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. 51 . Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson

    "Suddenly, in the space of a moment, I realized what it was that I loved about Britain-which is to say, all of it." After nearly two decades spent on British soil, Bill Bryson-bestsellingauthor of ...

    - Google
  2. 52 . The Devil In The White City by Erik Larson

    The Chicago World's Fair of 1893 and its amazing 'White City' was one of the wonders of the world. This is the incredible story of its realization, and of the two men whose fates it linked: one was...

    - Google
  3. 53 . The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid

    The Reluctant Fundamentalist is a novel by Mohsin Hamid that was published in 2007. The novel takes place during the course of a single evening in an outdoor Lahore cafe, where a bearded Pakistani ...

  4. 54 . Tell Me How It Ends: An Essay in 40 Questions by Valeria Luiselli

    Part treatise, part memoir, part call to action, Tell Me How It Ends inspires not through a stiff stance of authority, but with the curiosity and humility Luiselli has long since established.

    - Google
  5. 55 . Priestdaddy: A Memoir by Patricia Lockwood

    Affectionate and very funny . . . wonderfully grounded and authentic. This book proves Lockwood to be a formidably gifted writer who can do pretty much anything she pleases.” – The New York Times B...

    - Google
  6. 56 . Our Band Could Be Your Life: Scenes from the American Indie Underground, 1981-1991 by Michael Azerrad

    This is the never-before-told story of the musical revolution that happened right under the nose of the Reagan Eighties--when a small but sprawling network of bands, labels, fanzines, radio station...

    - Google
  7. 57 . Larousse Gastronomique: The World's Greatest Culinary Encyclopedia by Joël Robuchon

    Larousse Gastronomique is the world's classic culinary reference book, with over 35,000 copies sold in the UK alone. Larousse is known and loved for its authoritative and comprehensive collection o...

    - Google
  8. 58 . El Bulli: 1998-2002 by Ferran Adria, Juli Soler, Albert Adria

    Ferran Adria is widely considered to be the most innovative, most influential, and indeed the greatest chef in the world today. Culinary giants like Thomas Keller venerate him. El Bulli, the restau...

    - Google
  9. 59 . The Closing of the American Mind by Allan Bloom

    One of our country's most distinguished political philosophers argues that the social/political crisis of 20th-century America is really an intellectual crisis. Allan Bloom's sweeping analysis is e...

  10. 60 . Ethnic America by Thomas Sowell

    A distinguished economist traces the history of nine American ethnic groups--the Irish, the Germans, the Jews, the Italians, the Chinese, the Japanese, the Blacks, the Puerto Ricans, and the Mexica...

  11. 61 . The Memory of Fire Trilogy by Eduardo Galeano

    Now in one collection, the century-spanning trilogy filled with “the wonders of the lands and people of Latin America” (The Washington Post). Eduardo Galeano’s Memory of Fire Trilogy defies categor...

    - Google
  12. 62 . Pavel's Letters by Monika Maron

    Teasing her family's past out of the fog of oblivion and lies, one of Germany's greatest writers asks about the secrets families keep, about the fortitude of ordinary people in extraordinary circum...

    - Google
  13. 63 . Before Night Falls by Reinaldo Arenas

    Before Night Falls (Spanish: Antes que anochezca: autobiografía) is the 1992 autobiography of Cuban writer Reinaldo Arenas, describing his early life in Cuba, his time in prison, and his escape to ...

  14. 64 . The Drowned and the Saved by Primo Levi

    The Drowned and the Saved (Italian: I sommersi e i salvati) is a book of essays on life in the Nazi extermination camps by Italian-Jewish author and Holocaust survivor Primo Levi, drawing on his pe...

  15. 65 . Love's Work by Gillian Rose

    Love’s Work is at once a memoir and a book of philosophy. Written by the English philosopher Gillian Rose as she was dying of cancer, it is a book about both the fallibility and endurance of love, ...

    - Google
  16. 66 . Hideous Kinky by Esther Freud

    Hideous Kinky is an autobiographical novel by Esther Freud, daughter of British painter Lucian Freud and Bernardine Coverley and great-granddaughter of Sigmund Freud. It depicts the author's unconv...

  17. 67 . Wittgenstein's Nephew by Thomas Bernhard

    Wittgenstein’s Nephew is an autobiographical work by Thomas Bernhard, originally published in 1982. It is a recollection of the author's friendship with Paul Wittgenstein, the nephew of Ludwig Witt...

  18. 68 . The Road from Coorain by Jill Ker Conway

    Jill Ker Conway is a noted historian, specializing in the experience of women in America, and was the first woman president of Smith College.

    - Google
  19. 69 . Zeitoun by Dave Eggers

    Zeitoun is a nonfiction book written by Dave Eggers and published by McSweeney's in 2009. It tells the story of Abdulrahman Zeitoun, the Syrian-American owner of a painting and contracting company ...

  20. 70 . Systematic Theology by Wolfhart Pannenberg

    An important mark of a systematic theology is that it be distinct from the rest; owning one does not preclude the need for others. What distinguishes Pannenberg's (systematic theology, Univ. of Mun...

  21. 71 . Second World War by John Keegan

    Praised as "the best military historian of our generation" by Tom Clancy, John Keegan here reconsiders his masterful study of World War II, The Second World War, with a new foreword. Keegan examine...

  22. 72 . Care of the Soul: Guide for Cultivating Depth and Sacredness by Thomas More

    This New York Times bestseller (more than 200,000 hardcover copies sold) provides a path-breaking lifestyle handbook that shows how to add spirituality, depth, and meaning to modern-day life by nur...

    - Google
  23. 73 . Looking Back by Norman Douglas

    Looking Back is an autobiography written by the American author Lois Lowry, in which she uses photographs and accompanying text to construct a picture of her life.

  24. 74 . Citizens by Simon Schama

    Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution is a book by the historian Simon Schama. It was published in 1989, the bicentenary of the French Revolution, and like many other works in that year, w...

  25. 75 . Wealth and Poverty by George Gilder

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  26. 76 . Darwin's Black Box by Michael J. Behe

    Darwin's Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution (1996, first edition; 2006, second edition) is a book written by Michael J. Behe and published by Free Press in which he presents his noti...

  27. 77 . The Russian Revolution by Richard Pipes

    Ground-breaking in its inclusiveness, enthralling in its narrative of a movement whose purpose, in the words of Leon Trotsky, was "to overthrow the world," The Russian Revolution draws conclusions ...

  28. 78 . A People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn

    A People's History of the United States is a 1980 non-fiction book by American historian and political scientist Howard Zinn. In the book, Zinn seeks to present American history through the eyes of...

  29. 79 . The Last Lion by William Manchester

    The Last Lion is the second book in a planned trilogy of biographies on Winston Churchill by author and historian William Manchester.

  30. 80 . The Starr Report by Kenneth W. Starr

    THE STARR REPORT contains the complete text of the Independent Counsel

  31. 81 . I, Rigoberta Menchú: An Indian Woman in Guatemala by Rigoberta Menchú Tum

    Interviews with a Guatemalan national leader discuss her country's political situation and the resulting violence, which has claimed the lives of her brother, mother, and father

    - Google
  32. 82 . The Whole Internet: User's Guide & Catalog by Ed Krol

    Updated for Windows 95, this book describes the tools that Windows 95 Internet explorers use to get the most out of the Internet. The best source of information about the World Wide Web, Microsoft ...

    - Google
  33. 83 . The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt by T. J. Stiles

    A biography of the combative man whose genius and force of will created modern capitalism, documenting how Vanderbilt helped launch the transportation revolution, propel the Gold Rush, reshape Manh...

    - Google
  34. 84 . The Swerve: How the World Became Modern by Stephen Greenblatt

    Winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Non-Fiction Winner of the 2011 National Book Award for Non-Fiction One of the world's most celebrated scholars, Stephen Greenblatt has crafted both an innovati...

    - Google
  35. 85 . The Haunted Land by Tina Rosenberg

    The Haunted Land: Facing Europe's Ghosts After Communism written by Tina Rosenberg and published by Random House in 1995, won the 1996 Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction and the 1995 National B...

  36. 86 . The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron

    The Artist’s Way is the seminal book on the subject of creativity. An international bestseller, millions of readers have found it to be an invaluable guide to living the artist’s life. Still as vit...

    - Google
  37. 87 . The Hemingses of Monticello by Annette Gordon-Reed

    The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family is a 2008 book by American historian Annette Gordon-Reed. It recounts the history of four generations of the African American Hemings family, from th...

  38. 88 . Master of the Senate by Robert Caro

    In the third and most-recently published volume, Master of the Senate, Caro chronicles Johnson's rapid ascent in the United States Congress, including his tenure as Senate Majority Leader. This 116...

  39. 89 . There Are No Children Here by Alex Kotlowitz

    There Are No Children Here: The Story of Two Boys Growing Up in the Other America is a 1992 biography by Alex Kotlowitz that describes the experiences of two brothers growing up in Chicago's Henry ...

  40. 90 . The Diversity of Life by Edward O. Wilson

    An account of how the living world became diverse and how humans are destroying that diversity traces the processes that create new species and identifies the events that have disrupted evolution o...

    - Google
  41. 91 . The Path to Power by Robert Caro

    The Path to Power, Caro retraced Lyndon Johnson's life by temporarily moving to rural Texas and Washington, D.C., to better understand Johnson's upbringing and to interview anyone who had known Joh...

  42. 92 . Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson, David Oliver Relin

    In 1993 Greg Mortenson was the exhausted survivor of a failed attempt to ascend K2, an American climbing bum wandering emaciated and lost through Pakistan’s Karakoram Himalaya. After he was taken i...

    - Google
  43. 93 . The Journalist and the Murderer by Janet Malcolm

    The Journalist and the Murderer is a 1990 study by Janet Malcolm about the ethics of journalism. Attracting heavy criticism upon first publication, it is now regarded as a "seminal" work.

  44. 94 . Nickel And Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich

    Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America is a book written by Barbara Ehrenreich. Written from the perspective of the undercover journalist, it sets out to investigate the impact of the 199...

  45. 95 . Kaffir Boy by Mark Mathabane

    Kaffir Boy: The True Story of a Black Youth's Coming of Age in Apartheid South Africa is Mark Mathabane's 1986 autobiography about life under the South African apartheid regime. It focuses on the b...

  46. 96 . The Stripping of the Altars by Eamon Duffy

    While its title suggests a focus on iconoclasm, its concerns are broader, dealing with the shift in religious sensibilities in English society between 1400 and 1580. In particular, the book is conc...

  47. 97 . Lost in the Cosmos by Walker Percy

    Lost in the Cosmos by the late Walker Percy is a mock self-help book and social satire on the American value of autonomy published in 1983. Organized into roughly four sections that explore ideas ...

  48. 98 . After Virtue by Alasdair MacIntyre

    After Virtue is a book on moral philosophy by Alasdair MacIntyre. MacIntyre provides a bleak view of the state of modern moral discourse, regarding it as failing to be rational, and failing to admi...

  49. 99 . Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

    Between the World and Me is a 2015 book written by Ta-Nehisi Coates and published by Spiegel & Grau. It is written as a letter to the author's teenaged son about the feelings, symbolism, and realit...

  50. 100 . First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers by Loung Ung

    One of seven children of a high-ranking government official, Loung Ung lived a privileged life in the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh until the age of five. Then, in April 1975, Pol Pot's Khmer Rou...

    - Google