Non-fiction books and 2021: the long road to recovery

All of the best research of 2021 had something to do with COVID-19, and that was reflected in the themes that dominated non-fiction: virus, vaccine, globalization, inequality.

Oxford Languages’ word of the year is vax; Merriam-Webster chose a vaccine, noting that it has become more than just medicine. With the pandemic in its second year, perhaps it’s no surprise that all of the most important research of 2021 has something to do with COVID-19. This was reflected in the themes that dominated the non-fiction books – viruses, vaccine, climate change, inequality, trade, globalization, growing authoritarianism, surveillance technology, and more.

Michael lewis Premonition: a pandemic story tells the story of a small group of ‘scientific misfits’ who have been obsessed all their lives with how viruses spread and replicate, and how governments have accepted it theoretically but have not taken it for granted. a real threat. Connecting the dots, Lewis explains America’s mismanagement of the pandemic, thus holding up a mirror to the rest of the world. A local health official, who sensed that a “big event” was coming and that the health system would be overwhelmed, said: “It’s a hunch. Namely that something is looming around the corner. Like when the seasons change, you can feel the air falling just before the leaves change and the wind cools. Several books dealt with other aspects of the pandemic by profiling vaccine manufacturers (Vaxxers: The Inside Story Of The Oxford AstraZeneca Vaccine And The Race Against The Virus by Sarah Gilbert and Catherine Green) or the virus itself (Invisible Empire: the natural history of viruses by Pranay Lal).

The end of the year saw the publication of Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity by David Graeber and David Wengrow. An anthropologist and an archaeologist have come together to try to “reconstruct” a kind of “great dialogue on the history of mankind” with modern evidence. Graeber passed away last September, just three weeks after he finished writing it. “We are collective self-creation projects,” they say. “How about we approach human history this way?” What if we treated people, from the start, as imaginative, intelligent, playful creatures who deserve to be understood as such? The two tell the story not of how the species fell from an idyllic state, but of how it was trapped in “conceptual chains so tight” that reinvention became difficult.

The history of India

Countries reacted differently to the pandemic and two decisions overwhelmed India – first, the sudden announcement of a national lockdown in March 2020 that put the informal sector in disarray and second, the initial apathy on the front lines. Immunization – not ordering enough vaccines early, exporting vaccines, then being forced to hold back due to domestic demand – has meant that a virulent second wave has exposed the flaws in healthcare.

After the lockdown, when people lost their jobs in the cities and desperately needed food and shelter, many began walking back to villages hundreds of miles away. Vinod Kapri catches such a trip – from a group of seven who cycled from Ghaziabad in UP to Saharsa in Bihar (1232 Km: The long return journey). On another front, farmers, upset by three controversial bills, protested for more than a year at the Singhu border near Delhi, until the government lifted the laws. With the agricultural sector in distress for decades, two writers highlighted the cause, Jaideep Hardikar in Ramrao: The story of the agricultural crisis in India and Kavitha Iyer in Landscapes of Loss: The Story of an Indian Drought.

Democracy in Danger

In his 2018 book, How the world swung to the right, François Cusset underlines that despite some areas of active resistance, such as the uprisings in Chiapas or the movement against racialized police brutality in the United States, the last half-century has witnessed an undeniable global shift to the right.

French political scientist Christophe Jaffrelot, who has written on India since the 1990s, records here the rapid decline from a “secular liberal regime” to a “majority ethnic democracy”. Modi’s India: Hindu nationalism and the rise of ethnic democracy documents not only the crumbling of pluralism, but also how the majority takeover occurs with the systematic demolition of institutions.

New events

Two other writers, Debashish Roy Chowdhury and John Keane, argue that democracy is at a crossroads in India (Killing a democracy: India’s transition to despotism). Keane, an acclaimed political theorist, and Roy Chowdhury, a journalist, worked together for three years to understand the struggles of Indian democracy and why it was difficult for it to live up to its ideals. In a discussion of the book with the publisher, Keane said the book shows that what is happening in India is something new, not just a repeat of the events of the 1930s and 1940s in Germany and Italy. The word that the two authors proposed is “despotism”.

In his book, Violence in our Bones: Mapping the Deadly Fault Lines in Indian Society, Neera Chandhoke tries to understand why violence and democracy coexist in India when they are antithetical. Shruti Kapila sheds new light on the political ideas and rulers that have shaped modern India in Violent Brotherhood: Indian Political Thought in the Global Era. Looking through the eyes of painter Ravi Varma, Manu Pillai takes readers through five former princely states (1860-1900) and shows how they tested the Raj in False allies.

cold truths

With rapid, widespread and intensifying climate change, according to the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the authors chronicle the changes and think about ways to stop the damage, such as reducing drastic emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. .

Amitav Ghosh traces climate change to imperial policies and tells it through a spice in The curse of nutmeg; Shekhar Pathak profiles the people who led a unique environmental movement in the 1970s by The Chipko movement: a popular story and the lessons it contains for the fragile Himalayas.

Former diplomats and foreign secretaries have also followed tensions between India and China, especially after the border line soared. Shivshankar Menon writes how India adapted to the changes in Asia after independence and examines Indian foreign policy with a “wide angle lens” in India and Asian geopolitics: the past, the present. In The Fractured Himalayas: India Tibet China 1949-1962, Nirupama Rao unties the knots and shows why India clearly caused trouble with China when it decided that the border issue would not feature in the Tibet negotiations. As the links between the three political regimes are redrawn, Rao’s book reassesses the relationship and its inflection points leading to the 1962 war.

If social and political theory professor Amia Srinivasan examines the politics of ethics and sex in a post- # MeToo world in her feminist essays, The right to sex, behavior specialist Pragya Agarwal explores what drives the way we think and talk about motherhood in (M) otherness: on the choices to be a woman.

Life and teachings

The enriching memories of Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen, Home to the world, explains how his early years at Santiniketan and later at the Presidential College in Calcutta shaped his ideas. Jairam Ramesh describes Sir Edwin Arnold’s epic poem on the life and teachings of the Buddha in The light of Asia: the poem that defined the Buddha. There were several books on the technology, including The art of warding off alternative realities by Shivam Shankar Singh and Anand Venkatanarayanan on cyber warfare and its frightening possibilities.

In sports, Michael Holding’s scathing attack on racism (Why we kneel, how we get up), the biography of Roger Federer by Christopher Clarey (Roger Federer’s brilliant career), and that of Simon Kuper The Barcelona complex made the headlines.

In a year filled with loss, there have been at least two poignant memories – that of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Notes on bereavement, a moving ode to her father, whom she suddenly lost in the midst of a pandemic, and to that of Rodrigo Marquez A farewell to Gabo and Mercedes, a tearful and warm tribute to his famous writer father, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who battled dementia, and to his fearless and resilient mother.

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