My Top Five 2021 Nonfiction Reads

More than half of the books I read in 2021 appear to be nonfiction (tracking and math are not precise) which kind of surprised me.  But I did have a goal of reading a great many books on Saint Paul of which more anon, as they say.  So what were my favorites?

Here are five of the non-Paul focused nonfiction that stood out to me from 2021 (books I read, not that were published last year):

A book that is hard to say “I liked it” given how depressing and challenging it is. I am far from an expert on these things but I found it all too persuasive in its underlying argument about decadence. The chapter Waiting for the Barbarians was particularly depressing. I wish I had a brilliant answer as to how to get out of the seeming cul-de-sac we find ourselves in but, alas, I do not. 

An insightful and challenging book that forces you to acknowledge the challenges our culture presents for people of faith and those who seek to pass on that faith to the next generation. While there is a tad too much jargon in places, and it is also earnest at times, it really is a great outline for thinking about encouraging and inculcating deeper faith in young people and adults alike. The idea of call, community, creed and hope for the future is something I will be chewing on and working out for some time. If you have an interest in youth ministry, church revitalization or just faith in the modern world, highly recommended.

A discursive, and sometimes elusive, meditation on freedom that touches on evolution, history, science, sociology, economics, and psychology, among other things. Thought provoking and a bit haunted.

A mix of personal and historical reflections centered on Juneteenth, this was an interesting read. As someone with a background in history, I appreciated her perspective and enjoyed the way she attempted to flush out her own feelings and approach to history and the complex and difficult issue of race and slavery in America. At times it felt too thin, like it could have dug a little deeper into the history. The arguments, such as they are, come tangentially and through a mix of history and family stories. When I first saw it in the bookstore I was hoping for a short history of the event and subsequent holiday but enjoyed this book anyways. A quick and thought provoking read that brings a personal element to this day and its context.

Honest, playful, melancholy, at times dark, yet hopeful Mackall packs a lot into this short volume. Wonderful exploration of family, history, stories and their impact on our lives. Both a book to read for the content and for the writing itself.


Kevin Holtsberry
I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season).

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