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The following are the best biographies that 2022 had to offer, as per my brain and liking. And I know it might sound like something everyone says, but it was really hard picking her this year. Like many people, I love “best of” lists for the year, even if I disagree with the titles that make the cut. Narrowing down the field to “the best” makes me curious to read the list and see what I’ve already read and what gems I’ve missed this year. If you want to look back at some of the titles Book Riot picked in 2021, try these Best Books of 2021 by Genre or Best Books of 2020. Both will likely quadruple your TBR, but they’re still fun to read read.
For 2022 in particular, there were a ton of excellent titles to choose from, both in biographies and memoirs. I’m not being polite here, but let me just say it was really hard to decide. To make it easier for me I have attached some memoirs below to combine with the best biographies of 2022. If you don’t see your absolute favorite book, it’s either because I didn’t enjoy it (I don’t believe in spending time on books I don’t like) or I ran out of space. And it was most likely the latter!
His Name is George Floyd: One Man’s Life and the Struggle for Racial Justice by Robert Samuels and Toluse Olorunnipa
Samuels and Olorunnipa are two Washington Post journalists who meticulously researched Floyd’s personal history to better understand not only his life and experiences before his death, but also the systemic forces that ultimately contributed to his assassination. While this is very interesting, it is also more difficult to read and very frustrating at times as there is so much loss in this story. Definitely one of the best biographies of 2022 and one that I think will be read for years to come.
Paul Laurence Dunbar: The Life and Times of a Caged Bird by Gene Andrew Jarrett
This is one of those classic biographies that I think readers will just love delving into. Rich in detail and nuance, it immerses the reader in Dunbar’s life and times and offers a fascinating insight into the literary and personal life of this great American poet. If you are able to read on audio, you should check out actor Mirron E. Willis’ excellent narration.
Didn’t We Have Almost Everything: In Defense of Whitney Houston by Gerrick Kennedy
Maybe you’re a huge fan or don’t know who Whitney Houston was, but either way, you can still read and enjoy this. Kennedy makes it clear that he did not intend to write a traditional biography. He wasn’t trying to dig up any new “dirt” on the singer or asking the people in her life to think about her now that she’s 10 years away. Instead, Kennedy tackles something deeper and potentially more difficult: seeing and appreciating Houston for the fully formed and talented person she was, and fully understanding her impact on popular culture and music.
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Finding Me by Viola Davis
If you are also interested in reading 2022 memoir, you can combine Whitney Houston biography with Viola Davis book. It was a title I saw everywhere in 2022 but didn’t pick up until the end of the year. My only two cents to add to this strong decision is that I was also pretty much the last person on earth who hadn’t heard of Davis’ childhood. Please don’t go into this without at least knowing something about what she had to overcome. Despite all of that, I still think it’s an excellent and ultimately uplifting read. Content warnings include domestic violence, child endangerment, physical and sexual abuse, rape and sexual assault, drug addiction and animal death. And also the relentless nature of poverty.
Like Water: A Cultural History of Bruce Lee by Daryl Joji Maeda
This is a much more academic presentation of Bruce Lee and the myriad ways he can be “read” in his connections and contributions to American popular culture. If you or someone you know is dying to read an extremely detailed and in-depth look at Lee’s life, then this is the book for you. If you’re reading on audio, be sure to check out David Lee Huynh’s narration.
We Were Dreamers: An Immigrant Superhero Origin Story by Simu Liu
If you want something much lighter to read, but still tied to Asian representation in Western films, you could do worse than Liu’s 2022 memoir. Compared to other books on this list, this felt like a much easier one to me Read on, but it’s not without some heavier moments. While I’m not a superfan of Liu (because I’m not really a superfan of anyone), I enjoyed learning about Liu’s childhood and especially hearing small details like how his grandparents gave him a nickname, which basically means “little furry caterpillar”. as a child. I mean, is there anything more adorable for a child?
The Man from the Future: The Visionary Life of John von Neumann by Ananyo Bhattacharya
This is another meaty bio that readers will just love. Complex and intriguing, von Neumann’s curiosity was legendary, and his contributions are so wide-ranging that it’s hard to imagine a single person taking up all of them. This is a good choice for readers fascinated by mathematics, great people, and intellectual puzzles.
Agatha Christie: An Elusive Woman by Lucy Worsley
This is another best biography of 2022 that many, many readers want to dive into. The audio is also from the author, so you might want to read it that way. Whether read with eyes or ears (or both!), this book is sure to interest many curious Christie fans. And if Worsley’s biography isn’t enough for you, you might also enjoy this breakdown of why Christie is one of the best-selling novelists of all time or these 8 audiobooks for Agatha Christie fans.
The School That Escaped the Nazis: The True Story of the School Teacher Who Defeated Hitler by Deborah Cadbury
Cadbury writes a fascinating biography of Anna Essinger, a teacher who managed to smuggle her students out of a Germany that succumbed to Hitler’s rise to power and all the horrors that followed. Essinger’s courage and clear understanding of what was happening around her is amazing. This is an exciting and fascinating biography that readers will no doubt find inspirational.
The Escape Artist: The Man Who Broke Out of Auschwitz to Warn the World by Jonathan Freedland
Freedland is a British journalist who wrote this thoroughly compelling book about Rudolf Vrba, a man who managed to escape from Auschwitz. It’s no surprise that this is very important but difficult reading. For those who make it, I highly recommend delving into this historical non-fiction biography about a man who survived some of the darkest events in human history.
This is my list of the best biographies of 2022, with a few memoirs for those interested. And now of course I have to mention some titles I have yet to get to from 2022: Hua Hsu’s Stay True, Zain Asher’s Where the Children Take Us, Fatima Ali’s Savor: A Chef’s Hunger for More and Dan Charnas and Jeff Peretz’ Dilla Zeit, to name just a few!
Bernardine Evaristo also released Manifesto: On Never Giving Up in 2022 and it kind of slipped through the cracks of my TBR. I’ll have to make time for that soon.
If you still need more titles to explore, try these 50 Best Biographies or 20 Biographies for Kids. And to the latter list, I’d like to add that a children’s biography about Octavia Butler called Star Child by Haitian American author Ibi Zoboi will be out in 2022, so you might want to check that out too!