This list of anticipated 2021 nonfiction books was originally published in our nonfiction newsletter, True Story. Sign up for it here to get nonfiction news, reviews, deals, and more!
We’ve got a little more than six months left of 2021 (is it zooming? it feels a bit like it’s zooming) and that means so many BOOKS left to come out. I keep a spreadsheet of new releases as I hear about them, and there are some truly A+ nonfiction reads coming atcha for the second half of the year. We’ve got the rest of summer, the giant releases of fall, and then the holiday/winter rush. It’s all very exciting.
What I’ve got for you here are not the BIGGEST releases for 2021, which you’re gonna hear about anyway because they’ve got major $$$ behind their marketing campaigns. Instead they’re titles I think are charming/important/funny that you might miss in the regular course of your life. Let’s go:
Black Nerd Problems: Essays by William Evans and Omar Holmon (July 6)
Do I love that this cover looks like Moss from The IT Crowd? Yes. These are essays by the creators of the eponymous website, who write about “everything from Mario Kart and The Wire to issues of representation and police brutality across media” (side note: should I watch The Wire or is it too late to be culturally relevant?) If you want pop culture, social commentary, and NERD things, look forward to this.
Maiden Voyages: Magnificent Ocean Liners and the Women Who Traveled and Worked Aboard Them by Siân Evans (Aug. 10)
OCEAN LINERS. So vast. So oceanic. This feels very crafted to appeal to the Titanic viewer, with emphasis on the class differences and experiences between decks (and yes, of course they talk about the Titanic and “The Unsinkable Stewardess” aboard her). I’m an absolute sucker for books focused around a specific workplace and for women-centered history books, so this is really hitting all the right notes, including the phrase “golden age of ocean liners.”
Dirty Work: Essential Jobs and the Hidden Toll of Inequality in America by Eyal Press (Aug. 17)
There have been a lot of pieces about what “essential work” is and how we define it and how that became incredibly pressing during the pandemic. This book looks at jobs that “society considers essential but morally compromised,” like drone pilots, prison guards, and slaughterhouse workers, and how the majority of Americans are shielded from the ethically troubling work we expect unnamed others to do. I expect this book to be thought-provoking and I am glad it was written.
Devils Hole Pupfish: The Unexpected Survival of an Endangered Species in the Modern American West by Kevin C. Brown (Sept. 7)
Can’t have a list of books without a weird nature one! This is also a university press book, so +2. Brown asks “how a tiny blue fish — confined to a single, narrow aquifer on the edge of Death Valley National Park in Nevada’s Amargosa Desert — has managed to survive despite numerous grave threats.” How has it? I’m invested now! Nature is so strange!
White Space, Black Hood: Opportunity Hoarding and Segregation in the Age of Inequality by Sheryll Cashin (Sept. 14)
Cashin has written a number of nonfiction books, including Loving: Interracial Intimacy in America and the Threat to White Supremacy and Place Not Race: A New Vision of Opportunity in America. In her newest, she talks about the spreading of the ghetto myth to concentrate poverty in Black spaces and create “high opportunity white spaces.” She calls for “investment in a new infrastructure of opportunity in poor Black neighborhoods, including richly resourced schools and neighborhood centers, public transit, Peacemaker Fellowships, universal basic incomes, housing choice vouchers for residents, and mandatory inclusive housing elsewhere.” Love it.
True Raiders: The Untold Story of the 1909 Expedition to Find the Legendary Ark of the Covenant by Brad Ricca (Sept. 21)
Sometimes you need a silly adventure nonfiction book. They pitch it as Lost City of Z meets The Da Vinci Code, and the basic premise reads like that; look at this: “This book tells the untold true story of Monty Parker, a British rogue nobleman who, after being dared to do so by Ava Astor, the so-called ‘most beautiful woman in the world,’ headed a secret 1909 expedition to find the fabled Ark of the Covenant.” Don’t you want to read that?? I do! What happened! Did he find it? I mean, evidently not, but the STORY still sounds great.
The Gilded Edge: Two Audacious Women and the Cyanide Love Triangle That Shook America by Catherine Prendergast
We’re living in a second Gilded Age, so this feels pretty relevant. There’s a love triangle, there’s poetry, there’s social reform movements, there’s a real estate developer; it’s just got All the Things. I also love a story where it was HUGE in the news at the time, and then almost no one today has heard of it. This is one of those!
Reclamation: Sally Hemings, Thomas Jefferson, and a Descendant’s Search for Her Family’s Lasting Legacy by Gayle Jessup White (Nov. 16)
Ok, I got so psyched for this as soon as I saw it. White is a descendant of the Jefferson and Hemings families, something she found out for certain after she was named a Jefferson Studies Fellow. She’s the the Public Relations & Community Engagement Officer at Monticello, Jefferson’s famed home, which makes me even more interested in reading it, because I want to know why she likes him.