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. 151 . United States: Essays 1952-1992 by Gore Vidal

    United States: Essays 1952-1992

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  2. 152 . The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson

    One of The New York Times Book Review’s 10 Best Books of the Year In this epic, beautifully written masterwork, Pulitzer Prize–winning author Isabel Wilkerson chronicles one of the great untold sto...

    - Google
  3. 153 . We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live: Collected Nonfiction by Joan Didion

    A definitive compilation of essays and nonfiction writings spanning more than forty years includes the author's reflections on politics, lifestyle, place, and cultural figures, including her studie...

    - Google
  4. 154 . The Forever War by Dexter Filkins

    The Forever War is a non-fiction book by American journalist Dexter Filkins about his observations on assignment in Afghanistan and Iraq during the Iraq War. The book made the New York Times Book R...

  5. 155 . The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins

    The God Delusion is a 2006 bestselling non-fiction book by British biologist Richard Dawkins, professorial fellow of New College, Oxford, and inaugural holder of the Charles Simonyi Chair for the P...

  6. 156 . Darkness Visible by William Styron

    Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness is U.S. writer William Styron's memoir about his descent into depression, and the triumph of recovery. First published in December 1989 in Vanity Fair, the ...

  7. 157 . The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf

    The Beauty Myth examines beauty as a demand and as a judgment upon women. Subtitled How Images of Beauty Are Used Against Women, Wolf examines how modern conceptions of women's beauty impact the sp...

  8. 158 . Schott's Original Miscellany by Ben Schott

    Schott's Miscellanies are a trio of best-selling books by Ben Schott. They consist of a collection of trivia generally centred on the culture of the United Kingdom (and to a lesser extent the rest ...

  9. 159 . A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle

    A Year in Provence is autobiographical novel by Peter Mayle about his first year in Provence, and the local events and customs. It was adapted into a television miniseries starring John Thaw and Li...

  10. 160 . A People's Tragedy by Orlando Figes

    This multi-award book is history on an epic yet human scale. Vast in scope, exhaustive in original research, written with passion, narrative skill, and human sympathy, "A People's Tragedy" offers a...

  11. 161 . Diaries by Alan Clark

    Alan Clark started keeping a regular diary in 1955 which lasted until August 1999, during his second spell as a Member of Parliament, when he was incapacitated due to the onset of the brain tumour ...

  12. 162 . A Child Called 'It' by Dave Pelzer

    A Child Called "It": One Child's Courage to Survive is Dave Pelzer's 1995 autobiographical account of his alleged abuse as a child by an alcoholic mother, Catherine Roerva.

  13. 163 . Cadillac Desert by Marc Reisner

    Cadillac Desert is about land development and water policy in the western United States. Subtitled The American West and its Disappearing Water, it gives the history of the Bureau of Reclamation an...

  14. 164 . The Gate of Heavenly Peace by Jonathan Spence

    Chronicles the history of the Chinese Revolution, focusing on the people and events of modern Chinese history, the writings of modern Chinese authors, the issues facing the People's Republic, and m...

  15. 165 . The Rise of the West by William H. McNeill

    The Rise of the West explores human history in terms of the effect of different world civilizations on one another. McNeill assumes "decent familiarity with Western history," which allows describin...

  16. 166 . Florence Nightingale by Cecil Woodham-Smith

    Draws on research by army historians to describe the cover-up of disastrous events in the Crimea, and to seperate Nightingale's real achievments from her mythical ones.

  17. 167 . The Taming of Chance by Ian Hacking

    In this important new study Ian Hacking continues the enquiry into the origins and development of certain characteristic modes of contemporary thought undertaking in such previous works as the best...

  18. 168 . Operating Instructions by Anne Lamott

    "I woke up with a start at 4:00 one morning and realized that I was very, very pregnant." So begins novelist Anne Lamott's journal of the birth of her son, Sam, and their first year together. She m...

  19. 169 . How Democracies Perish by Jean François Revel

  20. 170 . Free to Choose: A Personal Statement by Milton Friedman, Rose Friedman

    The international bestseller on the extent to which personal freedom has been eroded by government regulations and agencies while personal prosperity has been undermined by government spending and ...

    - Google
  21. 171 . Mountains Beyond Mountains: One doctor's quest to heal the world by Tracy Kidder

    Profound and powerful, Mountains Beyond Mountains takes us from Harvard to Haiti, Peru, Cuba and Russia, as the charismatic but flawed genius Dr Paul Farmer challenges widely-held preconceptions ab...

    - Google
  22. 172 . Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi

    Americans like to insist that we are living in a postracial, color-blind society. In fact, racist thought is alive and well; it has simply become more sophisticated and more insidious. And as award...

    - Google
  23. 173 . The Transformation of Virginia, 1740-1790 by Rhys L. Isaac

  24. 174 . Sontag: Her Life and Work by Benjamin Moser

    Sontag: Her Life and Work is a 2019 biography of American writer Susan Sontag written by Benjamin Moser. The book won the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography. Judges of the prize ca...

  25. 175 . Prophets of Regulation by Thomas K. McCraw

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  26. 176 . The Undying: Pain, vulnerability, mortality, medicine, art, time, dreams, data, exhaustion, cancer, and care by Anne Boyer

    WINNER OF THE 2020 PULITZER PRIZE IN GENERAL NONFICTION "The Undying is a startling, urgent intervention in our discourses about sickness and health, art and science, language and literature, and m...

    - Google
  27. 177 . The Dead Are Arising by Les Payne

    The Dead Are Arising: The Life of Malcolm X is a biography of Malcolm X by Les Payne and Tamara Payne. The book was published in late 2020 by Liveright in hardcover format while an audiobook, narra...

  28. 178 . The Problem of Slavery in the Age of Emancipation by David Brion Davis

    A conclusion to the historian's three-volume history of slavery in Western culture covers the influential Haitian revolution, the complex significance of colonization, and the less-recognized impor...

    - Google
  29. 179 . Island on Fire: The Revolt That Ended Slavery in the British Empire by Tom Zoellner

    In 1831 enslaved Jamaicans revolted. What began as a peaceful movement soon became a bloodbath as British troops retaliated. Tom Zoellner tells the inspiring story of the uprising that galvanized a...

    - Google
  30. 180 . Dreamland: The True Tale of America's Opiate Epidemic by Sam Quinones

    Winner of the NBCC Award for General Nonfiction Named on Amazon's Best Books of the Year 2015--Michael Botticelli, U.S. Drug Czar (Politico) Favorite Book of the Year--Angus Deaton, Nobel Prize Eco...

    - Google
  31. 181 . Directorate S: The C.I.A. and America's Secret Wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan by Steve Coll

    Winner of the 2018 National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction Longlisted for the 2018 National Book Award for Nonfiction From the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Ghost Wars, the epic and en...

    - Google
  32. 182 . Say Nothing by Patrick Radden Keefe

    Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland is a 2019 book by Patrick Radden Keefe. Keefe began researching and writing the book after reading the obituary for Dolours Price ...

  33. 183 . The Evangelicals: The Struggle to Shape America by Frances FitzGerald

    A history of the Evangelical movement in America traces the revivals of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries that rendered evangelism a dominant religious force, describing the rise and fall of ...

    - Google
  34. 184 . W.E.B. Du Bois: The Fight for Equality and The American Century by David Levering Lewis

    William Edward Burghardt Du Bois (pronounced /duːˈbɔɪs/ doo-BOYSS) (February 23, 1868 – August 27, 1963) was an American civil rights activist, Pan-Africanist, sociologist, historian, author, and e...

  35. 185 . Becoming a Man: Half a Life Story by Paul Monette

    Becoming a Man: Half a Life Story

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  36. 186 . Sweet Taste of Liberty: A True Story of Slavery and Restitution in America by W. Caleb McDaniel

    The unforgettable saga of one enslaved woman's fight for justice--and reparations Born into slavery, Henrietta Wood was taken to Cincinnati and legally freed in 1848. In 1853, a Kentucky deputy she...

  37. 187 . W.E.B. Dubois : Biography of a Race, 1868–1919 by David Levering Lewis

    William Edward Burghardt Du Bois - the premier architect of the civil rights movement in America - was a towering and controversial personality, a fiercely proud individual blessed with the languag...

  38. 188 . The End of the Myth: From the Frontier to the Border Wall in the Mind of America by Greg Grandin

    WINNER OF THE PULITZER PRIZE A new and eye-opening interpretation of the meaning of the frontier, from early westward expansion to Trump’s border wall. Ever since this nation’s inception, the idea ...

    - Google
  39. 189 . The Yellow House by Sarah M. Broom

    The Yellow House is a memoir by Sarah M. Broom. It is Broom's first book and it was published on August 13, 2019 by Grove Press. The Yellow House chronicles Broom's family (mapping back approximate...

  40. 190 . Arab and Jew by David K. Shipler

    Arab and Jew: Wounded Spirits in a Promised Land, written by David K. Shipler and published by Times Books in 1986, won the 1987 Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction.

  41. 191 . The Return by Hisham Matar

    The Return is a memoir by Hisham Matar that was first published in June 2016. The memoir centers on Matar's return to his native Libya in 2012 to search for the truth behind the 1990 disappearance ...

  42. 192 . Black Flags: The Rise of ISIS by Joby Warrick

    Black Flags: The Rise of ISIS is a 2015 non-fiction book by the American journalist Joby Warrick. The book traces the rise and spread of militant Islam behind the Islamic State of Iraq and the Lev...

  43. 193 . Washington's Crossing by David Hackett Fischer

    Washington's Crossing is a Pulitzer Prize winning book written by David Hackett Fischer and part of the "Pivotal Moments in American History" series. The book is primarily about George Washington's...

  44. 194 . The Price of Power by Seymour M. Hersh

    The Price of Power: Kissinger in the Nixon White House

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  45. 195 . Voyagers to the West: A Passage in the Peopling of America on the Eve of the Revolution by Bernard Bailyn

    The Pulitzer Prize for History has been awarded since 1917 for a distinguished book upon the history of the United States. Many history books have also been awarded the Pulitzer Prize for General N...

  46. 196 . Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy by Heather Ann Thompson

    Ever since the USS Walkercame from another world war to defy the terrifying Grik and diabolical Dominion, Matt Reddy and his crew have given their all to protect the oppressed Lemurians. But with t...

    - Google
  47. 197 . Fortunate Son: The Autobiography of Lewis B. Puller Jr. by Lewis B. Puller

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  48. 198 . Encounters at the Heart of the World by Elizabeth A. Fenn

    Encounters at the Heart of the World: A History of the Mandan People is a Pulitzer Prize-winning non-fiction history book about the Mandan people, a Native American tribe in North Dakota. It was wr...

  49. 199 . Peter the Great: His Life and World by Robert K. Massie

  50. 200 . Custer's Trials by T.J. Stiles

    Custer's Trials: A Life on the Frontier of a New America is a book by T. J. Stiles. It won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for History.