Nonfiction Favorites of 2021, with 124 titles of a variety of subjects.

17 Mentions: 

Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty by Patrick Radden Keefe was the overwhelming favorite and his highly recommended by Jean, Becky and Rob. Read Jean’s review on our library blog, Shelf Life.

16 Mentions: 

Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner, recommended by Jean, Joe, Ellen B. and Erica.

15 Mentions:

How the Word Is Passed by Clint Smith, recommended by Mary and Nate.

13 Mentions:

A Little Devil in America: Notes in Praise of Black Performance by Hanif Abdurraqib, recommended by Nate.

12 Mentions:

Under a White Sky by Elizabeth Kolbert, recommended by Joe.

11 Mentions:

Fuzz by Mary Roach, recommended by Dave and Joe.

10 Mentions:

All That She Carried: A Journey of Ashley’s Sack, a Black Family Keepsake  by Tiya Miles.

Seek You: A Journey Through American Loneliness by Kristen Radke, recommended by Nate and Jenn.

9 Mentions:

The Code Breaker by Walter Isaacson, recommended by Jenn.

The Secret to Superhuman Strength by Allison Bechdel, recommended by Natalie and Jo.


The 1619 Project by Nikole Hannah-Jones and others, recommended by Joe and Jenn.

Beautiful Country by Qian Julie Wang, recommended by Dorota, Sonia, Jean and Lorrie.

On Juneteenth by Annette Gordon-Reed, recommended by Joe.

Smile: The Story of a Face by Sarah Ruhl, recommended by Jenn.

The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and how We Can Prosper Together by Heather C. McGhee.

7 Mentions: 

Aftershocks: a Memoir by Nadia Owusu.

Poet Warrior by Joy Harjo, recommended by Jo.

 A Swim in a Pond in the Rain: In Which Four Russians Give a Master Class on Writing, Reading, and Life, recommended by Sarah. 

6 Mentions:

Between Two Kingdoms: A Memoir of a Life Interrupted by Suleika Jaouad. Read Jean’s review on our library blog, Shelf Life.

Finding the Mother Tree by Suzanne Simard. 

Four Hundred Souls: A Community History of African America, 1619-2019,  edited by Ibram X. Kendi and Keisha N. Blain, recommended by Amy. 

Girlhood: Essays by Melissa Febos, recommended by Terrie. 

Let Me Tell You What I Mean by Joan Didion. 

A Most Remarkable Creature: The Hidden and Epic Journey of the World’s Smartest Birds of Prey by Jonathan Meiburg. 

Punch Me Up to the Gods by Brian Broome. 

Three Girls from Bronzeville: A Uniquely American Memoir of Race, Fate, and Sisterhood by Dawn Turner, recommended by Jean.

Unbound: My Story of Liberation and the Birth of the Me Too Movement by Tarana Burke.  


Anthropocene Reviewed by John Green, recommended by Dave, Andrea, Jenn and Amy. Read Andrea’s review on our blog.

Chasing Me to My Grave: An Artist’s Memoir of the Jim Crow South by Winfred Rembert, as told to Erin I. Kelly.

Invisible Child: Poverty, Survival and Hope in an American City by Andrea Elliott.

On Freedom: Four Songs of Care and Constraint by Maggie Nelson.

People Love Dead Jews: Reports from a Haunted Past by Dara Horn.

These Precious Days by Ann Patchett, recommended by Jenn.

Sources: Amazon, American Library Association’s Carnegie Medal Long List, Barnes & Noble, BookPage, Book Riot, Chicago Public Library, Chicago Tribune, Christian Science Monitor, Cook Memorial Public Library Staff Favorites, Goodreads, Esquire, Good Housekeeping, Kirkus, Library Journal, New York Public Library, New York Times, NPR, Oprah Magazine, Publishers Weekly, Real Simple, Slate, Time, Vogue, Vulture, Washington Post.

Categories: Books and More

Cook Memorial Public Library District

Install Cook Memorial Public Library District

Install this application on your home screen for quick and easy access when you’re on the go.

Just tap then “Add to Home Screen”