Best Books of 2021: Part 1
Hello, All! I am about two months behind from when I typically publish my mid-year favorite books, but better late than never. 2021 has been a slow reading year for me since I’m focusing on my professional development, but here are the few stellar books that I want to highlight.
1. Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson
Another one of Isabel Wilkerson’s masterpiece (her fantastic The Warmth of Other Suns was my favorite last year). In Caste, she acutely outlines the workings of social strata, linking the caste systems of India, Nazi Germany, and America. She breaks down how societies keep their social classes separate and the levers of power put at work. She describes the attitudes that different classes hold about each other, which frankly, I find so insightful because they are familiar-sounding to me, having experienced both Eastern and Western societies. Most compellingly, however, this book is written with heart. Wilkerson inserts her personal stories with the caste system–some hopeful, most heartbreaking–that helps readers realize the inescapable reality of caste in the everyday lives of some people in America.
Caste is like an explainer of human societies. A must read.
Of the public figures that we lost in 2020, the one I lamented the most was John Lewis. Bearing the scars from Bloody Sunday in 1965, he seemed to me a living watchtower whose presence safeguarded us from (totally) running the civil rights ship aground. The most striking witness of his life was that he saw the Civil Rights movement as a spiritual movement, his political acts as spiritual acts. This biography pays tribute and reverence to this spirit of John Lewis, and it ends with Lewis’ own words that he penned before he died.
See also Lewis’ book from my 2018 favorite books list.
I’ve been following some of the conversation–or reckoning, I should say–in the Evangelical Christian world on women (re: abuse, mistreatment of), race, and Christian nationalism. Barr’s book is part of the vortex of these conversations. Her thesis is that “biblical womanhood” as defined in evangelical teachings is made, as in by humans, not by God. Drawing on her academic expertise as a medieval historian, she paints historical contexts on the idea of womanhood and how it has evolved in Christianity. Let me tell you, this book has generated a lot of valuable discussions in my closest circle of friends that will for sure keep going. I also picked up Jesus and John Wayne as a follow up to this book.
The next two selections are a switch from the heady, serious topics of human issues to the expansive world of nature and science. This is how I balance my reading experience and prevent it from going too dark!
As someone who has been following Brian Skerry’s work for over a decade, I was so excited and blown-away by his latest masterpiece, Secrets of the Whales. This book is a companion to the video series of the same name (check it out on Disney+) on how a number of whale species preserves their tradition and culture. They are just…magnificent.
This selection is for those of you who enjoy essays on life reflections inspired by science. Quoting from the publisher’s note: “Drawing on her diverse experiences as a scientist, mother, teacher, and writer of Native American heritage, Kimmerer explains the stories of mosses in scientific terms as well as in the framework of indigenous ways of knowing. In her book, the natural history and cultural relationships of mosses become a powerful metaphor for ways of living in the world.”
Favorite Books Lists
2022: Best Books of 2022 Part 1, Best Books of 2022 Part 2.
2021: Best Books of 2021 Part 1, Best Books of 2021 Part 2.
2020: Best Books of 2020 Part 1, Best Books of 2020 Part 2.
2019: Best Books of 2019 Part 1, Best Books of 2019 Part 2.
2018: Best Books of 2018 Part 1, Best Books of 2018 Part 2.
2017: Best Books of 2017 Part 1, Best Books of 2017 Part 2.
2016: Best Books of 2016 Part 1, Best Books of 2016 Part 2.
2015: Best Books of 2015 Part 1, Best Books of 2015 Part 2.
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