2022 My Year In Books

Another year, another 52 books. I spent nearly half of 2022 living in other people’s homes, which was weird and kind of unsettling, but I also read some absolute bangers. 

If you actually read this whole thing, you’ll probably notice some themes. More books about nature, less poetry, more trashy fiction, less literary fiction. As always kinda all over the place. I’ve got plans to do things a bit differently in 2023, but I’ll save that for another post.

Same basic format as last year here with my favorite books at the top (in no particular order) followed by every single book I read with a short review and a tag of recommended, recommended for the enthusiast, or not recommended. 

Ok, onto the books.

Best of the Year

(in no particular order)

 Bewilderment, Richard Powers

Gut wrenching novel about a man and his son and an unfair world. Maybe it’s because I’m a dad, but I was shaking and weeping at the end. Recommended.

A Sand County Almanac and Sketches Here and There, Aldo Leopold

It is to my eternal shame that it took me to my 47th year to read this classic of wildlife and conservation writing. Beautifully written. An absolute classic that is making me reflect on my relationship to the natural world. Recommended.

Aldo Leopold

Strangers Drowning: Grappling with Impossible Idealism, Drastic Choices and the Overpowering Urge to Help, Larissa MacFarquhar

Remarkable book of reporting on extreme altruists. We’re talking about people who donate kidneys, adopt scores of disabled kids, give away all their money, etc. MacFarquhar is a New Yorker writer so you know the prose is absolutely top notch and the lives of these remarkable people are told with humanity and empathy. I found this to be a deeply inspirational read, you may feel differently. Makes you reconsider your own generosity (or lack thereof). Recommended.

True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements, Eric Hoffer

 Not only had I never read this classic, somehow, I didn’t even know it existed. The gaps in my education are many and wide. A series of reflections on the nature of mass movements and democracy with a new and compelling idea on nearly every page. I devoured this, and will certainly be returning to it. Recommended.      

Jazz, Toni Morrison

People talk about this as the “difficult” Morrison book, but I didn’t think so. My advice, try to read it in longer sittings where you can sit with the rhythm of the prose more. I loved it. Recommended. 

Passing, Nella Larsen

Just getting around to reading this classic of the Harlem renaissance for the first time and was genuinely surprised at how contemporary the writing and plot are. This is just a hair away from a modern thriller. Absolutely excellent. I read it over a period of a couple days. It was too good to put down. Recommended. 

Nella Larsen

The House of Twenty Thousand Books, Sasha Abramsky

A truly charming book about the bibliophile and scholar Chimen Abramsky written by his grandson. This book is a tour through European Jewish and socialist history as it intersected with the life of a truly remarkable man. Abramsky’s embrace of, and then repudiation of, communism, his complex relationship with Judaism, his love of his family and friends, all of it was just a joy to read. Also the rare book both my wife and I enjoyed. Recommended.

Meditations, Marcus Aurelius (Hays edition)

This is, I think, the third time I’ve read Mediations. It won’t be the last. Liking the Meditations is a cliche for a middle aged dude like me, but you know what, cliches are there for a reason. The greatest self help book ever written. Recommended.

What We Owe the Future, Will MacAskill

Effective Altruism, and especially the “longtermism” wing took a real beating in the second half of 2022, much of it rightly deserved. MacAskill was right in the center of all that and it’d be easy to write him off because of his association with SBF. I’m not going to do that. Longtermism – the idea that we should care about the far future of humanity is a challenging and interesting idea that’s worth grappling with. MacAskill is a bit too confident in his ability to determine what will matter in the future, I think, but the book is still important. I might write a full review of this later. Recommended. 

Every Single Book I Read In 2022

  1. Nuclear Folly: A History of the Cuban Missile Crisis, Serhil Plokhy

Widely considered among the definitive accounts of the crisis. An absolutely gripping read. It’s easy from a distance to forget just how close we came to war. A slightly different set of facts or characters and it all could have gone much worse. Recommended.

  1. The Secret Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate, Peter Wohlleben

There’s a whole cottage industry now of books about trees and how our understanding of their ability to communicate is changing, but this was among the first and most engaging. It’s incredible to think that we’re just at the beginning of understanding the giants that surround us. Recommended.

  1. Bewilderment, Richard Powers

Gut wrenching novel about a man and his son and an unfair world. Maybe it’s because I’m a dad, but I was shaking and weeping at the end. Recommended.

  1. Something New Under The Sun, Alexandra Kleeman

A satire of L.A., climate change and a world gone mad. I read this at a rooftop pool in Miami, which felt like the right setting. Kept my attention but in the end it was pretty unremarkable. Not recommended.

  1. Leviathan Wakes, James S.A. Corey

The first book in what I widely seen as the most important modern science fiction series. Game of Thrones in space is the tagline and that’s pretty apt. Good writing, great world building, well drawn characters. It’s a book about class as much as it is about aliens. I loved it. Recommended for the enthusiast.

  1. Lost in the Valley of Death: A Story of Obsession and Danger in the Himalayas, Harley Rustad

I’m a sucker for Into the Wild knockoffs. This one is better than most thanks to the complexity of the young man at the center of the tragedy. You pick up a book like this, you’re not expecting great literature, you’re expecting a tragic hero’s journey, and that’s what you get here. Worth it if that’s your kind of thing. Recommended for the enthusiast.

  1. Origins: A Genetic History of America, Jennifer Raff

It’s a wild time to be alive. We’re not only reexamining the basic understanding of trees, but also how the Americas were first populated. Before reading this if you’d ask me how the America’s were populated I would have muttered something about a land bridge. Now I know how much more complicated and fascinating it was. While there is a more than average amount of throat clearing in the early going, I still learned a tremendous amount.  Recommended. 

  1. Caliban’s War, James S.A. Corey

Second book in the Expanse series. More class war, more unknown alien intelligence, less of the noir feel of the first book but still a banger if this is your sort of thing. Recommended for the Enthusiast.

  1. Riverman: An American Odyssey, Ben McGrath

Fitting squarely in the subgenre of should-have-stayed-a-New-Yorker article. The story of a lost and broken man who takes the waterways of America. If you’re reading this, you are probably the type who read the initial New Yorker article. This gives more detail into Conant’s story before he took to the water. Well written and interesting, but not essential. Recommended for the Enthusiast.

  1. Talent: How to Identify Energizers, Creatives, and Winners Around the World, Daniel Gross and Tyler Cowen

Perhaps it’s because this book has been praises everywhere, but I (like my boy David) was underwhelmed. Fine for what it is (a book on how you spot talent in the job search process) but largely unactionable for most people in corporate America. It’s a Cowen book so there’s engaging ideas in here, but generally, overrated. Recommended for the enthusiast.

  1. Ababbon’s Gate, James S.A. Corey

Third book in the Expanse series and where the story morphs into its second act. This series continues to be top notch science fiction. Recommended for the enthusiast. 

  1. Whole Earth: The Many Lives of Stewart Brand, John Markoff

Biography of the great Stewart Brand who brought us the Whole Earth Catalog, the Well and the Long Now Foundation among dozens of other ideas. Great to see one of my personal heroes get the full bio treatment and so inspiring to see a man still rethinking first principles and pushing ahead in the 9th decade. Recommended.

  1. Rise of Wolf 8: Witnessing the Triumph of Yellowstone’s Underdog, Rick McIntyre

The story of the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone. This centers around Wolf 8 but details the incredibly complex and fascinating social dynamics of wolf packs. There will be those who say this book over anthropomorphizes the wolves, but I don’t think so. Humans would do well to come to terms with the fact that we’re not so dissimilar from other advanced mammals. Recommended. 

  1. Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith, Jon Krakauer

Krakauer’s book on the fringes of Mormonism. Saw someone reading this at work and realized I’d never read this one. Fascinating throughout. Recommended. 

  1. The New Dark Age: Technology and the End of the Future, James Bridle

An interesting, but already outdated, look at how the world online is bleeding into the real world and how AI will accelerate the disinformation and surveillance we’re already living through. There’s actual reporting here, which is interesting, but not much of this was news to me. Hard to write a book on this without it immediately being old news. Not recommended.   

  1. The Man from the Future: The Visionary Life of John Von Neuman, Ananyo Bhattacharya

I have a lifelong fascination with Von Neuman, the super genius associated with game theory, the Manhattan Project, early computing and more. Rich detail here into the migration of Jewish intellectual talent from Europe to the U.S., the intellectual firepower behind the U.S.’s cold war efforts, and what it must have been like to be at Princeton when there was a genius around every corner. In the end, this book was too technical for me (lots of math), but still a fascinating look into the man who was one of the smartest people of the 20th century. Recommended for the enthusiast.

  1. River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey, Candice Millard

Holy shit this book. After leaving office Theodore Roosevelt undertook an expedition to map a previously unexplored tributary of the amazon river. The expedition ended in the deaths of numerous men, and almost killed Roosevelt himself. It is absolutely unthinkable that a modern president would do anything like this. You know he lives, but the book is gripping throughout. Recommended

.

  1. A Sand County Almanac and Sketches Here and There, Aldo Leopold

It is to my shame that it took me to my 47th year to read this classic of wildlife and conservation writing. Beautifully written. An absolute classic that is making me reflect on my relationship to the natural world. Recommended.   

  1. What We Owe the Future, Will MacAskill

Effective Altruism, and especially the “longtermism” wing took a real beating in the second half of 2022, much of it rightly deserved. MacAskill was right in the center of all that and it’d be easy to write him off because of his association with SBF. I’m not going to do that. Longtermism – the idea that we should care about the far future of humanity is a challenging and interesting idea that’s worth grappling with. MacAskill is a bit too confident in his ability to determine what will matter in the future, I think, but the book is still important. I might write a full review of this later. Recommended. 

  1. Finding the Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest, Suzanne Simard

Simard is the basis for Patricia Westerford, the scientist in Richard Power’s Overstory, and widely seen as a revolutionary in the way we understand trees. This is her memoir / magnum opus. I expected this to be a bit more slog than it was. Really nice blend of personal memoir (Simard grew up literally eating dirt!) and science with a healthy dose of how hard it was to be both a woman and an environmentalist in Canadian forestry. 

  1. Terminal List, Jack Carr

Jack Carr is the favored author of the Joe Rogan / Navy Seal fanboy set and a hugely successful author who I never hear mentioned in my little corner of Brooklyn. Figured I’d give him a try. Well paced revenge action adventure with a lot of specifics about guns and not a lot of character development. I’ve read worse, but there are far better dude thrillers out there (see e.g. the Reacher novels). Not Recommended.

  1. A Honest Living, Dwyer Murphy

Detective novel set in New York in the 90s and at least partially about book collecting. You’d think I would have enjoyed this one more than I did. Didn’t move fast enough to be thrilling, isn’t written well enough to be literary. I feel like there was a good story in there but the author’s literary ambitions got in the way. Not recommended. 

  1. Mutiny, Phillip B. Williams

National book award winner. Poetry that beautifully walks the line between technically sophisticated and deeply raw. Recommended for the enthusiast. 

  1. Ghost Fleet, August Cole and D.W. Singer

Techno thriller by two D.C. policy wonks positing what a future war with China might look like. Word is, this book is passed around a lot in military strategy circles and you can see why. Deeply researched, and kind of alarming. Plot’s a bit “eh” and the characters aren’t that well drawn, but I still enjoyed it. Recommended for the enthusiast. 

  1. My Darling from the Lions, Rachel Long

Beautifully written reflections on what it means to be a young black woman today. They’re just a slew of talented young poets out there these days and I’m kind of surprised more people aren’t reading them. Recommended. 

  1. Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus, Rick Perlstein

The first book in Perlstein’s magnum opus on the creation of the modern Republican party. I think of myself as a bit of a nerd when it comes to election history, but there was so, so much in here that was new to me. Excellent stuff, I’ll be reading the entire series. Recommended. 

  1. Forest Walking: Discovering the Trees and Woodlands of North America, Jane Billinghurt and Peter Wohlleben

Wohlleben’s cash in book on everyone falling in love with forests during the pandemic. Interesting, but too surface level.  Not recommended. 

  1. How To Blow Up A Pipeline, Andres Malm

A manifesto of sorts advocating direct action and property destruction are valid tactics in fighting climate change. While I’m sympathetic to Malm’s concerns – we are in a climate emergency and we’re not doing enough – I think he greatly overstates the effectiveness of the tactics he is advocating. We should talk about it more in person. Recommended for the enthusiast.  

  1. A New Orthography, Serhiy Zhadan

I’ve probably said this in previous years but I once heard Tariq Ali say “If you want to understand a people, read their poetry”. This is contemporary poetry from Ukraine, written after the illegal annexation of Crimea, but before last year’s war began. Excellent, excellent stuff. Incredible to read Zhadan’s reflections on friends going off to war, when you know the whole thing is so, so much worse now. Recommended. 

  1. A World After Liberalism: Philosophers of the Radical Right, Matthew Rose

A look at the big post war radical right thinkers (Spengler, Evola, Yockey, Benoist and Francis). Clear eyed prose that takes their thinking seriously, but is also merciless in critique. I was familiar with some of these thinkers, others I knew only by name. Learned a lot from such a slim volume.  Know your enemy, as the kids say.  Recommended.    

  1. Strangers Drowning: Grappling with Impossible Idealism, Drastic Choices and the Overpowering Urge to Help, Larissa MacFarquhar

Remarkable book of reporting on extreme altruists. We’re talking about people who donate kidneys, adopt scores of disabled kids, give away all their money, etc. MacFarquhar is a New Yorker writer so you know the prose is absolutely top notch and the lives of these remarkable people are told with humanity and empathy. I found this to be a deeply inspirational read, you may feel differently. Makes you reconsider your own generosity (or lack thereof). Recommended.  

  1. Herakleitos and Diogenes, trans by Guy Davenport

I’m a sucker for translations done by nonprofessionals. Davenport is one of those intellectuals we don’t hear about much anymore, a writer, a translator, a poet, a painter. This slim volume of translations of the two Greek philosophers was a joy, the kind of thing I wish more people would dabble in. If you’ve got some chops in ancient Greek, why not just give it a go? Recommended for the enthusiast. 

  1. The Treeline: The Last Forest and the Future of Life on Earth, Ben Rawlence

Reportage from around the world on the state of our boreal forests. Excellent reporting, and alarming news of how these northern woods are changing during the ongoing climate emergency. Recommended.

  1. Meditations, Marcus Aurelius (Hays edition)

Reading Davenport got me jazzed to dip back into this one. This is, I think, the third time I’ve read Mediations. It won’t be the last. Liking the Meditations is a cliche for a middle age dude like me, but you know what, cliches are there for a reason. The greatest self help book ever written. Recommended. 

  1. Letters from the Stoic, Seneca (trans Robin Campbell)

Probably shouldn’t have read this right after the Mediations, because let’s face it, it’s a hard act to follow (especially in the Hays edition). Of course there’s much to get out of Seneca, but if you’re going to read one book of stoic philosophy, I would say it shouldn’t be this one. Recommended for the enthusiast. 

  1. Discipline is Destiny, Ryan Holiday

I’m a sucker for a Ryan Holiday book. You either like his gig (take biographical details from famous folks and weave them into a set of self help lessons) or you don’t. I do, and I’ve discovered a lot of great material through his work. Side note, Holiday is obviously trying to diversify the stories he uses for inspiration, and I commend him for that. Nice to see Toni Morrison and other women and people of color highlighted here. Recommended for the enthusiast. 

  1. The Mushroom and the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins, Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing

I am in the minority here, but this one just didn’t click. There’s a great book in here on the way the trade in a certain mushroom works, but it’s piled under too much theorizing.  Not recommended. 

  1.  The Palace of Eternity, Bob Shaw

True, what the actual fuck, vintage science fiction so weird I don’t think it would be published today. Book begins as a sort of love story on a distant planet as war looms, but then about two thirds of the way in it gets very very weird. I enjoyed the heck out of it, but you need a real tolerance for the odder corners of new wave science fiction. Recommend for the enthusiast.  

  1. The Ruin of All Witches: Life and Death in the New World, Malcolm Gaskill

Deeply researched book about a witch trial centered in Springfield Massachusetts. I grew up near Springfield and this book features many places I know well. To read about the area at the time of early colonization (Springfield having less than 50 residents!) was absolutely fascinating, more so to me than the actual witch trial. Recommended for the enthusiast. 

  1. The House of Twenty Thousand Books, Sasha Abramsky

A truly charming book about the bibliophile and scholar Chimen Abramsky written by his grandson. This book is a tour through European Jewish and socialist history as it intersected with the life of a truly remarkable man. Abramsky’s embrace of, and then repudiation of communism, his complex relationship with Judaism, his love of his family and friends, all of it was just a joy for me to read. Recommended. 

  1. Glass, Irony and God, Anne Carson

A minor Carson collection, but since its Carson, still moments of absolute gold. Probably my favorite living poet. Recommended for the enthusiast. 

  1. Jazz, Toni Morrison

People talk about this as the “difficult” Morrison book, but I didn’t think so. My advice, try to read it in longer sittings where you can sit with the rhythm of the prose more. I loved it. Recommended. 

  1. Strangers to Ourselves: Unsettled Minds and the Stories That Make Us, Rachel Aviv

Much talked about book about mental illness using a series of case studies to investigate what it means to be mentally unwell and how that interacts with societal norms. Interesting throughout. Recommended. 

  1. Of Boys and Men: Why the Modern Male is Struggling, Why It Matters, and What To Do About It, Richard Reeves

Men and boys are not ok in America and we’re not taking it seriously enough as a societal problem. Reeves digs into the sociological and biological evidence here and comes up with a compelling case for changes. That said, it’s a bit flabby, could have been an article. Recommended for the Enthusiast. 

  1. Passing, Nella Carsen

Just getting around to reading this classic of the Harlem renaissance for the first time and was genuinely surprised at how contemporary the writing and plot are. This is just a hair away from a modern thriller. Absolutely excellent. I read it over a period of a couple days. It was too good to put down. Recommended. 

  1. Dead In the Water: A True Story of Hijacking, Murder, and a Global Maritime Conspiracy, Kit Chelle and Matthew Campbell

I’m a sucker for the business true crime genre, and this one, focused on the alleged hijacking of a tanker off the coast of Yemen, and the murders and complex legal proceedings that surrounded it is a great example of the genre. Life changing? No. Engrossing? Yes.  Recommended for the enthusiast. 

  1. Burn-In, Peter Singer and August Cole

Another novel by the D.C. think tank fiction writing duo, this one about a future where AI is ubiquitous and robotics is getting really good. These books are deeply researched and I find them enjoyable. Not high literature, but compellingly readable. Recommended for the enthusiast.  

  1. Gratitude, Oliver Sacks

Slight volume of Sacks reflecting on the end of life. I found this very moving. Recommended. 

  1. Tracers in the Dark: The Global Hunt for the Crime Lords of Cryptocurrency, Andy Greenberg

Another business true crime book, this one centering on the world of cryptocurrency. Much of this already reads like ancient history as it doesn’t take into account the insanity that was the crypto world in 2022, but still interesting throughout. Recommended for the Enthusiast.

  1. The Messenger: Moderna, the Vaccine and the Business Gamble That Changed the World, Peter Loftus

This book on the making of the Moderna vaccine made a number of people’s best books of the year list. I was less impressed, perhaps because I followed the roll out of the vaccine so closely I just didn’t find much here that was new or interesting. Not recommended. 

  1. The Smartest Guys in the Room: The Amazing Rise and Scandalous Fall of Enron, Bethany McClean and Peter Elkind

With everyone comparing the FTX blow up to the Enron collapse, I thought it was time to finally read this book, the definitive account of the rise and fall of Enron. Encyclopedic in scope (feels like not a moment of Enron’s corporate lifecycle was left out) and, at least for me, endlessly fascinating. Recommended. 

  1. True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements, Eric Hoffer

 Not only had I never read this classic, somehow, I didn’t even know it existed. The gaps in my education are many and wide. A series of reflections on the nature of mass movements and democracy with a new and compelling idea on nearly every page. I devoured this, and will certainly be returning to it. Recommended. 

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