Best books of 2022: FT critics’ picks

© Cat O’Neil

Roula Khalaf

Editor FT

Don’t expect a new scoop on Donald Trump at Maggie Haberman Confidence Man but the voluminous account by the famous New York Times reporter is no less revealing. Haberman has closely tracked Trump since his rise to fame in New York in the 1980s and captures him brilliantly as “narcissistic, drama-seeker who covers a fragile ego with bullying impulses and . . . takes American democracy to the brink”. Trump has installed Haberman and given him several interviews for the book, saying in one that “he’s like my psychiatrist”. Prepare to be alarmed by this book. In fiction, I loved it MagicianColm Tóibín’s fictional biography of the great German novelist Thomas Mann and perhaps his best book.

Frederick Studemann

FT literary editor

A friend who shook me archer did so with the recommendation that Hernan Diaz’s exploration of money, power and reputation would be “perfect” for the FT. After racing through it, I can see why. Diaz’s account of the life and work of a Gatsbyesque 1920s Wall Street mogul and his wife is told from multiple perspectives, raising questions about who gets to tell “the story” and, indeed, how stories are created and defined for posterity. At a time when the billionaire’s more bizarre behavior feels very relevant.

I also enjoy A magnificent rebel, Andrea Wulf’s account of the “Jena Set”, a group of German Romantics who gather in a small university town at the turn of the 19th century in the wake of the French Revolution. Wulf assembles an impressive cast of writers, philosophers, and scientists – including Schiller, Goethe, Hegel, Novalis, Humboldt, Caroline Schlegel – who strive to challenge intellectual and social orthodoxies and reunite the natural world and the intellectual. Wulf makes a strong case for the lasting impact – bad and good – of Jena’s set obsession with self.

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Enuma Okoro

FT Life & Arts columnist

In a world full of facts and information, I found the Norwegian writer Hanne Ørstavik. From Amo. In 120 pages of poetic, honest and heartfelt reflections, translated by Martin Aitken, an unnamed woman draws on her experience of caring for her dying husband as he refuses to acknowledge his terminal diagnosis. This is a book about intimacy, and the profound beauty and challenge of loving another human being – and how our relationships to others can be as solid and fragile as glass.

Rana Foroohar

FT global business columnist

Many people today think perfection is both possible, and desirable. in The Good-Enough Life (Princeton, £20 / $24.95) Avram Alpert argues that it is the opposite. Our quest to maximize everything makes us anxious, narcissistic and horrible to ourselves and others. It also makes it harder to tackle the world’s biggest problems, from climate change to inequality. Read this book, breathe a sigh of relief, and go to sleep.

Stephen Bush

FT columnist and associate editor

Emily St. John Mandel’s Sea of quiet The author continues to use the tropes of science fiction and fantasy, which is his 2014 breakout novel. Station Eleven and a haunting meditation on the Madoff scandal, Glass Hotelwhile mixing it with the human focus that made his first novels such a pleasure to read.

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Book of the Year 2022

All this week, FT writers and critics share their favourites. Some of the highlights are:

Monday: Business by Andrew Hill
Tuesday: Environment by Pilita Clark
Wednesday: Economics by Martin Wolf
Thursday: Fiction by Laura Battle
Friday: Politics by Gideon Rachman
Saturday: Critic’s choice

Camilla Cavendish

FT columnist

Robert Hardman’s Queen of Our Time is an enthralling and definitive portrait by a veteran royal chronicler. This sweep of history is leavened with witty anecdotes, including Barack Obama shrugging off the lack of an en-suite bathroom. Hardman’s book put crown The TV series remains in place, showing Her Majesty still enjoys work even during the pandemic.

Team Harford

FT columnist

We all used to complain about Big Tech’s monopoly, but Chokepoint Capitalism by Rebecca Giblin and Cory Doctorow shows how widespread the problem is now, and how smarter rules can defang many of these monopoly powers even if we step back from breaking up monopolists. Nerdy, sharp, radical and readable.

Katie Martin

FT market editor

The book really blew me away this year Mungo is young by Douglas Stuart. I knew to expect an emotional journey with this novel after Stuart’s Booker winner Shuggie Bain, and in a way, it covered similar ground: family, alcoholism, poverty, sexuality. But when I finished Mungo is young in line at the airport with my family, I could barely string a sentence together. Gloomy but really beautiful, strong stuff.

To Inagaki

FT Tokyo bureau chief

After giving birth to my second child last year, I bought an Emi Yagi Diary of a Void very curious. What I found, though, in this novel was much more than an account of a Japanese woman pretending to be pregnant to find a way out of her office misery. This is a book that reflects life, loneliness and what it means to be a woman.

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Janan Ganesh

After a string of books that discussed without explaining the issues of the day – climate change, Brexit, AI – Ian McEwan returns to the inside and lesson, the story of a life of disappointment. He captures the lust of youth and the regret of late life with equal force. As with all good fiction, the “lesson” is not overly clear and didactic.

Nilanjana Roy

FT columnist

Shree’s Geetanjali cemetery of the sand This is partly a story about an elderly woman who rose from her bed to make a journey across frontiers, into a damaged past, but also a patchwork of voices and unforgettable characters, chattering among themselves, elbowing each other out of the glass. Heartache but full of life, Tomb of the Sands won the Booker International Prize, and is an eternal joy.

Ivan Krastev

FT contributing editor

Georgi Gospodinov’s Time shelter is a novel-reflection about the dangers of nostalgia. This is the story of Europe torn between the belief that the world was better yesterday and the fear that the war will come again. Published in Bulgarian two years before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the novel ends with a warning: “Tomorrow is September 1, 1939”.

For further suggestions, see Book Summer 2022

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