Books by Princeton humanities professors make year-end ‘best-of’ lists
Whether you favor biography, memoir, fiction, history or nonfiction, books by Princeton professors on 2022’s “best of” lists offer options that illuminate the world — both real and imagined. Explore these titles below.
Throughout the year, the University’s Humanities Council Faculty Bookshelf highlights humanities scholarship, and the Lewis Center for the Arts recognizes new works of creative writing on its Featured Faculty Publications.
- “Paul Laurence Dunbar: The Life and Times of a Caged Bird" by Gene Andrew Jarrett, dean of the faculty and the William S. Tod Professor of English.
Dunbar was one of the first African American writers to gain international recognition in the wake of emancipation. Jarrett’s biography, which presents a detailed portrait of the poet’s life and work as a central figure in American literary history, made The New Yorker’s Best Books of 2022 and Book Riot’s Best Biographies of 2022. Read a Q&A online, in which Jarrett reveals the backstory of several moments in the book and reflects on how his Princeton professor Toni Morrison helped shape his own story as a writer.
- “The Book of Goose" by Yiyun Li, professor of creative writing in the Lewis Center for the Arts and director of the Program in Creative Writing.
Li's latest novel explores themes of friendship, intimacy, obsession, resilience and strength of will as it tells the story of Agnès and Fabienne, two childhood best friends who hatch a plan to escape their war-ravaged home in rural Paris. “The Book of Goose” landed on The New Yorker’s Best Books of 2022, TIME’s 100 Must-Read Books of 2022, The Financial Times’ Best Fiction Books of 2022, and Slate’s The 10 Best Books of 2022, among others.
- “Mirror in the Sky: The Life and Music of Stevie Nicks” by Simon Morrison, professor of music and Slavic languages and literatures, and director of the Humanities Council’s Fund for Canadian Studies.
Drawn from existing oral histories, exclusive interviews with musicians and producers, and new archival discoveries, Morrison's book examines the life of the prolific singer and songwriter, both as lead vocalist of Fleetwood Mac and as a solo artist. The musical biography is included in The Best Music Books of the Year from Best Classic Bands and Yahoo’s Holiday Gift Guide Essentials. Read a Q&A online, in which Morrison reflects on the ingredients of Nicks’ iconic appeal, her intentional focus on feelings in her lyrics and her persistence to be heard in male-dominated world.
- “We Don’t Know Ourselves: A Personal History of Modern Ireland” by Fintan O’Toole, visiting lecturer in English and theater and the Lewis Center for the Arts, visiting Leonard L. Milberg '53 Professor in Irish Letters and chair of the Fund for Irish Studies.
Author and veteran journalist O’Toole chronicles a decades-long experiment with Irish national identity in this landmark work, which serves as both memoir and a social and national history of modern Ireland. The book landed on The New York Times’ 10 Best Books of 2022, The New Yorker’s Best Books of 2022, and The Washington Post’s 50 Notable Works of Nonfiction, among others.
- “South to America: A Journey Below the Mason-Dixon to Understand the Soul of a Nation” by Imani Perry, the Hughes-Rogers Professor of African American Studies.
In a narrative journey through the American South, Perry weaves together stories of her ancestors and her own lived experiences, while telling the stories of immigrant communities, contemporary artists, exploitative opportunists, enslaved peoples and unsung heroes. The book was awarded the National Book Award for Nonfiction. It also landed on The New Yorker’s Best Books of 2022, TIME magazine’s 10 Best Nonfiction Books of 2022, Esquire magazine’s Best Nonfiction Books of 2022, Smithsonian’s 10 Best Books About Travel of 2022 and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s "Best Southern Books of 2022," among others, and was chosen for LaVar Burton’s Book Club.
- “Pushing Cool: Big Tobacco, Racial Marketing, and the Untold Story of the Menthol Cigarette” by Keith Wailoo, the Henry Putnam University Professor of History and Public Affairs.
Wailoo recounts the long history of menthol cigarettes and how targeted racial marketing and deception tactics have shaped cultural perception and buying habits that have endured to this day. “Pushing Cool” made The New Yorker’s Best Books of 2022. Watch a video Q&A with Wailoo online.
- "A Greeting of the Spirit: Selected Poetry of John Keats with Commentaries" by Susan J. Wolfson, professor of English.
The 78 verse selections with commentary in Wolfson's book include Ode to a Nightingale, Ode on a Grecian Urn, To Autumn, La Belle Dame sans Merci, The Eve of St. Agnes and other favorites, along with lesser-known poems. The edition is included in the Times Literary Supplement's Books of the Year 2022 on the recommendation of TLS contributor Joyce Carol Oates, the Roger S. Berlind '52 Professor in the Humanities, Emeritus.
- Additionally, current Lewis Center Hodder Fellow Jamil Jan Kochai's "The Haunting of Hajji Hotak and Other Stories” was selected as one of NPR’s Books We Love from 2022. “Best of Friends” by Kamila Shamsie is one of The Guardian’s Best Books to Give as Presents this Christmas and one of the Best Fiction Books of 2022 from The Financial Times; Shamsie will be a Long-Term Visiting Fellow for one semester in the Humanities Council and the Department of English in spring 2023.
Lisa Kraege and Jamie Saxon contributed reporting for this story.