2022 National Book Awards Longlist for Nonfiction

September 2022



The ten contenders for the National Book Award for Nonfiction

Find The New Yorker’s announcement here.

The National Book Foundation announced the Longlist for the 2022 National Book Award for Nonfiction. The Finalists in all five categories will be revealed on Tuesday, October 4.

The 2022 Nonfiction Longlist is comprised of a mix of debut and established writers, and includes works of memoir, science writing, biographies of American political figures, explorations of US and global history, and more. A majority of the Longlisted authors are newcomers to the National Book Awards and the National Book Foundation, with exceptions being David Quammen, who was Longlisted for the National Book Award for Nonfiction in 2018, and Kelly Lytle Hernández, who was a 2019-2020 Literature for Justice Committee Member and a 2020-2021 Literature for Justice selected title. This year’s Nonfiction Longlist includes two Guggenheim Fellows and a MacArthur Fellow. In addition, the Longlisted authors have previously been honored by the California Book Awards, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, the PEN/Jacqueline Bograd Weld Award, and the Pulitzer Prize. Their writing has previously appeared in The Atlantic, The Believer, Best American Essays, Harper’s Magazine, National Geographic, The New Yorker, the New York Times, The Washington Post, ZYZZYVA, and more.

Three genre-bending memoirs on the Longlist weave together the personal, political, and everything in between. After an accident leaves her with amnesia, Ingrid Rojas Contreras travels to her native Colombia with her mother to disinter the remains of her late grandfather—a curandero, or community healer with magical powers. The Man Who Could Move Clouds: A Memoir untangles the legacies of colonialism, trauma, and mysticism in Colombia’s history, her ancestral lineage, and within Rojas Contreras herself. In Uncommon Measure: A Journey Through Music, Performance, and the Science of Time, author Natalie Hodges delves into the psychology of musicality inspired by her own crippling performance anxiety. Hodges combines music theory, neuroscience, and quantum physics alongside personal stories of her abusive father, her mother’s immigration to the US from Korea, and the high expectations that fueled her dream of becoming a concert solo violinist. In Lost & Found: A Memoir, Kathryn Schulz writes about losing her beloved father while simultaneously meeting her future wife, in a meditation on the interconnectedness of joy and grief. Schulz explores her own deeply-felt experiences with essayistic prose on universal everyday losses—a childhood toy, a letter, a wallet—revealing the oddities in the category of loss contrasted with the delight in the objects, new ideas, and connections that can be found throughout one’s life.

Reflecting the incalculably far-reaching effects of the global pandemic, COVID-19 is addressed in three of this year’s Longlisted titles. Most closely tied to the ongoing pandemic, David Quammen interviewed close to 100 scientists and health officials in order to record the scientific response to COVID-19—from the frantic efforts to trace its origins to the development of an effective vaccine, and the ongoing quest to understand the disease’s long-lasting impacts in Breathless: The Scientific Race to Defeat a Deadly Virus. Drawing from her own experiences of living with an invisible, chronic illness and accompanied by interviews with scientists, doctors, and patients alike, Meghan O’Rourke sheds light on the development—and, often—flaws of modern Western medicine. The Invisible Kingdom: Reimagining Chronic Illness makes the case for a shift in our approach to diagnosing and treating diseases, especially as healthcare infrastructures prepare to treat patients living with long COVID and other poorly understood medical conditions. Set in four continents across the globe, Bright Unbearable Reality: Essays tackles human migration, displacement, and the global pandemic. A former war correspondent, Anna Badkhen examines grief through essays that contemplate memory, belonging, the meaning of home, and, ultimately, the hope catalyzed by human connection.

Authors and historians Kelly Lytle Hernández and Imani Perry reframe what we think we know of US and global identity and history. Lytle Hernández depicts the cross-border history of the migrant rebels, known as magonistas, who paved the way for the 1910 Mexican Revolution led by brothers Jesús and Ricardo Flores Magón. Bad Mexicans: Race, Empire, and Revolution in the Borderlands recounts President Porfirio Díaz’s rise to power, the United States’ role in undermining the revolt, and how those events continue to influence US–Mexico relations today. Perry journeys through the American South in a blend of personal history, travel narrative, and an examination of race, politics, culture, and identity. South to America: A Journey Below the Mason-Dixon to Understand the Soul of a Nation tells the stories of immigrants, enslaved people, and Perry’s own ancestors to demonstrate that we must first understand the South before we can fully understand the United States.

In the intensively researched His Name Is George Floyd: One Man’s Life and the Struggle for Racial Justice, Washington Post reporters Robert Samuels and Toluse Olorunnipa illuminate the life of a man whose untimely death reverberated around the world. This biography is both an exploration of George Floyd’s family roots, and an examination of how housing inequality, educational system disparities, the war on drugs, and the crisis of mass incarceration all led to a fateful moment in history that ignited protests against police brutality and racial injustice across the United States.

Only decades earlier in American history, John A. Farrell chronicles the life of Edward M. Kennedy, heralded as one of America’s most important political figures, and provides new insight into his private life and public career, through access to his personal diary and interviews with family members, former staffers, and archivists. In Ted Kennedy: A Life, readers inhabit the mind of the youngest of the Kennedy brothers through his inherited status, scandals, tragedies, and political triumphs.

Publishers submitted a total of 607 books for the 2022 National Book Award for Nonfiction. The judges for Nonfiction are Carol Anderson, Melissa Febos, Thor Hanson, Janet Webster Jones, and Oscar Villalon (Chair). Judges’ decisions are made independently of the National Book Foundation staff and Board of Directors and deliberations are strictly confidential. Winners in all categories will be announced live at the National Book Awards Ceremony on Wednesday, November 16.

2022 Longlist for the National Book Award for Nonfiction:

Anna Badkhen, Bright Unbearable Reality: Essays
New York Review Books

John A. Farrell, Ted Kennedy: A Life
Penguin Press / Penguin Random House

Natalie Hodges, Uncommon Measure: A Journey Through Music, Performance, and the Science of Time
Bellevue Literary Press

Kelly Lytle Hernández, Bad Mexicans: Race, Empire, and Revolution in the Borderlands
W. W. Norton & Company

Meghan O’Rourke, The Invisible Kingdom: Reimagining Chronic Illness
Riverhead Books / Penguin Random House

Imani Perry, South to America: A Journey Below the Mason-Dixon to Understand the Soul of a Nation
Ecco / HarperCollins Publishers

David Quammen, Breathless: The Scientific Race to Defeat a Deadly Virus
Simon & Schuster

Ingrid Rojas Contreras, The Man Who Could Move Clouds: A Memoir
Doubleday / Penguin Random House 

Robert Samuels and Toluse Olorunnipa, His Name Is George Floyd: One Man’s Life and the Struggle for Racial Justice
Viking Books / Penguin Random House

Kathryn Schulz, Lost & Found: A Memoir
Random House / Penguin Random House