The Greatest Nonfiction Books Since 1980


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 . 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 ...

  2. 2 . 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
  3. 3 . 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...

  4. 4 . 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
  5. 5 . 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...

  6. 6 . 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 ...

  7. 7 . 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...

  8. 8 . 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...

  9. 9 . Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

  10. 10 . 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 ...

  11. 11 . A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again by David Foster Wallace

  12. 12 . Truman by David McCullough

  13. 13 . Modern Times by Paul Johnson

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

  14. 14 . 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...

  15. 15 . 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...

  16. 16 . 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...

  17. 17 . 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 ...

  18. 18 . 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...

  19. 19 . 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...

  20. 20 . 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...

  21. 21 . 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
  22. 22 . 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 ...

  23. 23 . 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 ...

  24. 24 . 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...

  25. 25 . 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...

  26. 26 . 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...

  27. 27 . 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...

  28. 28 . 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
  29. 29 . Dreams from My Father by Barack Obama

  30. 30 . 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 ...

  31. 31 . 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
  32. 32 . 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...

  33. 33 . Parting the Waters by Taylor Branch

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

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  34. 34 . The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson

    An intrepid voyage out to the frontiers of the latest thinking about love, language, and family Maggie Nelson's The Argonauts is a genre-bending memoir, a work of "autotheory" offering fresh, fierc...

    - Google
  35. 35 . This Boy's Life by Tobias Wolff

    This Boy's Life is a memoir by Tobias Wolff first published in 1989. It describes the author's adolescence as he wanders the continental United States with his itinerant mother. The first leg of th...

  36. 36 . The Ants by E. O. Wilson, Bert Hölldobler

    This book is primarily aimed at academics as a reference work, detailing the anatomy, physiology, social organization, ecology, and natural history of ants. The Ants is a Pulitzer Prize-winning...

  37. 37 . Voices from Chernobyl by Svetlana Alexievich

    Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster is a 2005 book by Svetlana Alexievich. Alexievich was a journalist living in Minsk, the capital of Belarus, at the time of the Chernoby...

  38. 38 . Centesimus Annus by Pope John Paul II

    Centesimus Annus (which is Latin for "hundredth year") was an encyclical written by Pope John Paul II in 1991, on the hundredth anniversary of Rerum Novarum. It is part of a larger body of writings...

  39. 39 . The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert

    A major book about the future of the world, blending intellectual and natural history and field reporting into a powerful account of the mass extinction unfolding before our eyes Over the last half...

    - Google
  40. 40 . The Noonday Demon by Andrew Solomon

    The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression is a 2001 memoir written by Andrew Solomon. It examines the personal, cultural, and scientific aspects of depression through Solomon's published interviews...

  41. 41 . The Hare with Amber Eyes: A Family's Century of Art and Loss by Edmund de Waal

    The Ephrussis were a grand banking family, as rich and respected as the Rothschilds, who “burned like a comet” in nineteenth-century Paris and Vienna society. Yet by the end of World War II, almost...

    - Google
  42. 42 . Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi

    Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books is a book by Iranian author and professor Azar Nafisi.

  43. 43 . The House of Morgan by Ron Chernow

    The winner of the National Book Award and now considered a classic, The House of Morgan is the most ambitious history ever written about an American banking dynasty. Acclaimed by The Wall Street Jo...

  44. 44 . The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism by Naomi Klein

    The bestselling author of No Logo shows how the global "free market" has exploited crises and shock for three decades, from Chile to Iraq In her groundbreaking reporting over the past few years, Na...

    - Google
  45. 45 . On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen by Harold McGee

    Harold McGee's On Food and Cooking is a kitchen classic. Hailed by Time magazine as "a minor masterpiece" when it first appeared in 1984, On Food and Cooking is the bible to which food lovers and p...

    - Google
  46. 46 . James Joyce by Richard Ellmann

    This acclaimed biography has won both the James Tait Black and the Duff Cooper Memorial Prizes, and is considered by many to be the definitive account of Joyce's life and work. The fresh materia...

  47. 47 . The Liars' Club by Mary Karr

    The Liars' Club is the childhood memoir of American author Mary Karr. Published in 1995 and a New York Times bestseller for over a year it tells the story of Mary Karr's childhood in the 1960s in a...

  48. 48 . Bad Science by Ben Goldacre

  49. 49 . London: The Biography by Peter Ackroyd

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  50. 50 . The End of History and the Last Man by Francis Fukuyama

    The End of History and the Last Man is a 1992 book by Francis Fukuyama, expanding on his 1989 essay "The End of History?", published in the international affairs journal The National Interest. In t...