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The Best History Books of 2022

Don't miss these vital glimpses into the past.

best history books of 2022
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  • Photo Credit: Jeremy Bishop/Unsplash

As we step eagerly into all that 2023 can bring us, we can't let the new year make us forget all that 2022 provided. As true as that is for the annals of history, it's just as true for our bookshelves! From the fascinating history of time itself to the devastating effects of nuclear power, 2022 has delivered some incredible history books. We've gathered here the very best of the best.

about time

About Time: A History of Civilization in Twelve Clocks

By David Rooney

Time passes in the same way all around the world—but it has not always been observed the same. The ways in which timekeeping has changed across thousands of years and across different cultures has shaped the way we live. From ancient Rome's sundials and medieval China's water clocks to the high-precision GPS satellites circling Earth since 1978, these tools give us more knowledge and control, but have also been wielded as a surprising means of power. This book shares the history of 12 clocks, marking pivotal moments across the centuries in which time was imagined, politicized, and even weaponized.

A Legacy of Violence

Legacy of Violence: A History of the British Empire

By Caroline Elkins

The largest empire in human history belonged to Britain in the 20th century. Something that vast certainly doesn't come easy. How did a tiny island manage to subjugate so much of the globe? This book explores more than 200 years of history to peel back the British Empire's legacy of violence, unveiling deeply rooted systemic racism and how a sense of cultural superiority was advanced over nearly 700 million people.

atoms and ashes

Atoms and Ashes: From Bikini Atoll to Fukushima

By Serhii Plokhy

Most people are familiar with the devastating nuclear tragedy that took place in Chernobyl in 1986. That was hardly the first nuclear catastrophe—and can we safely say it will be the last? This book explores six horrifying incidents that expose the risk of nuclear power, taking readers to Bikini Atoll, the USSR, the UK, Japan, and Pennsylvania.

river of the gods

River of the Gods

By Candice Millard

The great feat of locating the Nile River's headwaters is a story far more harrowing than you could imagine—and far more complicated. As interest in ancient Egypt reached a fever pitch in the 19th century, European powers simultaneously raced to expand their empires across unexplored parts of the globe. The Royal Geographical Society picked Richard Burton and John Hanning Speke—two clashing men of different talents and temperaments—to claim their glory.

As they explored the depths of the African interior, these men were beset by illness, numerous setbacks, and constant hardship. When Burton became too sick to carry on, Speke claimed he found the source of the Nile in what he called Lake Victoria. As the pair returned to England, they battled over credit for the discovery. But lost to history was a third man present on their expeditions: Sidi Mubarak Bombay, a former slave who made his living as a guide.

we the miners

We the Miners: Self-Government in the California Gold Rush

By Andrea G. McDowell

When the Wild West comes to mind, it conjures an image of a lawless, chaotic time and place. But this book aims to prove that Gold Rush California wasn't that "wild"—at least, not in the way that people normally presume. Isolated 1,500 miles from the nearest state and with a rapidly fluctuating population, California should have been in shambles. After all, there was no formal government, and those who flocked there had no other goal but to become indescribably wealthy.

However, the miners proved themselves to be adept at self-governing. The Americans organized efficient meetings that captured a great attention to detail as they adopted mining codes, ran large projects, and settled disputes and criminal trials. However, like their homes back east, their racial bias was far from peaceful. As they expelled foreign miners from dig sites, others massacred the Native Americans who called that land home.

This book explores the good, the bad, and the ugly of this self-sufficient force.

prisoners of the castle

Prisoners of the Castle: An Epic Story of Survival and Escape from Colditz, the Nazis' Fortress Prison

By Ben Macintyre

Throughout World War II, the looming Colditz Castle was used by the German army to imprison the most defiant of Allied prisoners. And for the four years the castle was in use, these tenacious prisoners would test the walls and its guards to find clever means of escape.

Beyond the legendary tales of escape, the people housed inside the castle were heroes and traitors alike. There were class conflicts and secret alliances brewing, and the prisoners experienced all manner of feeling from soaring joy to utter despair. Among the famous prisoners were British Officer Pat Reid, Indian doctor Birendranath Mazumdar, America's oldest paratrooper Florimon Duke, and brilliant inventor Christopher Clayton Hutton.

american midnight

American Midnight: The Great War, a Violent Peace, and Democracy's Forgotten Crisis

By Adam Hochschild

Though many historians and texts dive into great detail about World War I and the booming period of the Roaring Twenties, few talk about the turbulent period in between. This was a time darkened by war, pandemic, and violence driven by race, immigration, and labor rights. Black churches were turned to ash by mobs as thousands of people were imprisoned for simply voicing their opinions. As vigilantes performed mass citizens' arrests, somewhere around 75 newspapers and magazines were banned. If the government made a move to intervene, it was only to make things worse.

This period of injustice had its heroes, however, including sitting president Woodrow Wilson, anti-war advocates Kate Richards O’Hare and Emma Goldman, labor champion Eugene Debs, and even J. Edgar Hoover. This book covers the four-year period after the U.S. entry into World War I, exposing sides both horrifying and inspiring.

half american

Half American: The Epic Story of African Americans Fighting World War II at Home and Abroad

By Matthew F. Delmont

World War II was fought by more than one million Black men and women. Normandy, Iwo Jima, and the Battle of the Bulge all saw Black troops in segregated units, holding vital jobs for the cause. And yet when these troops returned home, they were denied housing and educational opportunities. If this "Good War" was fought by the "Greatest Generation," then why were some of its most essential soldiers ignored both then and today?

This book tells the stories of Black heroes. Among them is Thurgood Marshall, the chief lawyer for the NAACP who investigated and publicized violence against Black troops and veterans. There's also Benjamin O. Davis Jr., Ella Baker, James Thompson, Langston Hughes—all brave patriots who fought to bring America's hypocrisy to light.

Featured image: Jeremy Bishop/Unsplash