The Greatest "Contemporary, Nonfiction" Books Since 1980

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This list represents a comprehensive and trusted collection of the greatest books. Developed through a specialized algorithm, it brings together 313 'best of' book lists to form a definitive guide to the world's most acclaimed books. For those interested in how these books are chosen, additional details can be found on the rankings page.

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Contemporary books are a genre that focuses on stories set in the present day, often exploring current social, cultural, and political issues. These books are typically written in a modern style and often feature relatable characters dealing with real-life situations. Contemporary books can cover a wide range of topics, from romance and family drama to coming-of-age stories and thrillers. The genre is constantly evolving to reflect the changing world we live in, making it a popular choice for readers who want to stay up-to-date with the latest trends and issues.


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  1. 1. A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again by David Foster Wallace

    "A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again" is a collection of seven essays that blends humor, insight, and philosophical pondering. The author explores a wide range of topics, from the impact of television on contemporary literature to the despair of the American cruise industry, and even the nature of David Lynch's films. The book is a brilliant showcase of the author's unique ability to see the extraordinary in the ordinary, all while using his sharp wit and expansive intellect to explore the complexities of modern life.

    The 1156th Greatest Book of All Time
  2. 2. The Rings of Saturn by W. G. Sebald

    "The Rings of Saturn" is a richly detailed travelogue that follows the narrator's journey along the coast of Suffolk, England. The narrative weaves together history, literature, and personal anecdotes, exploring topics as diverse as the decline of the herring industry, the horrors of colonialism in the Congo, and the life of philosopher Sir Thomas Browne. The book is characterized by its melancholic tone, its digressive style, and its meditative reflections on memory, time, and decay.

    The 1174th Greatest Book of All Time
  3. 3. The Journalist and the Murderer by Janet Malcolm

    The book is a gripping exploration of the uneasy relationship between journalists and their subjects. It delves into the ethical dilemmas faced by journalists when they become too involved with their subjects. The narrative centers around a lawsuit between a convicted murderer and the author who wrote about his case, revealing the blurred lines between objectivity and subjectivity in journalism. The book also raises questions about the morality and responsibility of the journalistic profession.

    The 2149th Greatest Book of All Time
  4. 4. Hideous Kinky by Esther Freud

    A young woman travels to Morocco with her two daughters in search of a more fulfilling and adventurous life. The novel explores the experiences of the two young girls as they navigate this new and unfamiliar culture, their mother's search for spiritual enlightenment, and their struggles with poverty. The narrative is a poignant exploration of childhood innocence, the complexities of motherhood, and the clash of cultures.

    The 3082nd Greatest Book of All Time
  5. 5. The Years by Annie Ernaux

    "The Years" is a compelling narrative that blends autobiography and collective history to depict the evolution of French society from the 1940s to the early 2000s. Through a blend of personal memories, shared experiences, and common artifacts, the book captures the passage of time and the changes it brings to individual lives and collective identity. The author uses an innovative form of writing, eschewing a traditional linear narrative and personal pronouns, to create a reflective and powerful exploration of memory, aging, and the continuous transformation of societal norms and personal aspirations.

    The 4004th Greatest Book of All Time
  6. 6. Wittgenstein's Nephew by Thomas Bernhard

    "Wittgenstein's Nephew" is a semi-autobiographical novel that explores the friendship between the narrator and his friend Paul, who is the nephew of the famous philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein. The story takes place in Vienna and is set against the backdrop of the Austrian mental health system. The novel delves into themes of sanity, insanity, and the fine line that separates the two, while also offering a critique of Austrian society. It is a meditation on the nature of illness, both physical and mental, and the impact it has on personal relationships and one's perception of the world.

    The 4015th Greatest Book of All Time
  7. 7. Out Of Sheer Rage by Geoff Dyer

    In this unconventional work, the author grapples with his own writer's block and the overwhelming challenge of articulating his thoughts on a literary figure he admires. Oscillating between a travelogue, memoir, and a study in procrastination, the narrative takes the reader on a journey through various locations and states of mind. The author candidly shares his struggles with the creative process, his distractions, and his personal life, all the while reflecting on the nature of writing and the difficulties of completing a project. The book is as much an exploration of the author's internal landscape as it is an homage to the elusiveness of the artistic endeavor.

    The 5000th Greatest Book of All Time
  8. 8. House by Tracy Kidder

    "House" is an in-depth exploration of the process of building a home from the ground up. The book follows the journey of a young couple as they work with an architect and a team of builders to construct their dream house. The narrative delves into the intricate details of construction, the complexities of the interpersonal relationships involved, and the emotional rollercoaster that comes with creating a home. It's a unique perspective on the American dream of homeownership.

    The 5369th Greatest Book of All Time
  9. 9. We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

    The book explores the importance of feminism in today's society and argues that gender equality is not just a women's issue, but a concern for everyone. Drawing from personal experiences and anecdotes, the author highlights the various ways in which gender inequality manifests itself and offers insightful perspectives on how we can work towards a more inclusive and equitable world for all.

    The 5619th Greatest Book of All Time
  10. 10. The Possessed by Elif Batuman

    "The Possessed" is a compelling narrative that combines memoir, criticism, and travel writing to explore the author's deep fascination with Russian literature. Through her experiences as a graduate student at Stanford, her travels to Turkey, Russia, and Uzbekistan, and her encounters with other scholars, the author delves into the works of great Russian authors such as Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, and Chekhov, while also reflecting on the nature of literature, identity, and the human condition.

    The 5696th Greatest Book of All Time
  11. 11. Boyhood: Scenes from provincial life by J M Coetzee

    "Boyhood: Scenes from Provincial Life" is a semi-autobiographical novel that explores the author's childhood in South Africa during the apartheid era. The narrative delves into the complexities of family dynamics, racial tension, and the struggle of a young boy trying to understand his place in a divided society. The protagonist grapples with his identity, torn between his Afrikaner heritage and his English schooling, while also navigating the trials of adolescence. The book offers a poignant and often painful reflection on the formative years of a boy growing up in a fraught and turbulent time.

    The 6080th Greatest Book of All Time
  12. 12. We Don’t Know Ourselves by Fintan O'Toole

    "We Don't Know Ourselves" by Fintan O'Toole is a collection of essays that explores the current state of Ireland and its people. O'Toole argues that Ireland's sense of identity has been shaped by its history of colonization and the struggle for independence, but that this identity is now being challenged by globalization and the changing social and economic landscape. He examines issues such as immigration, the Catholic Church's declining influence, and the rise of nationalism, and ultimately argues that Ireland needs to embrace a new sense of identity that is inclusive and forward-thinking.

    The 7119th Greatest Book of All Time
  13. 13. All About Love by bell hooks

    This book delves into the multifaceted nature of love, challenging the conventional wisdom that often leads to misunderstandings and heartache. It proposes a transformative approach to love, advocating for its recognition as a combination of care, commitment, trust, knowledge, responsibility, and respect. The author argues that our cultural assumptions about love are flawed and that by embracing a more nurturing and empathetic view, individuals can foster healthier relationships and a more compassionate society. Through a blend of personal anecdotes, philosophical insights, and practical wisdom, the book invites readers to reconsider their beliefs and behaviors around love, and to cultivate it as a verb rather than just an emotion.

    The 7505th Greatest Book of All Time
  14. 14. The Sound Of A Wild Snail Eating by Renee Raudman, Elisabeth Tova Bailey

    In this contemplative memoir, a bedridden woman finds solace and profound lessons in the life of a wild snail that has taken up residence on her nightstand. As her own physical world shrinks due to a debilitating illness, the snail's simple, yet intricate existence offers her a unique perspective on the nature of survival, resilience, and the intricate balance of life. Through observations of the snail's habits and the parallels drawn between its life and human existence, the narrative weaves a rich tapestry that explores the wonder and beauty of nature, even in its smallest manifestations, and reflects on the healing power of the natural world.

    The 7638th Greatest Book of All Time
  15. 15. A Small Place by Jamaica Kincaid

    This book offers a poignant and provocative look into the complexities of colonialism and its enduring impact on a Caribbean island. Through a blend of personal reflection and social commentary, the narrative delves into the island's history, the exploitation by colonial powers, and the tourism industry's role in perpetuating economic disparities and cultural erosion. The author's incisive prose challenges readers to confront the uncomfortable realities of a postcolonial world, where the beauty of the landscape contrasts sharply with the lives of its native inhabitants, who continue to grapple with the legacies of oppression and cultural identity.

    The 7895th Greatest Book of All Time
  16. 16. Lives Other Than My Own by Emmanuel Carrère

    "Lives Other Than My Own" is an emotionally charged narrative that explores the lives of two women who have experienced immense loss, one from a tsunami and the other from cancer. The author, through his personal encounters, delves into the raw emotions, resilience, and the profound bonds of family and friendship that emerge from these tragic circumstances. The book is a thoughtful exploration of empathy, offering a poignant look at the strength of human spirit in the face of adversity.

    The 8133rd Greatest Book of All Time
  17. 17. Silent Dancing by Judith Ortiz Cofer

    "Silent Dancing" is a poignant collection of autobiographical essays and poetry that weave together the memories of a Puerto Rican girl growing up in two worlds: the vibrant, warm island of her birth, and the cold, often unwelcoming urban landscape of New Jersey. Through a series of reflective and lyrical narratives, the author explores the complexities of her bicultural identity, dealing with themes of family, language, and the search for a sense of belonging. Her stories oscillate between the past and the present, capturing the nostalgia for a homeland left behind and the challenges of navigating a new American life, all while trying to hold onto her cultural heritage and personal history.

    The 8304th Greatest Book of All Time
  18. 18. My Kind of Place by Susan Orlean

    This book is a collection of travel stories that take readers to a variety of fascinating locations around the world. The author's unique perspective and storytelling ability bring each location to life, whether it's a high-stakes poker tournament in Las Vegas, a taxidermy convention, or a small town in Africa. The book explores the peculiarities and charms of each place, focusing not just on the locations themselves, but also on the people who inhabit them. The author's sense of curiosity and adventure is infectious, making this a compelling read for anyone interested in travel and exploration.

    The 8631st Greatest Book of All Time
  19. 19. White Girls by Hilton Als

    "White Girls" is a collection of essays that explore the concept of "white girls" as the author sees it - a cultural and racial construct, rather than a literal description. The book delves into the author's personal experiences, pop culture, history, and his own identity as a gay black man. It examines figures from pop culture, literature, and the author's personal life, including Truman Capote, Michael Jackson, and the author's own sister, to explore themes of race, gender, identity, and the love and loss that comes with friendship.

    The 8896th Greatest Book of All Time
  20. 20. The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia by Masha Gessen

    This book provides a deeply researched examination of the resurgence of totalitarianism in Russia, focusing on the lives of four individuals born at what promised to be the dawn of democracy. The book explores how, after the fall of the Soviet Union, instead of moving towards a democratic society, Russia has seen a rise in a new form of totalitarianism under its current leadership. It delves into the psychological shift in the Russian populace, the government's use of homophobia as a method of control, and how the internet and social media have been weaponized for political purposes.

    The 9220th Greatest Book of All Time
  21. 21. The Odd Woman And The City by Vivian Gornick

    The book is a reflective memoir that explores the author's experiences and observations as she navigates life in New York City. Through a series of vignettes, the narrative delves into themes of loneliness, friendship, and the complexities of urban existence. The author shares her encounters with various individuals, her intellectual pursuits, and her evolving understanding of herself and her surroundings. The memoir paints a vivid picture of the city's vibrancy and the emotional landscape of a woman finding her place within it.

    The 9659th Greatest Book of All Time
  22. 22. They Can't Kill Us Until They Kill Us by Hanif Abdurraqib

    In this collection of essays, the author weaves together personal anecdotes, music criticism, and social commentary to explore the ways in which music shapes our identities and experiences. Through a lens that is both deeply introspective and widely resonant, the essays delve into the cultural impact of artists ranging from Bruce Springsteen to Chance the Rapper, examining the intersections of race, politics, and popular culture. The author's lyrical prose and poignant reflections offer a unique perspective on the power of music to articulate emotion, forge connections, and provide solace in times of turmoil.

    The 9789th Greatest Book of All Time
  23. 23. Heroines by Kate Zambreno

    "Heroines" is a critical commentary and manifesto that delves into the lives and works of the wives and muses of famous 20th-century writers, exploring the ways in which these women, who were often writers and artists themselves, have been marginalized and pathologized by both their partners and society at large. The book blends memoir, literary analysis, and feminist theory to challenge the historical erasure of these women's contributions, examining the gendered biases that have led to their diminished legacies. The author interweaves her own experiences with those of the subjects, creating a powerful narrative that seeks to reclaim the narratives of these forgotten women and expose the systemic injustices that silenced their voices.

    The 9801st Greatest Book of All Time
  24. 24. H Is For Hawk by Helen MacDonald

    The book is a profound and elegantly written memoir that intertwines the story of the author's journey through grief following her father's death with her decision to train a fierce goshawk named Mabel. As she confronts the challenges of falconry, the narrative explores themes of solitude, human connection to the natural world, and the process of healing. The author's experience with Mabel serves as a mirror to her inner turmoil, providing a raw and intimate examination of loss, while also offering insights into the history and art of falconry, and reflecting on the life of a notable historical figure who shared her passion for hawks.

    The 9879th Greatest Book of All Time
  25. 25. Trick Mirror by Jia Tolentino

    This book is a collection of essays that delve into the complexities of self-delusion in the context of contemporary culture. It offers a sharp and incisive examination of the forces shaping the sense of identity in the internet era, from the rise of social media to the pressures of the modern beauty industry. The author weaves personal anecdotes with cultural criticism to explore how the systems of the internet, politics, and pop culture can trap individuals in reflective loops of performance and validation. Through its pages, the book challenges readers to consider how they can navigate a world where the line between perception and reality is increasingly blurred.

    The 9998th Greatest Book of All Time

Reading Statistics

Click the button below to see how many of these books you've read!


If you're interested in downloading this list as a CSV file for use in a spreadsheet application, you can easily do so by clicking the button below. Please note that to ensure a manageable file size and faster download, the CSV will include details for only the first 500 books.