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. 251 . When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

    Doctor Paul Kalanithi devoted his final days to the living. Written in the months he had been given after a terminal cancer diagnosis, Kalanithi composed this courageous memoir about becoming a doc...

  2. 252 . Bad Land: An American Romance by Jonathan Raban

    Raban (Old Glory), an Englishman now settled in Seattle, has written a vivid and utterly idiosyncratic social history of the homesteading movement in eastern Montana that went boom and bust during ...

  3. 253 . What Hath God Wrought by Daniel Walker Howe

    The book tracks the period in American history from the end of the War of 1812 to the end of the Mexican American War. It is focused on the revolutionary changes in transportation and communication...

  4. 254 . Unfinished Business by Stephen Bonsal

  5. 255 . Oscar Wilde by Richard Ellmann

  6. 256 . Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan by Herbert P. Bix

    Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan is a book by Herbert P. Bix on Emperor Hirohito, emperor of Japan from December 25, 1926 until his death on January 7, 1989, won the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for ...

  7. 257 . Louise Bogan: A Portrait by Elizabeth Frank

  8. 258 . Polio: An American Story by David M. Oshinsky

    Polio: An American Story is a book by David M. Oshinsky, professor of history at The University of Texas at Austin, which documents the polio epidemic in the United States during the 1940s and 1950...

  9. 259 . Lincoln at Gettysburg by Garry Wills

    The book uses Lincoln's notably short speech at Gettysburg to examine his rhetoric overall. In particular, Wills compares Lincoln's speech to Edward Everett's delivered on the same day, focusing on...

  10. 260 . Eden's Outcasts by Jon Matteson

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  11. 261 . Medical Apartheid by Harriet A. Washington

    Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present is a 2007 book by Harriet A. Washington. It is a comprehensive history of medica...

  12. 262 . Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo

    Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity is a non-fiction book written by the Pulitzer Prize-winner Katherine Boo in 2012. It won the National Book Award and the L...

  13. 263 . Jackson Pollock: An American Saga by Steven Naifeh, Gregory White Smith

  14. 264 . Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow

    Washington: A Life is a 2010 biography of George Washington, the first President of the United States, written by American historian and biographer Ron Chernow. The book is a "one-volume, cradle-to...

  15. 265 . American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House by Jon Matteson

  16. 266 . Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital by Sheri Fink

    One of the New York Times’s Best Ten Books of the Year Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction Winner of the 2014 J. Anthony Lukas Book Prize, the Los Angeles Times Book Pri...

    - Google
  17. 267 . Gotham: A History of New York City by Edwin G. Burrows

    Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898 is a nonfiction book written by Edwin G. Burrows and Mike Wallace. It was published in 1998 by Oxford University Press. It won the 1999 Pulitzer Prize for...

  18. 268 . The Social Transformation of American Medicine by Paul Starr

    The Social Transformation of American Medicine is a book written by Paul Starr and published by Basic Books in 1982. It won the 1984 Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction as well as the Bancroft P...

  19. 269 . Time, Love, Memory by Jonathan Weiner

    Jonathan Weiner, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for The Beak of the Finch, brings his brilliant reporting skills to the story of Seymour Benzer, the Brooklyn-born maverick scientist whose study of ge...

  20. 270 . American Prometheus by Kai Bird, Martin J. Sherwin

    American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer is a biography of J. Robert Oppenheimer by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin published by Alfred A. Knopf in 2005. Twenty-five yea...

  21. 271 . The Pope and Mussolini by David I. Kertzer

    The Pope and Mussolini: The Secret History of Pius XI and the Rise of Fascism in Europe is a 2014 Pulitzer Prize winner biography of Pope Pius XI about his relations with Benito Mussolini and rise ...

  22. 272 . Harriet Beecher Stowe: A Life by Joan D. Hedrick

  23. 273 . Toms River: A Story of Science and Salvation by Dan Fagin

    Recounts the decades-long saga of the New Jersey seaside town plagued by childhood cancers caused by air and water pollution due to the indiscriminate dumping of toxic chemicals.

    - Google
  24. 274 . The Life and Times of Cotton Mather by Kenneth Silverman

    Cotton Mather (February 12, 1663 – February 13, 1728; A.B. 1678, Harvard College; A.M. 1681, honorary doctorate 1710, University of Glasgow) was a socially and politically influential New England P...

  25. 275 . The Internal Enemy: Slavery and War in Virginia, 1772-1832 by Alan Taylor

    National Book Award Finalist: Impressively researched and beautifully crafted . . . a brilliant account of slavery in Virginia during and after the Revolution. Mark M. Smith, Wall Street Journal"

    - Google
  26. 276 . The Reformation by Diarmaid MacCulloch

    The Reformation: A History (2003) is a history book by English historian Diarmaid MacCulloch. It is a survey of the European Reformation between 1490 and 1700. It won the 2004 National Book Critics...

  27. 277 . The Broken Cord by Michael Dorris

    Dorris, author of A Yellow raft in blue water, professor at Dartmouth College, and member of the Modoc Indian tribe, tells the moving story of his adopted Sioux son Adam, who suffers from Fetal Alc...

  28. 278 . The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America by George Packer

    Paints a picture of the last thirty years of life in America by following several citizens, including the son of tobacco farmers in the rural south, a Washington insider who denies his idealism for...

    - Google
  29. 279 . From Beirut to Jerusalem by Thomas L. Friedman

    From Beirut to Jerusalem is a book written by Thomas L. Friedman chronicling his days as a reporter in Beirut during the Lebanese Civil War and his journey in 1984 from Beirut to Jerusalem to cover...

  30. 280 . Lords of Finance: The Bankers Who Broke the World by Liaquat Ahamed

    Argues that the stock market crash of 1929 and subsequent Depression occurred as a result of poor decisions on the part of four central bankers who jointly attempted to reconstruct international fi...

    - Google
  31. 281 . William Cooper's Town by Alan Taylor

    An innovative work of biography, social history, and literary analysis, this Pulitzer Prize-winning book presents the story of two men, William Cooper and his son, the novelist James Fennimore Coop...

  32. 282 . War Without Mercy by John W. Dower

    War Without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War

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  33. 283 . The Dead Hand: The Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race and Its Dangerous Legacy by David Hoffman

    A history of the end of the arms race describes the Soviet Union's development of an automatic retaliatory attack system, the United States's efforts to create space-based missile defenses, and the...

    - Google
  34. 284 . Personal History by Katharine Graham

    Personal History is the autobiography of Katharine Graham. It was published in 1997 and won the Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography in 1998. The book received widespread critical acclaim ...

  35. 285 . Ashes to Ashes by Richard Kluger

    Ashes To Ashes: America's Hundred-Year Cigarette War, The Public Health, And The Unabashed Triumph Of Philip Morris, written by Richard Kluger and published by Alfred A. Knopf in 1996, won the 1997...

  36. 286 . Just Kids by Patti Smith

    Just Kids is a memoir by Patti Smith, published on January 19, 2010. In the book, Smith documents her relationship with artist Robert Mapplethorpe.

  37. 287 . The Soul of a New Machine by Tracy Kidder

    Tracy Kidder's non-fiction book, The Soul of a New Machine, chronicles the experiences of an engineering team racing to design a next generation computer under a blistering schedule and tremendous ...

  38. 288 . The Race Beat by Gene Roberts, Hank Klibanoff

    The Race Beat: The Press, the Civil Rights Struggle, and the Awakening of a Nation is a Pulitzer Prize-winning book written in 2006 by journalists Gene Roberts and Hank Klibanoff. The book is about...

  39. 289 . An Army at Dawn by Rick Atkinson

    An Army at Dawn: The War in North Africa 1942-1943 is a Pulitzer Prize-winning book written in 2002 by long-time Washington Post correspondent Rick Atkinson. The book is a history of the North Afri...

  40. 290 . Margaret Fuller: A New American Life by Megan Marshall

    Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Biography From an early age, Margaret Fuller provoked and dazzled New England’s intellectual elite. Her famous Conversations changed women’s sense of how they could...

    - Google
  41. 291 . Waiting for Snow in Havana: Confessions of a Cuban Boy by Carlos Eire

    A childhood in a privileged household in 1950s Havana is joyous and cruel, like any other — but with exotic differences. Lizards roam the house and grounds. Fights aren't waged with snowballs but w...

  42. 292 . The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan

    The dust storms that terrorized the High Plains in the darkest years of the Depression were like nothing ever seen before or since. Timothy Egan's critically acclaimed account rescues this iconic c...

  43. 293 . Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference by David J. Garrow

    Martin Luther King, Jr. (January 15, 1929 – April 4, 1968) was an American clergyman, activist and prominent leader in the African-American civil rights movement. His main legacy was to secure prog...

  44. 294 . God: A Biography by Jack Miles

    God: A Biography is a nonfiction book by Jack Miles. The book recounts the tale of existence of the Judeo-Christian deity as the protagonist of the Hebrew Tanak or Christian Bible Old Testament. Th...

  45. 295 . Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China by Evan Osnos

    A Beijing correspondent for The New Yorker documents the political, economic and cultural changes occurring in today's China, examining a transition from Communist to personal power while addressin...

    - Google
  46. 296 . Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA by Tim Weiner

    Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA is a 2007 book by Tim Weiner. Legacy of Ashes is a detailed history of the Central Intelligence Agency from its creation after World War II, through the Cold...

  47. 297 . The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo by Tom Reiss

    The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo is a 2012 biography of General Thomas-Alexandre Dumas written by Tom Reiss. The book presents the life and career of...

  48. 298 . Booker T. Washington: The Wizard of Tuskegee, 1901–1915 by Louis R. Harlan

    Booker Taliaferro Washington (April 5, 1856, – November 14, 1915) was an American political leader, educator, orator and author. He was the dominant figure in the African American community in the ...

  49. 299 . A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide by Samantha Power

    "A Problem from Hell": America and the Age of Genocide is a book by Samantha Power, Professor of Human Rights Practice at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government, which explores America's un...

  50. 300 . The Launching of Modern American Science, 1846-1876 by Robert V. Bruce

    Astronomy in the U.S., until approximately the 1880s, was largely a tool for determining latitude and longitude, time and tide. This surprising fact points to the enormous distance American science...