January 30, 2023

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The best non-fiction book of 2022

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When choosing the best nonfiction books of 2022, I immediately think of all the good nonfiction books I’ve read over the last few years. Some highly anticipated books came out that year (more on that below), which then got me thinking about all the good things I’ve read over the past few years. It’s not that I’ve read more per se, but somehow it seems like my selection has been really excellent lately (or am I just imagining it?). You’ll have to judge for yourself, but I think it’s been a particularly good couple of years for nonfiction.

With that in mind, I’m going to list my favorites from this year and share some suggestions from other writers that you might like. Sort of like the “greatest hits” of my reading life, I have a few titles that I just loved. And I’ll even end up adding a few that I haven’t read yet but I suspect I’ll enjoy because who couldn’t use a few more? My list can’t be exhaustive, of course, but I hope it serves as a solid starting point for those interested in bringing more nonfiction into their reading lives. If you are, you’ve come to the right place to read these in 2023 and beyond.

The Song of the Cell: An Exploration of Medicine and the New Man by Siddhartha Mukherjee

As someone with only a superficial knowledge of biology, you might not think of me as the ideal reader of this book. But the amazing thing is, you would be wrong. I heard about Mukherjee’s first book, The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer, many years ago, but read it only recently. And once I started, I knew I couldn’t put it down until I finished it. It was absolutely mesmerizing and when I saw that he was releasing another one I added that to my list for 2022 as well. This would be a great read for anyone who liked Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks or Rose George’s Nine Pints, both of which I thoroughly enjoyed. My high school biology teacher would be so proud!

The best non-fiction book of 2022

South to America: A Journey Below the Mason-Dixon to Understand a Nation’s Soul by Imani Perry

This book won the National Book Foundation’s 2022 National Book Award in the United States. It’s a bit difficult to categorize as it includes both non-fiction and personal history, but they’re brought together so seamlessly that it all felt very natural and necessary to me. Definitely one of the best non-fiction books of 2022, it’s a meditation not only on US history, but on what it means to belong to America and to call yourself American, while also acknowledging some of our country’s deepest flaws.

Likewise, I would highly recommend Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson. There is also a young readers’ edition, Caste (adapted for young adults), for those who find this helpful. And of course, this reminds me that I haven’t read Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Sons: the Epic Story of America’s Great Migration, so I offer that as a suggestion for you and me too!

Cover of the Year of the Tiger

Year of the Tiger: The Life of an Activist by Alice Wong

I had had Alice Wong’s first book, Disability Visibility, on my reading list for a while, but I have to admit that I still hadn’t read it when I picked up Year of the Tiger. That just means you don’t have to know who she is, either. This book is such an excellent standalone treatise that you can enjoy it even if (like me) you’ve made the questionable life choice not to read it first. The format differs from traditional memoirs. Instead, it consists of different types of texts that Wong has written over the years and is a very accessible way of approaching her views, especially for readers who are new to disability or have not given much thought to the experiences of those who have a disability.

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Cover of Visual Thinking

Visual Thinking: The Hidden Gifts of People Who Think in Images, Patterns, and Abstractions by Temple Grandin

Temple Grandin is an author I’ve heard a lot about but haven’t read much of her work. She is a very impressive writer, inventor and teacher. And while I’m not sure I agree with everything in her book, I think there’s a lot of food for thought about how people organize their thinking and see the world. Also, I find her writing very accessible and clear, qualities not always found in writers dealing with similarly complex subjects. She explains with clarity how our brains are wired differently in an exploration of visual thinking. Be sure to read this book and see how it changes the way you think about yourself and those around you.

Covering calm is resistance

Calm is Resistance: A Manifesto by Tricia Hersey

This is one of those books I didn’t know I needed and maybe I’m not the only person out there who feels this way about reading it. Competitor Patricia Elzie-Tuttle also mentioned it as one of her best nonfiction picks of 2022 in Book Riot’s roundup of Best Books of 2022, so I’m glad to be in very good company. While I can also read with my eyes, I personally preferred reading this on the audio Hersey is narrating. However, be sure to get a copy. You will not regret it. I believed what she said as I listened: “The grind culture can’t have you… Stay in the dream space… You’re enough.” I can’t be the only person to realize how much the world needs this book, and it was definitely one of the best nonfiction books of 2022. Get out there and see if this is for you too!

Cover of The Diary of an Outsider

Diary of an Outsider: A Memory and Mystery by Casey Parks

I had marked this as one I wanted to read in 2022, but I’m grateful to my colleague CJ Connor for naming it one of her favorite books of 2022 as it has pushed it to the top of my reading list. This is both a mystery and a very moving meditation on what it means to belong to a place, especially a place with which one has a deeply complicated relationship. Parks first wanted to understand what happened to her grandmother’s transgender neighbor, who lived as a man. Throughout this book, Parks offers a thoughtful treatment of both her subject’s possible lives and her own inner life. Content warnings for sexual assault, addiction, and homophobia.

Cover of Inciting Joy

Rushing Joy by Ross Gay

This is exactly the kind of nonfiction gem I missed when it came out in 2022, so I was lucky my fellow Rioter Jenn Northington pointed it out to me. I had tears in my eyes when I started reading Gay’s introduction.

It reminded me of the famous Buddhist parable of the mother mourning the death of her son. She goes to the Buddha and asks him to bring her son back to life. He promises if she brings him a mustard seed from the home of a family where no one has ever died. The mother goes from house to house in search of a person who has never grieved the loss of a loved one. And of course she returns with empty pockets and an understanding of the universality of loss. Perhaps she also returned with a deep understanding that while grief can feel isolating, it can also be communal in its own way. Gay’s work is just as life-changing and thought-provoking, making it without a doubt one of the best nonfiction books of 2022.

Cover of red color

Red Paint: The Ancestral Autobiography of a Coast Salish Punk by Sasha taqʷšəblu LaPointe

This memoir is also one of the most touching non-fiction books I’ve read in 2022, but you should know something about the topics covered in it. LaPointe writes very movingly about her life, but it’s definitely not without clear and (at times) present trauma. Content warnings for sexual assault, rape, child abuse, and miscarriage. On the other hand, I was hooked from the first page and couldn’t put it down. This is a very worthwhile read, although it deals with very difficult subjects. Get a copy if you haven’t already!

Those are the titles I picked for my best nonfiction book of 2022, but there are so many others I haven’t read yet. A few spring to mind like Solito: A Memoir by Javier Zamora and Julian Aguon’s No Country for Eight-Spot Butterflies. I also wrote a list of the best biographies of 2022, in case that appeals to you. If you need more nonfiction across the board, check out the best nonfiction of October 2022 (with only two titles that overlap my list above!) or the new November nonfiction for more books to satisfy your craving for the best nonfiction of the to breastfeed in 2022.