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. 201 . The Fate of Liberty: Abraham Lincoln and Civil Liberties by Mark E. Neely, Jr

    If Abraham Lincoln was known as the Great Emancipator, he was also the only president to suspend the writ of habeas corpus. Indeed, Lincoln's record on the Constitution and individual rights has fu...

  2. 202 . A Civil Action by Jonathan Harr

    A Civil Action is a 1996 non-fiction novel by Jonathan Harr depicting the real-life water contamination case in Woburn, Massachusetts in the 1980s. The book became a best-seller and won the Nationa...

  3. 203 . Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America by Gilbert King

    Arguably the most important American lawyer of the twentieth century, Thurgood Marshall was on the verge of bringing the landmark suit Brown v. Board of Education before the U.S. Supreme Court when...

    - Google
  4. 204 . Summer for the Gods by Edward Larson

    Summer for the Gods: The Scopes Trial and America’s Continuing Debate Over Science and Religion.

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  5. 205 . Grant: A Biography by William S. McFeely

  6. 206 . Is There No Place On Earth For Me? by Susan Sheehan

    This book recounts the lonely, harrowing life of Sylvia Frumkin who is diagnosed schizophrenic. Is There No Place On Earth For Me? written by Susan Sheehan and published in 1982 by Houghton Miff...

  7. 207 . The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia by Masha Gessen

    WINNER OF THE 2017 NATIONAL BOOK AWARD IN NONFICTION NAMED A BEST BOOK OF 2017 BY THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW, LOS ANGELES TIMES, WASHINGTON POST, BOSTON GLOBE, SEATTLE TIMES, CHRISTIAN SCIENCE ...

    - Google
  8. 208 . Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder by Caroline Fraser

    The first comprehensive historical biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder, the beloved author of the Little House on the Prairie books Millions of readers of Little House on the Prairie believe they kno...

    - Google
  9. 209 . Khrushchev: The Man and His Era by William Taubman

  10. 210 . Lenin's Tomb: The Last Days of the Soviet Empire by David Remnick

    The book is equal parts history and eyewitness account, covering the collapse of the Soviet Union. Opening with the excavation of the corpses of men killed in the Katyn massacre, "Lenin's Tomb" beg...

  11. 211 . Weapons and Hope by Freeman Dyson

    Weapons and Hope by Freeman Dyson

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  12. 212 . George F. Kennan: An American Life by John Lewis Gaddis

    George F. Kennan: An American Life is a nonfiction book about U.S. diplomat George F. Kennan by John Lewis Gaddis that won the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography.Pulitzer.org descri...

  13. 213 . The Years of Extermination by Saul Friedlander

    The Years of Extermination: Nazi Germany and the Jews, 1939-1945 is the second volume of Saul Friedlander's history of Nazi Germany and the Jews. It won the Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction i...

  14. 214 . Imperial Reckoning by Caroline Elkins

    Imperial Reckoning: The Untold Story of Britain's Gulag in Kenya written by Caroline Elkins, published by Henry Holt, won the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction.

  15. 215 . Ghost Wars by Steve Coll

    The book describes the CIA's efforts in Afghanistan to include the covert paramilitary programs against the Soviet Union and the Taliban. It also includes detailed descriptions of operations that a...

  16. 216 . Double Fold: Libraries and the Assault on Paper by Nicholson Baker

    Double Fold: Libraries and the Assault on Paper is a non-fiction book by Nicholson Baker that was published in April, 2001. An excerpt appeared in the July 24, 2000 issue of The New Yorker, under t...

  17. 217 . de Kooning by Mark Stevens, Annalyn Swan

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  18. 218 . The Course of American Democracy by Robert V. Remini

    The Course of American Democracy

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  19. 219 . The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money, and Power by Daniel Yergin

    The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money, and Power is Daniel Yergin's 800-page history of the global oil industry from the 1850s through 1990. The Prize benefited from extraordinary timing: publis...

  20. 220 . Amity and Prosperity: One Family and the Fracturing of America by Eliza Griswold

    Winner of the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction In Amity and Prosperity, the prizewinning poet and journalist Eliza Griswold tells the story of the energy boom’s impact on a small town at ...

    - Google
  21. 221 . How We Die: Reflections on Life's Final Chapter by Sherwin B. Nuland

    The 1994 NBA nonfiction winner, Yale physician Nuland's study of the clinical, biological and emotional details of dying.

  22. 222 . A Midwife's Tale by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

    A Midwife's Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard based on her diary, 1785–1812.

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  23. 223 . The Shock of the New by Robert Hughes

    A beautifully illustrated hundred-year history of modern art, from cubism to pop and avant-guard. More than 250 color photos. From the Trade Paperback edition.

    - Google
  24. 224 . Original Meanings by Jack N. Rakove

    Original Meanings: Politics and Ideas in the Making of the Constitution (ISBN 0679781218) is a 464 page, non-fiction book authored by Jack N. Rakove and published on May 27, 1997 by Vintage Books. ...

  25. 225 . Freedom From Fear: The American People by David M. Kennedy

    Freedom From Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945 is a Pulitzer Prize-winning book written in 1999 by historian David M. Kennedy. It is part of the Oxford History of the Unite...

  26. 226 . Walter Lippmann and the American Century by Ronald Steel

    The biography of Walter Lippman

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  27. 227 . Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life by William Finnegan

    Surfing only looks like a sport. To initiates, it is something else entirely: a beautiful addiction, a demanding course of study, a morally dangerous pastime, a way of life. Raised in California an...

    - Google
  28. 228 . The Gulf: The Making of An American Sea by Jack E. Davis

    Winner of the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for History Winner of the 2017 Kirkus Prize for Nonfiction A National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction Finalist A New York Times Notable Book of 2017 One o...

    - Google
  29. 229 . Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom by David W. Blight

    Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom is a 2018 biography of African American abolitionist Frederick Douglass, written by historian David W. Blight. It was published in 2018 by Simon & Schuster a...

  30. 230 . The Land Where the Blues Began by Alan Lomax

    Working for the Library of Congress and other cultural institutions, legendary roots-music connoisseur Lomax ( Mister Jelly Roll ) visited the Mississippi Delta with his father, folklorist John Lom...

  31. 231 . And Their Children After Them by Dale Maharidge, Michael Williamson

    And Their Children After Them, written by Dale Maharidge and Michael Williamson and published by Pantheon Books in 1989, won the 1990 Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction.[1] It is about sharecro...

  32. 232 . The Content of Our Character by Shelby Stelle

    In this controversial essay collection, award-winning writer Shelby Stelle illuminates the origins of the current conflict in race relations--the increase in anger, mistrust, and even violence betw...

  33. 233 . Move Your Shadow by Joseph Lelyveld

    Move Your Shadow: South Africa, Black and White, written by Joseph Lelyveld and published by Times Books in 1985, won the 1986 Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction as well as the 1986 Los Angeles...

  34. 234 . Liberty's Exiles: American Loyalists in the Revolutionary World by Maya Jasanoff

    A global history of the post-Revolutionary War exodus of 60,000 Americans loyal to the British Empire to such regions as Canada, India and Sierra Leone traces the experiences of specific individual...

    - Google
  35. 235 . No Ordinary Time by Doris Kearns Goodwin

    A compelling chronicle of a nation and its leaders during the period when modern America was created. With an uncanny feel for detail and a novelist's grasp of drama and depth, Doris Kearns Goodwin...

  36. 236 . Machiavelli in Hell by Sebastian de Grazia

  37. 237 . Sons of Mississippi by Paul Hendrickson

    To help us understand racism in America, former Washington Post journalist Hendrickson tells the story of the seven white Mississippi sheriffs shown admiring a billy club in a famed 1962 photograph.

  38. 238 . The Most Famous Man in America by Debby Applegate

  39. 239 . Freedom by Orlando Patterson

    This magisterial work traces the history of our most cherished value. Patterson links the birth of freedom in primitive societies with the institution of slavery, and traces the evolution of three ...

  40. 240 . Vera by Stacy Schiff

  41. 241 . In Our Image: America's Empire in the Philippines by Stanley Karnow

    In Our Image: America's Empire in the Philippines by Stanley Karnow

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  42. 242 . Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II by John W. Dower

    The book covers the Occupation of Japan by the Allies between August 1945 and April 1952, delving into topics such as Douglas MacArthur's administration, the Tokyo war crimes trials and Hirohito's ...

  43. 243 . American Education: The National Experience, 1783-1876 by Lawrence A. Cremin

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  44. 244 . The Heavens and the Earth by Walter A. McDougall

  45. 245 . Brother, I'm Dying by Edwidge Danticat

    Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for Autobiography A National Book Award Finalist A New York Times Notable Book From the age of four, award-winning writer Edwidge Danticat came to t...

    - Google
  46. 246 . Newjack: Guarding Sing Sing by Ted Conover

    Acclaimed journalist Conover sets a new standard for reporting when he applies for a job as a prison officer. So begins his odyssey at Sing Sing, once a model prison but now the New York State's mo...

  47. 247 . The Rape of Europa by Lynn Nicholas

    The Rape of Europa: The Fate of Europe's Treasures in the Third Reich and the Second World War is the title of a book and a subsequent documentary film. The book, by Lynn Nicholas, explores the Naz...

  48. 248 . A Nation under Our Feet by Steven Hahn

    A Nation under Our Feet: Black Political Struggles in the Rural South from Slavery to the Great Migration is a Pulitzer Prize-winning book written in 2003 by Steven Hahn. The book is a history of t...

  49. 249 . Arc of Justice by Kevin Boyle

    In this electrifying story of the sensational murder trial that divided Detroit and ignited the civil rights struggle, Boyle weaves a tapestry of narrative history that documents the volatile Ameri...

  50. 250 . Carry Me Home by Diane McWhorter

    Carry Me Home: Birmingham, Alabama, the Climactic Battle of the Civil Rights Revolution, written by Diane McWhorter and published by Simon & Schuster in 2001, won the J. Anthony Lukas Book Prize an...