TWFH’s Top Nonfiction Reads of 2021

31 Dec 2021


It’s hard to believe that 2021 is already coming to an end!

As we look forward to the new year, we at TWFH wanted to share our favorite nonfiction books we’ve read this year.

From the true story of a spy who played a pivotal role in the Cold War to a guidebook for changing old habits, we hope these delightful suggestions inspire you to read more in the coming year. And, perhaps, to even write your own book!

TWFH’s Top Nonfiction Reads of 2021

A Land So Strange: The Epic Journey of Cabeza de Vaca by Andrés Reséndez

Every Texas kid learns the story of Cabeza de Vaca, but the version we learned in school left a lot out.

The explorer's journey was way longer, harder, and weirder than we knew.

And in the end, he became one of the most sympathetic figures in the history of Spanish exploration—a determined, but sadly ignored, advocate for the very Native Americans who held him captive.

“A Land So Strange is absolutely a story worth reading!” — Stacy Clifford

Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones by James Clear

In this great read, James Clear presents a framework for reshaping the way you think about progress and success and provides tools and strategies for transforming unhealthy or unwanted habits.

“I found it really helpful to change small bad habits, effectively.” — Wintress Odom

Agent Sonya: Moscow’s Most Daring Wartime Spy by Ben Macintyre

This thrilling page-turner is the true-life story of a woman, code-named “Sonya,” whose career as a high-ranking Soviet intelligence officer traversed over several decades, during which she was hunted by the Chinese, the Japanese, the Nazis, MI5, MI6, and the FBI.

Yet, she managed to evade them all!

“I am a huge fan of Historical Nonfiction, and this book definitely didn’t disappoint! I found it to be both mind-boggling and fascinating.” — Jennifer Rizzo

As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride by Cary Elwes

In this engaging memoir, Cary Elwes recounts stories from the incredible time he spent with fellow actors, including Billy Crystal and Rob Reiner, making the movie “The Princess Bride.”

“This book is really, really good. Especially if you love “The Princess Bride.” I actually recommend listening to it—Cary Elwes narrates, and he does a great job impersonating the cast.” — Kathy Rinchiuso 

Finding Your Own North Star by Martha Beck

Written with great humor and very accessible, this is a great book for anyone who is wanting to get into alignment with their life’s purpose.

“We have become so accustomed to looking for validation outside of ourselves, and this book helps steer us back toward recognizing our own worth and giving us permission to live our lives in a way that truly lights us up.” — Carol Kim

Daughter of China by Meihong Xu

This is the riveting autobiography of a woman who spied for the Chinese government, fell in love with an American professor—which she almost got killed for—and defected to the U.S.

Hollywood couldn’t produce a better spy thriller than Daughter of China: A True Story of Love and Betrayal.

“Dynamic characters, international espionage, and forbidden love create a gripping story. It’s fascinating to watch Meihong question her upbringing, fall in love (more than once), risk death, and eventually defect.” — Cecile Brule

Kitchen Table Wisdom: Stories That Heal by Rachel Naomi Remen

This incredible collection of true stories is full of inspiration and hope for navigating the curves and challenges that life throws at us.

“Beautiful and profound meditation on illness, mortality, and the human spirit.” — Carey Miller

Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets by Svetlana Alexievich

In this emotional masterpiece, everyday Russian citizens recount the past 30 years, detailing what life was like during the fall of the Soviet Union and what it’s like to live in the new Russia left in its wake.

“I really enjoyed this one. It's an oral history that reads like poetry.” — Jennifer Iacullo

The Sun Does Shine: How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row by Anthony Ray Hinton

The Sun Does Shine is the compelling story of a poor black man in Alabama who was wrongfully charged with two counts of capital murder in 1985, and subsequently spent the next 30 years on death row, before he was finally acquitted in 2015.

“Very powerful” — Martha Scott

Unveiled: One Woman’s Nightmare in Iran  by Cherry Mosteshar

This gripping read is the firsthand account of how the religious revolution in Iran transformed the country into an extremely conservative Islamic state overnight, dramatically changing the lives of the Iranian women.

“I am half Iranian. My biological father is from Tehran and my family worked for the Shah of Iran. Reading this book made me realize just how lucky I am that I wasn’t raised in Tehran during the overthrow of the Shah. It truly made me count my blessings.“ — Deirdre Paige

Once Upon a Town: The Miracle of the North Platte Canteen by Bob Greene

Once Upon a Town is a sweet story about how a small town rallied to support the soldiers who travel through it during WWII.

“Heartwarming and in a U.S. that is increasingly divided, it is nice to hear a story of people bonding together for a common cause.” — Barbara Adams

If You Tell: A True Story of Murder, Family Secrets, and the Unbreakable Bond of Sisterhood by Gregg Olsen

If You Tell is the harrowing true-crime story of three sisters who were held captive and tortured by their sadistic, murderous mother, Michelle “Shelly” Knotek, and the unbreakable bond that held them together and eventually gave them the strength to break free.

“This book was like watching a train wreck. Parts of it were horrific and hard to read, but I just couldn’t put it down.” — Jennifer Rizzo

The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper by Hallie Rubenhold

The Five tells the fascinating backstories of the women killed by Jack the Ripper.

It also delves into the laws and customs of the Victorian society that made it impossible for these women to be anything but horrifically poor, and how it was that misogynistic society that was partially to blame for their murders.

“Really fascinating stuff. There is also a podcast by the same author called “Bad Women: Jack the Ripper Retold.”  — Kathy Rinchiuso

John Adams by David McCullough

This powerful biography by David McCullough tells of the adventurous and fascinating life of America’s second president.

“It’s inspiring and humbling to watch John Adams grow as a person, not just a politician. I enjoyed being in his shoes and eating his food, meeting his loved ones, and seeing the world through his eyes. It's also an engaging, easy read--if you're afraid of dry academic prose, this is a great antidote.” — Cecile Brule

Jennifer Rizzo 
Jennifer Rizzo, also known as "Rizzo," is a Denver-based writer with a passion for writing, genealogical research, travel, and languages. She studied Spanish at the University of Guadalajara in Guadalajara, Mexico and also lived and studied in Ancona, Italy. She also holds a certification for International Tour Management through the International Guide Academy. Since joining The Writers For Hire, Jennifer has tackled a vast array of projects—from RPFs and SOPs to memoirs and company history books— and has done many in-depth genealogical research and family tree projects. She has also worked as Project Manager for various client projects, including family history books, websites, RFPs, blogs, autobiographies, and SOPs. She enjoys working closely with clients, and loves any opportunity that allows her to indulge her creative side.

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