Welcome to the official 2023 Books & Biceps Reading List, AKA, the 15 Most Memorable Books I Read in 2022.
Why most memorable?
Because “best” and “top” in my opinion aren’t really helpful when it comes to book recommendations. Some books make an impact. Some don’t. These did.
As you’ll see, some of these books were not published this year. A few were holdovers from last year that I never got to and a few more were books that I’ve always wanted to read that I finally made time for.
I started several more books than you’ll see here but I didn’t finish them (if a book hasn’t hooked me in 50-100 pages, I’m out). I also finished other books but for one reason or another they were forgettable. These books, as the title reads, are memorable.
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Without further adieu, here are the 15 Most Memorable Books I Read in 2022:
American Kingpin By: Nick Bolton
Have you ever heard of the Dark Web? How about the Silk Road? If you haven’t, here’s a quick recap: The Dark Web is a sort of alternate Internet where none of the traditional web rules apply. It’s essentially the online wild west and it exists behind, around and between the internet you’re reading this on now.
The reason it’s known as “dark” is because anything that happens there can’t be traced. Or at least for a long time it couldn’t be… The most famous site on the dark web was called The Silk Road. It was created in 2011 by a guy in his twenties, entirely by himself, in his bedroom.
He did the work of 20 programmers, coders, developers, hackers and more… And in a short time he built a site where people could sell every drug imaginable anonymously. Then people started selling guns and other weapons. All transactions took place in bitcoin (back when bitcoins were were worth between $1 and $10).
Within months this dude was making tens of thousands of dollars a week. Then tens of thousands of dollars a day. Then hundreds of thousands of dollars a week. Inside of a few years he found himself inching up to becoming a billionaire – and the most powerful, wealthy drug dealer in history.
It’s a true story and it reads like a thriller. Can’t recommend it enough. Wild. Order American Kingpin here.
The Future of Humanity: Terraforming Mars, Interstellar Travel, Immortality, and Our Destiny Beyond Earth By: Michio Kaku
Forget exploring the Metaverse. VR and virtual worlds do nothing for me… I want to know when and how we’ll be exploring the universe! When are we going to travel through time? How are we going to engineer atmospheres on other planets? How can the human body adapt to space travel? How long can we extend life to explore the cosmos???
If you’ve ever thought about any of these things (and how haven’t you?) I can’t recommend this book enough. Dr. Kaku writes about incredibly complex topics in simple, casual terms… He uses movie references, pop fiction references and more to explain what’s possible, what’s impossible, and what’s kinda sorta possible with a little innovation. You’ll even find yourself understanding worm holes and how they work. Get it here.
The Apollo Murders By: Colonel Chris Hadfield
I took Kaku’s book out of our town library and on the same shelf was a book with a title that caught my eye… The Apollo Murders. When I picked it up, I discovered that the book not only had a great plot about an alternate past (an Apollo 18 mission that never happened) but also was written by an actual astronaut who had been in space.
The details of space flight and the moon are terrific…and the plot is as well. What if in the 1970s Soviet cosmonauts and American astronauts had a confrontation in space? And on the moon? Based on facts and rumors from each space program, Hadfield creates a “could have happened” book that moves fast and reads like an action movie. Get it here.
It Was All a Dream: Biggie and the World that Made Him By: Justin Tinsley
First, I love this book’s cover. It’s artistic. It’s bold. It’s like a movie poster. Awesome.
Second, if you grew up in the 80s and 90s and are fan of music in particular, or rap and pop culture in general, then this book is as much about the musical world of your high school and college years as anything else.
The backdrop, of course, is Brooklyn. But not just Brooklyn in the 90s and 2000s. Tinsley does an incredible job setting the stage for Biggie and the environment he came up in that I’d guess most people reading this didn’t know much about. Everything from the corruption in local government to the nonsensical laws about certain drugs, to the unintended consequences of legal statutes that turned sections of the city into drug and war zones, this book is sprawling and puts Biggie as the eye of a cultural hurricane.
And then, naturally, the book moves to music and pop culture and Puff Daddy and Bad Boy Records and how unique Biggie was on the scene.
As Tinsley put it, “There wasn’t anyone who looked like Big. He wasn’t a chiseled sex symbol like LL Cool J… or a high energy small guy like Easy E or Phife Dawg… He didn’t even initially have the big guy sex symbol vibes like Heavy D…”
But he could rhyme. And flow. And he was on his own level lyrically.
If you’ve been following up to this point, then you should buy the book, because while you think you know the rest of Biggie’s rise, you don’t. And you’ll be mesmerized by the detail Tinsley puts into his last years. Grab the book here.
River of the Gods: Genius, Courage, and Betrayal in the Search for the Source of the Nile By: Candace Millard
Death, taxes and Candace Millard writing non fiction masterpieces. These three things are unstoppable. Since I started writing a yearly book list 8 years ago, I believe I’ve included every single book that Millard has released. And this year’s offering, River of the Gods is, as you’d guess, brillian
This book reads like an Indiana Jones movie except it’s all real.
We’re talking about exploration into the densest parts of the jungle, animal attacks, sultans, slavery, starvation, illness, competition, guts, grit and a level of stubbornness to be the first person to find the Nile’s source that is hard to fathom. Millard writes her books like a hard charging documentary, taking you right into the heart of every life-and-death scene. And you get to know these extraordinary characters like you’ve lived with them your whole life. You feel their charisma through the page. You should read this one.
Heat 2 By: Michael Mann and Meg Gardiner
“Don’t let yourself get attached to anything you are not willing to walk out on in 30 seconds flat, if you feel the heat around the corner.”
“I’m angry. I’m very angry, Ralph. You know, you can ball my wife if she wants you to. You can lounge around here on her sofa, in her ex-husband’s dead-tech, post-modernistic bullshit house if you want to. But you do not get to watch my fucking television set!”
“For me, the action is the juice.”
These are a few of my favorite lines of dialogue from the iconic movie, Heat, by Michael Mann. Twenty-seven years later, Mann is back along with author Meg Gardiner with a sequel (and prequel) in novel form.
This is every single thing you could possibly want from revisiting these characters.
We get deep and intriguing backstory on Pacino’s Vincent Hanna, DeNiro’s McCauley and Kilmer’s Chris Sheherlis. We also get clever, explosive dialogue true to the characters and it’s impossible not to read the lines without DeNiro and Pacino’s voices in your head, which is a good thing…
We learn how their respective crews came together, how they crossed paths in Chicago in ‘88 and what happened after the finale to the movie in 1995. There are new heists, new villains, new over-the-top scenes and characters…
This is one of the most fun, action-packed, enjoyable reads I’ve had in a while. Get it today and read it this weekend.
Rickey: The Life and Legend of an American Original By: Howard Bryant
Howard Bryant is one of my longtime favorite sportswriters and the author of one of the best sports biographies every written on Hank Aaron.
As a child of the 90s sports scene, there was no way I wasn’t going to be pumped about a story on Rickey. The stolen bases. The confidence. The famous neon yellow and green of those Oakland A’s teams. Everything about Rickey Henderson and the way he played baseball is fascinating (and was mesmerizing to me when I was 12 and collected baseball cards).
This book goes deep not only on Rickey, but on his hometown of Oakland, race, how baseball and the relationship between players, ownership and fans have changed and much more… But in the end, it’s about Rickey Being Rickey – one of the most engaging and entertaining athletes we’ve ever had. The drama with Steinbrenner, the battles with Billy Martin, with Jose Canseco, with the media, with pitchers. It’s all worth it. You’ll enjoy the hell out of this one.
Blood & Treasure: Daniel Boone and the Fight for America’s First Frontier By: Bob Drury and Tom Clavin
When Daniel Boone was about 11-years-old, he was charged with tending his family’s livestock every day starting at sunrise, watching his younger sister, hunting white-tailed deer solo in the woods, shooting the deer, packing it out…and then corralling the livestock and his sister home before nightfall.
And I can’t get my 11-year-old to remember to charge her iPad or empty the dishwasher.
This little juxtaposition between the 1700s and today is one of hundreds that came to mind while reading Blood & Treasure, which is enlightening, frightening and seems like it took place a thousand years ago, not a few hundred.
Boone lived a life unrecognizable today. He was an explorer, arguably the best rifle shot in the colonies before the Revolutionary War, and he was a long hunter… This means he’d spend months and months out in the wilderness, often alone, hunting meat for his family and community. He made his own clothes, living quarters and food. He lived outside, alone, for entire seasons. He could take down twenty white-tailed deer in a day. Then he’d have to skin them, dress them, boil the meat, make jerky, make clothes and more. He’d hunt, skin, cook and eat bear, raccoons, squirrels and elk. He’d trek a 700-pound elk carcass a hundred miles. His was not an easy life.
And we haven’t even mentioned the constant bloodshed, battles and bartering with Native Americans. Over the course of his life he befriended them, was nearly scalped by them, was captured by them, had his children murdered by them and went to war with and against them.
I admit to knowing next to nothing about life on the frontier for both Americans and Native Americans. This book was a revelation. Incredibly researched and entertaining. If you’ve ever had any interest or curiosity in Boone or frontier life, I highly recommend this one. Get it here.
Into Enemy Waters: A World War II Story of the Demolition Divers Who Became the Navy SEALS By: Andrew Dubbins
There is no shortage of books, movies and TV shows about Navy SEALs… Jocko Willink’s pod. American Sniper. The Terminal List. The amount of new content, both fiction and non-fiction, goes on and on. We’re fascinated with these elite, modern warriors. But before there was such a thing as being a Navy SEAL, there was simply a group of brave-as-hell dudes in their late teens and early twenties who risked their lives in ice cold seas, with rudimentary equipment, if any, to plant bombs underwater to try to stop Germany and Hitler. At the time, they were known as Underwater Demolition Teams.
And these guys had guts. Into Enemy Waters is told through the lens of George Morgan, a 95-year-old who, when he was seventeen, made an impossible transition. One minute he’s a lifeguard in New Jersey…and within a matter of months he’s in the water at Omaha Beach trying to blow up Germany’s defenses.
If you’re into military history, the SEALs, adventure and tales of ridiculous bravery and courage, you’ll enjoy this book. You can get it here.
Path Lit by Lightning: The Life of Jim Thorpe By: David Maraniss
David Maraniss wrote one of the most acclaimed sports biographies of all time in When Pride Still Mattered: A Life of Vince Lombardi and he wrote one of my personal favorite sports biographies, Clemente: The Passion and Grace of Baseball’s Last Hero.
He’s written plenty of other bestsellers, but his newest biography on Jim Thorpe is the one I’ve been curious about since he announced it.
Thorpe, for those who may not know, was one of the greatest modern athletes sports has ever produced. He was an All-American football player at Carlisle Indian School in 1912 in the early 1900s, playing in one of the most famous football games ever, Carlisle vs. Army, where Thorpe had a legendary collision on the field with future president Dwight Eisenhower (I talk about this match-up in Eisenhower’s chapter of my book, Jocks in Chief).
Not only is Thorpe in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, he also won gold medals in the pentathlon and decathlon at the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm. Oh, and he played major league baseball for the New York Giants.
Yeah, all of that is real. And now you know why I was so pumped for this biography. If any of the above interests you, and how could it not, grab it. You’re in the hands of a master and what I’ve read so far is awesome.
The Last Folk Hero: The Life and Myth of Bo Jackson By: Jeff Pearlman
Jeff Pearlman is one of the few authors we have whose book releases are major events. Whether he’s writing about the Shaq/Kobe/Phil Lakers or the USFL or Walter Payton, you’re not going to find a writer who uncovers more stories and dives deeper into his subject than Jeff.
This week, his latest masterpiece dropped on the holy grail of sports figures, Bo Jackson. Pearlman interviewed over 700 people for the book. Spent 2.5 years researching Jackson. He’s got everything you need to know about Bo, from the childhood feats to Nike to how he should have been on the Tampa Bay Bucs and more.
When it comes to 80s/90s icons and the discussion about the greatest modern athlete of all time, Bo stands alone. And this biography is worthy of his feats. Go pick it up here.
(If you enjoyed this one, you’ll LOVE by book, 1996: A Biography)
The Dark Corners of the Night By: Meg Gardiner
Early on this list I recommended the novel Heat 2 by Michael Mann and Meg Gardiner. Michael Mann, obviously, I’d heard of from his movies. Meg Gardiner, incredibly, I hadn’t. Gardiner is an Edgar-winning thriller writer who has received praise from just about every icon in the thriller/mystery/detective space. Stephen King. Lee Child. Janet Evanovich. Don Winslow. The parade of heavy hitters who love her work goes on and on…
I’ve read a ton of biographies and non-fiction this year. Lots of athlete stuff and because of the Macho Man biography, lots of wrestling. I wanted to get a fast-paced fiction book to switch things up and after checking out a few titles by Gardiner, I settled on this one: The Dark Corners of the Night.
The who’s who of endorsements helped… And so did the plot about an investigation into The Midnight Man, a psychotic murderer haunting Los Angeles.
The book reads like the downslope of a roller coaster and it’s set in Los Angeles, which I love. If you like thrillers and detective stories, this is one of the coolest I’ve found. You can buy it here.
Ghost Soldiers: The Epic Account of World War II’s Greatest Rescue Mission By: Hampton Sides
I am a big believer in book serendipity – the idea that occasionally, through a cosmic quirk or the timing of the universe or through goofy luck, the right book finds you at the right time. This could be life changing. This could be perspective altering. This could be the spark that makes you try something new and exciting.
I’ve certainly read books that have done all of the above, but in this case, I happened to be reading Ghost Soldiers over Thanksgiving. It’s a day where we all try to take time to think about what we’re grateful for, but it’s also a day that many of us get preoccupied with modern day nonsense (traffic, forgetting an ingredient at the store, kids being a pain, etc…)….
For me, we live close enough to my family and my wife’s family that we hit up two full Thanksgivings in one day. Lunch with my in-laws’ crew and then dinner with my family. 2 full meals: awesome. 3 hours in the car: not so much.
On Wednesday night I was thinking about what a pain in the ass the three-hour triangle drive was going to be on Thursday… Then I settled into my chair and started reading and came upon this passage in Ghost Soldiers, about the WWII soldiers languishing in Bataan before the U.S. had to surrender the territory:
“Yet for the men of Bataan, disease was the real enemy, killing them and sapping their morale with even greater efficacy than the Fourteenth Army. Old diseases that modern medicine had long since learned how to treat. Diseases of vitamin dearth…diseases of jungle rot… their bodies coursed with every worm and pathogen a hot jungle can visit upon a starved and weakened constitution – dengue fever, amebic dysentery, bacillary dysentery, tertian malaria, cerebral malaria, typhus, typhoid… gas gangrene… The men’s joints ached with odd swellings and incipient beriberi, a vitamin B deficiency which made the legs feel “watery and pumping with pain” and the heart “thump like a tractor engine bogged in a swamp.’”
If you’re keeping track, that’s like two dysenteries, two malarias and about a dozen ways to be tortured physically while you try and march.
Needless to say, complaining about being in an air conditioned car for three hours listening to the radio seemed a little frivolous after reading this.
Aside from that jolt of reality, the book is spectacular. What the men of Bataan endured, and what the group of soldiers went through to rescue them, is legendary. Heroism. Sacrifice. Guts. The book is a fast read and once you hear the stories of what these men dealt with for 3 years in hellhole prison camps, you will be grateful for the very fact that you are lucky enough to open this e-mail and read it in good health. Buy it here.
The Abduction: An Emilio Graves Story of Violence By: Shea Serrano
The cover of this short story is bad ass. The tagline is even better: “They wanted him on their spaceship… until they got him on their spaceship.”
Despite the old school, killer paperback cover, this is actually a short story e-book from Serrano. I’ve recommended a few of Shea’s books over the years, including Basketball and Other Things and Movies and Other Things but those were both non-fiction.
This book is a sci-fi, action, thriller that Serrano put out himself. The story is fast, fun and awesome and it involves an action-hero / lunatic taking on a ship of aliens. There’s a bunch of cool twists and turns and in about 25 minutes you’ll be done. Great stuff and you can order it here.
Fathoms: The World in the Whale By: Rebecca Giggs
This might be the most unlikely and unplanned title to ever appear in the prestigious pages of the Books & Biceps newsletter. I’d never heard of the author, Rebecca Giggs. I’d never heard of the book. And I wasn’t actively looking to learn more about whales. And yet.
I was recently milling around the lobby of an aquarium and this book was on display. I liked the title, “Fathoms”. Sounded interested. I’ve competed in ocean swims and love the water, so I’ve always thought whales were cool.
I picked up the book and thumbed through it. Skimming at first. Then reading. Then I couldn’t stop so I bought it.
Turns out Fathoms recently won all kinds of book awards, including the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction. And I get it. Giggs’ writing is extraordinary. It has an ethereal quality, almost like the book has its own mystical lens with which to read through. And yeah, it’s 100% all about whales.
And I didn’t know 99% of it. Before Americans struck oil, about 40% off all household items and power were run on whale oil or whale-related products, everything from lamps, stoves, toothpaste, perfume, brushes, brush handles, auto grease, door handles, corsets, cribs and thousands more things…
The voyages of the whale hunters were extraordinary (and sad and devastating to the whales). The size and scope of what it took to catch and process a 45 ton sperm whale or 150 ton blue whale at sea in the 1800s is mesmerizing. But the payoff was even more insane… And then, of course, the crushing consequences of losing 500,000 to 1M whales over the course of a century.
Fathoms takes you through all of it. Whale evolution. How whales feed the ocean. How whales shaped society. How whales fit into certain cultures. And so much more… I honestly can’t believe I’m still writing about whales… But if you’re into those Planet Earth shows or you like National Geographic or the Disney+ animal documentaries, you’ll love this book. Get it here.
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