The best books of 2021

BEST NONFICTION OF 2021

ONE MIGHTY AND IRRESISTIBLE TIDE: THE EPIC STRUGGLE OVER AMERICAN IMMIGRATION, 1924–1965 BY JIA LYNN YANG — WHAT HAS MADE AMERICA A NATION OF IMMIGRANTS?

On as many as a dozen occasions in the course of the twentieth century, the United States Congress attempted to write the rules for immigration. Twice the result was major legislation signed by the President. The first was in 1924, with the passage of a racist bill that strangled the flow of immigrants for four decades. The second passed in 1965, reopening the floodgates. One law sharply reduced the percentage of foreign-born residents. The other dramatically increased it once again — and, in the process, changed America’s ethnic composition. Now, in One Mighty and Irresistible Tide, journalist Jia Lynn Yang traces the history of that second bill. Her account casts light on today’s immigration debate. It’s both eye-opening and timely.

BEST BOOKS OF 2021: MYSTERIES AND THRILLERS

RED WIDOW BY ALMA KATSU — A POISONED CIA ASSET, AND A HUNT FOR A CIA MOLE

A Russian businessman dies on a plane from JFK to Washington National Airport. It seems to be a heart attack. But Lyndsey Duncan knows better. It was clearly poison. And the man was no businessman. He was, instead, a high-ranking officer in the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, the FSB. A ten-year CIA veteran, Lyndsey had recruited Yaromir Popov as a high-level asset when in Moscow on her first overseas assignment. The man had proven to be the most productive agent in the agency’s recent history, and Lyndsey had gained stature and notoriety as a result. But she has thrown it away by an affair with an MI6 officer on her next assignment, in Beirut.

BEST SCIENCE FICTION OF 2021

2034: A NOVEL OF THE NEXT WORLD WAR BY ELLIOT ACKERMAN AND ADMIRAL JAMES STAVRIDIS — THE THIRD WORLD WAR BREAKS OUT IN 2034, BUT NOT HOW YOU THINK

A squadron of three US destroyers sails on a “freedom of navigation” mission in the disputed waters of the South China Sea. Nearby a smaller vessel is gushing smoke, and Captain Sara Hunt, the squadron’s commodore, orders her warships to veer off course to investigate. They find a small craft packed with electronic surveillance equipment, which they seize. And this ill-considered act in March 2034 triggers a succession of shocking events that unfold over the next four months. Not the rapid-fire, tit-for-tat exchange of strategic nuclear weapons conjured up in the most common fantasy of a Third World War. Just a slow-motion disaster with its own tragic and far-reaching consequences. Thus begins 2034: A Novel of the Next World War. It’s the most frightening book I’ve read in many years.

BEST BOOKS OF 2021: POPULAR FICTION

THE BAD MUSLIM DISCOUNT BY SYED M. MASOOD — A MUSLIM ODYSSEY, FROM KARACHI AND BAGHDAD TO SAN FRANCISCO

Anvar Faris and Safwa lead very different lives growing up. In Karachi, Pakistan, now the world’s seventh largest city, Anvar lives a life sheltered from violence and poverty with his parents and older brother. He’s the black sheep in the family, the bane of his mother’s existence because he fails to follow the strict Muslim rules she imposes on everyone else. By contrast, living in Baghdad with her brother Fahd and her stern father, Safwa experiences the American invasion as a child. Then her father, who years earlier had answered the call to jihad in Afghanistan, is captured and tortured by US troops. Abu Fahd (“father of Fahd”) turns cruel after his release and forces her to live under the veil and devote her life to caring for her dying older brother.

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