2021 Holiday Gift Guide: The 15 Best Nonfiction Books to Gift This Holiday Season

10 Dec 2021


With the holidays front and center, finding the perfect gift for avid readers can be tricky. After all, there are many great titles out there. However, there are some other not-so-good ones, too.

So, how can one separate the wheat from the chaff?

Unlike fiction, nonfiction books combine wonder and enlightenment within a real-world context. Great nonfiction titles take readers on an exploration of the world and the self.

Ultimately, the best nonfiction works help readers learn more about themselves and their surrounding environment.

In this article, we will explore the 15 best nonfiction books to gift avid readers this holiday season. These titles range from social justice and inequality to a profound analysis of how humans have impacted the planet. Above all, there is something for everyone, even those with highly discriminating tastes.

The titles on this list are in alphabetical order. Thus, there is no specific ranking or criteria for which ones are better than others. They are all equally powerful as well as entertaining.

The 15 Best Nonfiction Books to Gift This Holiday Season

1. “All In: An Autobiography” by Billie Jean King. Publisher: Knopf.

Former tennis star Billie Jean King leads the way with her eye-opening autobiography.

In this rollercoaster story, King describes the ups and downs of her remarkable tennis career.

While certainly entertaining and inspiring on its own, this autobiography goes beyond her stellar career.

In the second half of her tale, she takes readers through her life after tennis. In particular, King discusses her efforts as an activist and her continuing push for social justice and equality for those underrepresented in today’s society.

On the whole, “All In” combines the public life of the tennis star with her unwavering commitment to personal causes.

Above all, this book is an easy read that will surely keep readers looking for more.

“All In” is a great choice for anyone interested in how remarkable women have shaped today’s society.

2. “A Swim in a Pond in the Rain: In Which Four Russians Give a Master Class on Writing, Reading, and Life” by George Saunders. Publisher: Random House.

In “A Swim in a Pond in the Rain,” Booker Prize winner George Saunders looks to deliver a masterclass on how literary works emerge. He goes into detail about what makes a literary work truly great.

Please note that this title is not a critique of creative writing.

Instead, this book attempts to distill valuable lessons by deconstructing the nuts and bolts of great novels. As such, the aim is to grasp how the mind works while reading literary pieces.

Ultimately, rules and guidelines emerge about how great writing connects with readers.

This title is a must for those who enjoy reflecting on life and the world.

3. “An Ugly Truth: Inside Facebook’s Battle for Domination” by Sheera Frenkel and Cecilia King. Publisher: Harper.

New York Times journalists Sheera Frenkel and Cecilia King take a deep look into Facebook’s seeming fall from grace.

However, there is much more than meets the eye.

Frenkel and King dissect the details behind Facebook’s scandal to uncover what truly happened behind the scenes.

The narrative describes Facebook’s journey from a social media darling to a firm under constant scrutiny.

This title offers an informative and thought-provoking description of one of the world’s corporate giants.

Indeed, it is the definite exposé into how social media has influenced every facet of modern life.

“An Ugly Truth” is a great option for those interested in business, politics, and understanding how the world works.

4. “Crying in H Mart: A Memoir” by Michelle Zauner. Publisher: Knopf.

For those seeking an emotional adventure, “Crying in H Mart” delivers.

Singer-songwriter Michelle Zauner provides a heartfelt account of a personal journey through various facets of her life.

In particular, this book focuses on her mother’s passing and food’s role in her grieving process.

Moreover, Zauner explores her life growing up as a Korean American in Oregon and the complex relationship she maintained with her parents.

This memoir gives readers a glimpse into the rigors of Zauner’s pursuit of a career in the music industry.

“Crying in H Mart” is a wonderfully cathartic read.

5. “Dog Flowers: A Memoir” by Danielle Geller. Publisher: One World.

As far as emotional stories go, “Dog Flowers” is a must-read.

The narrative revolves around Danielle Geller’s return to Florida following her mother’s passing.

As she encounters her grief, Geller discovers a suitcase filled with mementos: old undeveloped film, letters, diaries, photographs, jewelry, and even a bandana. From there, she must confront her family history. In particular, she rediscovers her mother’s lost Navajo heritage.

Throughout this story, Geller comes to terms with her mother’s heritage while also reconciling hers. Ultimately, she returns to the Navajo reservation her mother once called home.

This book packs a powerfully emotional tale to which just about anyone can relate.

6. “How the World Is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America” by Clint Smith. Publisher: Little, Brown, and Company.

History lovers will find a gem in “How the World Is Passed.”

This New York Times Bestseller takes a deep dive into America’s legacy through a tour of renowned landmarks and monuments.

The tour serves as the backdrop for Clint Smith to discuss how slavery has been instrumental in shaping America’s social and cultural heritage.

Moreover, Smith’s narrative brings to life the stories of those who have long passed.

This title aims to create awareness of crucial social issues by understanding their underlying historical events.

“How the World Is Passed” is ideal for readers looking to learn more about America’s heritage while shedding light on crucial social issues.

7. “London’s Number One Dog-Walking Agency: A Memoir” by Kate MacDougall. Publisher: William Morrow & Company.

“London’s Number One Dog-Walking Agency,” tells Kate MacDougall’s story as she transitioned from a post-college rut into a full-fledged business owner.

However, this story is not the typical rags-to-riches tale one might expect.

This book shows MacDougall as she went from working at Sotheby’s in London to starting her business. While at Sotheby’s, she almost destroyed a valuable painting by accident. Ultimately, she chose to leave her job and pursue a completely different career path. She decided to start a dog-walking business. Although, she found herself with a slight complication: She did not know anything about dogs.

Throughout the narrative, MacDougall regales readers with her journey discovering her new life, relationships, and London.

Ultimately, she manages to build her new life one dog walk at a time.

This title is an inspirational story suitable for those readers seeking an uplifting and entertaining tale.

8. “Somebody’s Daughter: A Memoir” by Ashley C. Ford. Publisher: Flatiron Books.

“Somebody’s Daughter” is a complex tale of self-discovery.

In this memoir, Ashley C. Ford shares her story of growing up in Indiana as an African American girl. She depicts the challenges she had to face throughout her upbringing, including poverty and social injustice.

Also, Ford depicts her often distressing relationship with her mother. She found herself without anyone to turn to as her father’s incarceration left her unprotected. Not knowing the reasons for his incarceration made dealing with reality much worse.

Eventually, Ford’s grandmother reveals the big mystery.

This book contains an intricate story filled with challenging but ultimately enlightening experiences.

In the end, Ford comes out with a profound understanding of herself, her parents, her community, and the world around her.

It is ideal for those looking inward on their path to self-discovery.

9. “Seeing Ghosts: A Memoir” by Kat Chow. Publisher: Grand Central Publishing.

“Seeing Ghosts” is a compelling memoir that takes readers into Kat Chow’s family history.

The narrative revolves around the death of her mother. This sudden event leaves her family attempting to grasp the situation.

The onset of grief leads Chow to find solace in her ancestry.

As she tries to cobble her family roots, she goes on a journey that takes her to several places, including China, Hong Kong, Cuba, and lastly, America.

For those self-discovery lovers, “Seeing Ghosts” provides an insightful look into how a tragic event can lead to growth and maturity.

10. “The Afghanistan Papers: A Secret History of the War” by Craig Whitlock. Publisher: The Washington Post.

Three-time Pulitzer Prize nominee and veteran Washington Post reporter Craig Whitlock conducts a fascinating dissection of the Afghanistan war.

In particular, this book aims to uncover how three different American administrations handled the war in a country that none of them actually understood.

Moreover, this title seeks to cast a new light on the mainstream narrative surrounding the war, its outcome, and how politicians may have deceived the American public.

It is a wonderful, fast-paced read for anyone interested in politics, history, and military affairs.

11. “Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know” by Adam Grant. Publisher: Viking.

In “Think Again,” readers find a challenge.

The author, Adam Grant, dares readers to rethink what they think they know.

The challenge lies in unlearning and relearning what folks think they believe to be true.

This psychological approach encourages readers to keep an open mind as they make their way through their day-to-day lives.

Ultimately, the aim is to question personal beliefs as a means of going down the road of wisdom and success.

This book provides readers with a fresh perspective on their lives and what they hope to accomplish.

12. “The Anthropocene Reviewed: Essays on a Human-Centered Planet” by John Green. Publisher: Dutton.

John Green of The Fault in Our Stars fame dissects the Anthropocene Epoch, that is, the Earth’s current geologic era.

This book is not a geological treatise on how the Earth has evolved physically. Instead, it is an exploration into how humankind has dominated the planet.

Green goes into detail on specific phenomena such as the QWERTY keyboard and its importance in current human social and cultural interaction.

This volume builds on Green’s podcast and offers insight into his beliefs about how humans have shaped their home planet.

It is an insightful and often light-hearted read.

13. “The 2000s Made Me Gay” by Grace Perry. Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin.

In “The 2000s Made Me Gay,” readers can find a collection of essays focused on pop culture’s influence.

In particular, Grace Perry takes readers through the impact that culture and media have had on today’s generation.

She also highlights how today's youth have so many queer peer heroes, both fictional and real, that just were not around when she was growing up.

The book is a light-hearted and generally humorous read filled with anecdotes and commentary on the decade that made her gay.

This volume is a fun and entertaining viewpoint containing a healthy dose of truth bombs.

14. “You’ll Never Believe What Happened to Lacey: Crazy Stories About Racism” by Amber Ruffin and Lacey Lamar. Publisher: Grand Central Publishing.

In “You’ll Never Believe What Happened to Lacey,” readers will find truthful commentary on racism in everyday life.

Nevertheless, these encounters fall within a comical context, making them easier to digest.

Amber Ruffin, a New York-based comedian, regales readers with her depiction of all-too-real racist encounters that her sister Lacey goes through in her home state of Nebraska.

From being mistaken for a prostitute to being mistaken for Harriet Tubman, readers will be absolutely blown away by some of the racist situations Lacey has had to deal with.

While this book presents these racist encounters comically, the book provides an insightful reflection on racism’s toxic effects.

15. “What Happened to You?: Conversations on Trauma, Resilience, and Healing” by Bruce D. Perry and Oprah Winfrey. Publisher: Flatiron Books.

Oprah Winfrey and Dr. Bruce Perry deliver a powerhouse in this volume.

They look into a scientific perspective that explains the emotional distress caused by traumatic events.

Perry’s background as a trauma specialist helps provide a clear medical context to the discussion.

Oprah provides personal stories that help focus the narrative on healing and overcoming trauma.

The authors challenge readers to transform the question “What’s wrong with you?” to “What happened to you?”

This remarkable book is a sure-fire page-turner suitable for anyone who wants an inspirational read.

Zach Richter 

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