Twenty of the finest books 2021 has had to offer, selected in collaboration with our friends at Blackwell’s*. From gripping fiction to incisive journalism, child-friendly scifi and poetic memoirs…
For the chance to win a selection of our top 20 books, plus some of our favourite albums of 2021, enter our bluedot Christmas Giveaway…
This Is Your Mind On Plants
‘Fascinating. Pollan is the perfect guide … curious, careful, open minded’ – The Guardian
In This Is Your Mind On Plants, Michael Pollan explores three very different drugs – opium, caffeine and mescaline – and throws the fundamental strangeness of our thinking about them into sharp relief. Exploring and participating in the cultures that have grown up around these drugs, while consuming (or in the case of caffeine, trying not to consume) them, Pollan reckons with the powerful human attraction to psychoactive plants, and the equally powerful taboos.
The Art of Disruption: A Manifesto For Real Change
“Read this book!” – Caroline Lucas
“Thou shalt not ignore this book. Magid is magic!” – Jarvis Cocker
A guide to being courageous and community-minded, and to disrupting and dismantling age-old power structures in work, life and politics, written by someone who has done exactly that. Magid’s story, as a Somali-born black Muslim refugee who became the youngest ever Lord Mayor of Sheffield and one of the last UK MEPs, is inspirational. For the first time, he reveals the stories behind each of his ‘commandments’; what drives him, the obstacles he overcame and what makes him hopeful.
“Gillespie is rock and roll’s Oliver Twist. A punk rock fairytale, razor sharp on class struggle, music, style, and a singular view of the world resulting in one of the world’s great bands. Couldn’t put down” – Courtney Love
A book filled with the joy and wonder of a rock n roll apostle who would radically reshape the future sounds of fin de siècle British pop, Bobby Gillespie’s memoir cuts a righteous path through a decade lost to Thatcherism and saved by acid house.
“‘A masterpiece” – William Basinski
Is it possible for books to dream? For books to dream within books? Is there a literary subterranea that would facilitate ingress and exit points through these dreams?
These are some of the questions posed by David Keenan’s masterly fifth novel, Monument Maker, an epic romance of eternal summer and a descent, into history, into the horrors of the past; a novel with a sweep and range that runs from the siege of Khartoum and the conquest of Africa in the 19th century through the Second World War and up to the present day, where the memory of a single summer, and a love affair that took place across the cathedrals of Ile de France, unravels, as a secret initiatory cult is uncovered that has its roots in macabre experiments in cryptozoology in pre-war Europe.
Jennifer Otter Bickerdicke
You Are Beautiful and You Are Alone: The Biography of Nico
“A gripping portrait.” The Times
In You Are Beautiful and You Are Alone, defying the sexist casting of her life as the tragedy of a beautiful woman losing her looks, youth and fame, Jennifer Otter Bickerdike cements Nico’s legacy as one of the most vital artists of her time, inspiring a generation of luminaries including Björk, Morrissey and Iggy Pop.
Containing over a hundred new interviews and rare archival material, this is an empowering reappraisal of an underappreciated icon.
David Graeber and David Wengrow
The Dawn of Everything A New History of Humanity
“‘This is not a book. This is an intellectual feast” – Nassim Nicholas Taleb
For generations, our remote ancestors have been cast as primitive and childlike – either free and equal, or thuggish and warlike. Civilization, we are told, could be achieved only by sacrificing those original freedoms or, alternatively, by taming our baser instincts. David Graeber and David Wengrow show how such theories first emerged in the eighteenth century as a reaction to indigenous critiques of European society, and why they are wrong. In doing so, they overturn our view of human history, including the origins of farming, property, cities, democracy, slavery and civilization itself.
Hannah Fry and Adam Rutherford
Rutherford & Fry’s Complete Guide to Absolutely Everything
“If only Adam Rutherford and Hannah Fry were on tap to all of us, all the time . . . The pair have such a gift for making life, numbers and the forces at work in the universe all the richer, stranger, funnier and more marvellous.” Stephen Fry
In Rutherford and Fry’s comprehensive guidebook, they tell the complete story of the universe and absolutely everything in it – skipping over some of the boring parts. This is a celebration of the weirdness of the cosmos, the strangeness of humans and the fact that amid all the mess, we can somehow make sense of life.
39 Ways to Save the Planet
In 39 Ways to Save the Planet, Tom Heap reveals some of the real-world solutions to climate change that are happening around the world, right now. From tiny rice seeds and fossil fuel free steel to grazing elk and carbon-capturing seagrass meadows, each chapter reveals the energy and optimism in those tackling the fundamental problem of our age.
The Book of Hope
“A true hero” – Greta Thunberg
In The Book of Hope, Jane draws on the wisdom of a lifetime dedicated to nature to teach us how to find strength in the face of the climate crisis, and explains why she still has hope for the natural world and for humanity. In extraordinary conversations with her co-author Doug Abrams that weave together stories from her travels and activism, she offers readers a new understanding of the crisis we face and a compelling path forward for us all to create hope in our own lives and in the world.
bluedot’s book of the year…
In The End It Was All About Love
The narrator arrives in Berlin, a place famed for its hedonism, to find peace and maybe love; only to discover that the problems which have long haunted him have arrived there too, and are more present than ever. As he approaches his 40th birthday, nearing the age where his father was killed in a brutal revolution, he drifts through this endlessly addictive and sometimes mystical city, through its slow days and bottomless nights, wondering whether he will ever escape the damage left by his father’s death. With the world as a whole more uncertain, as both the far-right and global temperatures rise at frightening speed, he finds himself fighting a fierce inner battle against his turbulent past, for a future free of his fear of failure, of persecution, and of intimacy.
It wouldn’t be an overstatement to say In The End touched us unlike any other book this year. Musa’s journey through place and family gets to the heart of what it is to be human, and his search for identity is a story so relatable it’s surprising it hasn’t been told this perfectly before. Highly, highly recommended.
“Dazzling.” The Times
From the best-selling, prize-winning author of Golden Hill, Light Perpetual is a story of the everyday, the miraculous and the everlasting. Ingenious and profound, full of warmth and beauty, it is a sweeping and intimate celebration of the gift of life.
The Right To Sex*
“Rigorously researched, but written with such spark and verve. The best non-fiction book I have read this year” – Pandora Sykes
Searching, trenchant and extraordinarily original, The Right to Sex is a landmark examination of the politics and ethics of sex in this world, animated by the hope of a different one.
From the author of the highly-acclaimed Orion Lost, Adam-2 is an exciting and hugely gripping science fiction thriller – perfect for fans of Eoin Colfer, Anthony Horowitz, and Philip Reeve.
Bob Stanley and Tessa Norton
Excavate!: The Wonderful and Frightening World of The Fall*
“‘Mind blowing … there is so much to enjoy in this brilliant book.” – Tim Burgess
Bringing together previously unseen artwork, rare ephemera and handwritten material, alongside essays by a slate of fans, EXCAVATE! is a vivid, definitive record – an illumination of the dark corners of the Fall’s wonderful and frightening world.
Patrick Radden Keefe
Empire of Pain The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty*
“‘Jaw-dropping … Beggars belief” – The Sunday Times
In this masterpiece of narrative reporting and writing, award-winning journalist and host of the Wind of Change podcast Patrick Radden Keefe exhaustively documents the jaw-dropping and ferociously compelling reality. Empire of Pain is the story of a dynasty: a parable of 21st century greed.
True Crime Story
“A triumph. Dazzlingly original.” – The Sunday Times
Shaken by revelations of a murdered University student’s secret life, and stalked by a figure from the shadows, a struggling writer turns to Joseph Knox to help make sense of a case where everyone has something to hide.
“This book is a profound success… an immediate, eye-level view of brilliant, committed, heroic science” – The Sunday Times
On 1 January 2020, Sarah Gilbert, Professor of Vaccinology at Oxford University, read an article about four people in China with a strange pneumonia. Within two weeks, she had designed a vaccine against a pathogen that no one had ever seen before. Twelve months later, vaccination is being rolled out across the world to save millions of lives from Covid-19.
This is one of the most epic and pioneering moments in human history, comparable to the race to put a man on the moon, the discovery of DNA, or the first ascent of Everest. As we wait for vaccinations to release us from the grip of the virus, Vaxxers invites us into the lab to find out how science will save us from this pandemic, and how we can prepare for the inevitable next one.
The Transgender Issue*
“‘Few books are as urgent as Shon Faye’s debut … Faye has hope for the future – and maybe so should we” – The Independent
In this powerful new book, Shon Faye reclaims the idea of the ‘transgender issue’ to uncover the reality of what it means to be trans in a transphobic society. In doing so, she provides a compelling, wide-ranging analysis of trans lives from youth to old age, exploring work, family, housing, healthcare, the prison system and trans participation in the LGBTQ+ and feminist communities, in contemporary Britain and beyond.
Panenka has spent 25 years living with the disastrous mistakes of his past, which have made him an exile in his hometown and cost him his dearest relationships. Now aged 50, Panenka begins to rebuild an improvised family life with his estranged daughter and her seven-year-old son. Faced with losing everything, he meets Esther, a woman who has come to live in the town to escape her own disappointments. Together, they find resonance in each other’s experiences and learn new ways to let love into their broken lives.