The Greatest Nonfiction Books Since 1980


How is this list generated?


This list is generated from 130 "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. 101 . 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...

  2. 102 . 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 ...

  3. 103 . 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...

  4. 104 . 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
  5. 105 . The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee

    An assessment of cancer addresses both the courageous battles against the disease and the misperceptions and hubris that have compromised modern understandings, providing coverage of such topics as...

    - Google
  6. 106 . Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel

    Fun Home (subtitled A Family Tragicomic) is a graphic memoir by Alison Bechdel, author of the comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For. It chronicles the author's childhood and youth in rural Pennsylvani...

  7. 107 . The Proper Study of Mankind by Isaiah Berlin

    Isaiah Berlin was one of the leading thinkers of our time and one of its finest writers. The Proper Study of Mankind brings together his most celebrated writing: here the reader will find Berlin's ...

  8. 108 . Red Scarf Girl by Ji-li Jiang

    This accessible autobiography is the true story of one girl's determination to hold her family together during one of the most terrifying eras of the twentieth century. It's 1966, and twelve-year-o...

    - Google
  9. 109 . Experience by Martin Amis

  10. 110 . I Have Lived a Thousand Years by Livia Bitton-Jackson

    A graphic narrative describes what happens to a 13-year-old Jewish girl when the Nazis invade Hungary in 1944. Includes a brief chronology of the Holocaust.

  11. 111 . Zami: A New Spelling of My Name by Audre Lorde

    Zami: A New Spelling of My Name is a 1982 autobiography by American poet Audre Lorde. It started a new genre that the author calls biomythography, which combines history, biography, and myth. In th...

  12. 112 . Born to Run by Chris McDougall

    At the heart of Born to Run lies a mysterious tribe of Mexican Indians, the Tarahumara, who live quietly in canyons and are reputed to be the best distance runners in the world; in 1993, one of the...

    - Google
  13. 113 . I Will Bear Witness by Victor Klemperer

    The author's firsthand account of life in Nazi Germany chronicles the escalation of the war, including the bombing of Dresden and his escape from deportation to a Jewish concentration camp.

    - Google
  14. 114 . My Forbidden Face by Latifa

    Latifa was born into an educated middle-class Afghan family in Kabul in 1980. She dreamed of one day of becoming a journalist, she was interested in fashion, movies and friends. Her father was in t...

    - Google
  15. 115 . A Man in Love: My Struggle by Karl Ove Knausgaard

    'Intense and vital... Ceaselessly compelling... Superb' James Wood, New Yorker This is a book about leaving your wife and everything you know. It is about fresh starts, about love, about friendship...

    - Google
  16. 116 . Falling Leaves by Adeline Yen Mah

    The story of an unwanted Chinese daughter growing up during the Communist Revolution, blamed for her mother's death, ignored by her millionaire father and unwanted by her Eurasian step mother. A st...

    - Google
  17. 117 . In My Hands by Irene Opdyke

    IRENE GUT WAS just 17 in 1939, when the Germans and Russians devoured her native Poland. Just a girl, really. But a girl who saw evil and chose to defy it. “No matter how many Holocaust stories one...

    - Google
  18. 118 . Funny in Farsi by Firoozeh Dumas

    NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER In 1972, when she was seven, Firoozeh Dumas and her family moved from Iran to Southern California, arriving with no firsthand knowledge of this country beyond her father’s...

    - Google
  19. 119 . The Afterlife: A Memoir by Donald Antrim

    From "a fiercely intelligent writer" (The New York Times), a wry, poignant story of the difficult love between a mother and a son In the winter of 2000, shortly after his mother's death from cancer...

    - Google
  20. 120 . The Light of the World by Elizabeth Alexander

    A deeply resonant memoir for anyone who has loved and lost, from acclaimed poet and Pulitzer Prize finalist Elizabeth Alexander. In THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD, Elizabeth Alexander finds herself at an e...

    - Google
  21. 121 . The Gentrification of the Mind by Sarah Schulman

    In this memoir of the AIDS years (1981-1996) in New York, CUNY Professor of English Sarah Schulman recalls how much of the queer culture, cheap rents, and virbrant downtown arts movement vanished a...

    - Google
  22. 122 . Albert Murray: Collected Essays & Memoirs by Albert Murray

    In his 1970 classic The Omni-Americans, Albert Murray (1916–2013) took aim at protest writers and social scientists who accentuated the “pathology” of race in American life. Against narratives of m...

    - Google
  23. 123 . Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward

    Two-time National Book Award winner Jesmyn Ward (Salvage the Bones, Sing, Unburied, Sing) contends with the deaths of five young men dear to her, and the risk of being a black man in the rural Sout...

    - Google
  24. 124 . The Best We Could Do: An Illustrated Memoir by Thi Bui

    An intimate and poignant graphic novel portraying one family’s journey from war-torn Vietnam, from debut author Thi Bui. This beautifully illustrated and emotional story is an evocative memoir abou...

    - Google
  25. 125 . Enrique's Journey by Sonia Nazario

    An astonishing story that puts a human face on the ongoing debate about immigration reform in the United States, now updated with a new Epilogue and Afterword, photos of Enrique and his family, an ...

    - Google
  26. 126 . American Shaolin by Matthew Polly

    Describes the childhood dream that led the author to study martial arts at China's famed Shaolin Temple, his initial disenchantment that turned into respect for the instructors, and the training th...

    - Google
  27. 127 . Chinese Cinderella by Adeline Yen Mah

    A riveting memoir of a girl's painful coming-of-age in a wealthy Chinese family during the 1940s. A Chinese proverb says, "Falling leaves return to their roots." In Chinese Cinderella, Adeline Yen ...

    - Google
  28. 128 . Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer

    Jonathan Safran Foer spent much of his teenage and college years oscillating between omnivore and vegetarian. But on the brink of fatherhood-facing the prospect of having to make dietary choices on...

    - Google
  29. 129 . "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!": Adventures of a Curious Character by Richard P. Feynman

    A New York Times bestseller—the outrageous exploits of one of this century's greatest scientific minds and a legendary American original. Richard Feynman, winner of the Nobel Prize in physics, thri...

    - Google
  30. 130 . Staying Power: The History of Black People in Britain by Peter Fryer

    Staying Power is recognised as the definitive history of black people in Britain, an epic story that begins with the Roman conquest and continues to this day. In a comprehensive account, Peter Frye...

    - Google
  31. 131 . Soul of a Citizen: Living with Conviction in Challenging Times by Paul Rogat Loeb

    Soul of a Citizen awakens within us the desire and the ability to make our voices heard and our actions count. We can lead lives worthy of our convictions. A book of inspiration and integrity, Soul...

    - Google
  32. 132 . Madame Curie - A Biography by Eve Curie by Eve Curie

    Marie Curie is a women who changed the face of science for all time, not just because of her discovery of the radioactive element Radium and her work with it, but because of her incredible strides ...

    - Google
  33. 133 . Why the West Rules - For Now: The Patterns of History, and What They Reveal About the Future by Ian Morris

    Why does the West rule? In this magnum opus, eminent Stanford polymath Ian Morris answers this provocative question, drawing on 50,000 years of history, archeology, and the methods of social scienc...

    - Google
  34. 134 . The Private Life of Chairman Mao by Li Zhi-Sui

    From 1954 until Mao Zedong's death 22 years later. Dr. Li Zhisui was the Chinese ruler's personal physician. For most of these years, Mao was in excellent health; thus he and the doctor had time to...

    - Google
  35. 135 . The Frugal Superpower: America's Global Leadership in a Cash-Strapped Era by Michael Mandelbaum

    Which of America's essential international commitments can we afford to keep in this time of diminished financial resources?

    - Google
  36. 136 . Ain't No Makin' It: Aspirations and Attainment in a Low-income Neighborhood by Jay MacLeod

    This classic text addresses one of the most important issues in modern social theory and policy: how social inequality is reproduced from one generation to the next. With the original 1987 publicat...

    - Google
  37. 137 . Consider The Lobster by David Foster Wallace

    Consider the Lobster (2005) is a collection of essays by novelist David Foster Wallace. It is also the title of one of the essays, which was published in Gourmet Magazine in 2004. The entire list o...

  38. 138 . Slavery by Another Name by Douglas A. Blackmon

    The book describes the exploitation of black Americans after the end of the American Civil War. Blackmon presents evidence that slavery in the United States did not end with the Civil War, instead ...

  39. 139 . Last Train to Memphis by Peter Guralnick

  40. 140 . All Over But The Shoutin' by Rick Bragg

  41. 141 . The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman

    The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures is a 1997 book by Anne Fadiman that chronicles the struggles of a Hmong refugee fami...

  42. 142 . Mary Chestnut's Civil War by Mary Chesnut

    Mary Boykin Chesnut began her diary on February 18, 1861, and ended it on June 26, 1865. She was an eyewitness to many historic events as she accompanied her husband to significant sites of the Civ...

  43. 143 . Backlash by Susan Faludi

    Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women is the title of a 1991 nonfiction book by Pulitzer Prize winner Susan Faludi, which argues for the existence of a media driven "backlash" against...

  44. 144 . The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science by Richard Holmes

    The Age of Wonder: How the romantic generation discovered the beauty and terror of Science is a 2008 popular science book about the history of science written by Richard Holmes. In it, the author d...

  45. 145 . We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families: Stories from Rwanda by Philip Gourevitch

    We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families: Stories from Rwanda is a 1998 non-fiction book about the genocide of 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus in Rwanda in 1994, wr...

  46. 146 . John Adams by David McCullough

    John Adams is a 2001 biography of Founding Father and second U.S. President John Adams written by popular historian David McCullough. It won a 2002 Pulitzer Prize (for "Biography or Autobiography")...

  47. 147 . Growing Up by Russell Baker

  48. 148 . Far From the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity by Andrew Solomon

    From the National Book Award–winning author of The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression comes a monumental new work, a decade in the writing, about family. In Far from the Tree, Andrew Solomon tel...

    - Google
  49. 149 . Arctic Dreams by Barry Lopez

    Barry Lopez's National Book Award-winning classic study of the Far North is widely considered his masterpiece. Lopez offers a thorough examination of this obscure world-its terrain, its wildlife...

  50. 150 . The Good War by Studs Terkel

    "The Good War": An Oral History of World War Two is a telling of the oral history of World War II written by Studs Terkel. The work won the 1985 Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction. It is a firs...