The Greatest "Nonfiction" Books Since 1900

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This list represents a comprehensive and trusted collection of the greatest books in literature. Developed through a specialized algorithm, it brings together 223 'best of' book lists to form a definitive guide to the world's most acclaimed literary works. For those interested in how these books are chosen, additional details about the selection process can be found on the rankings page.

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  1. 1. The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

    This book is a real-life account of a young Jewish girl hiding from the Nazis during World War II, written in diary format. The girl and her family are forced to live in a secret annex in Amsterdam for two years, during which she writes about her experiences, fears, dreams, and the onset of adolescence. The diary provides a poignant and deeply personal insight into the horrors of the Holocaust, making it a powerful testament to the human spirit.

  2. 2. Silent Spring by Rachel Carson

    This influential environmental science book presents a detailed and passionate argument against the overuse of pesticides in the mid-20th century. The author meticulously describes the harmful effects of these chemicals on the environment, particularly on birds, hence the metaphor of a 'silent spring' without bird song. The book played a significant role in advancing the global environmental movement and led to a nationwide ban on DDT and other pesticides in the United States.

  3. 3. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

    This true crime novel tells the story of the brutal 1959 murder of a wealthy farmer, his wife and two of their children in Holcomb, Kansas. The narrative follows the investigation led by the Kansas Bureau of Investigation that ultimately leads to the capture, trial, and execution of the killers. The book explores the circumstances surrounding this horrific crime and the effects it had on the community and the people involved.

  4. 4. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream by Hunter S. Thompson

    This book is a semi-autobiographical novel that chronicles the adventures of a journalist and his attorney as they embark on a drug-fueled trip to Las Vegas. The narrative is a wild and hallucinatory exploration of the American Dream, filled with biting social commentary and outrageous antics. The protagonist's quest for the American Dream quickly devolves into an exploration of the darker side of human nature, highlighting the excesses and depravities of 1960s American society.

  5. 5. The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Alex Haley

    This book is an autobiography narrating the life of a renowned African-American activist. It delves into his transformation from a young man involved in criminal activities to becoming one of the most influential voices in the fight against racial inequality in America. The book provides a deep insight into his philosophies, his time in prison, conversion to Islam, his role in the Nation of Islam, his pilgrimage to Mecca, and his eventual split from the Nation. It also addresses his assassination, making it a powerful account of resilience, redemption, and personal growth.

  6. 6. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

    This memoir recounts the early years of an African-American girl's life, focusing on her experiences with racism and trauma in the South during the 1930s. Despite the hardships she faces, including sexual abuse, she learns to rise above her circumstances through strength of character and a love of literature. Her journey from victim to survivor and her transformation into a young woman who respects herself is a testament to the human capacity to overcome adversity.

  7. 7. If This Is a Man by Primo Levi

    This book is a deeply moving and insightful memoir of a survivor of Auschwitz, a Nazi concentration camp during World War II. The author, an Italian Jew, provides a detailed account of his life in the camp, the brutal conditions, the dehumanization, and the struggle for survival. The narrative is a profound exploration of the human spirit, resilience, and the will to live, despite unimaginable horror and suffering. It also raises profound questions about humanity, morality, and the capacity for evil.

  8. 8. Poems of Emily Dickinson by Emily Dickinson

    This collection of poetry encapsulates the works of a renowned 19th-century American poet, known for her unique style and themes. The poems, often characterized by their unconventional punctuation and capitalization, explore a wide range of topics including death, immortality, love, and nature. The poet's introspective and often cryptic style has made her one of the most studied and celebrated figures in American literature.

  9. 9. The Double Helix: A Personal Account of the Discovery of the Structure of DNA by James D. Watson

    This book is a personal account of the race to discover the structure of DNA, told from the perspective of one of the co-discoverers. It provides an insider's view of scientific research, the collaboration and competition, the dedication, the doubt, the exhilaration of discovery, and the often fraught relationship between science and the rest of life. The book also explores the personalities, quirks, and conflicts of the scientists involved in the groundbreaking discovery.

  10. 10. The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir

    This influential work explores the treatment and perception of women throughout history, arguing that women have been repressed and defined only in relation to men. The author presents a detailed analysis of women's roles in society, family, work, and in the creation of their own identities. She discusses the concept of 'the other' and how this has been used to suppress women, while also examining the biological, psychological, and societal impacts of this oppression. The book is a seminal text in feminist theory, challenging traditional notions of femininity and calling for equality and freedom for women.

  11. 11. A Room of One's Own by Virginia Woolf

    This book is an extended essay that explores the topic of women in fiction, and the societal and economic hindrances that prevent them from achieving their full potential. The author uses a fictional narrator and narrative to explore the many difficulties that women writers faced throughout history, including the lack of education available to them and the societal expectations that limited their opportunities. The central argument is that a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.

  12. 12. The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

    "The Gulag Archipelago" is a comprehensive and stark account of the Soviet Union's forced labor camp system. The narrative, based on the author's own experiences as a prisoner and on extensive research, documents the history, operation, and life inside the Gulag system. It also provides a critical examination of the regime's legal system, police operations, and political leadership. The book is an intense indictment of the Soviet Union's totalitarian regime, revealing its brutality, inhumanity, and vast scale of its prison camp network.

  13. 13. Collected Poems of W. B. Yeats by William Butler Yeats

    This book is a comprehensive collection of poems by a renowned Irish poet. The collection spans his entire career, showcasing his evolution as a poet, from romantic and aesthetic works to more complex, mature pieces reflecting his interest in spirituality and Irish mythology. The book includes his most famous works, as well as lesser-known pieces, providing a thorough overview of his contribution to 20th century literature.

  14. 14. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas Kuhn

    This influential book examines the history of science, focusing on the process of scientific revolutions. The author argues that scientific progress is not a linear, continuous accumulation of knowledge, but rather a series of peaceful interludes punctuated by intellectually violent revolutions. During these revolutions, known as paradigm shifts, the old scientific worldview is replaced by a new one. The book also popularized the term 'paradigm shift' and challenged the previously accepted view of science as a steadily progressive discipline.

  15. 15. The Affluent Society by John Kenneth Galbraith

    "The Affluent Society" is a socio-economic critique that challenges the conventional wisdom of the time that economic growth leads to public wealth. The author argues that in reality, the increasing wealth of the United States has led to greater private affluence but public squalor due to inadequate investment in public goods and services. He proposes that society should strive for sustainable development rather than unlimited material advancement. The book has been influential in economic thought, particularly in the areas of public policy and consumer behavior.

  16. 16. The Poems of Robert Frost by Robert Frost

    This collection of poetry showcases the work of a renowned American poet, featuring his signature exploration of rural life, complex social and philosophical themes, and vividly depicted New England landscapes. The anthology includes some of his most famous poems, marked by a mastery of language, precise imagery, and a keen ear for the sound of spoken word. His poems often touch on the beauty of nature, the human condition, and the dichotomy between life and death, demonstrating his profound understanding of the human experience.

  17. 17. Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen

    The book is a memoir that recounts the author's experiences and observations living in Kenya, then British East Africa, from 1914 to 1931. It is a lyrical meditation on her life amongst the diverse cultures and wildlife of Africa. The author shares her trials and tribulations of running a coffee plantation, her deep respect for the people and land of Africa, and her intimate understanding of the subtle nuances of African culture and society.

  18. 18. The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

    This book is a raw and honest exploration of grief and mourning, written by a woman who lost her husband of 40 years to a heart attack while their only child lay comatose in the hospital. The narrative delves into the year following her husband's death, a year marked by grief, confusion, and a desperate hope for things to return to normal. The author's poignant reflections on death, love, and loss serve as a powerful testament to the resilience of the human spirit.

  19. 19. The Elements of Style by E. B. White, William Strunk Jr.

    This book is a definitive guide and classic manual on the principles of English language read by millions of readers. The 18 main topics are organized under headings such as Elementary Rules of Usage, Elementary Principles of Composition, A Few Matters of Form, Words and Expressions Commonly Misused, and An Approach to Style. The book's unique tone, wit and charm have conveyed the principles of English style to millions of readers, making it a beloved resource for those who want to write clear, correct and effective prose.

  20. 20. Let Us Now Praise Famous Men by James Agee

    This book is an in-depth examination of the lives of three tenant families in the South during the Great Depression. The author combines detailed descriptions, journalistic reporting, and poetic prose to capture the harsh realities of poverty, racial discrimination, and the struggle for survival. The book also includes evocative photographs that further illustrate the living conditions and daily lives of the families. The work is a profound exploration of the human condition, offering a raw and unflinching look at the effects of economic and social injustice.

  21. 21. Speak, Memory by Vladimir Nabokov

    "Speak, Memory" is an autobiographical memoir that explores the author's life from his birth in 1899 to his emigration to the United States in 1940. The narrative details his privileged childhood in Russia, his experiences during the Russian Revolution, his time in Europe as an émigré, and his career as a writer and scholar. The book is noted for its intricate descriptions, its exploration of the nature of memory, and its intricate linguistic play.

  22. 22. Maus by Art Spiegelman

    This graphic novel tells the story of a Holocaust survivor, as narrated by his son. The unique use of animals to represent different nationalities and ethnic groups adds a distinctive layer to the narrative. The protagonist's father recounts his experiences as a Polish Jew during World War II, offering a poignant depiction of the horrors of the Holocaust. The narrative also explores the complex father-son relationship, revealing the impact of such traumatic historical events on subsequent generations.

  23. 23. Collected Poems by Wallace Stevens

    "Collected Poems" is a compilation of the author's lifetime work in poetry, showcasing his unique style of combining philosophy and aesthetics into his verse. His poems, often complex and introspective, explore themes of reality, imagination, and the nature of the human mind. The collection is known for its rich imagery and profound contemplation, offering readers a deep and thought-provoking exploration of life and consciousness.

  24. 24. Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

    This graphic novel is a memoir that provides a personal account of the author's childhood and young adult years in Iran during and after the Islamic revolution. The story portrays the impact of war, political upheaval, and religious extremism on ordinary people, while also exploring themes of identity, resilience, and the power of storytelling. Despite the harsh realities the protagonist faces, the narrative also includes moments of humor and warmth, providing a nuanced view of life in Iran during this tumultuous period.

  25. 25. Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell

    The book is a personal account of the author's experiences during the Spanish Civil War, specifically his time with the POUM (Partit Obrer d'Unificació Marxista) militia in Catalonia. He provides an in-depth look at the social revolution that took place, the daily life of a soldier, the political infighting and betrayals among the Republican factions, and his eventual disillusionment with the cause he initially supported. The book is both a war memoir and a detailed analysis of a complex political situation.

Download

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.

Download