Best Nonfiction Reading from 2022
These are my favorite nonfiction reads from 2022 in no particular order, regardless of when they were published. I hope you find something to enjoy here, and please share your favorite nonfiction reads. (I'll cover books about movies later.)
The Search for the Genuine: Nonfiction, 1975-2015 (2022) Jim Harrison
I’m embarrassed to admit that this is my first encounter with the work of Jim Harrison, but it won’t be my last. These essays cover a multitude of topics including nature, poetry, fishing, dogs, shark-tagging, the writing life, and much more.
Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty (2021) Patrick Radden Keefe
Ever since I read Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland, Patrick Radden Keefe has become one of my favorite writers. He brings the same level of compelling writing and tireless research to the story of the Sackler family and what can rightly be called crimes against humanity in the form of the marketing of OxyContin. Be warned: This book will infuriate you.
In Faulkner’s Shadow: A Memoir (2020) Lawrence Wells
What a beautiful, hilarious, sad, and jubilant memoir of the South, literature, and, as the title indicates, living in the shadow of William Faulkner. I absolutely loved it. It *almost* makes me want to move back to the South. Well… Who knows???
The Arabs (2009) Eugene Rogan
So many Americans - including me - have a very limited knowledge of the Middle East, but this book does a tremendous job of helping readers understand the Arab world and the tremendous conflict that has been a part of its history practically from the beginning. A tremendous read. Thanks to my friend Kendrick for recommending it.
The Woman Who Smashed Codes: A True Story of Love, Spies, and the Unlikely Heroine who Outwitted America’s Enemies (2017) Jason Fagone
Although not as popular as Hidden Figures, The Woman Who Smashed Codes focuses on Elizebeth Smith, a nearly-forgotten woman who played a crucial role in intelligence and national security for forty years.
Crooked Snake: The Life and Crimes of Albert Lepard (2019) Lovejoy Boteler
How many books have you read by a teenager who was kidnapped by a serial killer, lived to tell about it, then set out to research his would-be killer? That’s exactly what Lovejoy Boteler did, and what a story it is, a tale that ends in Scott County, Mississippi where I grew up.
Lifting the Veil: Imagination and the Kingdom of God (2021) Malcolm Guite
A must-read for anyone involved in the arts, even if you’re not a Christian. Yet Guite explores the celebration of the imagination as it is considered from the Christian life, a study of the spiritual power of imagination and creativity. A short book (under 200 pages) that’s filled with abundant food for thought as well as some wonderful art and poetry.
Spying on the South: Frederick Law Olmsted in a Fractured Land (2019) Tony Horwitz
I always enjoy works about the South written by non-Southerners who have spent considerable time there. This work takes its cue from Frederick Law Olmsted’s trek across the South in the 1850s as Horwitz retraces Olmsted’s steps on his own path to discovery.
The Fire Next Time (1963) James Baldwin
A fascinating essay that has lost none of its power.
Rembrandt Is in the Wind: Learning to Love Art through the Eyes of Faith (2022) Russ Ramsey
One of my favorite nonfiction books of the year. Like Lifting the Veil, Rembrandt Is in the Wind deals with matters of art, faith, and imagination, yet is also a fascinating journey through art history.
How to Hide an Empire: A History of the Greater United States (2019) Daniel Immerwahr
I stumbled across this book in doing research for my American Studies class. In short: a history of the U.S. beyond the United States. Fascinating and thought-provoking.
Folk Music: A Bob Dylan Biography in Seven Songs (2022) Greil Marcus
One of our most interesting writers on music, Greil Marcus, has selected seven Bob Dylan songs that examine not only American folk music but also the essence of America.
The Philosophy of Modern Song (2022) Bob Dylan
At the risk of polarizing non-Dylan fans, know that Dylan is writing about other people’s songs, not his own, but man, does he have some insight into the American songbook. Sure, he can get caught up in his own stream-of-consciousness from time to time, but you’ll look at songs you’ve known for decades in a different way after reading this book. The biggest revelation about this book? An examination of what songs don’t say. Read the book. You’ll understand.
If you decide to listen to the audiobook, its narrators include Jeff Bridges, Helen Mirren, Oscar Isaac, John Goodman, Rita Moreno, Sissy Spacek, Alfre Woodard, Jeffrey Wright, Steve Buscemi, Renée Zellweger, and Dylan himself.
I read lots of other good books this year (and some turkeys), which you can find here.
Next time I hope to cover my favorite books on film. Please let me know what you enjoyed reading this year.