Our buzziest books of the year

The books that everyone was talking about in 2021

As we flip through the final pages of 2021, we take stock of a second year working in relative isolation. At the Press, we continued full steam ahead: We published over 400 books and monographs and dozens of journals, launched new initiatives and advanced others, and moved house to both a new office and a new bookstore location

It has been another season of upset and change, but one constant has been the tremendous impact of the scholarship published by our authors. To mark the end of the year, we have gathered a list of our buzziest books of 2021 using Altmetric data. Altmetrics reveal how often scholarly publications are discussed and used—including citations on Wikipedia and in public policy documents, discussions on research blogs, mainstream media coverage, bookmarks on reference managers, and mentions on Twitter. They act as a marker of the influence our books and authors have in the wider world beyond academia.

Our most-talked-about books of 2021 reflect conversations in the world at large. You Are Here aims to help readers navigate an increasingly polarized media landscape; How to Talk to a Science Denier offers tools and techniques for communicating the truth and values of science; and Knowledge Justice examines library and information science through the lens of critical race theory.

Read on to explore more of our buzziest books of the year based on altmetrics data, and sign up for our newsletter to learn more about everything we have coming in 2022.


Your Computer Is on Fire edited by Thomas S. Mullaney, Benjamin Peters, Mar Hicks and Kavita Philip

Cover of Your Computer Is On Fire

This book sounds an alarm: after decades of being lulled into complacency by narratives of technological utopianism and neutrality, people are waking up to the large-scale consequences of Silicon Valley–led technophilia. Your Book Is on Fire trains a spotlight on the inequality, marginalization, and biases in our technological systems, showing how they are not just minor bugs to be patched, but part and parcel of ideas that assume technology can fix—and control—society. From energy-hungry server farms to racist and sexist algorithms, the digital is always IRL, with everything that happens algorithmically or online influencing our offline lives as well. Each essay proposes paths for action to understand and solve technological problems that are often ignored or misunderstood.

“The book tech critics and organizers have been waiting for.” —Los Angeles Review of Books


Code as Creative Medium: A Handbook for Computational Art and Design by Golan Levin and Tega Brain

Cover for Code as Creative Medium

This book is an essential resource for arts educators and practitioners who want to explore code as a creative medium, and serves as a guide for computer scientists transitioning from STEM to STEAM in their syllabi or practice. It provides a collection of classic creative coding prompts and assignments, accompanied by annotated examples of both historic and contemporary projects. These are enriched by more than 170 illustrations of creative work and a set of interviews with leading educators. Picking up where standard programming guides leave off, the authors highlight alternative programming pedagogies suitable for the art- and design-oriented classroom, including teaching approaches, resources, and community support structures.

Code as Creative Medium is a must-read and an invaluable teaching tool for the creative coding community, from computer scientists and artists to teachers and students of computational arts.” Christiane Paul, Whitney Museum and the New School


You Are Here: A Field Guide for Navigating Polarized Speech, Conspiracy Theories, and Our Polluted Media Landscape by Whitney Phillips and Ryan M. Milner

Cover for You Are Here

Our media environment is in crisis. Polarization is rampant. Polluted information floods social media. Even our best efforts to help clean up can backfire, sending toxins roaring across the landscape. In You Are Here, Whitney Phillips and Ryan Milner offer strategies for navigating increasingly treacherous information flows. Using ecological metaphors, they emphasize how our individual me is entwined within a much larger we, and how everyone fits within an ever-shifting network map.

“An invaluable guide to our problems around news, truth and fact.” —New Scientist


Women and Leadership: Real Lives, Real Lessons by Julia Gillard and Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala

Cover for Women and Leadership

Women make up fewer than ten percent of national leaders worldwide, and behind this eye-opening statistic lies a pattern of unequal access to power. Through conversations with some of the world's most powerful and interesting women—including Jacinda Ardern, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Christine Lagarde, Michelle Bachelet, and Theresa May—Women and Leadership explores gender bias and asks why there aren't more women in leadership roles. The stories they tell reveal vividly how gender and sexism affect perceptions of women as leaders. Using current research as a starting point, Julia Gillard and Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala—both political leaders in their own countries—analyze the lived experiences of these women leaders. The result is a rare insight into life as a leader and a powerful call to arms for women everywhere.

“This remarkable exploration into women leaders—and why there aren't more of them—is an indispensable guide to addressing sexism and overcoming inequities.” —Ms.


Knowledge Justice: Disrupting Library and Information Studies through Critical Race Theory edited by Sofia Y. Leung and Jorge R. López-McKnight

Open Access edition available, thanks to generous funding from Arcadia—a charitable fund of Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin.
Cover for Knowledge Justice

In Knowledge Justice, Black, Indigenous, and Peoples of Color scholars use critical race theory (CRT) to challenge the foundational principles, values, and assumptions of Library and Information Science and Studies (LIS) in the United States. They propel CRT to center stage in LIS, to push the profession to understand and reckon with how white supremacy affects practices, services, curriculum, spaces, and policies. Through deep analyses of library and archival collections, scholarly communication, hierarchies of power, epistemic supremacy, children's librarianship, teaching and learning, digital humanities, and the education system, Knowledge Justice challenges LIS to reimagine itself by throwing off the weight and legacy of white supremacy and reaching for racial justice.


Software Design for Flexibility: How to Avoid Programming Yourself into a Corner by Chris Hanson and Gerald Jay Sussman

Cover for Software Design for Flexibility

Time pressures encourage programmers to write code that works well for a narrow purpose, with no room to grow. But the best systems are evolvable; they can be adapted for new situations by adding code, rather than changing the existing code. The authors describe techniques they have found effective—over their combined 100-plus years of programming experience—that will help programmers avoid programming themselves into corners.

“Most systems need to succeed over time, not merely at a point in time. A fascinating exploration of predicative dynamic dispatch, metadata, and other techniques for building flexible systems that can be enhanced without breaking.” —Rich Hickey, author of Clojure and architect of Datomic


The Next 500 Years: Engineering Life to Reach New Worlds by Christopher E. Mason

Missing file.

Inevitably, life on Earth will come to an end, whether by climate disaster, cataclysmic war, or the death of the sun in a few billion years. To avoid extinction, we will have to find a new home planet, perhaps even a new solar system, to inhabit. In this provocative and fascinating book, Christopher Mason argues that we have a moral duty to do just that. As the only species aware that life on Earth has an expiration date, we have a responsibility to act as the shepherd of life-forms—not only for our species but for all species on which we depend and for those still to come (by accidental or designed evolution). Mason argues that the same capacity for ingenuity that has enabled us to build rockets and land on other planets can be applied to redesigning biology so that we can sustainably inhabit those planets. And he lays out a 500-year plan for undertaking the massively ambitious project of reengineering human genetics for life on other worlds.

“Readers looking for science writing that sees bold possibilities in the future will be enthralled.” —Publishers Weekly


How to Talk to a Science Denier: Conversations with Flat Earthers, Climate Deniers, and Others Who Defy Reason by Lee McIntyre

Missing file.

“Climate change is a hoax—and so is coronavirus.” “Vaccines are bad for you.” These days, many of our fellow citizens reject scientific expertise and prefer ideology to facts. They are not merely uninformed—they are misinformed. They cite cherry-picked evidence, rely on fake experts, and believe conspiracy theories. How can we convince such people otherwise? How can we get them to change their minds and accept the facts when they don't believe in facts? In this book, Lee McIntyre shows that anyone can fight back against science deniers, and argues that it's important to do so. Science denial can kill.

“This book is a necessary tool in an age that depends more and more on people trusting and believing in science in order to meet the simultaneous challenges posed by the long-term effects of epidemics, climate change and post-truth misinformation.” —Shelf Awareness


Teaching Machines: The History of Personalized Learning by Audrey Watters

Cover for Teaching Machines

Contrary to popular belief, ed tech did not begin with videos on the internet. The idea of technology that would allow students to “go at their own pace” did not originate in Silicon Valley. In Teaching Machines, education writer Audrey Watters offers a lively history of predigital educational technology, from Sidney Pressey's mechanized positive-reinforcement provider to B. F. Skinner's behaviorist bell-ringing box. Watters shows that these machines and the pedagogy that accompanied them sprang from ideas—bite-sized content, individualized instruction—that had legs and were later picked up by textbook publishers and early advocates for computerized learning.

“This is a landmark book.” —Inside Higher Ed


How We Give Now: A Philanthropic Guide for the Rest of Us by Lucy Bernholz

Cover for How We Give Now

In How We Give Now, Lucy Bernholz shows that philanthropy is more than writing a check and claiming a tax deduction. For most of us—the non-wealthy givers—philanthropy can be a way of living our values and fully participating in society. We give in all kinds of ways—shopping at certain businesses, canvassing for candidates, donating money, and making conscious choices with our retirement funds. We give our cash, our time, and even our data to make the world a better place. Bernholz takes readers on a tour of the often-overlooked worlds of participatory philanthropy, learning from a diverse group of forty resourceful givers.

How We Give Now offers anyone interested in a fuller understanding of how we participate in society, whether it be with our time, money, or data, a lot to consider—about what our shared futures can look like, if we were to pause to think more deeply about how we do things.” —Philanthropy News Digest


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