My Favorite Nonfiction Books of 2021 (and an announcement)

My preference for nonfiction continues to be driven by my academic training as a historian (with a specialization in American women’s history). I gravitate toward serious narrative nonfiction written by women about women–and I’m especially interested if those female subjects are not well-known historical figures. My nine top nonfiction books of 2021 (read in that year, but not necessarily published in it) reflected that. All nine were by women about women, including two memoirs. As a bonus, because I hate to present fewer than ten, I also included two others that I liked very much.

File:Portrait of a woman by Adélaïde Labille-Guiard - 1787.jpg
(Portrait of a woman by Adelaide Labille-Guiard c. 1787)

These four were especially wonderful:

Rebecca Donner, All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days: The True Story of the American Woman at the Heart of the German Resistance to Hitler. The unforgettable, haunting story of Milwaukee native Mildred Harnack.

Tiya Miles, All That She Carried: The Journey of Ashley’s Sack, a Black Family Keepsake. A National Book Award winner.

Julie Flavell, The Howe Dynasty: The Untold Story of a Military Family and the Women Behind Britain’s Wars for America. Provides a much-needed, different perspective on conventional military and political history.

Martha S. Jones, Vanguard: How Black Women Broke Barriers, Won the Vote, and Insisted on Equality for All. An insightful and incisive reminder of the limitations of the Nineteenth Amendment.

This book went back to the roots of the women’s rights movement:

Dorothy Wickenden, The Agitators: Three Friends Who Fought for Abolition and Women’s Rights.

Two books that will keep you on the edge of your seats:

Catherine Prendergast, The Gilded Edge: Two Audacious Women and the Cyanide Love Triangle That Shook America.

Judy Batalion, The Light of Days: The Untold Story of Women Resistance Fighters in Hitler’s Ghettos.

Two thought-provoking memoirs:

Rebecca Carroll, Surviving the White Gaze.

Jacqueline Winspear, This Time Next Year We’ll Be Laughing.

Also not to be missed, especially because they recover important people and events largely forgotten:

Scott Borchert, Republic of Detours: How the New Deal Paid Broke Writers to Rediscover America.

Marcia Biederman, A Mighty Force: Dr. Elizabeth Hayes and Her War for Public Health.

Now, for my announcement!

My latest book, Queen of the West: The Life and Times of Dale Evans, is due out in April. To encourage you all to think about reading the book (and recommending it to your friends, family, mail carrier, etc., and maybe even pre-ordering it), I will be launching Queen of the West Wednesdays on February 2. Every Wednesday, I will post the opening sentence of a chapter (or chapters–I’ve got to fit them all in by mid-April!) and explain just a little bit of what was happening in Dale’s life.

So pull on your favorite boots over these next Wednesdays and join me!

File:Dale Evans pink sparkly cowboy boots.jpg
(Pink rhinestone cowboy boots, worn by Dale Evans, from the collections of the University of Pennsylvania.)