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best biographies 2022

The Best Reviewed Memoirs and Biographies of 2022

Featuring buster keaton, jean rhys, bernardine evaristo, kate beaton, and more.

Book Marks logo

We’ve come to the end of another bountiful literary year, and for all of us review rabbits here at Book Marks, that can mean only one thing: basic math, and lots of it.

Yes, using reviews drawn from more than 150 publications, over the next two weeks we’ll be calculating and revealing the most critically-acclaimed books of 2022, in the categories of (deep breath): Fiction ; Nonfiction ; Memoir and Biography; Sci-Fi, Fantasy, and Horror; Short Story Collections; Essay Collections; Poetry; Mystery and Crime; Graphic Literature ; and Literature in Translation .

Today’s installment: Memoir and Biography .

Brought to you by Book Marks , Lit Hub’s “Rotten Tomatoes for books.”

1. We Don’t Know Ourselves by Fintan O’Toole (Liveright) 17 Rave • 4 Positive • 1 Mixed • 1 Pan

“One of the many triumphs of Fintan O’Toole’s We Don’t Know Ourselves is that he manages to find a form that accommodates the spectacular changes that have occurred in Ireland over the past six decades, which happens to be his life span … it is not a memoir, nor is it an absolute history, nor is it entirely a personal reflection or a crepuscular credo. It is, in fact, all of these things helixed together: his life, his country, his thoughts, his misgivings, his anger, his pride, his doubt, all of them belonging, eventually, to us … O’Toole, an agile cultural commentator, considers himself to be a representative of the blank slate on which the experiment of change was undertaken, but it’s a tribute to him that he maintains his humility, his sharpness and his enlightened distrust …

O’Toole writes brilliantly and compellingly of the dark times, but he is graceful enough to know that there is humor and light in the cracks. There is a touch of Eduardo Galeano in the way he can settle on a telling phrase … But the real accomplishment of this book is that it achieves a conscious form of history-telling, a personal hybrid that feels distinctly honest and humble at the same time. O’Toole has not invented the form, but he comes close to perfecting it. He embraces the contradictions and the confusion. In the process, he weaves the flag rather than waving it.”

–Colum McCann ( The New York Times Book Review )

2. Thin Places: A Natural History of Healing and Home by Kerri Ní Dochartaigh (Milkweed)

12 Rave • 7 Positive • 2 Mixed

“Assured and affecting … A powerful and bracing memoir … This is a book that will make you see the world differently: it asks you to reconsider the animals and insects we often view as pests – the rat, for example, and the moth. It asks you to look at the sea and the sky and the trees anew; to wonder, when you are somewhere beautiful, whether you might be in a thin place, and what your responsibilities are to your location.It asks you to show compassion for people you think are difficult, to cultivate empathy, to try to understand the trauma that made them the way they are.”

–Lynn Enright ( The Irish Times )

3. Ducks: Two Years in the Oil Sands by Kate Beaton (Drawn & Quarterly)

14 Rave • 4 Positive

“It could hardly be more different in tone from [Beaton’s] popular larky strip Hark! A Vagrant … Yes, it’s funny at moments; Beaton’s low-key wryness is present and correct, and her drawings of people are as charming and as expressive as ever. But its mood overall is deeply melancholic. Her story, which runs to more than 400 pages, encompasses not only such thorny matters as social class and environmental destruction; it may be the best book I have ever read about sexual harassment …

There are some gorgeous drawings in Ducks of the snow and the starry sky at night. But the human terrain, in her hands, is never only black and white … And it’s this that gives her story not only its richness and depth, but also its astonishing grace. Life is complex, she tell us, quietly, and we are all in it together; each one of us is only trying to survive. What a difficult, gorgeous and abidingly humane book. It really does deserve to win all the prizes.”

–Rachel Cooke ( The Guardian )

4. Stay True by Hua Hsu (Doubleday)

14 Rave • 3 Positive

“… quietly wrenching … To say that this book is about grief or coming-of-age doesn’t quite do it justice; nor is it mainly about being Asian American, even though there are glimmers of that too. Hsu captures the past by conveying both its mood and specificity … This is a memoir that gathers power through accretion—all those moments and gestures that constitute experience, the bits and pieces that coalesce into a life … Hsu is a subtle writer, not a showy one; the joy of Stay True sneaks up on you, and the wry jokes are threaded seamlessly throughout.”

–Jennifer Szalai ( The New York Times )

5.  Manifesto: On Never Giving Up by Bernardine Evaristo (Grove)

13 Rave • 4 Positive

“Part coming-of-age story and part how-to manual, the book is, above all, one of the most down-to-earth and least self-aggrandizing works of self-reflection you could hope to read. Evaristo’s guilelessness is refreshing, even unsettling … With ribald humour and admirable candour, Evaristo takes us on a tour of her sexual history … Characterized by the resilience of its author, it is replete with stories about the communities and connections Evaristo has cultivated over forty years … Invigoratingly disruptive as an artist, Evaristo is a bridge-builder as a human being.”

–Emily Bernard ( The Times Literary Supplement )

1. Super-Infinite: The Transformations of John Donne by Katherine Rundell (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

14 Rave • 4 Positive • 1 Mixed

“Rundell is right that Donne…must never be forgotten, and she is the ideal person to evangelise him for our age. She shares his linguistic dexterity, his pleasure in what TS Eliot called ‘felt thought’, his ability to bestow physicality on the abstract … It’s a biography filled with gaps and Rundell brings a zest for imaginative speculation to these. We know so little about Donne’s wife, but Rundell brings her alive as never before … Rundell confronts the difficult issue of Donne’s misogyny head-on … This is a determinedly deft book, and I would have liked it to billow a little more, making room for more extensive readings of the poems and larger arguments about the Renaissance. But if there is an overarching argument, then it’s about Donne as an ‘infinity merchant’ … To read Donne is to grapple with a vision of the eternal that is startlingly reinvented in the here and now, and Rundell captures this vision alive in all its power, eloquence and strangeness”

–Laura Feigel ( The Guardian )

2. The Escape Artist: The Man Who Broke Out of Auschwitz to Warn the World by Jonathan Freedland (Harper)

12 Rave • 3 Positive

“Compelling … We know about Auschwitz. We know what happened there. But Freedland, with his strong, clear prose and vivid details, makes us feel it, and the first half of this book is not an easy read. The chillingly efficient mass murder of thousands of people is harrowing enough, but Freedland tells us stories of individual evils as well that are almost harder to take … His matter-of-fact tone makes it bearable for us to continue to read … The Escape Artist is riveting history, eloquently written and scrupulously researched. Rosenberg’s brilliance, courage and fortitude are nothing short of amazing.”

–Laurie Hertzel ( The Star Tribune )

3. I Used to Live Here Once: The Haunted Life of Jean Rhys by Miranda Seymour (W. W. Norton & Company)

11 Rave • 4 Positive • 1 Pan

“…illuminating and meticulously researched … paints a deft portrait of a flawed, complex, yet endlessly fascinating woman who, though repeatedly bowed, refused to be broken … Following dismal reviews of her fourth novel, Rhys drifted into obscurity. Ms. Seymour’s book could have lost momentum here. Instead, it compellingly charts turbulent, drink-fueled years of wild moods and reckless acts before building to a cathartic climax with Rhys’s rescue, renewed lease on life and late-career triumph … is at its most powerful when Ms. Seymour, clear-eyed but also with empathy, elaborates on Rhys’s woes …

Ms. Seymour is less convincing with her bold claim that Rhys was ‘perhaps the finest English woman novelist of the twentieth century.’ However, she does expertly demonstrate that Rhys led a challenging yet remarkable life and that her slim but substantial novels about beleaguered women were ahead of their time … This insightful biography brilliantly shows how her many battles were lost and won.”

–Malcolm Forbes ( The Wall Street Journal )

4. The Facemaker: A Visionary Surgeon’s Battle to Mend the Disfigured Soldiers of World War I by Lindsey Fitzharris (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

9 Rave • 5 Positive • 1 Mixed

“Grisly yet inspiring … Fitzharris depicts her hero as irrepressibly dedicated and unfailingly likable. The suspense of her narrative comes not from any interpersonal drama but from the formidable challenges posed by the physical world … The Facemaker is mostly a story of medical progress and extraordinary achievement, but as Gillies himself well knew—grappling daily with the unbearable suffering that people willingly inflicted on one another—failure was never far behind.”

5. Buster Keaton: A Filmmaker’s Life by James Curtis (Knopf)

8 Rave • 6 Positive • 1 Mixed

“Keaton fans have often complained that nearly all biographies of him suffer from a questionable slant or a cursory treatment of key events. With Buster Keaton: A Filmmaker’s Life —at more than 800 pages dense with research and facts—Mr. Curtis rectifies that situation, and how. He digs deep into Keaton’s process and shows how something like the brilliant two-reeler Cops went from a storyline conceived from necessity—construction on the movie lot encouraged shooting outdoors—to a masterpiece … This will doubtless be the primary reference on Keaton’s life for a long time to come … the worse Keaton’s life gets, the more engrossing Mr. Curtis’s book becomes.”

–Farran Smith Nehme ( The Wall Street Journal )

Our System:

RAVE = 5 points • POSITIVE = 3 points • MIXED = 1 point • PAN = -5 points

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best biographies 2022

The best memoirs and biographies of 2022

Heartfelt memoirs from Richard E Grant and Viola Davis, childhood tales of religious dogma, and vivid insights into Agatha Christie and John Donne

The best books of 2022

C elebrity memoirs often follow the same trajectory: a difficult childhood followed by early professional failure, then dazzling success and redemption. But this year has yielded a handful of autobiographies from famous types determined to mix things up. Richard E Grant’s vivacious and heartfelt A Pocketful of Happiness (Gallery) recounts a year spent caring for his late wife, Joan Washington, who was diagnosed with lung cancer shortly before Christmas in 2020, and the “head-and-heart-exploding overwhelm” that followed. The book interweaves hospital appointments with memories of the couple’s courtship plus showbiz stories of Grant at the Golden Globes, or hijinks on the set of Star Wars. This juxtaposition of glamour and grief shouldn’t work, but it does.

Minnie Driver’s Managing Expectations (Manila) comprises spry and amusing autobiographical essays that detail pivotal moments in the actor’s life. These include her experience of becoming a mother, cutting off all her hair on a family holiday in France and the time her father sent her home to England from Barbados alone, aged 11, including a stopover at a Miami hotel, as punishment for being rude to his girlfriend (Driver got her revenge by buying up half the gift shop on her dad’s credit card). She also recalls the disgraced producer Harvey Weinstein bemoaning her lack of sex appeal, which she notes was rich from a man “whose shirts were always aggressively encrusted with egg/tuna fish/mayo”.

Diary Madly, Deeply The Alan Rickman Diaries Edited by Alan Taylor Canongate, £25

Alan Rickman’s Madly, Deeply (Canongate) diaries provide insight into the inner life of the late actor who, despite his many successes, frets over roles turned down and rails at the perceived ineptitude of script writers, directors and co-stars. He nonetheless keeps glittering company, hobnobbing with musicians, prime ministers and Hollywood megastars, and almost single-handedly keeps the tills ringing at the Ivy. And while he seethes at critics’ reviews of his own work, his assessments of less-than-perfect films and plays are so deliciously scathing, they deserve a book of their own.

Viola Davis

In Finding Me (Coronet), the actor Viola Davis gives a clear-eyed account of her deprived childhood and her rise to fame, along with the violence, abuse and racism she endured along the way. The book is not so much a triumphant tale of overcoming adversity as a howl of fury at the injustice of it all. Davis may now be able to survey her career from a place of Oscar-winning privilege, but she doesn’t hesitate in calling out her industry and its ingrained racial bias, which leads to white actors landing plum roles and “relegates [Black actors] to best friends, to strong, loudmouth, sassy lawyers and doctors”. In The Light We Carry (Viking), the follow-up to her bestselling memoir Becoming, Michelle Obama also touches on the impossible-to-meet expectations that dog anyone trying to make it in a world that sees them as different, or deficient. “I happen to be well acquainted with the burdens of representation and the double standards for excellence that steepen the hills so many of us are trying to climb,” she writes. “It remains a damning fact of life that we ask too much of those who are marginalised and too little of those who are not.”

Homelands: The History of a Friendship by Chitra Ramaswamy homelands-hardback-cover-9781838852665

Away from the world of global fame and its attendant scrutiny, the journalist Chitra Ramaswamy’s touching memoir Homelands (Canongate) documents the author’s friendship with 97-year-old Henry Wuga, who escaped Nazi persecution as a teenager and began a new life in Glasgow. Interwoven with Wuga’s recollections is Ramaswamy’s own family story – she is the daughter of Indian immigrant parents – through which she digs deep into matters of identity, belonging and the meaning of home. Similar themes are explored in Ira Mathur’s multilayered Love the Dark Days (Peepal Tree), which, set in India, Britain and the Caribbean, reads like a fictional family saga as it leaps back and forth in time. The book charts the lives of the author’s wealthy, dysfunctional forebears against a backdrop of patriarchal hegemony and a collapsing empire.

The Last Days (Ebury) by Ali Millar and Sins of My Father (Weidenfeld & Nicolson) by Lily Dunn each tell harrowing stories of families torn apart by religious dogma. Millar, who grew up as a Jehovah’s Witness on the Scottish borders, reflects on a childhood haunted by predictions of Armageddon and blighted by her eating disorder. As an adult she marries, within the church, a controlling man and has a baby, though at 30 she makes her escape and is “disfellowshipped”, meaning she is cut off for ever from her family. Meanwhile, Dunn recalls losing her father to a commune in India presided over by the cult leader Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, where disciples were encouraged to “live in love”, meaning they could engage in guilt-free sex. Dunn’s book is her attempt to pin down this charismatic, mercurial and unreliable figure and the ripple effects of his actions on those closest to him. In Matt Rowland Hill’s scabrously funny Original Sins (Chatto & Windus), it is the author who is the agent of chaos. The son of evangelical Christians, Hill shoots heroin at the funeral of a friend who died from an overdose, and tries to score drugs on a visit to Bethlehem. Were his account a novel, you might accuse it of being too far-fetched.

In Kit de Waal’s first autobiographical work, Without Warning and Only Sometimes (Tinder Press), the author recalls how she and her four siblings would go to bed hungry while their father blew his earnings on a new suit, and her mother would work off her rage by collecting empty milk bottles and throwing them at a wall in the back yard. After a bout of depression in her teens, De Waal eventually found comfort and escape in literature. Her book is a brilliant evocation of the times in which she lived, when children learned to make their own entertainment and adults didn’t talk about their feelings, and a funny and tender portrait of a complicated family.

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The Crane Wife b y CJ Hauser

The Crane Wife (Viking), by the American author CJ Hauser, began life as a confessional essay about the time she travelled to the gulf coast of Texas to study whooping cranes 10 days after breaking off her engagement. Published in the Paris Review, the essay blew up online, prompting Hauser to expand her thoughts on love and relationships into this thoughtful and fitfully funny book. Across 17 confessional essays, we find her furtively spreading her grandparents’ ashes at their old house in Martha’s Vineyard, contemplating breast reduction surgery and reflecting on her relationships with a high-school boyfriend and a divorcee who is clearly still in love with his ex.

Finally, some excellent biographies. Agatha Christie: A Very Elusive Woman (Hodder & Stoughton) by Lucy Worsley is a riveting portrait of the queen of crime viewed through a feminist lens. The book acknowledges Christie’s flaws, most notably in her views on race, while portraying her as ahead of her time in putting women at the centre of her stories and showing how older women “have more to offer the world than meets the eye”. Super-Infinite (Faber), winner of this year’s Baillie Gifford prize, is a biography of the 17th-century preacher and poet John Donne by Katherine Rundell, the children’s novelist and Renaissance scholar. Ten years in the writing, the book approaches its subject with wit and vivacity, bringing to life Donne’s inner world through his verse.

The Escape Artist- The Man Who Broke Out of Auschwitz

Jonathan Freedland’s The Escape Artist (John Murray) is a remarkable account of the life of Rudolf Vrba, a prisoner at Auschwitz who was put to work in “Kanada”, a store of belongings removed from inmates which revealed that the line fed to them was a lie: they were not there to be resettled but murdered. Vrba and his friend Fred Wetzler pledged to escape and tell the world about the Nazis’ industrialised murder, hiding beneath a woodpile for three days before slipping through the fence to freedom. The horror of this story lies not just in its account of “cold-blooded extermination” but in the slowness of authorities to react to the Vrba-Wetzler report, which laid out the workings of Auschwitz, complete with maps showing the chambers. Freedland recalls the words of the French-Jewish philosopher Raymond Aron, who, when asked about the Holocaust, said: “I knew, but I didn’t believe it. And because I didn’t believe it, I didn’t know.”

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best biographies 2022

best biographies 2022

Our picks for the best biographies and memoirs of the year

Books featured in the article featured on a background of pink to orange fade.

There were so many good biographies and memoirs this year. From harrowing stories of immigration to reckoning with complex PTSD, from escaping Putin’s wrath to the biography of a young man who escaped Aushwitz, to Hollywood stars baring their souls, and more.

Here are some of our favorites of the Best Biographies and Memoirs of the Year , but be sure to check out our full list and our overall Best Books of the Year picks.

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best biographies 2022

best biographies 2022

15 Memoirs and Biographies to Read This Fall

New autobiographies from Jemele Hill, Matthew Perry and Hua Hsu are in the mix, along with books about Martha Graham, Agatha Christie and more.

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By John Williams ,  Joumana Khatib ,  Elizabeth A. Harris and Alexandra Alter

  • Published Sept. 8, 2022 Updated Sept. 15, 2022

Solito: A Memoir , by Javier Zamora

When he was 9, Zamora left El Salvador to join his parents in the United States — a dangerous trek in the company of strangers that lasted for more than two months, a far cry from the two-week adventure he had envisioned. Zamora, a poet, captures his childhood impressions of the journey, including his fierce, lifesaving attachments to the other people undertaking the trip with him.

Hogarth, Sept. 6

A Visible Man: A Memoir , by Edward Enninful

The first Black editor in chief of British Vogue reflects on his life, including his early years as a gay, working-class immigrant from Ghana, and his path to becoming one of the most influential tastemakers in media.

Penguin Press, Sept. 6

Agatha Christie: An Elusive Woman , by Lucy Worsley

Not many authors sell a billion books, but Christie’s nearly 70 mysteries helped her do just that. Born in 1890, she introduced the world to two detectives still going strong in film adaptations and elsewhere: Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple. Her life even included its own mystery, when she vanished for 11 days in 1926 . Worsley, a historian, offers a full-dress biography.

Pegasus Crime, Sept. 8

Ducks: Two Years in the Oil Sands , by Kate Beaton

This graphic memoir follows Beaton, a Canadian cartoonist, who joins the oil rush in Alberta after graduating from college. The book includes drawings of enormous machines built to work the oil sands against a backdrop of Albertan landscapes, boreal forests and northern lights.

Drawn and Quarterly, Sept. 13

Like a Rolling Stone: A Memoir , by Jann S. Wenner

In 2017, Joe Hagan published “Sticky Fingers,” a biography of Wenner, the co-founder of Rolling Stone magazine. Now Wenner recounts his life in his own words, offering an intimate look at his time running the magazine that helped to change American culture.

Little, Brown, Sept. 13

Stay True: A Memoir , by Hua Hsu

A New Yorker staff writer reflects on a life-changing college friendship cut short by tragedy. Hsu — interested in counterculture, zines and above all music — seemed to have little in common with Ken, a Dave Matthews Band-loving fraternity brother, with the exception of their Asian American heritage. In spite of their differences, they forged a close bond; this is both a memoir of their relationship but also Hsu’s journey to adulthood as he makes sense of his grief.

Doubleday, Sept. 27

Wild: The Life of Peter Beard: Photographer, Adventurer, Lover , by Graham Boynton

A biography of the photographer Peter Beard, who had a fondness for risk, drugs and beautiful women. Boynton, a journalist and author, was a friend of Beard’s for more than 30 years.

St. Martin’s, Oct. 11

The Extraordinary Life of an Ordinary Man: A Memoir , by Paul Newman

When Newman and his iconic blue eyes died in 2008, the actor left behind taped conversations about his life, which he had put together with hopes of writing his life story. Now, with the participation of Newman’s daughters, the transcripts have been turned into this book, which sees Newman on his early life, his troubles with drinking and his shortcomings as a husband and parent, as well as his decorated career.

Knopf. Oct. 18

Madly, Deeply: The Diaries of Alan Rickman

Rickman, the English stage and screen actor who died in 2016, was famous for his roles in “Die Hard,” the Harry Potter movies, “Love Actually” and many other films. He kept a diary for 25 years, about his work, his political activism, his friendships and other subjects, and they promise to be “anecdotal, indiscreet, witty, gossipy and utterly candid.”

Henry Holt, Oct. 18

README.txt: A Memoir , by Chelsea Manning

Manning, a former Army analyst, shared classified documents about the U.S. military’s operations in Iraq with WikiLeaks. In this memoir, she explores her childhood and what drew her to the armed services, her eventual disillusionment with the military and her life as a trans woman.

Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Oct. 18

The White Mosque: A Memoir , by Sofia Samatar

Samatar, a novelist, turns to nonfiction in this complex work combining religious and personal history. Raised in the United States, the daughter of a Swiss-Mennonite and a Somali-Muslim, Samatar recounts her life while relating a pilgrimage she undertook retracing the route of German-speaking Mennonites who founded a village in Central Asia in the 1800s.

Catapult, Oct. 25

Martha Graham: When Dance Became Modern , by Neil Baldwin

The biographer Baldwin’s eclectic list of subjects has included William Carlos Williams, Man Ray, Thomas Edison and Henry Ford. Here he turns his attention to Martha Graham, the American choreographer who revolutionized modern dance and founded her own company, which is still going strong, in 1926.

Knopf, Oct. 25

Uphill: A Memoir , by Jemele Hill

Hill, now a contributing writer at The Atlantic, rose to fame as a TV anchor on ESPN. Her memoir covers the time in 2017 when ESPN suspended her (she had criticized the politics of the Dallas Cowboys’ owner, Jerry Jones, and had called President Trump a white supremacist). But the book offers a much broader canvas that includes her upbringing in Detroit and the trauma of generations of women in her family.

Henry Holt, Oct. 25

Friends, Lovers and the Terrible Thing: A Memoir , by Matthew Perry

Perry, who played Chandler Bing on “Friends,” has been candid about his substance abuse and sobriety. In this memoir, he returns again to discussions of fame and addiction, but also reaches back to his childhood.

Flatiron, Nov. 1

I Want to Die, but I Want to Eat Tteokbokki: A Memoir , by Baek Sehee. Translated by Anton Hur.

A best seller in South Korea, Baek’s memoir recounts her struggles with depression and anxiety, told through discussions with her therapist, which she recorded over a 12-week period. The therapy sessions are interspersed with short essays that explore her self-doubt and how feelings of worthlessness were reinforced by sexism.

Bloomsbury, Nov. 1

Elizabeth A. Harris writes about books and publishing for The Times.  More about Elizabeth A. Harris

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best biographies 2022

Best Biographies and Memoirs 2022

Human connection, learning from other people, and delving deeply into people’s stories are all part of what helps us grow, change, and empathize. For people who embrace this with their entire being, our ten best biographies and memoirs of 2022 are certainly ones they won’t want to miss. From celebrities to people facing injustices in the world, these books are ones that will linger in readers’ minds long after they’ve finished them and make a great gift this year!

A Book of Days

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A Book of Days

By Patti Smith

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Singer, songwriter, poet, painter, award-winning author, and extremely influential figure in the NYC punk movement, Patti Smith is an icon whose voice is a constant source of wisdom and inspiration, a voice which she shares beautifully throughout this book. It’s a stunning visual journey that inspires observation and remembrance.

Beyond the Wand: The Magic and Mayhem of Growing Up a Wizard

Hardcover $21.99 $28.00

Beyond the Wand: The Magic and Mayhem of Growing Up a Wizard

By Tom Felton

Known around the world as the big screen embodiment of Harry Potter’s wizarding nemesis, Tom Felton offers his legions of fans a candid and witty account of life in the wizarding world. Recounting the friendships and trials of fame, Tom will #always be a fan favorite.

Finding Me (Oprah's Book Club)

Finding Me (Oprah's Book Club)

By Viola Davis

Multi-award-winning actress Viola Davis has poured herself into the characters she portrays on the big screen and on stage. And now, in her most deeply personal and inspiring role yet, as author, she has released her memoir,  Finding Me . Viola Davis is an uncompromising and very talented actress with a compelling story to tell. 

I'm Glad My Mom Died

Hardcover $21.99 $27.99

I'm Glad My Mom Died

By Jennette McCurdy

Readers get the chance to learn how “the industry” really works, as Jennette describes what it’s like as a child star, further fueling the narrative, of late, around how victimizing Hollywood can be. Jennette is direct, honest and hilarious, and despite it all, delivers an inspiring story of resilience and recovery.

Madly, Deeply: The Diaries of Alan Rickman

Hardcover $27.99 $32.00

Madly, Deeply: The Diaries of Alan Rickman

By Alan Rickman Contribution by Emma Thompson Afterword Rima Horton

Alan Rickman gifts us one last project — 25 years in the making. The beloved and dearly missed actor and activist offers readers a revealing look into his most personal musings on acting, politics and life in his thoughtful and beautifully written diaries.

Surrender: 40 Songs, One Story

Hardcover $28.99 $34.00

Surrender: 40 Songs, One Story

Rock legend, activist, icon. Here, Bono invites readers in for the whole story. From his childhood in Dublin to the origin, rise and success of U2, his ongoing philanthropy, and his activism throughout the world. With original artwork throughout, this candid and lyrical memoir is a must for fans and music lovers alike.

You Don't Know What War Is: The Diary of a Young Girl from Ukraine

Hardcover $17.99 $19.99

You Don't Know What War Is: The Diary of a Young Girl from Ukraine

By Yeva Skalietska

This is an important, harrowing and ultimately hopeful memoir about the ongoing Russo-Ukrainian War as told through the diary entries of a young Ukrainian girl.

His Name Is George Floyd: One Man's Life and the Struggle for Racial Justice (Pulitzer Prize Winner)

Hardcover $23.99 $30.00

His Name Is George Floyd: One Man's Life and the Struggle for Racial Justice (Pulitzer Prize Winner)

By Robert Samuels , Toluse Olorunnipa

Sometimes a single book  can change a national discussion, and certainly this is one. With diligence, respect, unflinching courage His Name is George Floyd affords tender, trenchant testimony to a man’s life and lessons in the legacies of racism that took it.

Solito: A Memoir

Hardcover $24.99 $28.00

Solito: A Memoir

By Javier Zamora

Javier Zamora lays his soul bare on the pages of this heartrending memoir. Touching on themes of abandonment, loss, trauma, and forgiveness, Zamora’s lyrical recounting is a story as timeless as it is topical and as universal as it is uniquely his.  Solito will fill your heart with sadness, anger, love in turn, but most of all with an enduring sense of irrepressible hope.

A Private Spy: The Letters of John le Carré

Hardcover $24.99 $40.00

A Private Spy: The Letters of John le Carré

By John le Carré Editor Tim Cornwell

Author, polyglot, soldier, spy – John le Carré wrote what he knew, and this collection of previously unpublished letters gives readers a deeper insight into the Cold War espionage that infused his work and inspired such indelible characters as George Smiley and Magnus Pym.

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OCT. 18, 2022


by Jon Meacham

An essential, eminently readable volume for anyone interested in Lincoln and his era. Full review >

best biographies 2022

OCT. 25, 2022

by John A. Farrell

An exemplary study of a life of public service with more than its share of tragedies and controversies. Full review >


AUG. 30, 2022

by Michael Broers

An outstanding addition to the groaning bookshelves on one of the world’s most recognizable leaders. Full review >


NOV. 8, 2022

by Kerri K. Greenidge

A sweeping, insightful, richly detailed family and American history. Full review >


FEB. 1, 2022

by Dan Charnas

A wide-ranging biography that fully captures the subject’s ingenuity, originality, and musical genius. Full review >


JULY 26, 2022

by Philip Short

Required reading for anyone interested in global affairs. Full review >


NOV. 15, 2022

by Brigitta Olubas

An absorbing, well-crafted profile of a supremely gifted writer. Full review >


SEPT. 6, 2022

by Katherine Rundell

Written with verve and panache, this sparkling biography is enjoyable from start to finish. Full review >

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Award Winning Biographies of 2022

Recommended by sophie roell.

Five Books Expert Recommendations

Five Books Expert Recommendations

In telling stories of lives that are often very different from our own and yet connected to us by our common humanity, biographies are some of the most compelling nonfiction books around. Five Books editor Sophie Roell rounds up some of the biographies that have won or been shortlisted for prizes in 2022.

Award Winning Biographies of 2022 - All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days: The True Story of the Woman at the Heart of the German Resistance to Hitler by Rebecca Donner

All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days: The True Story of the Woman at the Heart of the German Resistance to Hitler by Rebecca Donner

Award Winning Biographies of 2022 - The Last King of America: The Misunderstood Reign of George III by Andrew Roberts

The Last King of America: The Misunderstood Reign of George III by Andrew Roberts

Award Winning Biographies of 2022 - Burning Boy: The Life and Work of Stephen Crane by Paul Auster

Burning Boy: The Life and Work of Stephen Crane by Paul Auster

Award Winning Biographies of 2022 - The Escape Artist: The Man Who Broke Out of Auschwitz to Warn the World by Jonathan Freedland

The Escape Artist: The Man Who Broke Out of Auschwitz to Warn the World by Jonathan Freedland

Award Winning Biographies of 2022 - Super-Infinite: The Transformations of John Donne by Katherine Rundell

Super-Infinite: The Transformations of John Donne by Katherine Rundell

Award Winning Biographies of 2022 - Chasing Me to My Grave: An Artist's Memoir of the Jim Crow South by Winfred Rembert

Chasing Me to My Grave: An Artist's Memoir of the Jim Crow South by Winfred Rembert

best biographies 2022

1 All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days: The True Story of the Woman at the Heart of the German Resistance to Hitler by Rebecca Donner

2 the last king of america: the misunderstood reign of george iii by andrew roberts, 3 burning boy: the life and work of stephen crane by paul auster, 4 the escape artist: the man who broke out of auschwitz to warn the world by jonathan freedland, 5 super-infinite: the transformations of john donne by katherine rundell, 6 chasing me to my grave: an artist's memoir of the jim crow south by winfred rembert.

Biographies have come a long way from the days when they focused mainly on well-known political or artistic figures. Often, today’s most compelling biographies are about people we may have never have heard of, but whose life stories are so extraordinary they leave us humbled at what other human beings have been able to endure and achieve. Some of those biographies won prestigious prizes this year:

The National Book Critics Circle award for biography and the PEN/Jacqueline Bograd Weld Award for Biography

Of the prizes dedicated to biographies, it was a biography of Mildred Harnack that won both the National Book Critics Circle award for biography in 2022 as well as the Jacqueline Bograd Weld award, awarded by PEN America. All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days: The True Story of the Woman at the Heart of the German Resistance to Hitler is the powerful story of an American woman who fell in love with a German student at graduate school at UW–Madison and ended up marrying him and moving to Berlin just as Adolf Hitler was rising to power. Not only is it the life story of an extraordinary person, it’s also a fascinating picture of Berlin in the 1930s (“the very first traffic light in Europe appeared here”). Needless to say, the story ends badly and Harnack was executed after Hitler’s personal intervention, in 1943. The biography is written by Canadian writer Rebecca Donner, Harnack’s great-great-niece.

The Elizabeth Longford Prize for Historical Biography

The Elizabeth Longford Prize is an award set up in 20o3 in memory of Elizabeth Longford (1906-2002), a British biographer who wrote biographies of both Queen Victoria and the Duke of Wellington. This year’s prize went to a book about George III: The Last King of America  by the British biographer Andrew Roberts. Roberts, who previously wrote an acclaimed biography of Napoleon as well as an excellent one-volume biography of Winston Churchill , tries to restore the reputation of a man who was blamed in England for losing the American colonies and reviled in America for being a tyrant. In Roberts’s telling, George III suffered from bipolar disorder and many of the criticisms of him were just crude distortions by his opponents.

The LA Times book prize for biography

The LA Times awards a number of book prizes every year. This year’s prize for biography went to a literary biography, American novelist Paul Auster’s Burning Boy, about the life and work of Stephen Crane. Crane is best known as the author of one of the most famous historical novels about the American Civil War: The Red Badge of Courag e, though he wrote prolifically throughout his short life, including a stint as a war correspondent in Cuba, covering the Spanish-American War. Crane died in 1900 aged just 28. Auster writes, “I come at it not as a specialist or a scholar but as an old writer in awe of a young writer’s genius. Having spent the past two years poring over every one of Crane’s work…I find myself just as fascinated by Crane’s frantic, contradictory life as by the work he left us.”

Biographies Shortlisted for the Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction

In addition to prizes dedicated to the genre, biographies also loomed large on the shortlist of the UK’s most prestigious nonfiction prize, the Baillie Gifford Prize. A particularly gripping read is The Escape Artist by British journalist Jonathan Freedland, who also writes thrillers under the name Sam Bourne . It’s the story of a Slovakian Jewish teenager, Rudolf Vrba, who along with fellow Slovakian Fred Wetzler managed to escape from Auschwitz in April 1944. They were the first Jews to do so and were able to report what was going on there to the outside world. The book opens with their escape by hiding in a pit under a woodpile and taking advantage of their knowledge of SS protocols to get away. Vrba, who was born Walter Rosenberg, subsequently made his life in the US.

The overall winner of the Baillie Gifford was another literary biography, about the British poet John Donne (1572-1631). It’s called Super-Infinite by Katherine Rundell . Rundell is a children’s author who also specializes in Renaissance literature and makes the case that Donne should be as widely feted as William Shakespeare, his contemporary. She writes, “Donne is the greatest writer of desire in the English language. He wrote about sex in a way that nobody ever has, before or since: he wrote sex as the great insistence on life, the salute, the bodily semaphore for the human living infinite. The word most used across his poetry, part from ‘and’ and ‘the’, is ‘love’.” As she notes: “This is both a biography of Donne and an act of evangelism.”

The Pulitzer Prize for Biography

The 2022 Pulitzer Prize for Biography (which also includes works of autobiography) went to Chasing Me to My Grave: An Artist’s Memoir of the Jim Crow South by the late Winfred Rembert (1945-2021) . Rembert was from a family of field labourers in Cuthbert, Georgia and taught himself to paint at the age of 51 using leather tooling skills he learned in prison. In the preface, he writes that he had been scared to draw attention to what happened to him in Cuthbert during his lifetime, and so he only composed his memoir as he was dying. It’s a wrenching tale told in a very direct and touching way. The book also includes pictures of his paintings—of cotton fields, of his mother giving him away as a baby.

December 17, 2022

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Sophie Roell

Sophie Roell

Sophie Roell is editor and one of the founders of Five Books.

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The 20 Best Memoirs of 2022

From marriage to medicine to masculinity, the year's best memoirs dig deep into thorny topics.

Headshot of Adrienne Westenfeld

Still, our favorite memoirs of 2022 elevate the form to new heights. They tackle personal, psychological, and philosophical concerns through topics ranging from ancestry to medicine to marriage. With guts and grace, these authors dive deep into their loves and losses, and come ashore with these dazzling treasures for you to read. (Or give ! What better gift than that of a remarkable true story?)

Stay True, by Hua Hsu

When Hsu arrived at Berkeley in the 1990s, a rebellious undergrad obsessed with creating zines and developing “a worldview defined by music,” he made an unexpected friend. At first, Hsu wrote his fraternity brother Ken off as “mainstream,” thinking they had nothing in common beyond their Asian American identities—but soon, an unlikely friendship blossomed, with the two young men penning a screenplay together and discussing philosophy late into the night. It all came crashing down when Ken was murdered in a carjacking, sending Hsu into a decades-long spiral of grief and guilt. Ever since, Hsu has been trying to write Stay True , a wrenching memoir about who Ken was and what Ken taught him. At once a love letter, a coming-of-age tale, and an elegy, it’s one of the best books about friendship ever written.

The Man Who Could Move Clouds, by Ingrid Rojas Contreras

“They say the amnesias were a door to gifts we were supposed to have,” Rojas Contreras muses in this poetic memoir. After a head injury afflicted the author with amnesia, she learned that this had happened before: decades ago, her mother took a fall that left her with amnesia, and when she recovered, she gained access to “the secrets.” The first woman to know “the secrets,” Rojas Contreras’ mother inherited them from her father, known to the family as Nono, a Colombian community healer renowned for his ability to communicate with the dead, predict the future, heal the sick, and move the clouds. After Rojas Contreras’ accident, she and her mother traveled to Colombia to disinter Nono’s remains and tell his story. That quest, recounted here with mesmerizing prose and bracing insight, sent the women on a journey through the brutal colonial history that shaped their family and their nation. Rich in personal and political history, The Man Who Could Move Clouds is an effervescent read.

The Extraordinary Life of an Ordinary Man, by Paul Newman

After six decades of Hollywood superstardom, it’s difficult to imagine that anything could remain unknown about Paul Newman . But that’s the particular magic trick of this memoir, assembled by way of a literary scavenger hunt. Between 1986 and 1991, Newman sat down with screenwriter Stewart Stern for a series of soul-baring interviews about his life and career. With the actor’s encouragement, Stern also recorded hundreds of hours worth of interviews with his friends, family, and colleagues. The whole enterprise was destined to become Newman’s authorized biography, but his feelings on the project soured; in 1998, he gathered the tapes in a pile and set fire to them. Luckily, Stern kept transcripts—over 14,000 pages worth. Now, those transcripts have been streamlined into this honest and unvarnished memoir, in which the actor speaks openly about his traumatic childhood, his lifelong struggle with alcoholism, and his tormenting self-doubt. But the highs are there too—like his 50-year marriage to actress Joanne Woodward—as well as the mysteries of making art, and the “imponderable of being a human being.” All told, the memoir is an extraordinary act of resurrection and reimagination.

Bad Sex, by Nona Willis Aronowitz

When Teen Vogue ’s sex columnist decided to end her marriage at 32 years old, chief among her complaints was “bad sex.” Newly divorced, Aronowitz went in search of good sex, but along the way, she discovered thorny truths about “the problem that has no name”—that despite the advances of feminism and the sexual revolution, true sexual freedom remains out of reach. Cultural criticism, memoir, and social history collide in Aronowitz’s no-nonsense investigation of all that ails young lovers, like questions about desire, consent, and patriarchy. It’s a revealing read bound to expand your thinking.

The High Sierra: A Love Story, by Kim Stanley Robinson

A titan of science fiction masters a new form in this winsome love letter to California’s Sierra Nevada mountain range. Constructed from an impassioned blend of memoir, history, and science writing, The High Sierra chronicles Robinson’s 100-plus trips to his beloved mountains, from his LSD-laced first encounter in 1973 to the dozens of ​​“rambling and scrambling” days to follow. From descriptions of the region’s multitudinous flora and fauna to practical advice about when and where to hike, this is as comprehensive a guidebook as any, complete with all the lucid ecstasy of nature writing greats like John Muir and Annie Dillard.

Year of the Tiger, by Alice Wong

In this mixed media memoir, disability activist Alice Wong outlines her journey as an advocate and educator. Wong was born with a form of progressive muscular dystrophy; as a young woman, she attended her dream college, but had to drop out when changes to Medicaid prevented her from retaining the aides she needed on an inaccessible campus. In one standout essay, Wong recounts her struggle to access Covid-19 vaccines as a high-risk individual. The author's rage about moving through an ableist world is palpable, but so too is her joy and delight about Lunar New Year, cats, family, and so much more. Innovative and informative, Year of the Tiger is a multidimensional portrait of a powerful thinker.

My Pinup, by Hilton Als

Has any book ever roved so far and wide in just 48 pages as My Pinup ? In this slim and brilliant memoir, Als explores race, power, and desire through the lens of Prince. Styling the legendary musician in the image of his lovers and himself, Als explores injustice on multiple levels, from racist record labels to the world's hostility to gay Black boys. “There was so much love between us,” the author muses. “Why didn’t anyone want us to share it?” These 48 meandering pages are difficult to describe, but trust us: My Pinup is a heady cocktail you won’t soon forget.

Novelist as a Vocation, by Haruki Murakami

In this winsome volume, one of our greatest novelists invites readers into his creative process. The result is a revealing self-portrait that answers many burning questions about its reclusive subject, like: where do Murakami’s strange and surreal ideas come from? When and how did he start writing? How does he view the role of novels in contemporary society? Novelist as a Vocation is a rare and welcome peek behind the curtain of a singular mind.

Bloomsbury Publishing Dirtbag, Massachusetts: A Confessional, by Isaac Fitzgerald

In this bleeding heart memoir, Fitzgerald peels back the layers of his extraordinary life. Dirtbag, Massachusetts opens with his hardscrabble childhood in a dysfunctional Catholic family, then spins out into the decades of jobs and identities that followed. From bartending at a biker bar to smuggling medical supplies to starring in porn films, it’s all led him to here and now: he’s still a work in progress, but gradually, he’s arriving at profound realizations about masculinity, family, and selfhood. Dirtbag, Massachusetts is the best of what memoir can accomplish. It's blisteringly honest and vulnerable, pulling no punches on the path to truth, but it always finds the capacity for grace and joy. “To any young men out there who aren’t too far gone,” Fitzgerald writes, “I say you’re not done becoming yourself.”

Pretty Baby, by Chris Belcher

As a financially strapped PhD student in Los Angeles, Belcher fell into an unusual side hustle: she began working as a pro-domme, fulfilling the fantasies of male clients aroused by feelings of shame and weakness. Belcher found unique power in the work as a queer woman, writing, “My clientele wanted a woman who would never want them in return, and at that, I excelled." But as she illuminates in this discerning memoir, the work had its drawbacks—namely, the brutality and blackmail of men. In a lucid examination of power, sexuality, and class, Belcher tells a gripping story about the performance of identity, inside and outside of the dungeon.

Also a Poet: Frank O'Hara, My Father, and Me, by Ada Calhoun

When Calhoun once went looking for a childhood toy, she stumbled upon a far greater treasure: dusty cassette tapes of interviews recorded by her father, art critic Peter Schjeldahl, who started but never completed a biography of the gone-too-soon poet Frank O’Hara. As a lifelong O’Hara fan, Calhoun gleefully committed to finishing what Schjeldahl started, but the task proved to be anything but easy. Like her father before her, Calhoun was stonewalled by Maureen O’Hara, the poet’s prickly sister and executor; the project also revealed the faultlines in her complicated bond with Schjeldahl, whom she longs to impress. In this heartfelt memoir, Calhoun recounts how going in search of O’Hara revealed so much more—like the painful complexities of parents, children, art, and ambition.

Because Our Fathers Lied, by Craig McNamara

How do we reckon with the sins of our parents? That’s the thorny question at the center of this moving and courageous memoir authored by the son of Robert S. McNamara, Kennedy’s architect of the Vietnam War. In this conflicted son’s telling, a complicated man comes into intimate view, as does the “mixture of love and rage” at the heart of their relationship. At once a loving and neglectful parent, the elder McNamara’s controversial lies about the war ultimately estranged him from his son, who hung Viet Cong flags in his childhood bedroom as a protest. The pursuit of a life unlike his father’s saw the younger McNamara drop out of Stanford and travel through South America on a motorcycle, leading him to ultimately become a sustainable walnut farmer. Through his own personal story of disappointment and disillusionment, McNamara captures an intergenerational conflict and a journey of moral identity.

The Unwritten Book, by Samantha Hunt

One of our most gifted practitioners of the short story makes her first foray into nonfiction with this shapeshifting volume. Hunt’s many-feathered subject is the things that haunt: art, the dead, the forest, things left unfinished. Her investigation centers on an unfinished novel written by her late father, a Reader's Digest editor; “the dead leave clues, and life is a puzzle of trying to read and understand these mysterious hints before the game is over,” she writes. As she considers the novel, she sifts through her relationship with her father, characterized as it was by his alcoholism and their shared love of story. Eerie, profound, and daring, this is a book only the inimitable Hunt could write.

Roc Lit 101 Shine Bright, by Danyel Smith

Memoir, criticism, and cultural history meet in this masterful study of the brilliant Black women who shaped American pop music, enriched by the author's own experiences and memories. Some of the figures here will be familiar, like Aretha Franklin and Whitney Houston, while others are long overdue for the reckoning Smith provides, from the Dixie Cups, a gone-too-soon sixties girl group, to the enslaved poet Phyllis Wheatley, who cleared a path for generations of descendants by singing her poems. In this soulful, enriching portrait of these extraordinary artists’ struggles and triumphs, Smith widens the canon to usher in new luminaries.

Lost & Found, by Kathryn Schultz

Eighteen months before Schultz’s father died after a long battle with cancer, she met the love of her life. It’s this painful dichotomy that sets the foundation for Lost & Found , a poignant memoir about how love and loss often coexist. Braiding her personal experiences together with psychological, philosophical and scientific insight, Schultz weaves a taxonomy of our losses, which can “encompass both the trivial as well as the consequential, the abstract and the concrete, the merely misplaced and the permanently gone.” But so too does she celebrate the act of discovery, from finding what we’ve mislaid to lucking into lasting love. Penetrating and profound, Lost & Found captures the extraordinary joys and sorrows of ordinary life.

Ecco Press South to America, by Imani Perry

The American South is often cast as a backwater cousin out of step with American ideals. In this vital cultural history, Perry argues otherwise, insisting the South is, in fact, the foundational heartland of America, an undeniable fulcrum around which our wealth and politics have always turned. Fusing memoir, reportage, and travelogue, Perry imparts Southern history alongside high-spirited interviews with modern-day Southerners from all walks of life. At once a love letter to “a land of big dreams and bigger lies” and a clarion call for change, South to America will change how you understand America’s past, present, and future.

Admissions, by Kendra James

When James enrolled at Connecticut’s prestigious Taft School at fifteen years old, she had no idea that, as the predominantly white boarding school’s first “Black American legacy student to graduate since 1891,” she would become its involuntary poster child for diversity. James’ hopes for a positive high school experience were dashed by “a swamp of microaggressions,” ranging from a student who accused her of stealing $20 to an article in the student newspaper blaming students of color for the segregation of campus. Determined that students after her wouldn’t suffer the same fate, she became an admissions officer specializing in diversity recruitment, but soon felt that she was “selling a lie for a living.” Frank and devastating in its candor, as well as incisive in its critique of elite academia, Admissions is a poignant coming-of-age memoir.

The Invisible Kingdom, by Meghan O'Rourke

“I got sick the way Hemingway says you go broke: ‘gradually and then suddenly,’” O’Rourke writes in The Invisible Kingdom , describing the beginning of her decades-long struggle with chronic autoimmune disease. In the late nineties, O’Rourke began suffering symptoms ranging from rashes to crushing fatigue; when she sought treatment, she became an unwilling citizen of a shadow world, where chronic illness sufferers are dismissed by doctors and alienated from their lives. In this elegant fusion of memoir, reporting, and cultural history, O’Rourke traces the development of modern Western medicine and takes aim at its limitations, advocating for a community-centric healthcare model that treats patients as people, not parts. At once a rigorous work of scholarship and a radical act of empathy, The Invisible Kingdom has the power to move mountains.

Read an exclusive interview with O'Rourkre here at Esquire.

Ancestor Trouble, by Maud Newton

Who are our ancestors to us, and what can they tell us about ourselves? In this riveting memoir, Newton goes in search of the answers to these questions, spelunking exhaustively through her frustrating and fascinating family tree. From an accused witch to a thirteen times-married man, her family tree abounds with stories that absorb and appall, but taxonomizing her family history doesn’t satisfy Newton’s hunger for meaning. Just what do the facts of a life tell us about who we are or where we come from, and what can our personal histories tell us about our national past? Carefully blending memoir and cultural criticism, Newton explores the cultural, scientific, and spiritual dimensions of ancestry, arguing for the transformational power of grappling with our inheritances.

Foreverland: On the Divine Tedium of Marriage, by Heather Havrilesky

No one writes about the agony and ecstasy of relationships with as much gutsy grace as Havrilesky, who has long counseled troubled lovers under the guise of Ask Polly . In Foreverland , Havrilesky turns the microscope on her own relationship, illuminating the joys and exasperations of her fifteen-year marriage. From parenting to quarantining together to bristling at her husband’s every loud sneeze, Havrilesky proves that forever is hard, wonderful work.

Read Havrilesky’s column about her husband here at Esquire.

Headshot of Adrienne Westenfeld

Adrienne Westenfeld is the Books and Fiction Editor at Esquire, where she oversees books coverage, edits fiction, and curates the Esquire Book Club. 

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Summer Loomis

Summer Loomis has been writing for Book Riot since 2019. She obsessively curates her library holds and somehow still manages to borrow too many books at once. She appreciates a good deadline and likes knowing if 164 other people are waiting for the same title. It's good peer pressure! She doesn't have a podcast but if she did, she hopes it would sound like Buddhability . The world could always use more people creating value with their lives everyday.

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The following are the best biographies 2022 had to offer, according to my brain and my tastes. And I know it might sound like something everyone says, but it was really hard to pick them this year. Like many people, I love “best of” lists for the year, even when I disagree with the titles that make the cut. There is something about narrowing the field to “the best” that makes me excited to read the list and see what I’ve read already and which gems I’ve missed that year. If you want to look back at some of the titles Book Riot chose in 2021, try this best books of 2021 by genre or best books for 2020 . Both will probably quadruple your TBR, but they’re super fun to read anyway.

For 2022 in particular, there were a ton of excellent titles to choose from, in both biographies and memoirs. I am not being polite here but let me just say that it was genuinely hard to choose. To make it easier on myself, I have included some memoirs to pair with the best biographies of 2022 below. If you don’t see your absolute favorite, it’s either because I didn’t like it (I don’t believe in spending time on books I don’t like) or because I ran out of space. And it was most likely the latter!

Cover of His Name is George Floyd

His Name is George Floyd: One Man’s Life and the Struggle for Racial Justice by Robert Samuels and Toluse Olorunnipa

Samuels and Olorunnipa are two Washington Post journalists who meticulously researched Floyd’s personal history in order to better understand not only his life and experiences before his death, but also the systemic forces that eventually contributed to his murder. While very interesting, this is also a harder read and very frustrating at times as there is so much loss wrapped up into this story. Definitely one of the best biographies of 2022 and one that I think will be read for years to come.

Cover of Paul Laurence Dunbar book

Paul Laurence Dunbar: The Life and Times of a Caged Bird by Gene Andrew Jarrett

This is one of those classic biographies that I think readers will just love diving into. Rich in detail and nuance, it drops readers into Dunbar’s life and times, offering a fascinating look at both the literary and personal life of this great American poet. If you are able to read on audio, you may want to check out actor Mirron E. Willis’s excellent narration.

Cover of Didn't We Almost Have it All

Didn’t We Almost Have it All: In Defense of Whitney Houston by Gerrick Kennedy

Maybe you’re a huge fan or maybe you don’t know who Whitney Houston was, but either way, you can still read this and enjoy it. Kennedy is very clear that he didn’t set out to write a traditional biography. He wasn’t trying to dig up new “dirt” about the singer or to ask people in her life to reflect back on her now that she has been gone for 10 years. Instead, Kennedy tackles something deeper and possibly harder: to see and appreciate Houston as the fully-formed and talented human being that she was and to understand in full her influence over popular culture and music.

Cover of Finding Me Viola Davis

Finding Me by Viola Davis

If you are also interested in reading a memoir from 2022, you could pair Whitney Houston’s biography with Viola Davis’s book. It was a title I saw everywhere in 2022, but didn’t pick up until the end of the year. My only two cents to add to this strong choice is that I was also just about the last person on earth who hadn’t heard about Davis’s childhood. Please don’t go into this without knowing at least something about what she had to overcome. However, despite all that, I still think it is an excellent and ultimately uplifting read. Content warnings include domestic violence, child endangerment, physical and sexual abuse, rape and sexual assault, drug addiction, and animal death. And also the unrelentingly grinding nature of poverty.

Cover of Like Water A Cultural History Bruce Lee

Like Water: A Cultural History of Bruce Lee by Daryl Joji Maeda 

This is a much more academic presentation of Bruce Lee and the myriad of ways he can be “read” in his connections and contributions to American pop culture. If you or someone you know is itching to read an extremely detailed and deeply considered look at Lee’s life, then this is the book for you. If you read on audio, be sure to check out David Lee Huynh’s narration.

Cover of We Were Dreamers by Simu Liu

We Were Dreamers: An Immigrant Superhero Origin Story by Simu Liu

If you want to read something much lighter but still connected to Asian representation in Western movies, you could do worse than Liu’s 2022 memoir. In comparison to other books on this list, this felt like a much lighter read to me, but it is not without some heavier moments. While I am not a superfan of Liu (because I’m not really a superfan of anyone), I did enjoy learning about Liu’s childhood and especially hearing little details like that his grandparents called him a nickname that basically translated to “little furry caterpillar” as a child. I mean, is there anything more adorable for a kid?

cover of The Man from the Future

The Man from the Future: The Visionary Life of John von Neumann by Ananyo Bhattacharya

This is another meaty biography that readers will just adore. Complex and fascinating, von Neumann’s curiosity was legendary and his contributions are so far-reaching that it is hard to imagine any one person undertaking them all. This is a good choice for readers who are fascinated by mathematics, big personalities, and intellectual puzzles.

Cover of Agatha Christie an Elusive Woman

Agatha Christie: An Elusive Woman by Lucy Worsley

This is another best biography of 2022 that many, many readers will want to sink into. The audio is also by the author so you may want to read it that way. Whether someone reads it with eyes or ears (or both!), this book is sure to interest many curious Christie fans. And if Worsley’s biography isn’t enough for you, you may also enjoy this breakdown of why Christie is one of the best-selling novelists of all time or these 8 audiobooks for Agatha Christie fans .

Cover of the School that Escaped the Nazis

The School that Escaped the Nazis: The True Story of the Schoolteacher Who Defied Hitler by Deborah Cadbury

Cadbury writes a fascinating biography of Anna Essinger, a schoolteacher who managed to smuggle her students out of a Germany succumbing to Hitler’s rise to power and all the horror that was to follow. Essinger’s bravery and clear-eyed understanding of what was happening around her is amazing. This is a thrilling and fascinating biography readers will no doubt find inspirational.

Cover of The Escape Artist by Jonathan Freedland

The Escape Artist: The Man who Broke out of Auschwitz to Warn the World by Jonathan Freedland

Freedland is a British journalist who has written this thoroughly engrossing book about Rudolf Vrba, a man who managed to escape from Auschwitz. It’s no surprise that this is a very important but difficult read. For those who can manage it, I highly recommend immersing oneself in this historical nonfiction biography about a man who survived some of the darkest events of human history.

That is my list of the best biographies of 2022, with a few memoirs for those who are interested. And now of course, I need to mention several titles I have yet to get to from 2022: Hua Hsu’s Stay True , Zain Asher’s Where the Children Take Us , Fatima Ali’s Savor: A Chef’s Hunger for More , and Dan Charnas and Jeff Peretz’s Dilla Time , to name a few!

Also Bernardine Evaristo published Manifesto: On Never Giving Up in 2022 and somehow it slipped through the cracks of my TBR. I will have to make time for that one soon.

If you still need more titles to explore, try these 50 best biographies or 20 biographies for kids . And to that latter list, I might add that a children’s biography came out about Octavia Butler in 2022 called Star Child by Haitian American author Ibi Zoboi, so you might want to check that out too!

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