The Greatest Nonfiction Books Since 1970


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 . 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...

  2. 2 . 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...

  3. 3 . 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...

  4. 4 . 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...

  5. 5 . 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 ...

  6. 6 . 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
  7. 7 . 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...

  8. 8 . 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
  9. 9 . 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...

  10. 10 . 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.

  11. 11 . 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 ...

  12. 12 . 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
  13. 13 . 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...

  14. 14 . 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...

  15. 15 . 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...

  16. 16 . Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

  17. 17 . 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 ...

  18. 18 . A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again by David Foster Wallace

  19. 19 . Truman by David McCullough

  20. 20 . 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...

  21. 21 . Modern Times by Paul Johnson

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

  22. 22 . 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...

  23. 23 . 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...

    - Google
  24. 24 . Man's Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl

    Viktor Frankl's 1946 book Man's Search for Meaning chronicles his experiences as a concentration camp inmate and describes his psychotherapeutic method of finding a reason to live. According to Fra...

  25. 25 . And the Band Played On by Randy Shilts

    And the Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic is a nonfiction book written by San Francisco Chronicle journalist Randy Shilts, published in 1987. It chronicles the discovery and s...

  26. 26 . Roll, Jordan, Roll by Eugene Genovese

    This weighty book intends to "tell the story of slave life as carefully and accurately as possible."

  27. 27 . Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig

    Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values is the first of Robert M. Pirsig's texts in which he explores his Metaphysics of Quality. The 1974 book describes, in first person,...

  28. 28 . The Looming Tower by Lawrence Wright

    The Looming Tower: Al Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 is a historical look at the way in which Al-Qaeda came into being, the background for various terrorist attacks and how they were investigated, and ...

  29. 29 . Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond

    Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies is a 1997 book by Jared Diamond, professor of geography and physiology at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). In 1998 it won a Pulitze...

  30. 30 . The Mismeasure of Man by Stephen Jay Gould

    The Mismeasure of Man is a 1981 book written by the Harvard paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould (1941–2002). The book is a history and critique of the methods and motivations underlying biological det...

  31. 31 . A Bright Shining Lie by Neil Sheehan

    A Bright Shining Lie is a book by Neil Sheehan, a former New York Times reporter who covered the Vietnam War. It is about U.S. Army retired Lieutenant Colonel John Paul Vann and the United States i...

  32. 32 . Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela by Nelson Mandela

    The book that inspired the major new motion picture Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom. Nelson Mandela is one of the great moral and political leaders of our time: an international hero whose lifelong d...

    - Google
  33. 33 . A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers

    A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius (ISBN 0-330-48455-9) is a memoir by Dave Eggers released in 2000. It chronicles his stewardship of younger brother Christopher "Toph" Eggers following the ...

  34. 34 . Up in the Old Hotel by Joseph Mitchell

    Mitchell explored a New York City that has now vanished in his four books and his classic reportage for The New Yorker. Mitchell's eccentrics live again in this omnibus volume that contains all of ...

  35. 35 . Common Ground by J. Anthony Lukas

    The book traces the history of three families: the African-American Twymons, the Irish McGoffs and the Yankee Divers. It gives brief genealogical histories of each families, focusing on how the eve...

  36. 36 . In the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick

    In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex is a National Book Award winning work of maritime history by Nathaniel Philbrick. It tells the story of the Whaleship Essex from the poin...

  37. 37 . Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt, Stephen J. Dubner

    Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything is a 2005 non-fiction book by University of Chicago economist Steven Levitt and New York Times journalist Stephen J. Dubner. T...

  38. 38 . Small Is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered by E. F. Schumacher

    Small Is Beautiful is Oxford-trained economist E. F. Schumacher’s classic call for the end of excessive consumption. Schumacher inspired such movements as “Buy Locally” and “Fair Trade,” while voic...

    - Google
  39. 39 . Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard

    Pilgrim at Tinker Creek is a 1974 nonfiction narrative book by Annie Dillard. It won the Pulitzer Prize in 1975. The book is about Dillard's experiences at Tinker Creek, which is located in Virg...

  40. 40 . Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris

    Me Talk Pretty One Day, published in 2000, is a bestselling collection of essays by American humorist David Sedaris. The book is separated into two parts. The first consists of essays about Sedaris...

  41. 41 . The Bookseller of Kabul by Asne Seierstad

    Two weeks after September 11th, award-winning journalist Åsne Seierstad went to Afghanistan to report on the conflict there. In the following spring she returned to live with an Afghan family for s...

    - Google
  42. 42 . Dreams from My Father by Barack Obama

  43. 43 . The Face of Battle by John Keegan

    The Face of Battle, is a 1976 non-fiction book on military history by the English military historian John Keegan. It deals with the structure of warfare in three time periods—medieval Europe, th...

  44. 44 . Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Alexander Brown

    Documents, personal narratives, and illustrations record the experiences of Native Americans during the nineteenth century.

    - Google
  45. 45 . Birthday Letters by Ted Hughes

    Birthday Letters, published in 1998 (ISBN 0-374-52581-1), is a collection of poetry by English poet and children's writer Ted Hughes. Released only months before Hughes's death, the collection won ...

  46. 46 . Future Shock: The Third Wave by Alvin Toffler

    Explores the nature and implications of a third wave of change that is now creating a new civilization with its own life-styles, jobs, sexual attitudes, concepts of family and love, economic struct...

    - Google
  47. 47 . Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss

    Eats, Shoots & Leaves is a non-fiction book written by Lynne Truss, the former host of the BBC Radio 4's Cutting a Dash programme. In the book, published in 2003, Truss bemoans the state of punctua...

  48. 48 . Parting the Waters by Taylor Branch

    Parting the Waters: America in the King Years, 1954-63

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  49. 49 . Essays of E. B. White by E. B. White

    The classic collection by one of the greatest essayists of our time. White is the apotheosis of the American liberal now spurned and detested by the Left (and the cultural mainstream). His mesme...

  50. 50 . Hard Times: An Oral History of the Great Depression by Studs Terkel

    In this unique recreation of one of the most dramatic periods in modern American history, Studs Terkel recaptures the Great Depression of the 1930s in all its complexity. featuring a mosaic of memo...

    - Google