The complete compilation of the top 100 nonfiction books in history: the comprehensive roster.
1. The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert (2014)
A captivating narrative about the imminent disaster caused by humans, considered the “neighbors from hell” in ecology.
In 2005, Joan Didion wrote The Year of Magical Thinking.
The author’s poignant and impactful exploration of her sorrow after her husband’s unexpected passing transformed the way bereavement is approached in literature.
Naomi Klein’s No Logo, published in 1999, discusses the concept of branding and how it impacts consumer culture.
Naomi Klein’s current book against branding offers a new perspective on the dominance of corporations, as well as powerful firsthand accounts of the negative effects of capitalism.
4. Birthday Letters by Ted Hughes (1998)
These bold and emotional poems, written to Hughes’s deceased wife Sylvia Plath, add to the couple’s legend and are a significant achievement in English poetry.
5. Dreams from My Father by Barack Obama (1995)
This honest autobiography not only displayed a gift for writing, but also highlighted a powerful influence that would permanently alter the landscape of American politics.
In 1988, Stephen Hawking wrote A Brief History of Time.
The popular account of the universe’s origins, written by a theoretical physicist, is a brilliant example of scientific investigation that has impacted the thoughts of many in this era.
The book “The Right Stuff” was written by Tom Wolfe in 1979.
Tom Wolfe elevated the art of reporting to impressive new heights as he sought to uncover the motivations behind a man’s journey to the moon.
8. Orientalism by Edward Said (1978)
The controversial work that challenges the western view of the east remains relevant even today, just as it did when it was first published.
Michael Herr’s book, “Dispatches,” was published in 1977.
Herr’s memoir about Vietnam is a powerful and distinct narrative that stands as the ultimate depiction of war in modern times.
Richard Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene was published in 1976.
A thought-provoking reexamination of evolutionary theory that introduced the concept of the meme and opened the door for Professor Dawkins’ more controversial writings.
“North” by Seamus Heaney was published in 1975.
This unfiltered, emotional compilation goes beyond political views, showing Heaney’s wish to navigate between major ideas like a secret agent.
12. Awakenings by Oliver Sacks (1973)
Sacks’s poignant tale of his experiences as a physician in the late 1960s, in which he successfully treated patients suffering from sleeping sickness and restored their neurological function, continues to have a lasting impact.
Germaine Greer’s 1970 book, “The Female Eunuch.”
The renowned argument of the Australian feminist stands as a brilliant example of fervent freedom of speech, as she confronts the societal expectations placed on women.
14. Awopbopaloobop Alopbamboom by Nik Cohn (1969)
This enthusiastic portrayal of the impact of rock and roll on the world was composed with the same wild energy that defines the genre.
The book “The Double Helix” was written by James D. Watson in 1968.
A remarkably intimate and comprehensible retelling of how Cambridge researchers Watson and Francis Crick discovered the mysteries of DNA and revolutionized our perception of life.
16. Against Interpretation by Susan Sontag (1966)
The initial essays of the American author serve as the essential analysis of the 1960s.
17. Ariel by Sylvia Plath (1965)
The pioneering compilation, centered on the poet’s preoccupation with her own mortality, solidified Plath as one of the 20th century’s most unique and talented poets.
“The Feminine Mystique” was written by Betty Friedan in 1963.
The book that sparked the second-wave of feminism expressed the discontent of a group of middle-class American women by boldly questioning: “Is this all there is?”
19. The Making of the English Working Class by EP Thompson (1963)
This impactful and meticulously created work can be seen as a detailed study of pre-industrial Britain, as well as a depiction of the forgotten perspective of the average individual.
In 1962, Rachel Carson published “Silent Spring”.
This renowned example of American activism sparked a widespread protest against the use of pesticides, served as a catalyst for laws aimed at managing pollution, and initiated the contemporary environmental movement in the United States.
21. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas S Kuhn (1962)
The phrase “paradigm shift” was introduced by an American physicist and philosopher of science in a book that is considered a significant contribution to scientific theory.
In 1961, CS Lewis wrote a book called “A Grief Observed.”
This impactful examination of grief poses the question: “Where is a higher power?” and delves into the emotions of isolation and feeling of being let down that even those without faith can relate to.
The book “The Elements of Style” was written by William Strunk and EB White in 1959.
Both Dorothy Parker and Stephen King have advised aspiring writers to use this concise guide to the English language, emphasizing the importance of brevity.
In 1958, John Kenneth Galbraith published a book titled “The Affluent Society”.
A popular and hopeful book, in which the economist favored by JFK advocates for investing in both the public and private sectors.
Richard Hoggart’s 1957 book, “The Uses of Literacy: Aspects of Working-Class Life,” provides valuable insights into the relationship between mass media and the working class in postwar Britain. This influential cultural analysis sheds light on the dynamics of communication between the common people and the ruling class.
In 1955, James Baldwin published “Notes of a Native Son”.
Baldwin’s significant compilation of essays delves into the experience of being a black man in contemporary America with powerful language.
27. The Nude: A Study of Ideal Art by Kenneth Clark (1956)
Clark’s examination of nude depictions throughout history, from ancient Greek art to works by Picasso, foreshadows the critic’s grand assertions about the importance of humanity in his later influential piece, Civilisation.
Isaiah Berlin’s “The Hedgehog and the Fox” (1953)
The renowned scholar of thoughts begins with a story about animals and concludes with an examination of Tolstoy’s writing, leading to an existential philosophy.
29. Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett (1952/53)
A bleakly hilarious, enigmatic watershed that changed the language of theatre and still sparks debate six decades on. An absurdist masterpiece.
Elizabeth David’s 1950 publication, “A Book of Mediterranean Food.”
This well-known cookbook, created in response to the hardships of postwar rationing, introduced chefs to the cuisine of southern Europe and readers to the craft of food literature.
31. The Great Tradition by FR Leavis (1948)
The statement made by the contentious critic about English literature is a captivating and sometimes startling analysis of the novel, which continues to have an impact even now.
Hugh Trevor-Roper’s 1947 book, The Last Days of Hitler.
The historian’s detailed and frightening retelling of the Führer’s downfall, drawn from his postwar experiences with British intelligence, continues to be unmatched.
Dr. Benjamin Spock’s book, “The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care” was published in 1946.
The revolutionary guide encouraged parents to have faith in their own instincts, but was also criticized for being responsible for the rise of “permissiveness” after the war.
In 1946, John Hersey wrote about the events that occurred in Hiroshima.
Hershey’s book is an exceptional and captivating account of the experiences of six individuals who survived the atomic bombing in 1945.
In 1945, Karl Popper wrote a book called “The Open Society and Its Enemies.”
The call to action from the philosopher, who was born in Austria, for western liberal democracy after the war had a significant impact during the 1960s.
In 1945, Richard Wright published “Black Boy: A Record of Childhood and Youth.”
This impactful autobiography of a defiant childhood in the South vividly portrays the fight for African American recognition during the years leading up to civil rights.
MFK Fisher’s book “How to Cook a Wolf” was published in 1942.
The American culinary icon was one of the first writers to use food as a cultural metaphor, describing the sensual pleasures of the table with elegance and passion.
Cyril Connolly’s “Enemies of Promise” was published in 1938.
Connolly’s analysis of writing and the dangers of being a writer revolutionized the current state of English literature.
In 1937, George Orwell published “The Road to Wigan Pier.”
Orwell’s brutally truthful depiction of three towns in the north during the Great Depression marked a significant point in his political growth as a writer.
In 1937, Robert Byron published The Road to Oxiana.
Byron’s remarkable and enduring narrative of a voyage to Afghanistan, highly praised by Graham Greene and Evelyn Waugh, stands as one of the most exceptional travel books of the 20th century.
The book “How to Win Friends and Influence People” was written by Dale Carnegie in 1936.
The initial guide to self-improvement in American society, which has had a lasting impact from the Great Depression to the presidency of Donald Trump, has a significant amount of responsibility to bear.
42. Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain (1933)
The research conducted by Brittain on her involvement in the First World War as a nurse and eventual victim of loss presents a compelling argument against war and supports feminist ideals.
“The Early Years of My Life” by Winston Churchill, published in 1930.
Churchill delights with candid tales of childhood and boy’s own adventures in the Boer war that made him a tabloid hero.
44. Goodbye to All That by Robert Graves (1929)
Graves’s account of his experiences in the trenches of the first world war is a subversive tour de force.
45. A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf (1929)
Woolf’s piece on the fight for women’s autonomy and artistic possibilities is a significant contribution to feminist ideology.
The 1922 poem “The Waste Land” by T.S. Eliot.
Eliot’s epic poem, written in a state of desperation, symbolized the essence of the post-World War I era.
John Reed’s Ten Days That Shook the World, published in 1919, recounts a significant period of time that had a profound impact on the world.
The American socialist’s depiction of the Russian revolution is a remarkable work of journalism.
In 1919, John Maynard Keynes wrote “The Economic Consequences of the Peace” to discuss the repercussions of economic decisions made during times of peace.
The renowned economist’s analysis of the failures of the Versailles conference following World War I was combative, fervent, and prophetic.
49. The American Language by HL Mencken (1919)
The statement made by the famous American journalist and commentator signified a significant turning point in the evolution of American writing.
The book “Eminent Victorians” was written by Lytton Strachey in 1918.
Strachey’s critiques, while biased and sometimes incorrect, effectively dismantle the reputations of four prominent 19th-century British figures, providing insight into the Victorian era from various viewpoints.
In 1903, W.E.B. Du Bois wrote The Souls of Black Folk.
The collection of essays by the renowned social activist on the African American experience became a fundamental piece of literature for the civil rights movement.
52. De Profundis by Oscar Wilde (1905)
Oscar Wilde’s powerful and tumultuous masterpiece, written while he was anticipating his release from Reading jail, has a captivating grandeur.
“The Varieties of Religious Experience”, written by William James in 1902.
This groundbreaking piece, authored by the lesser-known brother of Henry James, introduced a democratizing force to the world of faith and spirituality.
Andrew Clark edited John Aubrey’s Brief Lives, which was published in 1898.
John Aubrey, a historian and gossip of the 17th century, was ahead of his time and is recognized as the creator of biography.
The book “Personal Memoirs” was written by Ulysses S Grant and was published in 1885.
The president, who was once a general during the civil war, was not eager to write, but his memoirs about his life from childhood onward were considered the best among all other presidential memoirs.
56. Life on the Mississippi by Mark Twain (1883)
This account of Samuel Clemens’s experience as a steamboat captain offers a glimpse into his most famous characters and the evolution of his writing style.
57. Travels With a Donkey in the Cévennes by Robert Louis Stevenson (1879)
The Scottish author’s trek through the mountains of France with a donkey is a groundbreaking piece of outdoor literature, and just as impactful as his works of fiction.
“58. Collection of Silly Songs” written by Edward Lear in 1871
During the Victorian era, wordplay was a popular form of entertainment, and there were few who could compete with this collection of nonsensical language created by Britain’s renowned “master of nonsense”.
Matthew Arnold’s Culture and Anarchy was published in 1869.
Arnold captured the public’s attention with his thought-provoking and amusing criticism of Victorian society, raising questions about the complexities of civilized living that continue to puzzle us.
In 1859, Charles Darwin published “On the Origin of Species.”
Darwin’s revolutionary, humane and highly readable introduction to his theory of evolution is arguably the most important book of the Victorian era.
The book “On Liberty” was written by John Stuart Mill in 1859.
This skilled and clear writer effectively portrayed the current atmosphere by boldly asserting the rights of the English individual.
62. The Wonderful Adventures of Mrs Seacole in Many Lands by Mary Seacole (1857)
An engaging and captivating memoir written by a highly esteemed figure from the Victorian era, often referred to as “the African-American Florence Nightingale”.
63. The Life of Charlotte Brontë by Elizabeth Gaskell (1857)
Gaskell’s most exceptional piece – a daring depiction of a talented woman who is worn out by her father’s peculiarities and the loss of her siblings.
64. Walden by Henry David Thoreau (1854)
The story of an individual’s refusal to conform to American society has had a lasting impact on many individuals who value independent thought.
In 1852, Dr. Peter Mark Roget created the Thesaurus.
This guide to the English language was created during the Victorian era in an effort to promote peace and organization among nations. It is a one-of-a-kind resource that is essential to have.
In 1851, Henry Mayhew published “London Labour and the London Poor,” a book about the impoverished population of London.
The impact of the Victorian journalist’s thorough and unbiased depictions of life among the lower-class in London is still evident today.
67. Household Education by Harriet Martineau (1848)
The demonstration against the inadequate education for women was groundbreaking, much like the author who spearheaded it in the Victorian literary community.
In 1845, Frederick Douglass published his autobiography, “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave.”
This powerful autobiography played a crucial role in the movement to end slavery, and its writer would go on to be one of the most impactful African Americans of the 19th century.
69. Essays by RW Emerson (1841)
The person known as the originator of “transcendentalism” in New England is still held in high regard for his philosophical musings on personal identity, liberty, and the natural world, which he conveyed through a collection of 12 essays.
70. Domestic Manners of the Americans by Frances Trollope (1832)
Trollope’s well-detailed and pretentious travel writing highlights elements of America’s cultural identity that can still be observed in modern times.
In 1828, Noah Webster published the American Dictionary of the English Language. While it was a significant achievement in lexicography, it only sold 2,500 copies and left Webster in debt.
The book “Confessions of an English Opium-Eater” was written by Thomas De Quincey in 1822.
A memoir about addiction written by a highly acclaimed and exceptionally gifted contemporary of Coleridge and Wordsworth, detailing his life consumed by substance abuse.
73. Tales from Shakespeare by Charles and Mary Lamb (1807)
A pair of siblings struggling with difficulties created a highly successful book in the 1800s that made Shakespeare’s plays more accessible for younger readers.
In 1799, Mungo Park authored “Travels in the Interior Districts of Africa” documenting his journeys.
The Scottish explorer’s tale of his courageous solo expedition to find the river Niger was a popular book at the time and had a significant impact on the literary works of Conrad, Melville, and Hemingway.
In 1793, Benjamin Franklin published his autobiography titled “The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin.”
The life of the US founding father, as depicted in four separate manuscripts, intertwines the events of revolutionary America with his personal challenges.
In 1792, Mary Wollstonecraft wrote “A Vindication of the Rights of Woman” to defend the rights of women.
This revolutionary text challenged the prevailing ideas of male thinkers during its time and established the basis for feminism.
In 1791, James Boswell published “The Life of Samuel Johnson LLD.”
This extensive piece is considered one of the most significant biographies in English literature and a tribute to a remarkable literary companionship.
In 1790, Edmund Burke published “Reflections on the Revolution in France” to share his thoughts on the events taking place in France at the time.
Inspired by the events in neighboring countries, this fervent support of the aristocratic structure is a significant contribution to conservative ideology.
The captivating story of Olaudah Equiano’s life, written by the man himself and published in 1789.
One of the most well-known autobiographies written by a slave during the 18th century is a gripping and unsettling book that solidified Equiano’s role as a prominent figure in the black literary community.
In 1789, Gilbert White published The Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne.
The insightful and eloquent observations of this curator regarding the wildlife in a Hampshire village served as inspiration for many generations of naturalists.
81. The Federalist Papers by ‘Publius’ (1788)
These insightful essays expounded upon the goals of the United States and hold the same significance as the Declaration of Independence in shaping American democracy.
82. The Diary of Fanny Burney (1778)
Burney’s insightful memoirs provide insight into the literary and aristocratic circles of late 18th-century England.
83. The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon (1776-1788)
One of the most significant and influential history books written in English is Gibbon’s work, which recounts the story from the peak of the Roman Empire to the collapse of Byzantium.
The book “The Wealth of Nations” was written by Adam Smith in 1776.
Using a combination of history, philosophy, psychology, and sociology, the Scottish thinker was solely responsible for creating the foundation of modern political economy.
In 1776, Tom Paine wrote a book titled “Common Sense”.
This small book played a significant role in sparking the American Revolution against King George III of Britain.
The book “A Dictionary of the English Language” was written by Samuel Johnson in the year 1755.
Dr Johnson’s decade-long endeavour framed the English language for the coming centuries with clarity, intelligence and extraordinary wit.
87. A Treatise of Human Nature by David Hume (1739)
Many consider this to be the most significant work of the philosopher, but its initial release was a catastrophe.
In 1729, Jonathan Swift published “A Modest Proposal”.
The satirist’s shocking proposal for addressing the struggles of the impoverished Irish is one of the most impactful works in the English language.
89. A Tour Through the Whole Island of Great Britain by Daniel Defoe (1727) Readable, reliable, full of surprise and charm, Defoe’s Tour is an outstanding literary travel guide.
90. An Essay Concerning Human Understanding by John Locke (1689)
Eloquent and influential, the Enlightenment philosopher’s most celebrated work embodies the English spirit and retains an enduring relevance.
The 1662 edition of The Book of Common Prayer written by Thomas Cranmer.
Cranmer’s book containing prayers in everyday English may be one of the most commonly read books in English literature.
In 1660, Samuel Pepys wrote The Diary of Samuel Pepys.
An exceptional Englishman’s depiction, chronicling his captivating experiences in Restoration England and his wild sexual escapades.
93. Hydriotaphia, Urn Burial, or A Brief Discourse of the Sepulchral Urns Lately Found in Norfolk by Sir Thomas Browne (1658)
Browne established himself as a highly regarded author with his remarkable short piece on funerary practices.
The book “Leviathan” was written by Thomas Hobbes in 1651.
Hobbes’ essay on the social contract is a fundamental piece of Western philosophy and a brilliant display of cleverness and creativity.
John Milton’s Areopagitica was published in 1644.
Milton is currently recognized as a renowned poet, but his passionate critique of censorship and advocacy for press freedom demonstrates his brilliance as an English radical.
John Donne’s 1624 work, “Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions.”
The poet’s intense meditation on the meaning of life and death is a dazzling work that contains some of his most memorable writing.
The initial publication of William Shakespeare’s works, known as The First Folio, was released in 1623.
The initial version of his plays solidified the playwright’s legacy, containing 36 plays with a memorable cast of characters.
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Burton’s garrulous, repetitive masterpiece is a compendious study of melancholia, a sublime literary doorstop that explores humanity in all its aspects.
99. The History of the World by Walter Raleigh (1614)
Raleigh’s significant written work, consisting of approximately 1 million words, utilized the history of ancient times to subtly critique contemporary concerns.
The 1611 edition of the King James Bible, also known as the Authorised Version.
The English-speaking world would not be complete in this series without the King James Bible, which holds as much universal and influential power as Shakespeare.