I’ve always loved reading. As a child, I read voraciously. Now that I’m an adult, reading is still one of my favorite leisure activities and I make time for it every day.
In 2021, I read a lot of books. (If you’re interested in seeing all of what I read and/or discussing them, I invite you to follow me on Goodreads.) Many of the books I read were great, some of them were mediocre, and some of them were downright awful. I wanted to take a moment to share some of the great ones in the hopes that they might resonate with others.
Without further ado, here are my Top 10 Nonfiction Books of 2021!
Disclosure: While I strongly advocate for purchasing books from your local bookshop, I have provided links to books below in case you don't have access to a local bookseller. Some of the links below are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. Thank you for your support!
#1 - The Day The World Came to Town: 9/11 in Gander, Newfoundland
On September 11, 2001, the airspace above the entire United States of America was closed. By the time the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) made this decision, dozens of wide-body jets were already enroute to the United States from Europe, and they didn’t have the option to turn around. Instead, they were ordered to land in alternate places outside of the United States, and one of these was Gander, Newfoundland, Canada.
This book, written by Jim DeFede, highlights the 38 planes that landed in Gander that day, a town of 10,300 people. The people of Gander opened their hearts to the 6,700 people aboard these aircraft and took care of them like they were family.
For me, this book read almost like a novel in terms of how engaging it was. It was paced well, and the profiles of the individuals were extremely compelling. More than once, I felt myself feeling the same emotions as the people being discussed. It moved me and gave me so much hope. On a day when the worst of humanity was on display, the people of Gander showed the best of humanity.
#2 - Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times
I loved this book so much that it inspired a Coach Tip Tuesday this year. Seasons are a part of life, and yes, that means Winter is as well. Rather than shying away or attempting to deny the Winters of our lives, Ms. May advocates quite eloquently for embracing them and using them to power our lives, not diminish them.
I think that this book is a must-read for everyone, but especially those who have dreaded Winter or the down periods in their own lives.
#3 - The Practice of Groundedness: A Transformative Path to Success That Feeds--Not Crushes--Your Soul
Mr. Stulberg makes a great case for why groundedness is such an important bedrock on which to build one’s life. He takes that one step further by giving tangible how-tos to put groundedness into practice. This book was deep, rich, nuanced, and comprehensive. I was very grateful that he wrote it and have already referenced it several times since I finished it. I can’t recommend this one enough.
#4 - The Passion Paradox: A Guide to Going All In, Finding Success, and Discovering the Benefits of an Unbalanced Life
The Passion Paradox goes into detail about the root of the word “passion” and what it truly means to be passionate about one’s work. They turn Western society’s common thought about passion - that we should decide what we are passionate about it and then pursue it - on its head and instead make the argument that pursuing meaningful work breeds passion over time.
Using real-life examples from a variety of fields and weaving those stories in with science and research, Mr. Stulberg and Mr. Magness show us all that we can pursue our passions in a meaningful, healthy, fulfilling, and sustainable way.
#5 - Highest Duty: My Search for What Really Matters
The Miracle on the Hudson has captured my attention and imagination ever since I first heard about US Airways Flight 1549’s unplanned landing in the frigid Hudson River in January 2009. I was delighted to read Captain Chesley Sullenberger’s account of that day in Highest Duty: My Search for What Really Matters, which he co-wrote with Jeffrey Zaslow.
Captain Sully weaves his own personal history into the story, and he also explains a lot of the nuances of commercial aviation, which I was fascinated by. As a frequent flier, I do have a strong appreciation for the complexity of commercial aviation, but even I was surprised by some of the details and procedures that Captain Sully outlined in this book.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this and I recommend it to anyone who has an interest in aviation or in stories that showcase the best of humanity.
#6 - Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams
After reading this, I happily took up Dr. Walker’s banner that we need to change how we think about sleep on every level in modern human society, and especially in the Western World and United States of America.
#7 - Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World
Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World by Cal Newport is an incredibly valuable read. As someone who has been frustrated for years when interacting with people who are distracted by technology (and most especially their smartphones or smart watches), I found this book to be wonderful. It provided me with a lot of thoughts that confirm my innate dislike of distracted communications. Though my gut has always hated it, this book helped me to understand exactly why people are so addicted to technology and why they are so consistently distracted by it.
I also liked the tips on how to be a digital minimalist and how to successfully maintain this lifestyle choice. It provides great context that technology is indeed valuable, but only when we are actually in charge of leveraging it.
All in all, we can all benefit from the knowledge and insights in this book, because we're all victims of Silicon Valley and how much they want to capitalize on our time and attention. Every time we glance at our screens, we’re increasing the profits of digital tech giants. Many may not realize that that’s really what we’re doing, but it is.
I consider this a must-read for practically everyone. It’s so valuable, insightful, and eye-opening.
#8 - Greenlights
Matthew McConaughey’s Greenlights is the second memoir making my Top 10 list, and with good reason.
I actually listened to this as an audiobook, and I’m so glad that I did. Mr. McConaughey reads it himself, and his personality is even more infused into the words he wrote as a result.
I thought that this was insightful, reflective, and funny. It left me with a warm, cozy feeling when it was over, and I highly recommend it.
#9 - Leadership is a Relationship: How to Put People First in a Digital World
I really liked that Mr. Erwin and Mr. Devoll used personal stories to convey examples of leading through relationships, and I really liked that that was the framework for how the authors encourage the reader to put people first in a digital world.
This isn’t a traditional “how-to” book, so readers seeking specific takeaways may be left disappointed. However, the fact that this wasn’t a “list format” is exactly what I liked about it. They wove a lovely narrative and made an extremely compelling case that strong leaders are forged not by their force or might, but through their relationships.
#10 - The Total Money Makeover: A Proven Plan for Financial Success
Since I have been implementing his Baby Steps and other financial principles for a bit now, most of the information in the book wasn’t new for me, but it was a good deep dive into how Mr. Ramsey came up with the Baby Steps, and he uses several real-life examples to show how these principles work.
I am living proof that following this financial advice and plan does work when it's put into action. When I started following Mr. Ramsey’s advice, I was below the poverty line, unable to afford my winter heating bill, and over my head (literally) in debt. I am now about to cross the finish line of Baby Step Two (pay off all of my debt except for my mortgage), and I am beyond thankful that I found this plan when I was at such a low point in my life.
This book is good for folks who feel that they are okay financially, but perhaps want to have more focus or intentionality in this area of their lives so they can build wealth and be generous toward others. It is also wonderful for anyone who feels like they are in financial despair and have no way out, as I felt. You do have a way out, and Mr. Ramsey’s The Total Money Makeover can show you the way.
Coach Laura Henry
Laura Henry is a Syracuse, NY-based coach who is a USA Triathlon Level II Long Course and Level II Paratriathlon Certified Coach, USA Cycling Level 2 Certified Coach, VFS Certified Bike Fitter, and has successfully completed NASM's Certified Personal Trainer course. Coach Laura is passionate about helping athletes of all ability levels reach their goals and has coached many athletes to success.