Image description: A photo of some of the books on this list, with a very quirky star background.
Because I can’t be arsed to actually read new books, I decided to review all the books I’ve read in 2021 in order of most-liked to least-liked. This year, I’ve tried to read more books written by women (more than half on this list!), as well as more fiction (less successfully). If anyone has any book recommendations, please send them my way!
1. The Right to Sex: Feminism in the Twenty-First Century, Amia Srinivasan – 10/10
A gorgeous collection of six essays on different feminist topics. One of my favourite books of all time – do read my full review coming up soon!!
2. Black Box Thinking: The Surprising Truth About Success, Matthew Syed – 10/10
An incredibly interesting book that completely changed my perception of success. Using fascinating case studies, ranging from the aviation to the healthcare industry, Syed illustrates how we can only become successful by radically reshaping our relationship with mistakes and failure. Definitely a must-read!
3. Gang Leader for a Day: A Rogue Sociologist Takes to the Streets, Sudhir Venkatesh – 9.5/10
A fascinating memoir by a sociologist at the University of Chicago, who spends nearly a decade living with and researching a gang to understand gang behaviour. There are incredible insights about the corporation-like structure of drug cartels, and sombre recollections of poverty in Chicago.
4. The Promised Land, Barack Obama – 9.5/10
An exceedingly well-written and honest account by Obama himself, providing unprecedented insight into his rise and presidency. At 700+ pages, this is really quite long and can be tedious to get through, but it is so worth it for the behind-the-scenes moments with his family, or his reflections on his failures.
5. Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive, Stephanie Land – 9.5/10
A beautiful memoir by a struggling single mother, who was working as a maid to try and make ends meet for her daughter. Brought me to tears throughout the book. Also exposed the very upsetting failures of the US welfare system, and how easily people can fall through the cracks.
6. The Meritocracy Trap: How America’s Foundational Myth Feeds Inequality, Dismantles the Middle Class, and Devours the Elite, Daniel Markovitz – 9.5/10
An excellent diagnosis of meritocracy and capitalism, which completely changed my worldview. The central thesis is that the current ‘meritocratic system’ is to blame for increased economic inequality, political polarisation and societal fragmentation – honestly a must-read for anyone wondering why the world is so fucked up.
7. Good Economics for Hard Times: Better Answers to Our Biggest Problems, Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo – 9.5/10
Written by Nobel-Prize winning economists (and couple!) Banerjee and Duflo, this book discusses a wide range of solutions for the maladies plaguing developed countries, such as slowed economic growth, inequality, climate change, and automation. A rare book that is both academically rigorous and easy to read.
8. Men Who Hate Women: From Incels to Pickup Artists, the Truth about Extreme Misogyny and how it Affects Us All, Laura Bates – 9.5/10
An eye-opening exposé that analyses the roots of misogyny and incel culture. The central thesis is that extreme misogyny ought to be treated as terrorism, as it involves grooming and radicalisation, and fuels hate-based crimes. Bates goes undercover on sites like 4chan to expose the shocking and upsetting forms of seemingly innocuous sexism.
9. The Color Purple, Alice Walker – 9/10
This classic 1983 Pulitzer Prize-winner, written as a series of letters, is set in the southern US, and broaches difficult topics such as slavery, racism, poverty, and rape. This book is so beautifully written, but doesn’t shy away from explicit physical and emotional abuse, which makes it difficult to read at times.
10. I Am Not Your Baby Mother, Candice Braithwaite – 9/10
Written by a black mother about her experience of motherhood in the UK, this memoir-manifesto discusses explicit and implicit racism and white privilege in a refreshingly direct, witty, yet mostly lighthearted way. I was most struck by how insidious and dangerous racism is in healthcare (which is rigorously explored in Caroline Criado Perez’s Invisible Women).
11. Educated, Tara Westover – 9/10
This multi award-winning memoir by a girl growing up in and eventually escaping her fundamentalist Mormon household is heartbreakingly touching. It chronicles her stepping foot into a classroom for the first time at 17, and almost completely breaking off contact with her family to attend university. Made me really reflect on how much I take my family and education for granted.
12. The Bystander Effect: The Psychology of Courage and How to be Brave, Catherine Sanderson – 9/10
This fascinating book explains the baffling phenomenon of good people being apathetic bystanders when something bad happens, using plenty of case studies and neuroscientific insights. One small complaint is that a lot of examples have been used in many other books, such as Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point – but that’s probably inevitable.
13. So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, Jon Ronson – 9/10
Ronson coined the term ‘public shaming’ before cancel culture was a thing. Here, he discusses the reasons why people get publicly shamed online, why others jump on the bandwagon, and the effects of such shaming. As this was written in 2015, it’s quite interesting to see how online behaviour has changed with the rise of social media.
14. Beloved, Toni Morrison – 9/10
Another Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, Beloved is a terrifying, dark story about a family of former slaves whose house is haunted. This book is gripping and personally nightmare-inducing – but watching the puzzle pieces fall into place throughout the book means you really cannot put this down.
15. Delusions of Gender: How Our Minds, Society, and Neurosexism Create Difference, Cordelia Fine – 9/10
The central theses of this book are: 1) there are no genetic (innate biological) differences between men and women, and 2) all gender differences can be explained by upbringing or environment. Backed by persuasive and interesting neuroscientific studies, this completely changed how I viewed gender differences (which I had previously thought to have some biological underpinning).
This book won the Booker Prize 2019, and was shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2020 – and justifiably so. It is styled as a collection of stories about twelve characters, mostly black British women, whose lives intersect, sometimes tangentially. The style of writing is really interesting, though challenging to read at times.
17. Talking to my Daughter About the Economy: A Brief History of Capitalism, Yanis Varoufakis – 8.5/10
If you’d like an overview of how capitalism and money came to be, this book is for you. It explains really fascinating economic history in an easily accessible way, but I personally thought that it didn’t teach me that many new things. I prefer Varoufakis’s other book, And The Weak Suffer What They Must?, which analyses the Eurozone crisis and the US.
18. Class War: The Privatization of Childhood, Megan Erickson – 8/10
This is an interesting book on how public-private education contributes to increased class divisions, entrenches intergenerational poverty, and feeds the ‘meritocracy’, but a lot of the insights are quite intuitive and aren’t that groundbreaking. The ludicrous case studies of how far parents are willing to go would, however, make you gag.
19. Women Don’t Owe You Pretty, Florence Given – 8/10
I got this hardback because I was hooked by the absolutely stunning graphics and illustrations, and it’s still one of the prettiest books I own. The book discusses intersectional feminism and different feminist topics, such as body image and relationships. However, Given was in hot water for allegedly appropriating ideas from the black community for profit.
20. Who Rules The World?, Noah Chomsky – 8/10
In a nutshell, this book is about post-911 US and the insidious influence it still wields over the world, despite seemingly losing its grip on power. The sharp analysis of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the Israel-Palestine crisis, exposes just how hypocritical the US is in its rhetoric on human rights and freedom.
21. Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury – 8/10
Bradbury’s classic dystopian novel imagines a society where books are completely banned and ‘firemen’ burn and destroy any that are found. The book is enjoyable and readable, but slightly disjointed as it was originally published as three separate short stories. I prefer other classic dystopian novels, but this was fun and great to read in one sitting.
22. The Tyranny of Merit: What’s Become of the Common Good?, Michael Sandel – 8/10
Sandel is one of my favourite writers/political philosophers, and this book did not disappoint. He argues that a ‘meritocracy’ makes the winners hubristic, and the losers completely left behind – instead of that, we should radically reevaluate the role of luck in who comes out top, and practice more humility to revive the common good.
23. The Guilty Feminist: From Our Noble Goals to Our Worst Hypocrisies, Deborah Frances-White – 7.5/10
Frances-White has a brilliant podcast with the same name that is witty and inspiring and very feminist. The book has snippets of this, with some really cool interviews, but overall it isn’t revolutionary. I personally don’t enjoy reading interviews that much, hence my relative ambivalence despite the very relatable content.
24. The Roaring Nineties: A New History of the World’s Most Prosperous Decade, Joseph Stiglitz – 7.5/10
Stiglitz is one of my favourite econ authors – his Globalisation and its Discontents was one of the first books which made me really want to study the subject. The Roaring Nineties is dense and provides a great overview of the free market-worshipping decade, which was eerily similar to the leadup to the 2008 crisis.
25. The Rise of the Outsiders: How Mainstream Politics Lost Its Way, Steve Richards – 7/10
This book examines the recent flourishing of far-right and far-left populist voices across the developed world (Trump, Brexit, Corbyn etc.), arguing that mainly economic factors are to blame, including globalisation, stagnant wages, increased immigration. The book is good but quite intuitive – hence not too useful if you’re vaguely interested in politics.
26. Mrs Dalloway, Virginia Woolf – 7/10
I had been meaning to read this because it’s a classic, and so many of my friends have recommended it. The writing is beautiful but it just wasn’t my type of book – it’s very slow, and I found the stream-of-consciousness style difficult to track. Someone teach me how to appreciate good literature 🙁