21 Best Nonfiction Books You Need to Read in 2021 – Cosmopolitan
Although it’s wonderful to get lost in the depths of a really good novel, I’ve found myself reaching for more nonfiction books lately. A ton of brilliant writers, as well as athletes, actresses, and activists, have taken to the original form of storytelling by publishing their own books and sharing their lives and the lessons learned. Some of which offer mind-changing revelations, interesting perspectives, and some very funny anecdotes that’ll make you look at life differently. IDK about you, but I think we could all use a little bit of that. Nevertheless, it’s a perfect time of year to get a reality refresh—step out of your shoes and walk in someone else’s by simply picking up a good book.
From a memoir about a clueless aspiring dog-walking startup to an eye-opening unveiling of some of the darkest secrets behind one of America’s richest families (talk about juicy!), here are 21 of the best nonfiction books of 2021.
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This book is all about the power of re-thinking and unlearning what you think you know. There’s something to be said about questioning and challenging your own thoughts and opinions. Because, as the author and organizational psychologist Adam Grant suggests, being open to what others have in mind is part of the path to wisdom and success.
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Even if you loved Lady Gaga’s performance as Patrizia Reggiani in House of Gucci as much as I did, I promise you’ll love the book even more. In its movie tie-in updated version, Sara Gay Forden shares the ultimate rise and near-fall of one of fashion’s most loved families.
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Kate Macdougall found herself in a post-college rut working at Sotheby’s in London. After almost accidentally destroying a precious piece of art, she decided to quit and start her own dog-walking company instead. The problem was that she didn’t know much about dogs, nor did she know anything about starting a business. But Macdougall got through it all by navigating her new life, her relationships, and jolly old London one dog walk at a time.
It’s sad to say, but sometimes it’s nice to read up on someone else’s family drama. While the Sackler’s family issues may seem a bit un-relatable to the everyday family, take a look into one of America’s most wealthiest families in Patrick Radden Keefe’s new book. Follow three generations of Sackler’s as they create wealth for themselves and inevitably America’s opioid problem.
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In this collection of essays, bestselling author of The Fault in Our Stars John Green reviews the Anthropocene—the current geologic age—and how humans have reshaped the planet. An extension of his podcast, he rates different phenomena on a five-star scale, including QWERTY keyboards and the Madagascar film franchise.
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If there was one good thing that came out of 2020, it was the idea of questioning America’s work ethic. In this very real and honest book, Sarah Jaffe explores the ideas of “a labor of love” and shares the stories of those in different professions (from the unpaid intern to the professional athlete) and shares no ways to value yourself and your work.
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In this very insightful collection of essays, you can truly take a deep dive into the iconic writer Joan Didion’s mind. With 12 never before seen essays written from 1968 to 2000, Didion shares some of her best work that’ll give you a glimpse of her creative process as one of this century’s best writers.
Now 41% off
In this emotionally honest memoir, Japanese Breakfast singer-songwriter Michelle Zauner tells the story of her life—growing up Korean American in Oregon, having a complicated relationship with her parents, and pursuing a career in music. The memoir is centered around her mom’s death and how food became a means of grieving and therapy.
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You’ll want to call your dearest friend after reading this book. Ann Patchett opens up on her experiences with friendship—particularly Tom Hank’s then-assistant Sooki—and the amazing bond they created, as well as the reflection of connecting art and life as she comes to terms as to what matters most in her life.
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It’s safe to say that Priyanka Chopra Jonas is probably one of the most inspiring yet fascinating women out there. In this bold and sassy memoir, Priyanka takes us on her life journey growing up in India as a child as well as in the United States as a teen. We follow her progression to see how she became the woman she is today in this very open, honest, and raw story of her life.
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This book by Oprah Winfrey and brain and trauma specialist Dr. Bruce Perry provides scientific as well as emotional insights on healing and overcoming trauma. Through Winfrey’s personal stories and Perry’s expertise, they want to help readers reframe their way of thinking—such as asking, “What’s happened to me?” instead of, “What’s wrong with me?”
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If you want to get in touch with your creative side, this book might just be the trick. As the title suggests, A Swim in a Pond in the Rain is a literary master class that takes readers into the mind of Booker Prize-winning author George Saunders. He discusses what makes great stories, how they work, and what they say about ourselves and today’s world.
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The Afghanistan Papers is a thorough investigation by Washington Post reporter Craig Whitlock about one of 2021’s most important political topics. It looks into how the Bush, Obama, and Trump administrations mishandled America’s longest war and deceived the public.
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Ashley C. Ford talks about growing up as a Black girl in Indiana, dealing with poverty, the complexities of adolescence, and a fraught relationship with her mother. She often wished that she could confide in her father, but he was incarcerated for reasons she didn’t know. Until one day—after going through a traumatic experience with a boy, which she kept from her family—her grandmother told her. And what she learned turned her entire world upside down.
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New York-based comedian Amber Ruffin, along with her sister Lacey Lamar, share their everyday experiences with casual racism. It gets especially bad for Lacey, who still lives in their home state of Nebraska and is a magnet for these ridiculous but all-too-real encounters.
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In this collection of essays, The Onion and Reductress contributor Grace Perry takes readers on a trip through pop culture and media during the early aughts. And as she does so, she shares hilarious stories from her own personal experiences and comments on the decade that made her gay.
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Sports legend Billie Jean King writes an intimate self-portrait that talks about the highs and lows of her amazing tennis career, her work in activism, and the ongoing fight for social justice and equality.
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How the Word Is Passed walks readers through a tour of monuments and landmarks in the United States that tell the story of how slavery has been central in shaping the nation’s history and people. And while a lot of the book delves into the past and stories of those who have passed, Clint Smith also brings it to life with the help of stories of people still alive today.
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Danielle Geller returns to Florida after her mother dies, and finds a suitcase filled with diaries, photos, letters, undeveloped disposable cameras, dried sage, jewelry, and a bandana. She uses these items as a gateway to her journey in understanding her mother’s relationship to her heritage and confronting her family history. This leads her back to the Navajo reservation her mother once called home.
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What some view as a tech company’s fall from grace is actually a far more complicated story. This exposé written by New York Times reporters Sheera Frenkel and Cecilia Kang gives readers a look into the truth of what really happened to Facebook (or, ahem, what is now called Meta) and how it went from a success story to a social media platform constantly under fire.
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After Kat Chow’s mother dies unexpectedly, she and her family suddenly plummet into grief. To cope, Chow then decides to reclaim her family’s story by tracing her extended family’s roots—from China to Hong Kong, to Cuba, and finally to America.
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