The (Very) Best Books I Read In 2022
Before the best books of 2022 — The 2023 Daily Stoic New Year New You Challenge is open for registration! For the last four years, the New Year New You Challenge—a set of 21 actionable challenges, presented one per day, built around the best wisdom in Stoic philosophy—has helped thousands of people get the best out of themselves. Don’t wait to better yourself. Don’t wait to demand more of yourself. Become the better you. The new you.
I am very blessed, I always say, to get to read for a living. If I don’t read, I can’t write, it’s that simple. But of course, that’s not the only reason I do it. I read to live.
It’s how I relax. It’s how I make sense of what’s happening in the world. It’s how I get better as a parent. It’s how I visit different worlds and travel through time. One of the nice things about the last few years was there was plenty of time for reading. But in 2022, I had less white space on the calendar. There were speaking engagements and a book tour and TV appearances. My oldest started school. I even took our family to Disneyland. Protecting my reading time took more discipline this year–and one of my resolutions is to be even more disciplined about it in 2023.
At the end of every year, I try to narrow down all the books I have read and recommended in this email list down to just a handful of the best. The kind of books where if they were the only books I’d read that year, I’d still feel like it was an awesome year of reading. (You can check out the best of lists I did in 2021, 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012 and 2011.)
My reading list is now ~250,000 people, which means I hear pretty quickly when a recommendation has landed well. I promise you—you can’t go wrong with any of these.
Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson
There’s a great analogy at the center of this book that I think works as both an approach to life and to learning. In order for a doctor to cure you of your ills, Wilkerson writes, you have to give them a medical history. If because you’re ashamed of something or in denial of something, and you hold back, you’re not helping anyone. In fact, you’re hurting yourself. Our own history–in America or anywhere in the world–is not a list of the things we’re proud of. It is a list of the things that happened. In order to get better, to improve, to get closer to ‘a more perfect union,’ we have to gather and put up for review an unflinching history. It’s not always fun…but it’s the only way. A few years ago, I read and loved Wilkerson’s other book Warmth of Other Suns—a beautiful, painful and eye-opening look at the Great Migration through biographical sketches of Blacks who left the Jim Crow South for a chance at a better life in California, in Chicago, in New York City. Her newer book, Caste, is less a historical analysis and more of a philosophical and sociological book, but equally powerful. “All men are created equal” might be the goal of the American experiment, but no medical history is complete without an honest look at the racial hierarchy that not only existed for hundreds of years but was enforced with violence and cruelty at first and then more passively and systemically after that. Caste is a human folly, a human evil–but one we can address by facing it. A few related books I read that I can’t recommend highly enough: Last year I raved about Tom Ricks’ book First Principles, which is about the deep influence the Greek and Roman philosophers had on the American founders (here are his first two appearances on the Daily Stoic podcast about it). His new book Waging a Good War (which he talked about in his most recent appearance on the podcast) is about what he calls the greatest war in American history led by what he describes as the greatest generation in American history—the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement. It was Martin Luther King Jr. who came to Washington in 1963 to ‘cash a check,’ to redeem that promise first made in the Declaration of Independence. Influenced by Gandhi’s work with the untouchables, King came to understand the role that caste played in American society, and his I Have a Dream Speech was a direct attack on it. I was also deeply moved, in some cases to tears, by David Halberstam’s book, The Children. You can listen to my interviews this year with Ernest Green, one of the Little Rock Nine, and Eric Holder, who wrote an important book on voting rights.
Plain Speaking: An Oral Biography of Harry S. Truman by Merle Miller
When he was a young man, Charles Bukowski came across an all but forgotten novel in the Los Angeles Public Library called Ask the Dust (my favorite novel. Please read it!!!). It was like finding gold in the city dump, he said. Well, nothing gets me more excited than discovering long-forgotten or out of print classics. I think I found one in this biography of Harry S. Truman. Of course, the David McCullough bio of Truman is a classic (and we carry it at The Painted Porch for a reason), but this one…this one is one of the best leadership books I have ever read. I actually bumped into it when I was trying to track down a passage about how Truman read and marked up a copy of Meditations (check out the leatherbound edition of my favorite translation). Originally conceived as a television project, what emerged is just an absolute masterclass in self-education, decency, loyalty, patriotism, making tough decisions and leading a good life. Read it–it’s worth every penny of however much Amazon charges for used copies. Or pay homage to Truman’s love of libraries (he read every book in his local library as a kid) and check out a copy. We built the Daily Stoic reading course around his famous quote: “Not all readers are leaders but all leaders are readers.”
This year began with a booming economy, and is ending in recession. Crypto has crashed. The real estate market is not so hot. If you’re looking to navigate the whipsawing, unpredictable nature of the global economy as an individual who hopes to plan (and be secure) for the future, I think this book is a great one. It’s filled with great stories–like the kind I try to tell in my books–that teach big lessons. There’s no better way to learn in my eyes…I had a great conversation with Morgan on the podcast, which you might also like. But speaking of podcasts and financial advice, I have LOVED–like LOVED–Ramit Sethi’s podcast this year which focuses on couples and their financial issues. It’s riveting and super educational. I’ve learned a ton. Here’s my interview with Ramit in that regard.
Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century by Jessica Bruder
Over the last couple years, my family and I took many road trips in a small camper trailer we bought in the early days of the pandemic. We drove across Texas and New Mexico and Arizona and up the middle of California. We drove across Louisiana and Mississippi and Alabama and Florida. As we spent time at campgrounds and RV parks, I often wondered who the other people staying there were–people who did not seem to be just passing through like us. So I grabbed this book, which is about a whole hidden segment of the working population. People often in their late fifties and sixties, who live in vans and RVs, traveling not unlike the nomads of the past, looking for seasonal work–often in backbreaking Amazon warehouses–trying to make ends meet and enjoy what is supposed to be the best years of their lives. I don’t mean to make the book sound like some sociological study. It is also just great narrative journalism (good enough that it was also made into an award-winning movie). It was strange though, as I read the book, there was this part of me that tried to take issue with each of the character’s stories. Like where their own decisions had held them back, where their mistakes had caused all this misfortune and struggle. What I was doing, I came to see, was trying to find reasons that I didn’t have to care. In truth, society has failed these people (not that they always made great decisions), but a better and more accessible American dream would be more forgiving, sturdier and rewarding. Anyway, if you want to understand some of our broken and angry political system, this is a good book to read. If you are in tech or in the modern economy, in a nice house in a nice city…read this book. Discover how another part of the country lives. Try to care. Try to understand it.
I first met Steve Rinella at a coffee shop in New York City many, many years ago. I’ve recently gotten reacquainted with him because my 5-year-old son is obsessed with his videos on YouTube (you can listen to him at the beginning of my podcast with Steven). His new book—which was perfectly timed for our recent family trip to Big Bend—is about how to cultivate a love for outdoors in a time where cultivating a love for outdoors is both more important and harder to do than ever. It’s funny that a YouTube video would kick this all off, but the book is not some anti-screen screed. It’s about encouraging curiosity and interest, and cultivating resiliency and self-sufficiency. We try to learn about places we’re going, discover new hobbies, find cool stuff to check out. I loved this book and we wrote a number of Daily Dad emails about it which I think you might like (try here and here and here and if you’re not signed up for it, please do!)
I can’t leave it at just seven books. As you’ve seen in the list this year, I published two books myself this year, The Girl Who Would Be Free and Discipline is Destiny. Before I start any book project, I take a few hours and re-read The War of Art by Steven Pressfield, maybe the greatest book ever written on the creative process. But in 2022, I changed it up a little because I got an early copy of Pressfield’s new book, Put Your Ass Where Your Heart Wants to Be. I love the title so much because it’s the perfect advice for nearly every difficult thing. I quite enjoyed Chuck Klosterman’s book The Nineties. I liked Anne Morrow Lindberg’s A Gift From The Sea. David McCullough’s The Night of the Johnstown Flood was terrifying and riveting. Erik Larson’s The Splendid and the Vile was a fascinating look at London during the Blitz…and relevant to what’s happening in Ukraine. Kathrine Kressmann Taylor’s Address Unknown was something I re-read in light of the alarming rise of anti-semitism. And finally, Michael Schur’s How To Be Perfect was a great work of philosophy that I loved this year.
Of course, I’ll reiterate Steve’s book on raising outdoor kids and if you haven’t read either The Boy Who Would Be King or The Girl Who Would Be Free, I would love for you to check them out. Stoicism is a philosophy I wish I had found earlier…and I wrote these books to help kids do exactly that. My oldest became obsessed with Minecraft this year so we spent a lot of time going through the 6-book series the Minecraft Woodsword Chronicles. They are great books to do a chapter or two of a night. As far as all-out fun kids books, we have returned again and again and again to The Book With No Pictures–my kids think they are pranking me by asking me to read it…of course what they’re actually doing is falling in love with books. Along those lines, we loved I Need a New Butt (there’s a series). For some insane reason some people are trying to ban this book in Texas, but that’s just another reason to buy it (I’ll spoil the ending…he needs a new butt because his has a crack in it.) If you’re trying to raise a reader, Maya Smart (podcast episode here) wrote a great book on exactly that–I think every parent should read Reading for Our Lives. Finally, we’re still loving The Boy, The Horse, The Fox and the Mole, which is absolutely beautiful and a monster bestseller for a reason.
As always, I appreciate you supporting my bookstore, The Painted Porch. Please note that because a lot of the books we sell are backlist titles, there can sometimes be delays in stocking/sourcing. And with that, I hope that you’ll get around to reading whichever of these books catch your eye and that you’ll learn as much as I did. Whether you buy them at The Painted Porch or on Amazon today, or at your nearest independent bookstore six months from now makes no difference to me. I just hope you read!
You’re welcome to email me questions or raise issues for discussion. Better yet, if you know of a good book on a related topic, please pass it along. And as always, if one of these books comes to mean something to you, recommend it to someone else.
I promised myself a long time ago that if I saw a book that interested me I’d never let time or money or anything else prevent me from having it. This means that I treat reading with a certain amount of respect. All I ask, if you decide to email me back, is that you’re not just thinking aloud.
Enjoy these books, treat your education like the job that it is, and let me know if you ever need anything.
All the best,
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