After 2020 brought the most devastating global pandemic in a century and a national reckoning with systemic racism, 2021 ushered in a number of welcome developments, including Covid vaccines, the return of beloved social traditions like the Olympics and public performances, and incremental but measurable progress in the fight against racial injustice.
During this year of change, these ten titles collectively serve a dual purpose. Some offer a respite from reality, transporting readers to such varied locales as ancient Rome, Gilded Age America and Angkor in Cambodia. Others reflect on the fraught nature of the current moment, detailing how the nation’s past—including the mistreatment of Japanese Americans during World War II and police brutality—informs its present and future. From a chronicle of civilization told through clocks to a quest for Indigenous justice in colonial Pennsylvania, these were some of our favorite history books of 2021