Impossible though it may be, I’ve chosen some favourites from the books I read in 2022. I know everyone else writes their end-of-year lists in December, but that misses out on all the great reading time that happens between Christmas and New Year, right?
Here are a handful of recommendations out of the 82 books I read last year. (These are the grown-up ones. I picked a top ten children’s books here.) Click on the titles for full reviews, and they’re all available from Earthbound Books UK.
Nomad Century, by Gaia Vince
Migration is an overlooked aspect of climate change, despite the politically charged rhetoric around immigration. Gaia Vince investigates the drivers of migration, the places most at risks, and the shifting demographic challenges of the next century.
The book deals with migration as climate adaptation: relocating has often been the best response to a threat, all throughout history. It remains so today, but it’s hard to imagine mass climate migration as positive in a world of border walls and passports, prejudice and paranoia. It’s to Vince’s immense credit then that Nomad Century is so full of solutions, possibilities and hope.
The Book of Trespass, by Nick Hayes
I’ve already recommended this several times, and I can see why it’s been a bestseller. Nick Hayes weaves together history, politics, travel and nature writing to explore land owership and access, basing each chapter around a trespass onto private land. There’s a kind of righteous prankster element to the book, but it’s not a gimmick – the book itself is a form of protest. It’s also deeply researched and elegantly written, and illustrated with Hayes’ own woodcuts.
Land distribution is the great underlying injustice of British society, and it has rarely been written about so clearly, passionately and playfully.
The Age of Resilience, by Jeremy Rifkin
Jeremy Rifkin is an author with a reputation for ambitious and forward-thinking books, and The Age of Resilience does not disappoint. Rifkin’s target here is the ‘age of progress’ that defined progress around efficiency and control. This philosophy, hand in hand with capitalism, has made commodities out of nature and organised it for profit. That is now unravelling, and if we’re going to thrive in this changing world, we’re going to need to understand ourselves as embedded in nature, and learn to prioritise life rather than profit.
Rifkin comes across as a writer interested in everything, and so the book is a big melting pot of ideas that I rather enjoyed.
Regenesis, by George Monbiot
Not everyone has responded positively to Monbiot’s latest book, which looks at how to feed a growing world population without destroying the climate in the process. It’s been interpreted as dismissive of farmers and farming, but the book spends a lot of time with farmers. Monbiot learns from them and identifies what farming can and can’t do, where we have to look beyond traditional answers such as local or organic agriculture. They won’t be enough, and this is a brave and counter-cultural book for an environmentalist, unafraid to tie together high-tech and low-tech solutions, open to both pioneering science and tradition land management.
Africa is not a Country, by Dipo Faloyin
There are plenty of hefty and worthy books written about Africa. They’re not usually written by Africans, and they’re not usually funny, and so Dipo Faloyin bucks the trend twice over with Africa is not a Country.
The book is written as a kind of portrait of a continent, with histories of different countries, alongside cultural chapters covering things like football rivalries, or competing claims around the correct way to make rice, or satirical advice on how to make a film set in Africa. The book has a lot to say about racism, imperialism, and prejudice, but the overall tone is nevertheless affirming, heartfelt and entertaining.
That’s a top five, in no particular order. A top ten might include the flight-free travel book Zero Altitude, by Helen Coffey, or Holly Jean Buck getting to the point of climate action in Ending Fossil Fuels. A book that really made me think well beyond its modest page count was Solar Politics by Oxana Timofeeva, and my favourite novel of the year was Cloud Cuckoo Land, by Anthony Doerr. Over Christmas I read the distinctly un-Christmassy The Book smugglers of Timbuktu and that was excellent too.
As I try to be deliberate about what I read, this year had a pretty much 50/50 split between male and female authors, and 18 were BIPOC authors. Most authors were based in the UK or the US, but I also read books from South Korea, Poland, Nigeria, China, Sweden, India, Lebanon, Russia, Japan, Cameroun, France and Germany. Maybe something from South America next time.
What were your top recommendations? Let me know in the comments.