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2021 National Book Festival Highlights: Current Events, Science, and History & Biography

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Welcome to our ongoing celebration of the 2021 Library of Congress National Book Festival! Here, we offer highlights from this year’s treasure trove of programs celebrating the theme, “Open a Book, Open the World.” Whether you’re tuning in for the first time, or revisiting favorites, we hope you enjoy these programs — and that they continue to open the world for you. Make sure to explore the full video collection from the 2021 Festival.

At this year’s National Book Festival, nearly half of our live virtual author conversations covered new books in the genres of Current Events, Science, and History & Biography. As always, these authors and programs explored meaningful, timely threads that connect the past to the present and future: from COVID-19 to climate change, tech culture to intelligent life beyond Earth, former presidents to first ladies and their legacies, land ownership to war, immigration to racial inequality, and much more.

This week, we’re highlighting just a few of our many standout live nonfiction programs from this year’s Festival. If you missed any of these sessions, you’ll be happy to know that all are now available to watch and enjoy on the National Book Festival website.

In History & Biography, Heather McGhee discusses her new book, “The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together” — which explores the past, present and future of racial economic divides in the United States — with Errin Haines, editor-at-large of The 19th. “There’s something deeper going on in our country, some subterranean story that is shaping the way people in power believe we should order the economy,” McGhee says. “And that story is not about dollars and cents — it’s about who’s in and who’s out, who’s on top, who belongs, who deserves, what’s right and wrong. It felt like I needed . . . to tell a story that might be a way for us to bridge those divides and create a better future together.”

You can explore all of the History & Biography programs on our website.

In Current Events, Sarah Frier (“No Filter: The Inside Story of Instagram”) and Anna Wiener (“Uncanny Valley”) discuss the often “under-told,” “powerful and yet so under-scrutinized” stories that make and break tech culture. “In the tech world, there is this mythology out there about success, about how things work, about how to win,” Frier says. That’s what drew her to writing about the story of Instagram. Wiener, who recounts her experiences working in Silicon Valley, says she was “sort of intoxicated by the speed at which things moved” as a start-up employee. “I was sort of ambiently aware of [the mythology], but I absolutely bought into it.” Wiener started writing “Uncanny Valley” as a way “to process the distance between all of this mythology and all of this enthusiasm and excitement. . .”

You can explore all of the Current Events programs on our website.

In Science, Matt Parker discusses his new book, “Humble Pi: When Math Goes Wrong in the Real World,” which explores the history of mathematical miscalculations and their real-world consequences, making a case that math makes the world go ’round. In his National Book Festival conversation with the Library’s Roswell Encina, Parker also picks apart the age-old “I’m bad at math” refrain heard in classrooms everywhere, and discusses a new outlook for math. How do we increase enjoyment of math? According to Parker, “Just relax. … just give it a go. There’s all sorts of fantastic math puzzles and interesting investigations and things you can do.” Ultimately, he says, “Math is more about getting it wrong than getting it right by a long shot. But that’s because you’re learning things that are new and you’re trying to discover things that are new to you.”

You can explore all of the Science programs on our website.

You can watch all of the programs from the Festival on our National Book Festival website. For up-to-the-minute Festival news, highlights and other important information, subscribe to this blog. The Festival is made possible by the generosity of sponsors. You can support the Festival, too, by making a gift now.