It’s been an exceptional year for nonfiction literature — and the narratives below are the best of the best. From gripping true crime and bestselling memoirs to enthralling scientific investigations, here are the best nonfiction books of 2022.
Best Nonfiction Books of 2022
These compelling narratives are not to be missed.
By Paul Holes
An instant New York Times bestseller, Unmasked by detective Paul Holes is an honest and fascinating work, equal parts true crime and memoir. Holes chronicles his unparalleled career cracking cold cases and bringing serial murderers to justice, from the kidnapping of Jaycee Dugard to the 20-year manhunt for the Golden State Killer. Along the way, he discloses the glories as well as the setbacks. Being a detective offers its fair share of rewards, yet Holes has sacrificed more than just a good night’s sleep; his job has strained his relationships with his loved ones and taken a serious toll on his peace of mind. In Unmasked, Holes offers an unforgettable look at the life of a criminal investigator and grapples with the question that haunts anyone committed to the pursuit of justice: but at what cost?
The Viral Underclass
By Steven Thrasher
In The Viral Underclass, recently long-listed for the 2023 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction, LGBTQ scholar and social critic Steven Thrasher delivers a powerful portrait of survival in the pandemic era and a searing critique of inequitable health-care systems. Thrasher thoroughly examines the socioeconomic divides that plague our present moment to expose the outsize role class and privilege play in surviving a viral outbreak. Drawing on insight from medical experts and community leaders, and interweaving harrowing accounts of viruses like HIV and COVID-19, Thrasher’s eye-opening debut reveals the true human cost of disease.
By Brandi Collins-Dexter
From political activist Brandi Collins-Dexter, Black Skinhead presents an excellent meditation on political disaffection in Black America and the strained alliance between Black voters and the Democratic Party. Collins-Dexter looks beyond the polls in her acclaimed essay collection, writing with both humor and unflinching honesty to consider the evolving state of Black political culture in sports, music, movies, and beyond. A timely assessment of Black identity and the changing shape of politics in present-day America, Black Skinhead is a must-read.
By Paul Pringle
Fans of hard-hitting investigative journalism books are sure to love Paul Pringle’s Bad City, which exposes institutional rot and corruption in sunny California. In April 2016, Pringle received a tip at his desk at the L.A. Times about a drug scandal involving Dr. Carmen Puliafito, the head of the University of Southern California’s esteemed medical school. But what began as a stand-alone investigation into a salacious lead soon exposed a web of corruption and cover-ups that stretched across Greater Los Angeles. Pringle, a Pulitzer Prize–winning author, thrillingly chronicles how he and his fellow Times reporters took on one of California’s most commanding institutions in Bad City, delivering a riveting read that The New York Times calls “a masterclass in investigative journalism.”
Growing Up Biden
By Valerie Biden Owens
In this bestselling family memoir that “shines with heart and humanity” (Publishers Weekly), Valerie Biden Owens opens up about her life as the younger sister of President Joe Biden and her barrier-breaking career in politics as one of the first female campaign managers in United States history. Biden Owens candidly discusses her early years growing up in the Biden household, the only girl in a house full of boys, and later stepping in to help care for her brother Joe and his sons after the tragic loss of his wife and daughter. In addition to being there for Joe Biden as a sister, Biden Owens has stood by her brother’s side as a trusted political adviser and confidante, overseeing his run for high school class president up through his seven straight U.S. Senate victories to his presidential victory in 2020.
Number One Is Walking
By Steve Martin
Comedy fans will light up with glee reading Number One Is Walking, Steve Martin’s “irresistibly charming” (Publishers Weekly, starred review) illustrated memoir. Enhanced by artwork from New Yorker cartoonist Harry Bliss, Martin’s new narrative takes readers along for the ride as he looks back on his legendary career in showbiz, revisiting the sets of movies like Three Amigos and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, and relating uproarious Hollywood misadventures with Paul McCartney, Diane Keaton, Robin Williams, and many more. Brimming with Martin’s signature wit and charm, Number One Is Walking will leave you smiling from cover to cover. Readers should also check out the bestselling A Wealth of Pigeons, Martin and Bliss’s first illustrated literary collaboration, where Martin provides the punch lines and Bliss provides the artwork.
I’m Glad My Mom Died
By Jeanette McCurdy
Former child star Jeanette McCurdy wows with her eyebrow-raising debut, I’m Glad My Mom Died. McCurdy’s early years as a child actor were anything but glamorous; she was subjected to calorie restrictions, privacy violations, and head-to-toe cosmetic scrutiny under her mother’s management. When McCurdy lands a breakthrough role in Nickelodeon’s iCarly, her mother is elated, but Jeanette herself is on the verge of a breakdown. The young actor finds herself battling addiction, eating disorders, anxiety, and toxic relationships — and then her mom is diagnosed with cancer. A New York Times bestseller, McCurdy’s memoir is an unflinchingly funny account of an overbearing mother, the dark side of child stardom, and the healing potential of therapy.
The Palace Papers
By Tina Brown
Calling all royal watchers! Tina Brown is your guide to the House of Windsor in her bestselling The Palace Papers, which serves as a kind of follow-up to The Diana Chronicles. Brown walks readers through the trials, triumphs, and intrigue of the British royal family in her latest work, from the headline-grabbing affairs and tragic death of Princess Diana to the rise of Kate Middleton and Harry and Meghan’s shocking departure from royal life. Though Queen Elizabeth II swore there could never again be a family member whose celebrity threatened the status quo of the British monarchy, Brown’s juicy account suggests that the future of the Windsors is far from certain. The Los Angeles Times calls The Palace Papers “an excellent primer for the unpredictable years ahead.”
Go-To Dinners: A Barefoot Contessa Cookbook
By Ina Garten
Serving up a delicious meal can be stressful — even if you’re one of America’s most celebrated chefs. In Go-To Dinners, Ina Garten presents a delectable collection of recipes for crowd-pleasing dishes that can be made with less stress. Stuffed with simple-to-assemble recipes and prep-ahead tips, Garten’s latest makes mealtime both easy and enjoyable, transforming dinner into an opportunity to gather around the table with good food and great company.
By Viola Davis
In the bestselling Finding Me, Academy Award–winning actress Viola Davis delivers a touching new memoir of self-discovery. Tracing her life story from Rhode Island to New York to red-carpet success in Hollywood, Davis’s narrative is a testament to the strength and persistence required to make your dreams a reality. It’s also a reminder to remain true to yourself and it encourages readers to embark on their own journey of acceptance and self-love. A fiery and excellent read, Finding Me is “raw in its anger, shocking in its frankness, often downright vulgar — and wonderfully alive with Davis’s passion poured into every page” (Associated Press).
By Neil deGrasse Tyson
In Starry Messenger, renowned astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson surveys human civilization through a cosmic lens. While social strife and war plague life on Earth, deGrasse Tyson looks to the stars in search of guidance about our planet and our place in the universe. In doing so, the author reveals scientific truths that unite us all under one dazzling sky. A New York Times bestseller, Starry Messenger brims with warmth, optimism, and awe, and it serves as a hopeful book to read during these trying times.
The Song of the Cell
By Siddhartha Mukherjee
Siddhartha Mukherjee embarks on a medical journey of epic proportions in The Song of the Cell. The author of the award-winning nonfiction book The Emperor of All Maladies explores humanity at the cellular level in his latest acclaimed narrative, tracing the history of the cell from its discovery in the late-1600s to modern-day breakthroughs in medicine and cellular manipulation. Enriched by stories from doctors, scientists, and patients, Mukherjee’s sterling narrative invites us all to marvel at life’s potential and the limitless possibilities of the human body.
The Monster’s Bones
By David K. Randall
In The Monster’s Bones, journalist David K. Randall traces the discovery of the first fossilized tyrannosaurus rex remains, revealing how the finding forever changed our understanding of the past, our planet, and humanity’s place in history. Through captivating prose, Randall chronicles the Earth-shattering impact of the T. rex discovery, guiding readers from the mad fossil hunts of the Gilded Age to a primordial planet when dinosaurs roamed the Earth and finally to our present-day fascination with prehistoric creatures. A lively read for science buffs and laypeople alike, The Monster’s Bones is a monstrously good time.
Ma and Me
By Putsata Reang
Ma and Me by Putsata Reang is a heartbreaking memoir about the immigrant experience and the struggle for reconciliation. The author was just an infant when she and her family fled war-ravaged Cambodia in search of sanctuary. They found transport on an overloaded naval vessel and spent the next three weeks traveling to the Philippines. Throughout the ordeal, baby Putsata clung to life. In fact, at a certain point, she appeared dead; the captain of the vessel ordered Reang’s mother to throw the body overboard. Ma Reang refused, and instead she nursed Putsata back to health once they reached an American military base. It’s this life debt that Putsata Reang feels compelled to repay, striving to be an exemplary daughter and exceed her mother’s expectations. And yet, despite the author’s best efforts, it’s never enough. Years later, when a 40-year-old Reang tells her mother that she’s getting married to a woman, their relationship appears ready to break completely.
Time Is a Mother
By Ocean Vuong
We conclude our list with a singular work of poetry that blurs the lines between biography, memory, and incantation — and while we know the poetry genre transcends the fiction–nonfiction paradigm, we still need to sing the praises of this evocative read. Award-winning writer Ocean Vuong movingly explores themes of grief, loss, and family in his second poetry collection, Time Is a Mother. Time expands and contracts as the author ruminates on his mother’s passing, reckoning with his grief and mourning her death while also striving to move beyond it. It’s an intimate and artful work. Esquire calls Time Is a Mother “aesthetically ambitious and ferociously original.”