Despite, or perhaps because of, the ongoing pandemic, 2021 was a phenomenal year for publishing. Though I did not get to nearly as many books as I would have liked, I read and reviewed 67 books this year.
What follows is my personal top 5 of the most impactful, most beautiful, and most thought-provoking books I read during 2021.
1. Islands of Abandonment: Life in the Post-Human Landscape
Cat Flyn’s debut with HarperCollins is a poetic and spellbinding travelogue to dystopia that is surprisingly rich in ecological and biological detail. Islands of Abandonment explores how nature rushes back in when humans abandon places. It haunted me long after I finished it. Read more…
2. Life’s Edge: The Search for What It Means to Be Alive
A new book by Carl Zimmer is always reason to be excited. Life’s Edge is a fascinating exploration of the borderlands between the living and non-living world, showing how hard it is to answer the question of what life is. It also cements Zimmer’s reputation as one of today’s finest science writers. Read more…
3. Beasts Before Us: The Untold Story of Mammal Origins and Evolution
Even though mammals have a long and rich evolutionary history that predates the dinosaurs, their early evolution is somewhat neglected in popular writing. Beasts Before Us tells their story. This spectacular debut of Scottish palaeontologist Elsa Panciroli shows her to have a fine way with words. Read more…
4. Ant Architecture: The Wonder, Beauty, and Science of Underground Nests
More ants this year! Ant Architecture shows how you can do groundbreaking research on a shoestring budget. Entomologist Walter R. Tschinkel has been making three-dimensional casts of ant nests for decades and discusses the fascinating scientific questions this throws up. Beautifully illustrated and phenomenally written, this is unlike any other book on insects you have seen before. Read more…
5. Plagues upon the Earth: Disease and the Course of Human History
A whopper of a book at almost 700 pages, Plagues Upon the Earth is a magnificent environmental history of infectious disease that stands out for its nuance and readability. Much more than a potted history of “celebrity” diseases, historian Kyle Harper revisits existing narratives in light of new data and methods. My recommendation of the year for background reading on the COVID-19 pandemic. Read more…
If you are looking for more recommendations, do check out my top 5s for 2020 and 2019. I have also recently added a single-page archive listing all reviews.
A happy new year to you!
Let me just add Kindred: Neanderthal Live, Love, Death and Art by Sykes to that list 😎
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Yes, a fantastic book too! No contender for this year for me, unfortunately, I reviewed it back in 2020.
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