The Greatest Nonfiction Books Since 1950


How is this list generated?


This list is generated from 128 "best of" book lists from a variety of great sources. An algorithm is used to create a master list based on how many lists a particular book appears on. Some lists count more than others. I generally trust "best of all time" lists voted by authors and experts over user-generated lists. On the lists that are actually ranked, the book that is 1st counts a lot more than the book that's 100th. If you're interested in the details about how the rankings are generated and which lists are the most important(in my eyes) please check out the list details page.

If you have any comments, suggestions, or corrections please feel free to e-mail me.


  1. 1 . The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Alex Haley

    This book describes Malcolm X's upbringing in Michigan, his maturation to adulthood in Boston and New York, his time in prison, his conversion to Islam, his ministry, his travels to Africa and to M...

  2. 2 . Silent Spring by Rachel Carson

    Silent Spring is a book written by Rachel Carson and published by Houghton Mifflin in September 1962. The book is widely credited with helping launch the environmental movement. When Silent Spri...

  3. 3 . In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

    On November 15, 1959, in the small town of Holcomb, Kansas, four members of the Clutter family were savagely murdered by blasts from a shotgun held a few inches from their faces. There was no appar...

  4. 4 . The Double Helix: A Personal Account of the Discovery of the Structure of DNA by James D. Watson

    The Double Helix: A Personal Account of the Discovery of the Structure of DNA is an autobiographical account of the discovery of the double helix structure of DNA written by James D. Watson and pub...

  5. 5 . The Second World War by Winston Churchill

    The Second World War is a six-volume history of the period from the end of the First World War to July 1945, written by Sir Winston Churchill. It was largely responsible for him winning (in 1953) t...

  6. 6 . The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas Kuhn

    The Structure of Scientific Revolutions is an analysis of the history of science. Its publication was a landmark event in the sociology of knowledge, and popularized the terms paradigm and paradigm...

  7. 7 . Dispatches by Michael Herr

    Dispatches is a non-fiction book by Michael Herr that describes the author's experiences in Vietnam as a war correspondent for Esquire magazine. First published in 1977, Dispatches was one of the f...

  8. 8 . The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

    The Gulag Archipelago is a book by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn based on the Soviet forced labor and concentration camp system. The three-volume book is a massive narrative relying on eyewitness testimon...

  9. 9 . I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

    Sent by their mother to live with their devout, self-sufficient grandmother in a small Southern town, Maya and her brother, Bailey, endure the ache of abandonment and the prejudice of the local “po...

    - Google
  10. 10 . The Civil War by Shelby Foote

    The Civil War: A Narrative (1958-1974) is a three volume, 2,968-page, 1.2 million-word history of the American Civil War by Shelby Foote. Although previously known as a novelist, Foote is most famo...

  11. 11 . Collected Essays of George Orwell by George Orwell

    In this bestselling compilation of essays, written in the clear-eyed, uncompromising language for which he is famous, Orwell discusses with vigor such diverse subjects as his boyhood schooling, the...

  12. 12 . The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe

    The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test is a work of literary journalism by Tom Wolfe, published in 1968. Using techniques from the genre of hysterical realism and pioneering new journalism, the novel tell...

  13. 13 . The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs

    The Death and Life of Great American Cities, by Jane Jacobs, is a greatly influential book on the subject of urban planning in the 20th century. First published in 1961, the book is a critique of m...

  14. 14 . The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe

    The Right Stuff is a 1979 book by Tom Wolfe about the pilots engaged in U.S. postwar experiments with experimental rocket-powered, high-speed aircraft as well as documenting the stories of the firs...

  15. 15 . The Liberal Imagination by Lionel Trilling

    The Liberal Imagination is one of the most admired and influential works of criticism of the last century, a work that is not only a masterpiece of literary criticism but an important statement abo...

  16. 16 . Angela's Ashes: A Memoir by Frank McCourt

    Angela’s Ashes is a memoir by Irish-American author Frank McCourt and tells the story of his childhood in Brooklyn and Ireland. It was published in 1996 and won the Pulitzer Prize for Biography or ...

  17. 17 . Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway

    Published posthumously in 1964, A Moveable Feast remains one of Ernest Hemingway's most beloved works. Since Hemingway's personal papers were released in 1979, scholars have examined and debated th...

    - Google
  18. 18 . The Origins of Totalitarianism by Hannah Arendt

    The Origins of Totalitarianism is a book by Hannah Arendt which classed Nazism and Stalinism as totalitarian movements. Its original title was to be 'The Burden of Our Times', and the move away fro...

  19. 19 . Philosophical Investigations by Ludwig Wittgenstein

    Philosophical Investigations is, along with the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, one of the two most influential works by the 20th-century philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein. In it, Wittgenstein discus...

  20. 20 . Night by Elie Wiesel

    A New Translation From The French By Marion Wiesel Night is Elie Wiesel’s masterpiece, a candid, horrific, and deeply poignant autobiographical account of his survival as a teenager in the Nazi dea...

    - Google
  21. 21 . The Affluent Society by John Kenneth Galbraith

    The Affluent Society is a 1958 book by Harvard economist John Kenneth Galbraith. The book sought to clearly outline the manner in which the post-World War II America was becoming wealthy in the pri...

  22. 22 . The Color of Water: A Black Man's Tribute to His White Mother by James McBride

    As a boy in Brooklyn's Red Hook projects, James McBride knew his mother was different. But when he asked about it, she'd simply say 'I'm light-skinned.' Later he wondered if he was different too, a...

    - Google
  23. 23 . The Making of the Atomic Bomb by Richard Rhodes

    The Making of the Atomic Bomb, a book written by Richard Rhodes, won the 1988 Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction, a National Book Award and a National Book Critics Circle Award. The 900-page bo...

  24. 24 . A Study of History by Arnold J. Toynbee

    A Study of History is the 12-volume magnum opus of British historian Arnold J. Toynbee, finished in 1961. In this immensely detailed and complex work, Toynbee traces the birth, growth and decay of ...

  25. 25 . Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China by Jung Chang

    The story of three generations in twentieth-century China that blends the intimacy of memoir and the panoramic sweep of eyewitness history—a bestselling classic in thirty languages with more than t...

    - Google
  26. 26 . The Feynman Lectures on Physics by Richard P. Feynman

    Richard P. Feynman (1918–1988) was widely recognized as the most creative physicist of the post–World War II period. His career was extraordinarily expansive. From his contributions to the developm...

  27. 27 . Quotations from Chairman Mao by Mao

    Quotations from Chairman Mao Zedong (simplified Chinese: 毛主席语录; pinyin: Máo zhǔxí yǔlù), better known in the West as The Little Red Book, was published by the Government of the People's Republic of...

  28. 28 . Samuel Johnson by Walter Jackson Bate

    This 1979 chronicle is seen by critics not only as the definitive life of Dr. Johnson, but as a model of well-researched, lucid, fair--but always affectionate--biography.

  29. 29 . Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion

    This collection of essays takes the reader on a psychological tour of the intense, wayward, violent, not a little crazy America of the 1960s. Surfers, students, deadheads and druggies; Joan Baez, D...

    - Google
  30. 30 . The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

    The Year of Magical Thinking, by Joan Didion, is an account of the year following the death of the author's husband John Gregory Dunne (1932–2003). Published by Knopf in October 2005, the book was ...

  31. 31 . The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts by Maxine Hong Kingston

    A Chinese American woman tells of the Chinese myths, family stories and events of her California childhood that have shaped her identity.

    - Google
  32. 32 . On Writing by Stephen King

    On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft is an autobiography and writing guide by Stephen King, published during 2000. It is a book about the prolific author's experiences as a writer. Although he discuss...

  33. 33 . Battle Cry of Freedom by James M. McPherson

    Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era is a Pulitzer Prize-winning history of the American Civil War published in 1988 by James M. McPherson. Writing for the The New York Times, historian Hugh Br...

  34. 34 . The Snow Leopard by Peter Matthiessen

    The Snow Leopard is a 1978 book by Peter Matthiessen, which is an account of his two month journey along with naturalist George Schaller in 1973 to Crystal Mountain, in the Dolpo region on the Tibe...

  35. 35 . Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

  36. 36 . Maus by Art Spiegelman

    Maus: A Survivor's Tale is an autobiography by Art Spiegelman, told using the comics form. Parts of the story were originally published in the magazine RAW between 1980 to 1991. The complete story ...

  37. 37 . A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again by David Foster Wallace

  38. 38 . Henry James by Leon Edel

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  39. 39 . Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey

    Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness is a literary nonfiction work by Edward Abbey (1927–89), published originally in 1968. His fourth book and his first book length non-fiction work, it f...

  40. 40 . Truman by David McCullough

  41. 41 . Witness by Whittaker Chambers

    First published in 1952, Witness was at once a literary effort, a philosophical treatise, and a bestseller. Whittaker Chambers had just participated in America's trial of the century in which Chamb...

  42. 42 . The Power Broker by Robert Caro

    The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York is a Pulitzer Prize-winning 1974 biography of Robert Moses, "New York City's Master Builder", by Robert Caro. In the years since its publicat...

  43. 43 . The Constitution of Liberty by Friedrich A. Hayek

    The Constitution of Liberty is a book by Austrian economist and Nobel Prize recipient Friedrich A. Hayek. The book was first published in 1960 and it is an interpretation of civilization as being m...

  44. 44 . Capitalism and Freedom by Milton Friedman

    Capitalism and Freedom is a book by Milton Friedman originally published in 1962 which discusses the role of economic capitalism in liberal society. In accessible, jargon-free language, Friedman...

  45. 45 . Modern Times by Paul Johnson

    The classic world history of the events, ideas, and personalities of the twentieth century.

  46. 46 . The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell

    Gladwell defines a tipping point as a sociological term: "the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point." The book seeks to explain and describe the "mysterious" sociological change...

  47. 47 . The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman

    The Guns of August, originally published as August 1914 (1962), is a military history book written by Barbara Tuchman. It primarily describes the events of the first month of World War I. The focus...

  48. 48 . The Quest for Community by Robert Nisbet

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  49. 49 . Profiles in Courage by John F. Kennedy

  50. 50 . The Emperor by Ryszard Kapuscinski

    After the deposition of Haile Selassie in 1974, which ended the ancient rule of the Abyssinian monarchy, Ryszard Kapuscinski travelled to Ethiopia and sought out surviving courtiers to tell their s...

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