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. 401 . The Wisdom Of Crowds by James Surowiecki

    The Wisdom of Crowds: Why the Many Are Smarter Than the Few and How Collective Wisdom Shapes Business, Economies, Societies and Nations, published in 2004, ISBN 978-0385503860, is a book written by...

  2. 402 . My Life in France by Julia Child

    The legendary food expert describes her years in Paris, Marseille, and Provence and her journey from a young woman who could not cook or speak any French to the publication of her cookbooks and bec...

    - Google
  3. 403 . Whoredom in Kimmage by Rosemary Mahoney

    An Irish-American writer returns to her homeland to pen several stories about contemporary Irish women, from Mad Minnie of Corofin to Mary Robinson, the first female president of Ireland. By the au...

    - Google
  4. 405 . The Writer on Her Work by Janet Sternburg

    Published to high praise "groundbreaking ...a landmark" (Poets & Writers) this was the first anthology to celebrate the diversity of women who write. Seventeen novelists, poets, and writers of nonf...

  5. 406 . The Lost City of Z by David Grann

    The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon is the debut non-fiction book by American author David Grann. The book was published in 2009 and recounts the activities of the British ...

  6. 407 . War Is a Force that Gives Us Meaning by Chris Hedges

    As a veteran war correspondent, Chris Hedges has survived ambushes in Central America, imprisonment in Sudan, and a beating by Saudi military police. He has seen children murdered for sport in Gaza...

    - Google
  7. 408 . Great Plains by Ian Frazier

    National Bestseller With his unique blend of intrepidity, tongue-in-cheek humor, and wide-eyed wonder, Ian Frazier takes us on a journey of more than 25,000 miles up and down and across the vast an...

    - Google
  8. 409 . Pulphead: Essays by John Jeremiah Sullivan

    A sharp-eyed, uniquely humane tour of America’s cultural landscape—from high to low to lower than low—by the award-winning young star of the literary nonfiction world. In Pulphead, John Jeremiah Su...

    - Google
  9. 410 . The Revenge of Gaia by James Lovelock

  10. 411 . Blue Highways: A Journey into America by William Least Heat-Moon

    Hailed as a masterpiece of American travel writing, Blue Highways is an unforgettable journey along our nation's backroads. William Least Heat-Moon set out with little more than the need to put hom...

    - Google
  11. 412 . The Suspicions of Mr Whicher by Kate Summerscale

  12. 413 . Race Matters by Cornel West

    Race Matters is a 1994 social sciences book, authored by Cornel West. The book was first published on March 29, 1994 in the English language by Vintage Books. The book analyses moral authority and ...

  13. 414 . Change We Can Believe In by Barack Obama

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  14. 415 . Them: A Memoir Of Parents by Francine du Plessix Gray

  15. 416 . Coming of Age in the Milky Way by Timothy Ferris

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  16. 417 . Under the Eye of the Clock by Christopher Nolan

  17. 418 . Tales from Ovid by Ted Hughes

    Tales from Ovid is a poetical work written by the English poet Ted Hughes. Published in 1997 by Faber and Faber, it is a retelling of twenty-four tales from Ovid's Metamorphoses. It won the Whitbre...

  18. 419 . The Solace of Open Spaces by Gretel Ehrlich

    A stunning collection of personal observations that uses images of the American West to probe larger concerns in lyrical, evocative prose that is a true celebration of the region.

    - Google
  19. 420 . London Orbital: A Year Walking Around the M25 by Iain Sinclair

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  20. 421 . In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens: Prose by Alice Walker

    Walker’s collection of early nonfiction serves as the manifesto of a young artist—and an illuminating self-portrait What is a womanist? Alice Walker sets out to define the concept in this anthology...

    - Google
  21. 422 . The Faraway Nearby by Rebecca Solnit

    The Faraway Nearby is a 2013 book by Rebecca Solnit. Containing writing reminiscent of memoir, literary criticism, travelogue, prose poetry, as well as analyses of myth, fairytale and narratives mo...

  22. 423 . The Empathy Exams: Essays by Leslie Jamison

    From personal loss to phantom diseases, The Empathy Exams is a bold and brilliant collection, winner of the Graywolf Press Nonfiction Prize A Publishers Weekly Top Ten Essay Collection of Spring 20...

    - Google
  23. 424 . Earth: An Intimate History by Richard Fortey

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  24. 425 . Coleridge: Early Visions by Richard Holmes

  25. 426 . March: Book One by John Lewis

    Congressman John Lewis (GA-5) is an American icon, one of the key figures of the civil rights movement. His commitment to justice and nonviolence has taken him from an Alabama sharecropper's farm t...

    - Google
  26. 427 . House by Tracy Kidder

    Tracy Kidder takes readers to the heart of the American Dream: the building of a family's first house with all its day-to-day frustrations, crises, tensions, challenges, and triumphs.

    - Google
  27. 428 . How We Live by Rust Hills

  28. 429 . Taking the World in for Repairs by Richard Selzer

    A collection of a dozen short stories, essays, and memoirs originally published in 1986, and now available in trade paperback. Richard Selzer retired as a surgeon in 1984 to write about his profess...

    - Google
  29. 430 . A Life's Work: On Becoming a Mother by Rachel Cusk

    Rachel Cusk (born in Canada in 1967) is an author.

  30. 431 . Recollected Essays by Wendell Berry

    These eleven essays, selected by the author from five previous collections, provides us with a single volume tracing Mr. Berry's desire to 'make myself responsibly at home in this world and in my n...

    - Google
  31. 432 . Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

    The founder of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama recounts his experiences as a lawyer working to assist those desperately in need, reflecting on his pursuit of the ideal of compas...

    - Google
  32. 433 . The Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama

    The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream is the second book written by then-Senator Barack Obama. In the fall of 2006 it became number one on both the New York Times and Amaz...

  33. 434 . The Paris Review Interviews by Paris Review

    The Paris Review is an English-language literary magazine based in New York City. As its name suggests it was founded in Paris in 1953, for "the good writers and good poets, the non-drumbeaters and...

  34. 435 . Self-Consciousness by John Updike

    John Updike’s memoirs consist of six Emersonian essays that together trace the inner shape of the life, up to the age of fifty-five, of a relatively fortunate American male. The author has attempte...

    - Google
  35. 436 . A Life of Picasso by John Richardson

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  36. 437 . Being Jordan by Katie Price

  37. 438 . The Blair Years by Alastair Campbell

    The Blair Years is a book by Alastair Campbell, featuring extracts from his diaries detailing the period during which he worked for Tony Blair. Published by Random House, the book was released on 9...

  38. 439 . Fargo Rock City by Chuck Klosterman

    Fargo Rock City: A Heavy Metal Odyssey in Rural Nörth Daköta is a book written by Chuck Klosterman, first published by Scribner in 2001. It is a history of heavy metal music, with a particular emph...

  39. 440 . Hunger of Memory by Richard Rodriguez

    Hunger of Memory is the story of Mexican-American Richard Rodriguez, who begins his schooling in Sacramento, California, knowing just 50 words of English, and concludes his university studies in th...

    - Google
  40. 441 . Invisible Man, Got the Whole World Watching by Mychal Denzel Smith

    New York Times Book Review Editor's Choice How do you learn to be a black man in America? For young black men today, it means coming of age during the presidency of Barack Obama. It means witnessin...

    - Google
  41. 442 . Metaphors of Memory by D. Draaisma

    What is memory? It is at the same time ephemeral, unreliable and essential to everything we do. Without memory we lose our sense of identity, reasoning, even our ability to perform simple physical ...

    - Google
  42. 443 . A Drinking Life: A Memoir by Pete Hamill

    As a child during the Depression and World War II, Pete Hamill learned early that drinking was an essential part of being a man, inseparable from the rituals of celebration, mourning, friendship, r...

    - Google
  43. 444 . Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus by John Gray

    Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus (published in May 1992) is a book by John Gray offering many suggestions for improving men-women relationships in couples by understanding the communication ...

  44. 445 . What It Takes by Richard Ben Cramer

  45. 446 . Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World by Mark Kurlansky

    A book about Cod.

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  46. 447 . My Kind of Place by Susan Orlean

    The best-selling author of The Orchid Thief presents a selection of her intriguing travel essays, recounting her adventures in a variety of exotic locales and global subcultures, from the African m...

    - Google
  47. 448 . The World Without Us by Alan Weisman

    The World Without Us is a non-fiction book about what would happen to the natural and built environment if humans suddenly disappeared, written by American journalist Alan Weisman and published by ...

  48. 449 . Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali

    The author of The Caged Virgin recounts the story of her life, from her traditional Muslim childhood in Somalia and escape from a forced marriage to her efforts to promote women's rights while surv...

    - Google
  49. 450 . Changing My Mind: Occasional Essays by Zadie Smith

    "[These essays] reflect a lively, unselfconscious, rigorous, erudite, and earnestly open mind that's busy refining its view of life, literature, and a great deal in between." -Los Angeles Times Spl...

    - Google