Mental Floss’s 16 Best Books of 2022

April  Snellings
Celebrate the end of 2022 with these acclaimed book titles.
Celebrate the end of 2022 with these acclaimed book titles. / Amazon/Knopf/Scribner/W. W. Norton & Company; Justin Dodd, Mental Floss (background)
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Whatever else has happened in 2022, it’s been a great year for books. Beloved authors, seasoned journalists, and astonishingly talented newcomers all delivered tales that quickened our pulses, made us laugh, and helped us see the world in new and sometimes surprising ways. 

From histories and biographies that provide a crucial framework for understanding modern-day America, to genre novels that kept us reading long into the night, here are 16 of the best books of 2022 (listed alphabetically by title).

1. All the White Spaces: A Novel by Ally Wilkes; From $13 

Best books of 2022: 'All the White Spaces' by Ally Wilkes
'All the White Spaces' by Ally Wilkes / Atria/Emily Bestler Books/Amazon

From H.P. Lovecraft’s “At the Mountains of Madness” to John Carpenter’s The Thing, there’s one element that seems intrinsic to polar horror: relentless, overbearing masculinity. In her astonishingly assured debut novel, Ally Wilkes interrogates and eviscerates that trope by inserting a transgender man into the mix: Jonathan Morgan, who stows away on an Antarctic expedition after his two older brothers are killed in World War I. Wilkes delivers on all the promises of the subgenre; All the White Spaces is a thrilling tale of adventure and subantarctic survival, and something inhuman waits in the bone-chilling cold. But by centering a queer character, she effectively subverts expectations and reinvents icebound horror. 

Buy it: Amazon

2. An Immense World: How Animal Senses Reveal the Hidden Realms Around Us by Ed Yong; From $14

Best Books of 2022: 'An Immense World: How Animal Senses Reveal the Hidden Realms Around Us' by Ed Yong
'An Immense World: How Animal Senses Reveal the Hidden Realms Around Us' by Ed Yong / Random House/Amazon

The best science books don’t simply inform; they inspire a sense of genuine wonder at the world we inhabit. Some, like Ed Yong’s An Immense World, even compel us to reconsider our place in it. Yong, who won a Pulitzer Prize in 2021 for his coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic, offers a breathtaking tour of the world as animals perceive it, from a dolphin’s ability to “see” inside the bodies of other creatures to a jewel wasp’s staggeringly acute sense of touch. Besides offering wondrous details about how animals experience their environment, An Immense World paints a sometimes-disturbing portrait of how human’s sensory abilities—and limitations—have dramatically changed the planet. 

Buy it: Amazon

3. The Candy House by Jennifer Egan; From $14

Best books of 2022: 'The Candy House' by Jennifer Egan
'The Candy House' by Jennifer Egan / Scribner; First Edition/Amazon

Following up 2010’s Pulitzer Prize-winner A Visit From the Goon Squad was a tall order, but Jennifer Egan succeeds in spades with her sort-of sequel The Candy House. The book focuses on characters who lingered at Goon Squad’s outer edges. Among them is Bix Bouton, who played a walk-on role in Goon Squad but has since changed the world with his invention of a social media app that allows users to explore one another’s (sometimes-repressed) memories. The technology serves as a backdrop for Egan’s interconnected, deeply humane vignettes. You don’t need to have read Goon Squad to appreciate Egan’s companion novel, but fans of the first book will be rewarded with cameos from characters who once commanded the spotlight, and satisfying star turns from bit players. 

Buy it: Amazon

4. The Divorce Colony: How Women Revolutionized Marriage and Found Freedom on the American Frontier by April White; From $17

Best books of 2022: 'The Divorce Colony' by April White
'The Divorce Colony: How Women Revolutionized Marriage and Found Freedom on the American Frontier' by April White / Hachette Books/Amazon

April White’s riveting, proudly feminist book offers everything you’d expect from a rousing historical drama, but it’s entirely true. White recounts the story of an odd little slice of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, where 19th century socialites went to do what few American women of that era had ever managed: divorce their wealthy, often powerful husbands. White centers her narrative on a group of women who set up camp at a luxury hotel to wait out South Dakota’s three-month residency requirement, after which they were free to seek a divorce under the state’s then-lenient marriage laws. In telling their story, White vividly and entertainingly reconstructs a largely forgotten but vital chapter of American history. 

Buy it: Amazon

5. The Furrows by Namwali Serpell; From $14

Best books of 2022: 'The Furrows' by Namwali Serpell
'The Furrows' by Namwali Serpell / Hogarth/Amazon

Zambian-American novelist Namwali Serpell has been compared to filmmakers Jordan Peele and Christopher Nolan, and for good reason—her stories are twisty and often dreamlike, turning in on themselves and subverting expectations at every turn. Her second novel, The Furrows, will only increase those comparisons. It’s a genre-bending tale of a woman named Cassandra, whose younger brother dies when she’s 12 years old—or so she seems to believe. The tragedy, and Cassandra’s attempts to process it, shape her life in every imaginable way, but it’s only the starting point for a sly, surprising story that takes a sideways turn every time you think you’ve figured it out. 

Buy it: Amazon

6. G-Man: J. Edgar Hoover and the Making of the American Century by Beverly Gage; From $18

Best books of 2022: 'G-Man: J. Edgar Hoover and the Making of the American Century' by Beverly Gage
'G-Man: J. Edgar Hoover and the Making of the American Century' by Beverly Gage / Viking/Amazon

It’s easy to vilify J. Edgar Hoover, but Yale historian Beverly Gage charts a tougher course in her sweeping biography: She paints a nuanced, fairhanded portrait that might even have you feeling a little bad for him by the final chapters. By no means does Gage attempt to whitewash Hoover’s record, but she reminds us that he was a cog in a political machine that included presidents from both major parties. Her masterful biography should be required reading for anyone hoping to understand America’s current political polarization and the rise of hardline conservatism. 

Buy it: Amazon

7. His Name Is George Floyd: One Man’s Life and the Struggle for Racial Justice by Robert Samuels and Toluse Olorunnipa; From $16 

Best books of 2022: 'His Name Is George Floyd: One Man’s Life and the Struggle for Racial Justice.'
'His Name Is George Floyd: One Man’s Life and the Struggle for Racial Justice' by Robert Samuels and Toluse Olorunnipa / Viking; First Edition/Amazon

What most of us know about George Floyd can be summed up in strokes that are both broad and reductive: his struggles with addiction, the agonizing details of his death at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer, and the societal impact of his death. In His Name Is George Floyd, Washington Post journalists Robert Samuels and Toluse Olorunnipa remind us that Floyd lived for 46 years, and his life was shaped by the centuries of injustice that led up to his death. It’s a disturbing and heartbreaking read, but also a necessary one.      

Buy it: Amazon

8. I’m Glad My Mom Died by Jennette McCurdy; From $15

Best books of 2022: 'I’m Glad My Mom Died' by Jennette McCurdy
'I’m Glad My Mom Died' by Jennette McCurdy / Simon & Schuster/Amazon

The title might be shocking, but there’s nothing lurid or sensational about former actress Jennette McCurdy’s incisive memoir about her stunningly dysfunctional upbringing. McCurdy proves to be as remarkably assured on the page as on the screen, and her memoir is an immensely readable, if often-disturbing, tale of parental malpractice and eventual independence. McCurdy’s fans would expect nothing less from the gifted young woman who brought iCarly’s Sam Puckett to life. 

Buy it: Amazon

9. The Maid by Nita Prose; From $14

Best books of 2022: 'The Maid' by Nita Prose
'The Maid' by Nita Prose / Ballantine Books/Amazon

Here at Mental Floss, a book doesn’t have to change the world to win our hearts; sometimes it just needs to keep us reading—and smiling—well past bedtime. Nita Prose’s The Maid does just that by way of its winning heroine, Molly Gray, a 25-year-old, Olive Garden-loving staff maid accused of murdering a guest at the fictional Regency Grand Hotel. Molly sets out to find the killer and clear her name, partly to avoid prison and partly so she can get back to her job of keeping the hotel clean and tidy. If you’re not sold yet, consider this: Florence Pugh has been cast as Molly in Universal’s upcoming adaptation.      

Buy it: Amazon

10. The Monster’s Bones: The Discovery of T. Rex and How It Shook Our World by David K. Randall; From $10

Best books of 2022: 'The Monster’s Bones: The Discovery of T. Rex and How It Shook Our World' by David K. Randall
'The Monster’s Bones: The Discovery of T. Rex and How It Shook Our World' by David K. Randall / W. W. Norton & Company/Amazon

The thrill of discovery hangs over every chapter of David K. Randall’s exciting account of the unearthing of Tyrannosaurus rex in the wilds of Montana by fossil hunter Barnum Brown—and its world-shaking fallout. Randall, a senior reporter for Reuters, has a journalist’s eye for detail and a novelist’s flair for drama, and he brings both to the page in this fast-paced story of the discovery of the world’s most famous dinosaur, and the way it jolted our understanding of the world off its axis.      

Buy it: Amazon

11. Scoundrel: How a Convicted Murderer Persuaded the Women Who Loved Him, the Conservative Establishment and the Courts to Set Him Free by Sarah Weinman; From $15

Best books of 2022: 'Scoundrel' by Sarah Weinman
'Scoundrel' by Sarah Weinman / Ecco/Amazon

Any connoisseur of artful true crime should already be familiar with journalist, essayist, editor, and author Sarah Weinman, who gave us 2018’s The Real Lolita. She somehow outdoes herself with Scoundrel, about a man who was sentenced to death for the murder of a 15-year-old girl in 1957, only to walk free after conning conservative stalwart William F. Buckley into championing his case. Weinman’s meticulously researched, beautifully written book isn’t as concerned with teasing out a mystery—she succinctly lays out the facts of the case in her introduction—as it is with helping us understand how such a travesty of justice could occur in the first place. 

Buy it: Amazon

12. Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel; From $12

Best books of 2022: 'Sea of Tranquility' by Emily St. John Mandel
'Sea of Tranquility' by Emily St. John Mandel / Knopf; First Edition/Amazon

Station Eleven author Emily St. John Mandel’s latest novel is both epic in scope and intimate in its treatment of characters separated by centuries but bound by shared experiences. Opening in 1912 before eventually jumping to the years 2203 and 2401, Sea of Tranquility is dazzling in its ambition, and Mandel somehow sticks the landing in every conceivable way. Its plot is difficult to sum up in a few words, but it involves a pandemic, a novelist, a moon colony, and a strain of violin music. Trust us: It all comes together in ways that are both affecting and entertaining, and it’s wrapped in Mandel’s signature, glittering prose.      

Buy it: Amazon

13. Sinkable: Obsession, the Deep Sea, and the Shipwreck of the Titanic by Daniel Stone; From $15

Best books of 2022: 'Sinkable: Obsession, the Deep Sea, and the Shipwreck of the Titanic' by Daniel Stone
'Sinkable: Obsession, the Deep Sea, and the Shipwreck of the Titanic' by Daniel Stone / Dutton/Amazon

There’s no shortage of books about history’s most notorious shipwreck, but former National Geographic senior editor Daniel Stone takes a different tack: He dissects the very phenomenon that brings all those Titanic texts to our shelves. You’ll learn things you didn’t know about the RMS Titanic and other maritime disasters, but the true marvel of Stone’s book is its fascinating journey through the curious subculture that has risen in their wake.   

Buy it: Amazon

14. Stay True by Hua Hsu; From $14

Best books of 2022: 'Stay True' by Hua Hsu
'Stay True' by Hua Hsu / Doubleday/Amazon

In this beautifully written memoir, English professor and New Yorker staff writer Hua Hsu recounts his attempts to make sense of the seemingly random murder of a college friend in the late ’90s, when both young men were students at UC Berkeley. Hsu is a first-generation American born to Taiwanese immigrants; his friend, who was shot to death during a robbery, was of Japanese descent. In trying to process the senseless killing, Hsu examines the vastly different nature of each young man’s experience as an Asian American and wonders what, if any, role his friend’s race might have played in the murder. Simultaneously sharp and gentle, tragic and even funny, Stay True is a beautiful portrait of friendship and devotion.      

Buy it: Amazon

15. Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow: A Novel by Gabrielle Zevin; From $14

Best books of 2022: 'Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow: A Novel' by Gabrielle Zevin
'Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow: A Novel' by Gabrielle Zevin / Knopf/Amazon

You need not be a gamer to appreciate Gabrielle Zevin’s 10th novel, which explores the lifelong friendship of two brilliant video game designers. Sam and Sadie meet in a hospital when they’re both 11 years old, where they bond over Super Mario Bros. The book tracks their relationship over the course of 30 years, during which time they will create a game that profoundly impacts the course of their lives. The narrative occasionally wanders into the virtual worlds Sam and Sadie create, but its real concern is the enduring, platonic love between its main characters. Think The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, but set in the world of video games rather than comic books.     

Buy it: Amazon

16. Tracy Flick Can’t Win by Tom Perrotta; $14

Best books of 2022: 'Tracy Flick Can’t Win' by Tom Perrotta
'Tracy Flick Can’t Win' by Tom Perrotta / Scribner/Amazon

Tom Perrotta’s highly anticipated sequel to 1998’s Election, which inspired the 1999 film of the same name, does not disappoint. The story picks up two decades after Tracy Flick headed off to Georgetown at the end of the first book. Now in her 40s with a 10-year-old daughter, Tracy’s life hasn’t exactly turned out as she’d planned: She’s an assistant principal at a New Jersey high school, and she’s been passed over for several promotions. When her boss announces his retirement, Tracy is once again mired in a cutthroat competition—one that forces her (and the reader) to reevaluate the events of the first novel. Before you ask: An Alexander Payne-directed adaptation is in the works, with Reese Witherspoon returning as Tracy. 

Buy it: Amazon

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