The following are the best biographies 2022 had to offer, according to my brain and my tastes. And I know it might sound like something everyone says, but it was really hard to pick them this year. Like many people, I love “best of” lists for the year, even when I disagree with the titles that make the cut. There is something about narrowing the field to “the best” that makes me excited to read the list and see what I’ve read already and which gems I’ve missed that year. If you want to look back at some of the titles Book Riot chose in 2021, try this best books of 2021 by genre or best books for 2020. Both will probably quadruple your TBR, but they’re super fun to read anyway.
For 2022 in particular, there were a ton of excellent titles to choose from, in both biographies and memoirs. I am not being polite here but let me just say that it was genuinely hard to choose. To make it easier on myself, I have included some memoirs to pair with the best biographies of 2022 below. If you don’t see your absolute favorite, it’s either because I didn’t like it (I don’t believe in spending time on books I don’t like) or because 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 in order to better understand not only his life and experiences before his death, but also the systemic forces that eventually contributed to his murder. While very interesting, this is also a harder read and very frustrating at times as there is so much loss wrapped up into 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 diving into. Rich in detail and nuance, it drops readers into Dunbar’s life and times, offering a fascinating look at both the literary and personal life of this great American poet. If you are able to read on audio, you may want to check out actor Mirron E. Willis’s excellent narration.
Didn’t We Almost Have it All: In Defense of Whitney Houston by Gerrick Kennedy
Maybe you’re a huge fan or maybe you don’t know who Whitney Houston was, but either way, you can still read this and enjoy it. Kennedy is very clear that he didn’t set out to write a traditional biography. He wasn’t trying to dig up new “dirt” about the singer or to ask people in her life to reflect back on her now that she has been gone for 10 years. Instead, Kennedy tackles something deeper and possibly harder: to see and appreciate Houston as the fully-formed and talented human being that she was and to understand in full her influence over popular culture and music.
Finding Me by Viola Davis
If you are also interested in reading a memoir from 2022, you could pair Whitney Houston’s biography with Viola Davis’s 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 choice is that I was also just about the last person on earth who hadn’t heard about Davis’s childhood. Please don’t go into this without knowing at least something about what she had to overcome. However, despite all that, I still think it is 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 unrelentingly grinding 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 of ways he can be “read” in his connections and contributions to American pop culture. If you or someone you know is itching to read an extremely detailed and deeply considered look at Lee’s life, then this is the book for you. If you read on audio, be sure to check out David Lee Huynh’s narration.
If you want to read something much lighter but still connected to Asian representation in Western movies, you could do worse than Liu’s 2022 memoir. In comparison to other books on this list, this felt like a much lighter read to me, but it is not without some heavier moments. While I am not a superfan of Liu (because I’m not really a superfan of anyone), I did enjoy learning about Liu’s childhood and especially hearing little details like that his grandparents called him a nickname that basically translated to “little furry caterpillar” as a child. I mean, is there anything more adorable for a kid?
The Man from the Future: The Visionary Life of John von Neumann by Ananyo Bhattacharya
This is another meaty biography that readers will just adore. Complex and fascinating, von Neumann’s curiosity was legendary and his contributions are so far-reaching that it is hard to imagine any one person undertaking them all. This is a good choice for readers who are fascinated by mathematics, big personalities, and intellectual puzzles.
Agatha Christie: An Elusive Woman by Lucy Worsley
This is another best biography of 2022 that many, many readers will want to sink into. The audio is also by the author so you may want to read it that way. Whether someone reads it 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 may 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 Schoolteacher Who Defied Hitler by Deborah Cadbury
Cadbury writes a fascinating biography of Anna Essinger, a schoolteacher who managed to smuggle her students out of a Germany succumbing to Hitler’s rise to power and all the horror that was to follow. Essinger’s bravery and clear-eyed understanding of what was happening around her is amazing. This is a thrilling and fascinating biography 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 has written this thoroughly engrossing book about Rudolf Vrba, a man who managed to escape from Auschwitz. It’s no surprise that this is a very important but difficult read. For those who can manage it, I highly recommend immersing oneself in this historical nonfiction biography about a man who survived some of the darkest events of human history.
That is my list of the best biographies of 2022, with a few memoirs for those who are interested. And now of course, I need to mention several 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’s Dilla Time, to name a few!
Also Bernardine Evaristo published Manifesto: On Never Giving Up in 2022 and somehow it slipped through the cracks of my TBR. I will have to make time for that one soon.
If you still need more titles to explore, try these 50 best biographies or 20 biographies for kids. And to that latter list, I might add that a children’s biography came out about Octavia Butler in 2022 called Star Child by Haitian American author Ibi Zoboi, so you might want to check that out too!