Best Nonfiction Books I Read in 2021

Note: The books from this list that aren’t available online for free are available for purchase through my Bookshop.org page.

1) Human Action: A Treatise On Economics by Ludwig von Mises (1940)

This is the bible of Austrian economics by the grandfather of Austrian economics, Ludwig von Mises. Human Action is Mises’ magnum opus on economics, philosophy, and history—or more precisely, it’s about what Mises terms “praxeology”: the study of human action, which all economic activity boils down to. This is a long book (it took me half the year to get through, which is why there are fewer honorable mentions this year) but it was worth it. You will better understand the world today by reading this 82-year-old tome than by reading today’s newspapers.

Mises on “truth” vs. value judgments

Economics encapsulates all human action and affects every facet of society. Almost all societal problems in the world today stem from some failed economic policy of the past. Essential to understanding economics is understanding the Austrian perspective. The failures of today’s economy are a result of the rejection of Austrian economics by governments, central bankers, and policy-makers. The Austrian school favors a complete laissez-faire free market system with zero state interference. However, nonintervention is not in the interest of the State. Naturally those with government power will favor an economic system that allows them to bend the rules to their favor and print as much money as they wish, so they seek Keynesian economists who tell them what they want to hear and enact policies that benefit themselves and their corporate cronies at the expense of ordinary people. (Bitcoin fixes this.)

Mises on the free market

There cannot be a free market if the money itself is not free. Hence Mises supported a return to the Gold Standard (as opposed to the current fiat system based on government decree), though Mises admitted at the time that new technological developments in the future may create a superior form of money. The future has now arrived, and that money is Bitcoin. Whoever Satoshi Nakamoto is likely read Mises and understood Austrian economics.

Replace “gold” with “bitcoin”

Free ebooks and audiobooks of Human Action are available for download provided by the Mises Institute.

2) H.P. Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life by Michel Houellebecq (1991)

Over the past couple of years I’ve become more and more obsessed with Lovecraft. In addition to reading his weird fiction stories, I’ve read (and listened) to more about his personal life through his letters. A flawed man, for sure, but nevertheless a fascinating mind. This book by Houellebecq, an accomplished fiction writer in his own right, is a sort of autobiography of Lovecraft while also a deconstruction of his character psychologically and his fiction philosophically—and how they informed each other.

Houellebecq on Lovecraft

3) Dear Reader: The Unauthorized Autobiography of Kim Jong Il by Michael Malice (2014)

This is a unique type of book. It’s technically nonfiction (about the true history of North Korea) but told from the fictionalized 1st-person perspective of Kim Jong-il. The events are all true, though of course Jong-il’s internal monologue narration of those events is dramatized and speculative. The voice Malice uses is (as expected from him) witty and humorous. Though, considering the events of the book and the history (and present) of North Korea, it is dark humor. Malice visited North Korea as research for this book, and the result is educational as it can help you understand what it’s like to live inside a modern totalitarian regime—which regrettably still exists today.

4) The Anarchist Handbook by Michael Malice (and others) (2021)

This is a collection of essays about the philosophy of anarchism written by a wide variety of thinkers across the political spectrum, including William Godwin, Max Stirner, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, Herbert Spencer, Josiah Warren, Mikhail Bakunin, Lysander Spooner, Johann Most, Louis Lingg, Benjamin R. Tucker, Peter Kropotkin, Leo Tolstoy, Alexander Berkman, Voltairine de Cleyre, Emma Goldman, Charles Robert Plunkett, Linda and Morris Tannehill, David Friedman, Murray Rothbard, and John Hasnas. I read a couple of them before (Rothbard and Spooner), while others I had never heard of, but they were all great (though I wish there was more from Malice himself). People have been propagandized by government schools and media institutions to believe that government is essential and that anarchy is synonymous with chaos and violence. These essays will help dispel those myths and explain how a stateless society based on voluntary exchange might be more peaceful and prosperous than the status quo.

from Benjamin Tucker’s “State Socialism and Anarchism: How Far They Agree, And Wherein They Differ (1888)

5) The Age of Em: Work, Love and Life When Robots Rule the Earth by Robin Hanson (2016)

This book is an extended thought experiment about what the future will be like after the invention of “Ems” or emulated humans based on digitally scanned copies of human brains. Hanson goes into extreme detail in every facet of society to envision what this future world will look like. It’s like science fiction world-building without any plot or characters. My only critique is that he seems a little too confident that this is the way it will play out. I highly respect Hanson and think he is a genius, and he provides plenty of evidence for his claims, but the future is impossible for any one person to predict completely. Yet still this is a fascinating portrait about what the future might be like.

from Hanson’s The Age of Em

6) A Course in Demonic Creativity by Matt Cardin (2011)

This is a fantastic short book (available as a free ebook from the author’s website) about writing, art, and creativity. It is similar to Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art, but involves more science and philosophy, including the work of Carl Jung. Cardin posits that creativity comes from the unconscious—or your daimon—and he provides tips on how to harness that force to create artistic works. I also read Cardin’s short horror story “Teeth” which is mind-blowing weird fiction, ranking with the best of Lovecraft and Ligotti. I am looking forward to reading more of his work.

from Cardin’s A Course in Demonic Creativity

7) 21 Lessons: What I’ve Learned from Falling Down the Bitcoin Rabbit Hole by Gigi (2020)

Bitcoin truly is a rabbit hole. It led me to learn about libertarianism, Austrian economics, the Federal Reserve, fiat money, and inflation. Learning about Bitcoin led me down a path that completely changed my worldview on economics, politics, history, and the future. The world, while still warped, makes much more sense now. I understand why and how it is so warped, and it all stems back to the money. Once you take the orange pill, you will never see the world the same way again. Fix the money, fix the world. (An online version of this book is available to read for free at 21lessons.com.)

from Gigi’s 21 Lessons

More good Bitcoin reading I did this past year include a series of long philosophical essays by Robert Breedlove. The way he examines money from first principles and its myriad effects on society is profound.

Robert Breedlove’s Bitcoin philosophy

Also, I highly enjoyed this 3-part series by Dhruv Bansal about “Bitcoin Astronomy”, or how cryptocurrency might work in the future as humanity expands to the moon, Mars, the rest of the solar system, galaxy, and beyond. These articles are especially informative for any science fiction writers speculating about future societies. When world-building you must consider the economy, and when considering the future economy, you must include cryptocurrency. Like the internet itself, crypto is not going away.

from Dhruv’s “Bitcoin Astronomy”

8) New Libertarian Manifesto (1980) and An Agorist Primer (2008) by Samuel Edward Konkin III

These are two short books on libertarian philosophy by the late great SEK3. The New Libertarian Manifesto is a sort of addendum to Murray Rothbard’s For a New Liberty, which I read and reviewed last year. In these two short books Konkin lays out his philosophy of “Agorism,” a means to create a free society by dismantling state power through counter-economics, aka black and grey markets, or nonviolent and non-coercive economic exchange currently outlawed by governments. Whereas many libertarian books lay out a perfect philosophical vision of a free society and explain in detail how it will function, they provide no plan on how to get there. Konkin develops a clear road map and course of action. Agorism is essentially a nonviolent political revolution, based entirely on voluntary transactions between people with no coercion or use of force. Governments, on the other hand, are built entirely on coercion through taxation and the threat (and use) of violence (which they have a monopoly on).

from Konkin’s New Libertarian Manifesto

If it wasn’t clear by now, SEK3 was an anarchist. He believed a free society could never be achieved through politics. The State, regardless of which politician in whatever party sits in office, is incentivized to expand its power indefinitely, never contract. The current behemoth of a federal government cannot be reformed from within. Better to exit the system entirely than futilely attempt to reform it.

Perhaps the greatest example of agorism in action is Bitcoin. Rather than trying to incrementally improve the monetary policy of the Federal Reserve through the ballot box, Satoshi Nakamoto created a decentralized digital money that cannot be manipulated by anyone. Now those who do not want to participate in a monetary system that funds wars and steals wealth through inflation can exchange their US dollars for Bitcoin. Satoshi did not ask for permission to do this, he/she/they/it just did it. In turn, Bitcoin has enabled more human freedom worldwide than any politician or law passed since 2008. Cryptocurrency will help provide more and more liberty in the future, potentially taking down predatory central banks and corrupt governments. Sadly, SEK3 passed away before Satoshi’s whitepaper, but he would no doubt approve.

SEK3 would recognize Bitcoin as true money, digital gold

Free ebooks: New Libertarian Manifesto and An Agorist Primer

9) The Singularity is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology by Ray Kurzweil (2005)

This book rehashes many of the same ideas from the previous book I read of Kurzweil’s, The Age of Spiritual Machines, and I was already familiar with his ideas about the singularity (when artificial intelligence surpasses human intelligence) through interviews, documentaries, and peripheral works, so I didn’t learn much new from this book—but the ideas within it are so mind-expanding that it was worth revisiting. Kurzweil paints a positive, yet feasible, vision of technology and the future—a future that I often write about in my own science fiction.

Kurzweil on the Singularity

10) Rational Mysticism: Dispatches from the Border Between Science and Spirituality by John Horgan (2003)

This is sort of an investigative journalism book in which the author visited and interviewed various mystical, spiritual, religious, and scientific figures, including Huston Smith, Ken Wilbur, Susan Blackmore, Stanislav Grof, and Terence McKenna, culminating with a trip report of his personal experience taking ayahuasca. Though Horgan is a rational skeptic (he writes for Scientific American) he keeps an open mind toward religion, spirituality, and psychedelics, and tries to find a way to balance them with science. Too many people from the spiritual world dismiss science, and too many from the science world dismiss spirituality. There need not be a border between the two.

Horgan on his ayahuasca experience

Honorable Mentions (alphabetical by author):

Top Blogs and Substacks:

Past Lists:

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