These are the best nonfiction books I read in 2022!
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In 2022, I read 132 books. I love to read and devour most of what gets recommended to me!
While I read fiction for escapism, I read nonfiction to learn. That tends to mean I read a little of everything, nonfiction-wise; as long as it’s presented in an interesting way, I’m game.
My favorite nonfiction books of 2022 cover a huge range: Italy, grief, time management, humor, biography, and more! Mostly, they make the list if I can articulate what they were about at the end of the year.
Just a reminder that these weren’t all published this year. The list covers what I read in 2022.
My Favorite Nonfiction Books of 2022
La Bella Figura: A Field Guide to the Italian Mind, Beppe Severgnini
We had to start strong with an Italy book! While not a new publication at all, La Bella Figura is a fantastic telling of Italian culture by an Italian. Covering everything from airports to meals, his genius is that he articulates Italian culture to an American audience without worrying too much about the parts that don’t follow logic. Which, of course, is a quintessential aspect of Italian culture.
It’s hilarious, a little confusing, and fun. Just like Italian life! If you’re planning a trip to Italy, this is a fun way to prep for it. (P.S. If you’re planning a trip to Italy, I can help!)
Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals, Oliver Burkeman
In a world already saturated with self-help books, Four Thousand Weeks brings a refreshing, zoomed out approach to how we spend our time. Burkeman breaks through the usual suggestions for productivity and efficiency to improve life simply by pointing out that an efficient life is rarely a memorable or meaningful one.
His approach brings to mind the Annie Dillard quote, “how we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” It’s a refreshing reminder in a world constantly pushing for endless productivity.
It’s OK That You’re Not OK: Meeting Grief and Loss in a Culture That Doesn’t Understand, Megan Devine
It’s OK That You’re Not OK is one of those books that you probably aren’t looking for unless you lose someone. And that’s okay. But if you’re dealing with grief and loss, this is the best book I’ve read that wasn’t faith-based.
Devine deals with the topic with grace and kindness, and also with scientifically-backed knowledge. For example, did you know that when you go through major trauma or grief that your brain rewires itself? So feeling like you’re in a fog, or not remembering things, or losing expertise after a loss is not just normal, is scientifically proven. This made me feel so much better when I realized that there was an explanation for the massive drop in Italian language skills after my dad died.
The book is part explanation of what you’re going through and part guide. It doesn’t belabor any strict system (and debunks a few), but offers tools that might help.
A Thousand Days in Venice: An Unexpected Romance, Marlena De Blasi
If you’ve been following me for a while, you know I adore Venice. Any book set in Venice sparks my interest, so a story of woman moving to Venice for love grabbed me on page one.
What I enjoyed most about A Thousand Days in Venice is the way De Blasi falls in love with the city as much as the man. The story wouldn’t be the same in another country, or even another Italian city. I highly recommend if you’re looking for some armchair travel, and if you want more, try my Italian reading list.
Happy-Go-Lucky, David Sedaris
David Sedaris always entertains, and his latest set of essays doesn’t disappoint. Written in the insanity that’s been the past few years, he contrasts his time during the pandemic lockdowns vacuuming twice and day and walking empty streets of Manhattan with previous trips to Serbian flea markets and weird conversations that happen when on tour.
Given the intensity of the past few years, it’s admitting less laugh-out-loud funny than some of his previous books. But Happy-Go-Lucky is still full of the wry observational humor he’s so known for.
Leave Only Footprints: My Acadia-to-Zion Through Every National Park, Conor Knighton
After a broken engagement, Conor Knighton sells all his stuff and decides to visit every American national park in one year. Working as a CBS correspondent lets him do this without quitting his job, and his experiences span from breathtaking to funny to just plain weird.
Leave Only Footprints does a good job of grouping and comparing the 63 parks without getting monotonous. His narration is refreshing – not too Tour Guide-y, but also not only focused on his own personal experience. One thing I loved was his continuing to reference the fact that these land were inhabited and owned centuries before being discovered by Europeans, giving us context that often gets glossed over in American natural history.
No Cure for being human (And Other Truths I Need to Hear), Kate Bowler
There’s no other way to put it: this is a crying book. But that’s not a bad thing. No Cure for Being Human explores what to do with your life when you find yourself in terrible circumstances. Bowler experiences this firsthand as she deals with a bad cancer diagnosis.
How do you continue to work? Have relationships? Parent? Get out of bed?
Her essays aren’t all heartbreaking – she’s funny and sarcastic and honest. I’ve read several of Kate Bowler’s books and love them all. They make you think and feel, and they’re written in an essay style that allows you pick it up and put it down when you need to.
The Feather Thief: Beauty, Obsession, and the Natural History Heist of the Century, Kirk W. Johnson
The Feather Thief is the fun true story of the biggest feather heist in history. Told from the writer’s point of view as he investigates it, it’s one of those stories that make you wonder “how did he not get caught?” at every turn.
The funniest part to me? The reason for the theft. Millions of dollars worth of specimens and untold damage to scientific research happened so the thief could… make fishing lures.
I kid you not.
Read it for a laugh, you’ll enjoy it.
Range: Why Generalists triumph in a specialized world, David Epstein
I have a really clear memory of joining a rec soccer team when I was 7. I was constantly behind my teammates because everyone else on my co-ed team started at age 4, leaving me hopelessly in the dust. My parents were told that they should have started me earlier, and popular culture reinforces the idea that we have to start becoming experts as young as possible.
This sort of mentality, both for ourselves and for parenting, is exactly what Epstein warns against in Range. He explores the trajectories of successful athletes, inventors, entrepreneurs, artists, and more. His goal? To demonstrate that specialization at an early age isn’t the most common path to success.
Epstein’s point that people who are generalists are more creative, better problem-solvers, and better learners. The book is compelling in its approach and refreshing to those of us who weren’t child prodigies.
Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Shana Knizhnik
Whether you align with her politically or not, there’s no denying Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s effect on the US as it stands today. Notorious RBG covers her whole life. While her landmark presence as litigator and justice are the focus, my favorite parts were hearing about the realities of her remarkable marriage and her lasting friendship with political opposite Antonin Scalia.
While I was probably the last to read this, I found it incredibly inspiring. Initially published shortly after her death, it holds its value and I highly recommend the book if you haven’t picked it up yet.