BLG’s Top Reads of 2022

Here’s a look back at the best I read during 2022.  These are roughly listed best, first; but the quality was generally so high as to make fine distinctions specious.  Some comments on each follows the lists.  I’ll be fleshing those out over the next few days so visit to see updates, if you like.

Also, I have to give a shout-out to my wonderful wife, who bought me most of these books last Christmas and keep me happily swamped in reading material for most of the year.



  • How to Hide an Empire: A History of the Greater United States by Daniel Immerwahr
  • Destiny Disrupted: A History of the World Through Islamic Eyes by Mir Tamim Ansary
  • Money: The True Story of a Made-up Thing by Jacob Goldstein
  • Shady Characters: The Secret Life of Punctuation, Symbols, and Other Typographical Marks by Keith Houston 
  • The Wordhord: Daily Life in Old English by Hana Videen
  • Immune: A Journey into the Mysterious System That Keeps You Alive by Philipp Dettmer
  • Hitler’s American Gamble: Pearl Harbor and Germany’s March to Global War by Brendan Simms and Charlie Laderman
  • Papyrus: The Invention of Books in the Ancient World by Irene Vallejo
  • Who Killed Jane Stanford?: A Gilded Age Tale of Murder, Deceit, Spirits and the Birth of a University by Richard White
  • The Alchemists: Three Central Bankers and a World on Fire by Neil Irwin

Academic Exercises

This is a clever anthology full of clever stories, which is not unexpected in a collection by K.J. Parker.  The stories range over a wide swath of topics and styles.  Some are thought-provoking, some of beautiful, and some are no more or less than genuinely entertaining.

All the Seas in the World

I discovered Guy Gavriel Kay by accident way back in the mid-1980s, when I accidentally accepted the delivery of an unknown fantasy book from the Science Fiction Book Club.  (Remember them?)  The book was The Summer Tree and it was the best high fantasy I’d read since Tolkein.  I’ve read every Kay book since, and each one has further cemented that opinion: Guy Gavriel Kay is the best fantasy writer of the modern age.  He’s been slowly working his way through the history of an alternate Europe, and All the Seas gets him to the early Renaissance.  I have to admit, it’s not his absolute best — his style is consistent but is wearing a bit threadbare, and little can compare to The Lions of al-Rassan in any event — but it is nonetheless an excellent adventure story with the genuine human emotion at its heart that we’ve come to expect from Kay.

Da Vinci’s Cat

This work is tasty but insubstantial, like a literary sugar cookie.  The time-travel aspect is relatively obvious and even a bit hackneyed, despite attempts by the author to make it exotic.  The tale is pretty straight forward but well-told, and the resolution is sweet and rewarding.

Destiny Disrupted

I find it sadly necessary to actively seek out histories with a non-Western vantage, because such were not centered in my formal education.  I’ve done a fair bit of reading about the post-Roman era and the Middle Ages, but largely focused on Europe.  It can be easy to mistake the tumult and chaos of Europe for something universal.  This book is a useful tonic, covering history since the dawn of Islam from the point of view of Islam.  Europeans show up only intermittently, as those somewhat-backward foreigners who are too loud and too uncouth — at least, until the 1600s, when it all begins to slew sidewise.  The author wrestles with one of the most pressing questions in history: With all the advantages of youth, riches, and science, why didn’t Dar al-islam go on to colonize the world?  How did those background Europeans manage to overtake and eventually dominate the Islamic lands (and most others)?  And the author is smart enough not to give a single answer or to paper over the nuances and complexities.

How to Hide an Empire

This was the most eye-opening book on history that I’ve read in a very long while.  It is meticulously researched and annotated, but vast in sweep.  The clash between republican ideals and imperial ambitions has shaded US politics since before the American Civil War, and casts its long shadow down into the 21st century as well.  The discordant inharmonies between what we are and what we want to see ourselves as being, and the tremendous effort we put into hiding the truth from ourselves, make for a fascinating if often disheartening read.  This history hasn’t been erased so much as buried, driven off to the margins of the page, and plastered over by an unspoken, almost unconscious conspiracy of silence, so as to virtually invent a new country to hide the real one.  I think every awake American should take a look at this one.

Money: The True Story of a Made-up Thing

Alas, this book is not about making more money; it’s about the history of money, from ancient days through the global crash in 2008.  Sharply written and mostly clear, it does a laudable job at demystifying the concept of money.  The author is also not loath to air the less-than-laudatory history of the monetary system, making clear that money is a made-up thing that nonetheless surrounds and constrains very real lives.

Star Trek Year 5

This comic book series purports to chronicle the final leg of the original, history-making five-year-mission of the USS Enterprise, as if the original Star Trek series had not been cancelled.  It is sold cleverly as four books, each of which depict two or three “episodes” from the season.  There’s a moderate amount of fan service but usually well within the parameters of the story.  More than nearly anything I’ve read or seen in the Star Trek Expanded Universe, these stories feel like classic Trek.  But more than a simple romp over familiar ground, the “season” has a unified theme of the endings of things and the wrestling therewith every person must undergo.  Moreover, the pieces are moved so deftly that by the end, the situation at the start of The Motion Picture is not only clear but seemingly inevitable. 

The Kaiju Preservation Society

Not a whole lot to say about this one.  It’s by John Scalzi, which tells you everything you need to know: If you like Scalzi’s stuff, you’ll like this; if you don’t, you won’t.  Scalzi is a very professional and very workmanlike writer.  He crafts stories that are interesting and fun, but he doesn’t break lots of new ground doing it.  This book was exactly what it wanted to be, a light brisk sci fi adventure.  We don’t give enough credit to books that are what they want to be.

The Midnight Library

I’ll admit, it took me most of this book to decide whether I liked this book.  The protagonist is a sort that reliably raises my hackles, passively self-destructive and irritatingly bleh.  But the book is about personal growth and the long journey of the protagonist legitimately pays for the development she undergoes.  I am a bibliophile, which predisposed me to favor any book that centers, well, books; and libraries are, to me, civil temples.  The author captures that wonderfully.  Above all else, there is real beauty in some of the language deployed; it was a genuine treat to read.


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