Choosing the best nonfiction books of 2022 makes me think immediately of all the good nonfiction titles I’ve read in the past few years. This year saw some very highly anticipated books come out (more on that below), which then set me thinking about all the good things I’ve read in the last few years. It’s not that I’ve read more per se, but somehow it seems that my choices have been really excellent of late (or am I just imagining that?). You’ll have to judge for yourself, but I think it has been an especially good few years for nonfiction.
In that spirit, I will list my favorites from this year and make some suggestions from other authors you might enjoy. Sort of like a “greatest hits” of my reading life, I have some titles I have just loved. And I will even add some at the end that I haven’t read yet, but that I suspect I will also enjoy because who couldn’t use a few more? My list cannot be exhaustive of course, but I hope it will serve as a solid starting point for those interested in getting more nonfiction into their reading lives. If that’s you, you’re in the right place for reading these in 2023 and beyond.
The Song of the Cell: An Exploration of Medicine and the New Human by Siddhartha Mukherjee
As someone with only a passing knowledge of biology, you might not think I am the ideal reader for this book. But the amazing thing is, you’d be wrong. I heard of Mukherjee’s first book The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer many years ago, but I didn’t read it until very recently. And as soon as I started, I knew I wouldn’t be able to put it down until I finished it. It was absolutely fascinating and when I saw he was publishing another, 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 also really enjoyed. My high school biology teacher would be so proud!
This book won the 2022 National Book Award from the National Book Foundation in the U.S. It is a little difficult to categorize since it embraces both nonfiction and personal history, but they are brought together so seamlessly that it all seemed very natural and necessary to me. Definitely one of the best nonfiction books of 2022, it is a meditation not only on U.S. history, but also on what it means to belong to America and call oneself an American, while still acknowledging some of our country’s deepest flaws.
Similarly, 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 that helpful. And of course this reminds me that I have yet to read Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Sons: the Epic Story of America’s Great Migration, so I offer that, too, as a suggestion for you and myself!
Year of the Tiger: An Activist’s Life by Alice Wong
I have had Alice Wong’s first book, Disability Visibility, on my reading list for some time, but I have to admit that I still hadn’t read it by the time I picked up Year of the Tiger. All that is to say that you don’t have to know who she is, either. This book is such an excellent standalone memoir that you can enjoy it even if you (like me) have made the questionable life choice of not reading her before. The format is different from a traditional memoir. Instead it is made up of varied types of writing Wong has done over the years and is a very understandable way to approach her views, especially for readers who do not have a disability yet or have not thought much about the experiences of those who do.
Visual Thinking: The Hidden Gifts of People who Think in Pictures, Patterns, and Abstractions by Temple Grandin
Temple Grandin is an author I have heard a lot about, but still haven’t read much of her work. She is a highly impressive writer, inventor, and teacher. And while I’m not sure I agree with everything in her book, I think it provides a lot of food for thought about how people organize their thinking and see the world. Plus her writing is very accessible and clear to me, qualities not always found in authors who tackle similarly complex topics. She explains with clarity how our brains are wired differently in an exploration of visual thinking. Definitely give this book a read and see how it changes the way you see your thinking and that of others around you.
Rest is Resistance: A Manifesto by Tricia Hersey
This is one of those books I didn’t know I needed and maybe I am not the only person out there who will feel this way while reading it. Fellow Rioter Patricia Elzie-Tuttle also mentioned it as one of her best of 2022 nonfiction picks in Book Riot’s Best Books of 2022 roundup, so I am happy to be in very good company. Although I can read with my eyes, too, I personally preferred to read this on the audio which Hersey narrates. However, either way, just get a copy. You won’t regret it. I found myself believing what she said as I listened: “Grind culture cannot have you…Stay in the dream space…You are enough.” I can’t be the only person who recognizes how much the world needs this book and it was definitely one of the best nonfiction books of 2022. Go out and see if this is for you too!
Diary of a Misfit: A Memoir and a Mystery by Casey Parks
I had marked this as one I wanted to read in 2022, but am thankful to fellow Rioter CJ Connor for naming it one of their favorite reads of 2022, since that bumped it to the top of my reading list. This is at once a mystery and a very moving meditation on what it means to belong to a place, especially one with which you have a deeply complicated relationship. Parks initially set out to understand what happened to her grandmother’s transgender neighbor who lived as a man. Over the course of this book, Parks offers a thoughtful treatment of both her subject’s possible lives and her own interior life. Content warnings for sexual assault, addiction, and homophobia.
Inciting Joy by Ross Gay
This is exactly the sort of nonfiction gem that I missed when it came out in 2022, so I was lucky that fellow Rioter Jenn Northington pointed me to it. I got teary-eyed when I first started reading Gay’s introduction.
It reminded me of the famous Buddhist parable of the mother grieving the death of her son. She goes to the Buddha and asks him to bring her son back to life. He promises to do so if she will bring him a mustard seed from the house of a family in which no one has ever died. The mother goes from home to home searching for 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 though grief may feel isolating, it can be communal in its own way too. Gay’s work is that same kind of life-changing and thought-provoking, making it one of the best nonfiction books of 2022 without a doubt.
Red Paint: The Ancestral Autobiography of a Coast Salish Punk by Sasha taqʷšəblu LaPointe
This memoir is also one of the most affecting nonfiction titles I read 2022, but you should know something about the topics going in. LaPointe writes very movingly about her life, but it is definitely not without clear and (at times) present trauma. Content warnings for sexual assault, rape, child abuse, and pregnancy loss. On the other hand, I was drawn in from the first page and could not put this down. This is a very worthwhile read despite covering very difficult topics. Get a copy if you haven’t already!
Those are the titles I chose for my best nonfiction of 2022, but there are so many others I have not read yet. A few come to mind immediately 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 if that appeals. If you need more nonfiction generally, check out the best nonfiction out in October 2022 (with only two titles that overlap with my list above!) or new November nonfiction for more books to settle your cravings for the best nonfiction of 2022.