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  • Writer's pictureDavid Crow

The Crow Holiday Book Guide 2021

fiction and nonfiction book covers
The top fiction and nonfiction books from my 2021 reading list.

Here’s my second annual Holiday Book Guide. Sharing my love of books is a wonderful way to kick off the holiday season! For the serious readers on your Christmas list, take your pick from these nine—a collection of fiction and nonfiction with strong storylines, complex characters, and meaty topics.

Or if you’re looking for your next great read, any one of them would be ideal for your holiday break (or if you need a break from the holidays).

James McBride

James McBride is a master storyteller with a message.

Set in New York in the late 1960s, this novel expertly delves into humanity with a blend of deep feeling and wit. Readers follow unforgettable characters living in the Cause Houses housing project—like Sportcoat, Hot Sausage, Deems, Elephant, and Hettie—as they navigate drug deals, assassination attempts, theft, and the inner workings of the Five Ends Baptist Church.

Another classic in the making from one of the best.


Erik Larson

Erik Larson turns real-life drama into a riveting novel by cleverly weaving together historical facts and engaging characters. No way to overstate how well he writes, how captivating his stories are, or how precisely they are written.

The last crossing of the Lusitania in 1915—the captain, the passengers, and the harrowing war that would sink the ship and take the lives of many of its passengers—is told in vivid, heartbreaking detail. A great read.


Cormac McCarthy

The story of a father and son in post-apocalyptic America, The Road will stay with you, the imagery will haunt you, and the message will change you. This is an extraordinary book about the will to survive, the essence of life, and the incredible bond between a father and son.

The entire story is unforgettable, but when you get to the scene about the uselessness of the sound of a train, sit with it for a moment. I only wish I had discovered McCarthy sooner.


Phil Knight

Having been part of the 1970s running boom, I thought there was nothing left to say about Nike, Bill Bowerman, Steve Prefontaine, and the movement they led. I was wrong. Phil Knight has written a splendid book about the ups and downs of starting Nike and keeping it alive when it could easily have failed many times over.

A great memoir is a story you can’t put down, with characters you identify with, with an outcome that is satisfying. This book is all of that and more. Knight writes with the imagination of a novelist who has lived an astonishing life. He freely admits his mistakes, his foibles, and his good luck, but the reader will remember his brilliance, his tenacity, and his dream. This book is so much better than I expected. I recommend it—whether you’re a runner or not.


Erik Larson

My expectations were sky high, even though I’ve read many books about Winston Churchill and World War II, but as always, Larson exceeded them. He superbly crafts detail and characters to bring out all of the horror of the London bombings during England’s first year in World War II, which was a disaster by all accounts.

Artfully exploring Churchill’s weaknesses, his vanity, his relentlessness, and his indomitable spirit, Larson portrays him in a fresh light with unparalleled insight. Churchill’s wife, daughter, and son are brought to life, as are his closest aides who tried to quit time and again only to be talked out of it. London’s courage and Churchill’s leadership are on full display in this highly entertaining true story.


Tommy Orange

Having grown up on the Navajo Indian Reservation, and having written about it in my memoir, The Pale-Faced Lie, I try to read as many books as possible about the Native American experience (there aren’t nearly enough good books on the subject). Tommy Orange has written a brilliant novel that marries present-day issues with those dating back to the time of the Spanish and American conquests.

The writing is beautiful and sad and honest to the core. I highly recommend this book to anyone who really wants to understand what it is like to be a Native American in our modern society. Bravo, Tommy Orange, and keep writing.


James McGrath Morris

Tony Hillerman is one of my all-time heroes, and his books about Navajo culture are a must-read for anyone interested in understanding the Native American history and experience. (His daughter Anne, also an acclaimed author, is carrying on the Hillerman literary legacy.) Morris skillfully traces Hillerman’s life—from a poor kid in Oklahoma, to war hero, to newspaperman. Moving from Oklahoma to Texas and finally to his home in New Mexico, Hillerman became a literary legend. His mastery of Navajo religion and culture and his ability to create mysteries to be solved by the now-famous characters Leaphorn and Chee are unparalleled.

I’m not sure anyone can live up to my hero, but in this wonderful book with new insights about Hillerman, his six children, his philanthropy, his Special Friend of the Dineh award, and his deep humility, Morris does a bang-up job!


Sebastian Junger

Junger’s thought-provoking book deftly scrutinizes historical and current society and the experience of veterans to explain why people feel bound together with one another. His compelling argument challenged my previous thinking and replaced it with a more enlightened understanding of human nature.

This book is a psychological masterpiece about people, what makes them tick, and their need to belong. A wonderful addition to any reader’s collection.


Jeff Guinn

Jeff Guinn did it again. I love every book he has written, and this one is at the top of my list. Guinn’s historical accounts are deeply researched, fast paced, and always full of great stories to support the main one.

War on the Border gives readers a deep insight into the sordid history between Mexico and the United States and brings to life the fascinating and notorious Pancho Villa, whose bloody raid on a small US border town in the 1910s kicked off a conflict with the United States. A superb read.

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