Cover image of "American Midnight," one of the best books of 2022

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.

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