Year list – The Inquisitive Biologist’s top 5 reads of 2021

3-minute read

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

Islands of Abandonment thumbnailCat 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

Life's Edge thumbnailA 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

Beasts Before Us thumbnailEven 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

Ant Architecture thumbnailMore 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

Plagues upon the Earth thumbnailA 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.


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