Thursday, December 23, 2021

The Best of 2021

Top ten reads of the year
This time each year Old Books by Dead Guys highlights the best books reviewed at this blog over the past twelve months, regardless of when they were published. In 2021 I only posted 83 reviews to the OBDG blog; an all-time low! This year I realized that most of the books I consider worth reading tend to be lengthy opuses. Rather than hunt down a bunch of shorties to fill out the post count, I made a concerted effort to check some major tomes off of my reading list. The result was a very rewarding year of reading. Listed below are my ten favorite reads of the year, arranged chronologically by date of publication. Click on the titles below to read the full reviews.


The Life of Cardinal Mezzofanti by Charles William Russell (1858)
This biography of one of the world’s greatest polyglots (multilinguists) investigates his level of skill in the dozens of languages in which he was reputed to have been fluent. The remarkable accounts of Mezzofanti’s abilities will fascinate any reader interested in languages.

The Evolutionist at Large by Grant Allen (1881)
The enlightening essays in this book by Canadian-British novelist and science writer Grant Allen combine the science of Charles Darwin with the poetic observations of Henry David Thoreau to illustrate how evolution is at work all around us.

The Great Cycle by Tarjei Vesaas (1934)
This coming-of-age novel by one of Norway’s most acclaimed writers of the 20th century draws a stark naturalistic depiction of Norwegian rural life in a bygone era. Though understated and modest on the surface, this excellent novel delivers a deep and powerful reading experience.

The Don Flows Home to the Sea by Mikhail Sholokhov (1940)
The second half of Sholokhov’s realist epic of the Russian Cossacks (following And Quiet Flows the Don) continues the saga of the Melekhov family through the ongoing Russian Civil War. Sholokhov won the Nobel Prize in Literature for this monumental masterpiece.

The Stranger by Albert Camus (1942)
In one of the twentieth century’s most thought-provoking works of philosophical fiction, a French-Algerian is tried for murder, but instead of a standard courtroom drama the reader gets an extended meditation on the absurdity and pointlessness of existence.

The Family of Pascal Duarte by Camilo José Cela (1942)
From the Spanish Nobel laureate comes this dark and disturbing novel in the form of a memoir written by a prisoner on death row for murder. Despite Pascal Duarte’s descent into insanity, the reader can’t help but sympathize with this tragic protagonist.

O, Shepherd Speak! by Upton Sinclair (1949)
This tenth novel in the Lanny Budd series chronicles Lanny’s adventures through the end of World War II and the dawn of the Cold War. This book is the culmination of Sinclair’s landmark series. He should have stopped here instead of writing a substandard eleventh volume.

The Songs He Didn’t Write: Bob Dylan Under the Influence by Derek Barker (2008)
An encyclopedia of all the songs Dylan has covered on record and in concert, this book not only provides insight into Dylan’s musical art but also serves as a fascinating guide to the history of American popular music.

One of the best books on Humboldt in recent years, this study explores the broad range of Humboldt’s intellectual pursuits and traces the lasting ramifications of Humboldtian thought in both the sciences and the humanities. 

History of the Marvel Universe by Mark Waid, et al. (2019)
A comprehensive fictional history of the Marvel Comics Universe, from the Big Bang to the end of time, encompassing its many wonderful and bizarre characters, worlds, and major story lines. Beautifully executed in word and art.

See also my best-of lists for 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020. Happy reading in 2022! Stay tuned for Old Books by Dead Guys’ 10th anniversary, coming up in a couple weeks.

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