Wrapping up the year in books: The best of 2022

Jacob Turcotte/Staff
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“Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counsellors, and the most patient of teachers,” wrote Charles William Eliot in “The Happy Life” in 1896. 

He could have been describing our choices for the best books of the year.

Why We Wrote This

With gratitude for our community of readers, the Monitor’s reviewers share their favorite titles this year. We hope the list will serve as a guide to books that build awareness, encourage compassion, and demonstrate our shared humanity.

The list includes thoughtful novels to accompany you on everything from a long plane flight to your daily commute. You’ll find nonfiction books that unfold mysteries, grapple with moral complexities, and highlight unusual facets of historical figures. 

Books offer a world of knowledge and entertainment at your fingertips. They are truly “the quietest and most constant of friends.”


Fellowship Point, by Alice Elliott Dark

Alice Elliott Dark’s exquisitely written, utterly engrossing novel “Fellowship Point,” set in Maine’s gorgeous but threatened coastal landscape, explores the beauty and tensions of a lifelong friendship between two women whose choices have taken them down different paths. The result is a deftly woven narrative about caring for the places and people we love, and an affirmation that change and growth are possible at any age. Full review here

Why We Wrote This

With gratitude for our community of readers, the Monitor’s reviewers share their favorite titles this year. We hope the list will serve as a guide to books that build awareness, encourage compassion, and demonstrate our shared humanity.

I Must Betray You, by Ruta Sepetys

“Trust no one,” whispers Cristian Florescu’s beloved grandfather; they’re words to survive by in the fear-fueled Romania of 1989. In her deft portrayal of a teenager turned reluctant informer, Ruta Sepetys makes the case that trust, coupled with selfless courage, is the key to cracking autocratic rule. A well-researched nail-biter, the novel transcends its young adult genre. Full review here

Glory, by NoViolet Bulawayo

“Glory” depicts the anguish, absurdity, and grind of life in a fictional African autocracy. Each well-drawn character – from the ancient despot and his sycophants, to the rapacious successor, to exhausted citizens – is an animal. The engrossing allegory delivers a powerful emotional punch, along with keen political and social commentary.

Properties of Thirst, by Marianne Wiggins

Marianne Wiggins’ sweeping novel tells of a California ranching family in the 1940s and the building of Manzanar camp, where Japanese Americans were detained during World War II. A story of family, responsibility, and the tug of heritage, it applauds decency and determination while weighing the roles of individuals in collective wrongs. Full review here.

Recitatif, by Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison’s only short story, “Recitatif,” written in 1980, is a brilliant, provocative experiment that tests readers’ deep-seated racial preconceptions. It’s about two poor girls who room together in a state shelter when they’re 8, and then run into each other years later. One girl is white, the other Black, but Morrison deliberately, masterfully obfuscates which is which. Full review here

Remarkably Bright Creatures, by Shelby Van Pelt

An octopus befriends a widow and helps her solve the mystery of her son’s disappearance in Shelby Van Pelt’s feel-good debut novel. The story requires a willingness to throw disbelief overboard, but the author brings together a group of lonely outsiders into the equivalent of a big, communal hug. Full review here

Honor, by Thrity Umrigar

In Thrity Umrigar’s engrossing (and sometimes graphic) novel of modern-day India, an interfaith couple, an honor killing, a court case, and an American-born Indian journalist seeking justice all come together in two brave love stories that honor the desire for unconditional acceptance.

Small World, by Jonathan Evison

Jonathan Evison’s Dickensian-style retelling of America’s history is a modern classic. His love for his characters glows in portrayals of Irish and Chinese immigrants, Native Americans, and enslaved people all yearning to belong. The book is a vast yet intimate tale about the American dream, and the people for whom the vision is yet unfulfilled.

Lucy by the Sea, by Elizabeth Strout

At the start of the pandemic, Lucy Barton is whisked from New York City to coastal Maine by her ex-husband, who is concerned for her health. As days stretch into months, Lucy reflects on her life and her daughters, and finds lovingkindness, forgiveness, and healing through nature and new friendship.

Calling for a Blanket Dance, by Oscar Hokeah

Oscar Hokeah brings to life a kaleidoscope of characters from an unforgettable Native American family. His depiction of Indigenous cultures honors their strength of community with remarkable love and healing humor, sending out a vital drumbeat of hope for future generations.

Lessons in Chemistry, by Bonnie Garmus

“Children, set the table. Your mother needs a moment to herself.” It’s 1961, and these brisk, bold words close “Supper at Six,” America’s hit TV cooking show hosted by Elizabeth Zott. Brilliant and determined, the 30-something chemist would rather work in a research lab; the story of why she doesn’t, her efforts to return there, and the social toll of the era’s noxious sexism roils and rivets in this potent debut novel. Full review here

Demon Copperhead, by Barbara Kingsolver

Barbara Kingsolver’s beautifully written novel is told in the voice of Damon, nicknamed Demon Copperhead, who struggles first with the failed foster care system and later with opioids, in a small rural community in Appalachia. Ever the survivor, Damon and the other boys learn to rely on one another. “We were our own messed-up little tribe,” he observes. Kingsolver thrusts the reader into the midst of real-world circumstances – especially the opioid epidemic – and she compassionately demands that we not look away. Full review here.


The Last Slave Ship, by Ben Raines

Ben Raines made headlines in 2019 when he discovered the remains of the Clotilda, the last ship to bring enslaved people to America. His gripping, affecting book chronicles his search for the vessel in the swamps of Alabama and tells the stories of its captive passengers and their descendants. Full review here

And There Was Light, by Jon Meacham

The Pulitzer Prize-winning historian’s majestic biography presents Abraham Lincoln as an imperfect man with a strong moral core. Growing and evolving as he struggled to lead the country through calamitous times, the 16th president has ample wisdom for our age. Full review here.

A Man of Iron, by Troy Senik

Grover Cleveland was the only American president to have held office in two non-consecutive terms (1885-89 and 1893-97). Author Troy Senik argues that Cleveland was not only a great man but one of the greatest presidents in U.S. history, a man of unwavering high convictions and rock-solid moral character. Readers might argue with Senik, but they’ll have a blast reading his book – and they might end up agreeing with him. Full review here.

Learning America, by Luma Mufleh

In her riveting debut, Jordanian-born Luma Mufleh describes how her encounter with a group of refugee boys playing soccer in a Georgia parking lot led to her founding of the Fugees Academy schools, which serve refugee children who’ve been resettled in the United States. Full review here

After the Romanovs, by Helen Rappaport

One of the effects of the Romanov dynasty’s fall in 1917 was a flood of Russian refugees into Europe, including the arrival of aristocrats, artists, writers, and intellectuals who landed in Paris at the height of the city’s creative ferment. Helen Rappaport tells their stories with marvelous skill and empathy. Full review here

The Hawk’s Way, by Sy Montgomery

Sy Montgomery, whose 2010 book “The Soul of an Octopus” made her a favorite of animal-book readers, turns her formidable descriptive passion to hawks and the world of falconry. The book breathes with glorious prose and challenging insights that make it fit to stand alongside classics like T.H. White’s “The Goshawk” or Helen Macdonald’s “H is for Hawk.” Full review here.

Black Snow, by James M. Scott 

In March 1945, a U.S. bombing raid devastated Tokyo. While it may have shortened World War II, more than 100,000 Japanese people – mostly civilians – were killed. Was it justified? James M. Scott raises profound moral questions about the military strategy. Full review here.

Life on the Mississippi, by Rinker Buck

Travel writer Rinker Buck built a flatboat and traveled from Pittsburgh to New Orleans on the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. His goal was to better understand how river transport – for good and ill – made America’s westward expansion possible. Full review here

Benjamin Franklin’s Last Bet, by Michael Meyer

In the last days of his life, Benjamin Franklin changed his will and funded a 200-year experiment: He left the cities of Boston and Philadelphia money to be lent to help tradesmen start businesses. In this engaging book, Michael Meyer skillfully weaves together a biography of Franklin and his heirs with the story of what happened to the money. Full review here

The King’s Shadow, by Edmund Richardson

In the 1830s, a private in the army of the East India Company wandered into Afghanistan and made a series of breathtaking archaeological discoveries. When the Anglo-Afghan wars broke out, he was imprisoned and his notes were lost. In this thrillerlike nonfiction account, author Edmund Richardson reclaims the legacy of Charles Masson. Full review here

A Portrait of the Scientist as a Young Woman, by Lindy Elkins-Tanton

Planetary scientist Lindy Elkins-Tanton tells how she overcame obstacles to lead the NASA mission that will send a rocket to explore the massive asteroid Psyche in 2023. Her beautiful and inspiring memoir illuminates the challenges faced by women in science. Author Q&A here

Slaves for Peanuts, by Jori Lewis

Jori Lewis resurrects voices silenced by history in this sumptuous journey beginning in 19th-century Senegal. Traveling down the coast of West Africa, the story sweeps through medieval kingdoms to bustling colonial capitals. By digging through historical archives and oral histories, Lewis unearths a neglected part of the Atlantic slave trade, all wrapped around the humble peanut crop.

Index, A History of the, by Dennis Duncan

Dennis Duncan leads an erudite and entertaining tour of a topic you’ve probably given little thought to, tracing the index from its roots in the ancient world to medieval Europe and up to the computer age. The book is brimming with fun facts but also makes deeper points about how humans create meaning. Full review here

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