Here are my recommended reads of 2021. I continued to read about current issues and got more into true crime. I didn't read as much historical non-fiction as last year - I think I started to get away from getting buried in 600+ page books. It's probably a patience thing and my eagerness to move on to the next thing. I called out some of my favorites, and they're generally sorted by genre.
As usual, let me know if you made a reading list this year, and happy reading.
A detailed history of the ongoing opiate epidemic. Quinones traces the rise of OxyContin (which Purdue Pharma falsely convinced doctors wasn't addictive) and how users crossed over to the much cheaper and readily available black tar heroin. One of my favorite reads of 2021.
Dog Whistle Politics: How Coded Racial Appeals Have Reinvented Racism and Wrecked the Middle Class
An eye-opening analysis of how Republican politicians have historically deployed coded racial appeals to convince white voters that minorities are the real enemy to support policies that threaten their own interests. Sadly still as relevant today as it was 60 years ago.
Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy
The chasm between the ordinary and the elite is more expansive than ever. I'm a big fan of Chris Hayes - A Colony in a Nation was one of my top-reading picks last year. He talks about why major institutions keep failing under the weight of corruption and how the working class has been deprived of their natural leaders.
The Death of Democracy: Hitler's Rise to Power and the Downfall of the Weimar Republic
Hett gives you a very digestible ~250 pages on a complex subject. Although he never mentions Trump or the Republican Party by name, it's clearly a cautionary tale. The most troubling part of the story is how no one tried to stop Hitler - they all thought he'd fizzle out.
A Promised Land
I've been long over-due to read this book, and it felt like the perfect political palette cleanser. Obama was probably the first president where I was mature enough to really understand and be affected by his policies, so hearing him talk about all the decisions he made was fascinating, and in many instances, moving.
The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains
At its core, this is a love letter to books. Books ushered in an era of deep thinking and creative thought, and the Internet has diverted that with distractions and a lack of focus. This book is ten years old, so it already feels a little dated... but the case for books is timeless.
Laugh out loud funny. I finally picked this one up after my friend Austin Kleon recommended it about a hundred times. It's one of those "happened in one night" stories that I love so much, where the main character stumbles into all kinds of crazy situations, only to end back up where he started.
This book is a deep dive into all the tensions and critical figures leading up to Kennedy's fateful visit. It also gets into Oswald - I didn't know the full extent of his background or that he had a previous assassination attempt in Dallas. Read like a thriller once it got going.
It's incredible how a book about diving into the ocean can be so gripping - the way the author describes the tension, the movements, and the unknown. This story is about the pursuit of a previously unknown German U-Boat that sunk 60 miles off the coast of New Jersey.
Isaac's Storm: A Man, a Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History
You can never go wrong with an Erik Larson book - I feel like he's one of the most accessible historical non-fiction writers around. He does such an excellent job of making you feel like you're experiencing an event firsthand. Larson based the book on the letters and reports of Isaac Cline, the chief meteorologist in Galveston at the time of the storm.
Shenandoah: A Story of Conservation and Betrayal
This fall, my wife and I vacationed at Shenandoah National Park, and we encountered a family cemetery deep in the woods while on a hike. It got me curious about the park's history and led me to this book. Eisenfield beautifully tells the complicated history of the park's original settlers.
Who Killed These Girls?: The Unsolved Murders That Rocked a Texas Town
I've always known about this case - it happened at an old yogurt shop not far from my house and is in the local news from time to time. The story concerns the murder of 4 young girls in 1991, whose killers were never found and brought to justice (it seems pretty evident that the boys brought to trial did not do it). Completely and utterly chilling.
In Plain Sight: The Kaufman County Prosecutor Murders
I guess I got on a true crime kick this year. Kaufman County is east of Dallas, and the string of murders in the book occurred in 2013. A crazy story about rival lawyers in a small town, a botched investigation, and revenge.
Bluebird, Bluebird (A Highway 59 Novel)
This is a new mystery series that I discovered, set in the same region of East Texas where I grew up. The book is less of a traditional mystery and more about its characters' complicated relationship with where they grew up. I could definitely relate.
Last year I started getting into the Easy Rawlins series (start with Devil in a Blue Dress), which has gained popularity lately. Mosley draws you in with old-school L.A. Noir - complete with the femme fatale and seedy, back-alley bad guys. I'm currently about seven books into the series.
Beastie Boys Book
Such a fun book. It's a little intimidating at first - you ask yourself if you really want to sit down and read 600 pages about the Beastie Boys - but it's more like a scrapbook and collection of short (and highly entertaining) stories about the band. It's also a gold mine of playlists. RIP MCA - he was truly the heart of the group.
East of West Vol. 1: The Promise
I feel like East of West could be ten different comics - a lot is going on, and it can be hard to follow. But it's a weird and exciting post-apocalyptic sci-fi western. I love the world and characters that Hickman has created, and Draogtta's artwork is as good as it gets.
Humankind: A Hopeful History by Rutger Bregman
This book is a needed dose of optimism, although I couldn't get over the author's premise that people are inherently bad.
Spy: The Inside Story of How the FBI's Robert Hanssen Betrayed America by David Wise
Hanssen spent 22 years spying for Russia, and it went down as one of the worst intelligence disasters in U.S. history.
That Texas Blood, Volume 1 by Chris Condon & Jacob Phillips
Jacob Phillips is the son of legendary artist Sean Phillips, and this is Jacob's first comic of original artwork.
Criminal Vol. 1: Coward by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips
I'm a fan of any Brubaker/Phillips collaboration, and this one is no different. It's got a little bit of John Wick feel to it.