PEOPLE Picks the Top 10 Books of 2021

From intimate stories of family, love and loss to eye-opening nonfiction — and a Beatle's memories: here are our top picks for 2021. Edited by Kim Hubbard

We independently research, test, review, and recommend the best products—learn more about our process. If you buy something through our links, we may earn a commission.

top ten books of 2021
Photo: Peter Ardito
01 of 10

The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois by Honorée Fannone Jeffers

The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois by Honoree Fanonne Jeffers

Raised in the North, Ailey spends summers in Georgia, harboring a secret. Interwoven with her story are tales of her Black, white and Indigenous ancestors, with the two timelines on a collision course. Stunning.

Buy It: Amazon,

02 of 10

The Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz

The Plot: A Novel by Jean Hanff Korelitz
Celadon Books

Inspired writer turned uninspired teacher steals genius plot from student. What could possibly go wrong? The beauty is, Korelitz's own plot is even more fiendishly clever than the purloined one. Just try putting this thriller down.

Buy It: Amazon,

03 of 10

A Lie Someone Told You About Yourself by Peter Ho Davies

A Lie Someone Told You About Yourself by Peter Ho Davies
Mariner Books

A man tells of the baby he and his wife didn't have and then of the one they do. Heartbreaking and humorous by turns, Ho's slim novel illuminates the cultural and personal debate over abortion. An essential American story.

Buy It: Amazon,

04 of 10

Ghosts by Dolly Alderton


The hilarious, affecting struggles of a young woman in London who's losing her father to dementia and experiencing the chilly modern phenomenon of being ghosted by a lover. Sheer reading pleasure, in a year when we (still) sorely needed it.

Buy It: Amazon,

05 of 10

Smile by Sarah Ruhl

Smile: The Story of a Face by Sarah Ruhl
Simon & Schuster

After having twins, the Broadway playwright Sarah Ruhl was struck with Bell's palsy, which froze half of her face. She writes with intelligence and humor about the profound, often surprising difficulties her inability to smile presented, and what she learned.

Buy It: Amazon,

06 of 10

The Lyrics by Paul McCartney

The Lyrics: 1956 to the Present by Paul McCartney

The rock legend pulls back the curtain on his creative process in this two-volume set, including rare photos and personal anecdotes behind his hits. It's just the thing to crack open after you've watched the Beatles documentary Get Back.

Buy It: Amazon,

07 of 10

Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro

Klara and the Sun: A novelby Kazuo Ishiguro

In Ishiguro's poignant, transporting fable, set in a dystopian future, a humanoid robot named Klara is purchased as a companion for a frail young girl. Her quest to learn the ways of friendship illuminates our deepest questions about life.

Buy It: Amazon,

08 of 10

Mike Nichols: A Life by Mark Harris

Mike Nichols: A Life by Mark Harris
Penguin Press

The director survived depression, drug addiction and three unhappy marriages before finding happiness with Diane Sawyer. As Harris relates so brilliantly here, Nichols was a connoisseur of conflict, and he held up a mirror to our anger and joy.

Buy It: Amazon,

09 of 10

How Beautiful We Were by Imbolo Mbue

How Beautiful We Were: A Novel by Imbolo Mbue
Random House

An African village is devastated by an American oil company's drilling and its own government's betrayal — until a young girl named Thula ignites a revolt. A brilliant, agonizing tale of greed, colonialism and fortitude.

Buy It: Amazon,

10 of 10

Empire of Pain by Patrick Radden Keefe

Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty by Patrick Radden Keefe

Before the Sacklers made billions from the deadly opioid OxyContin, they built a fortune marketing Valium — and downplaying its addictiveness. A chilling and fascinating family saga.

Buy It: Amazon,

Related Articles