Fair warning: although the headline promises the “best books of 2022,” what follows is not a list of the best books published during the past year. Instead, I’ve chosen not to challenge the New York Times and every other mainstream publication that each year publishes its own best books list. With a stable of reviewers and access to scores of freelancers, the Times and other established publications can actually cover thousands of new books. I can’t. Besides, I don’t read only new books. Many of the books I review were published years ago. A fair number are award-winners and classics. So, the following list represents the best books I’ve read this year. It includes both new and old titles.
What you’ll find here are twenty books encompassing four categories. I’ve selected five books in each: nonfiction, mysteries and thrillers, science fiction, and popular (or trade) fiction. You’ll find books by authors who are likely familiar to you. I’m sure many of the others are not. Take a chance: these are all good books that deserve an audience.
If you click on the link next to each title, you’ll find my review of the book. I’m not excerpting them here because I fear the result would be an article too long for most readers to digest.
Best books of 2022: nonfiction
The five nonfiction books listed here include only one book published in 2022: Adam Hochschild’s American Midnight, a masterful history of the suppression of civil liberties in the US during and immediately following World War I. But the other four all came out in recent years, beginning in 2015. By some standards, at least, they all qualify as “new.”
Born in Blackness: Africa, Africans, and the Making of the Modern World, 1471 to the Second World War by Howard W. French (2021) 528 pages ★★★★★—An eye-opening account of Africa’s pivotal role in world history
Midnight’s Furies: The Deadly Legacy of India’s Partition by Nisid Hajari (2015) 312 pages ★★★★★—An insightful history of the Indian Partition
American Midnight: The Great War, a Violent Peace, and Democracy’s Forgotten Crisis by Adam Hochschild (2022) 432 pages ★★★★★—Repression, censorship, and official violence in the First Red Scare
The Edge of Anarchy: The Railroad Barons, the Gilded Age, and the Greatest Labor Uprising in America by Jack Kelly (2019) 304 pages ★★★★★—The American labor movement in the Gilded Age
The Hidden Habits of Genius: Beyond Talent, IQ, and Grit—Unlocking the Secrets of Greatness by Craig M. Wright (2020) 317 pages ★★★★★—What is a genius? Does IQ matter?
Best books of 2022: mysteries and thrillers
As you’ll see, again only one of the five titles listed here first appeared during the past year: Paul Vidich’s compelling spy drama, The Matchmaker. The other four include an acknowledged classic of suspense fiction—Ross MacDonald’s The Galton Case—and three others published from 1988 to 2008. I find myself turning more and more to older mysteries and thrillers as so many of the new entries in the genre are formulaic and derivative.
A Cold Red Sunrise (Inspector Porfiry Rostnikov #5) by Stuart M. Kaminsky (1988) 332 pages ★★★★★—A historical mystery about a murder above the Arctic Circle
The Galton Case (Lew Archer #8 of 18) by Ross MacDonald (1959) 255 pages ★★★★★—A classic detective novel that’s hard to put down
The German Client (Bacci Pagano #6) by Bruno Morchio (2008) 204 pages ★★★★★—An outstanding novel about the Italian Resistance in World War II
The Matchmaker: A Spy in Berlin by Paul Vidich (2022) 250 pages ★★★★★—A dangerous spy game in Berlin before the fall of the Wall
Death of a Red Heroine (Inspector Chen #1) by Qiu Xiaolong (2000) 477 pages ★★★★★—A gripping Chinese police procedural
Best books of 2022: science fiction
Two books that debuted earlier this year made this list: Aurora by David Koepp and The Immortal King Rao by Vauhini Vara. A third (The Insecure Mind of Sergei Kraev by Eric Silberstein) barely missed the cut-off by appearing last year instead. I regard the other two novels—Joe Haldeman’s Forever Peace and Maureen McHugh’s China Mountain Zhang—as classics. Haldeman’s is widely acknowledged as such. McHugh’s has not received the attention it deserves.
Forever Peace (Forever War Trilogy #2) by Joe Haldeman (1997) 360 pages ★★★★★—A prescient look at the military of the future
Aurora by David Koepp (2022) 299 pages ★★★★★—A massive solar storm threatens life on Earth
China Mountain Zhang by Maureen F. McHugh (1992) 322 pages ★★★★★—A forgotten 30-year-old science fiction classic
The Insecure Mind of Sergei Kraev by Eric Silberstein (2021) 339 pages ★★★★★—A cautionary tale about brain implants
The Immortal King Rao by Vauhini Vara (2022) 378 pages ★★★★★—A novel dystopian story that explores anarchism
Best books of 2022: popular fiction
Three of these books are new, having been published this year: Horse by Geraldine Brooks, Mercury Pictures Presents by Anthony Marra, and Four Treasures of the Sky by Jenny Tinghui Zhang. Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko appeared in 2017 and clung to the bestseller lists for several years. I read James McBride’s Miracle at St. Anna because I loved two of his more recent novels, The Good Lord Bird and Deacon King Kong. I was delighted I had.
Horse by Geraldine Brooks (2022) 416 pages ★★★★★—A novel about a famous racehorse sheds light on slavery
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee (2017) 650 pages ★★★★★—A fascinating multigenerational Korean saga
Mercury Pictures Presents by Anthony Marra (2022) 446 pages ★★★★★—European refugees add luster to wartime Hollywood
Miracle at St. Anna by James McBride (2001) 324 pages ★★★★★—Black soldiers on the front line in Tuscany in World War II
Four Treasures of the Sky by Jenny Tinghui Zhang (2022) 321 pages ★★★★★—The Chinese immigrant experience in 19th-century America
For more reading
If you’re interested, you might check out the The best books of 2021.
You might also care to check out:
- 20 top nonfiction books about history
- 30 outstanding detective series from around the world
- The ultimate guide to the all-time best science fiction novels
- Top 10 great popular novels reviewed on this site
And you can always find my most popular reviews, and the most recent ones, plus a guide to this whole site, on the Home Page.