The Greatest "Nonfiction" Books Since 1970

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This list represents a comprehensive and trusted collection of the greatest books. Developed through a specialized algorithm, it brings together 268 '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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  1. 1. 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.

  2. 2. 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.

  3. 3. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig

    The book is a philosophical novel that explores the protagonist's journey across the United States on a motorcycle with his son, during which he delves into questions about life, philosophy, and the nature of "Quality". The narrative is interspersed with flashbacks to the protagonist's life before the journey, including his time as a university professor and his struggle with mental illness. The book aims to reconcile the dichotomy between classical and romantic understandings of the world, ultimately arguing for a holistic approach that integrates both perspectives.

  4. 4. 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.

  5. 5. A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking

    A Brief History of Time is a popular science book that explores a broad range of topics in cosmology, including the Big Bang, black holes, light cones and superstring theory. The author does not shy away from complex theories and concepts, but explains them in a way that is accessible to non-scientific readers. The book also discusses the possibility of time travel and the boundaries of scientific knowledge. Throughout, the author emphasizes the ongoing quest for a unifying theory that can combine quantum mechanics and general relativity into one all-encompassing, coherent theoretical framework.

  6. 6. The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe

    "The Right Stuff" is a non-fiction novel that explores the lives and experiences of the first Project Mercury astronauts selected for the NASA space program in the 1960s. The book delves into the personal and professional lives of these astronauts, highlighting their courage, competitiveness, and the immense pressure they faced. It also provides a detailed account of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War era.

  7. 7. Schindler's List by Thomas Keneally

    The book tells the true story of a German businessman who saves more than a thousand Polish Jews during the Holocaust by employing them in his factories. The protagonist's transformation from a greedy high living war profiteer to a savior of lives forms the crux of the narrative. It offers a chilling yet inspiring account of the horrors of the Holocaust, human resilience, and the power of one individual to make a significant difference.

  8. 8. 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.

  9. 9. Dispatches by Michael Herr

    This book is a first-hand account of the Vietnam War from a war correspondent's perspective. The author vividly describes the chaos, violence, and absurdity of the war, providing a raw and unfiltered look at the experiences of soldiers on the ground. The narrative is filled with gritty details and intense imagery, capturing the fear, boredom, and disillusionment that characterized the war. The book is considered a classic of war reportage, lauded for its honest and brutal portrayal of the realities of combat.

  10. 10. All the President's Men by Bob Woodward, Carl Bernstein

    "All the President's Men" is a non-fiction book that details the investigative journalism conducted by two reporters who uncover the details of the Watergate scandal that led to President Nixon's resignation. The book provides a detailed account of the reporters' struggles to uncover the truth, the obstacles they faced, their persistence, and the ultimate revelation of a political scandal that shook the United States.

  11. 11. The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts by Maxine Hong Kingston

    This memoir explores the life of a first-generation Chinese-American woman, navigating the complexities of her dual heritage. Through five interconnected stories, the book delves into the author's childhood experiences, her mother's tales of old China, and the struggles of reconciling these two worlds. The memoir is a blend of reality and mythology, illustrating the author's struggle with her identity, the expectations of her traditional Chinese family, and the challenges of growing up in a predominantly white American society.

  12. 12. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard

    This book is a personal narrative of the author's explorations near her home at Tinker Creek in Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains. The narrative is filled with detailed observations on nature and philosophical musings. It reflects on themes of solitude, the presence of God in nature, and the interconnectedness of life. The author's deep reflections and contemplations about the mysteries and beauty of the world make it a profound meditation on the natural world.

  13. 13. 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.

  14. 14. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Alexander Brown

    This book is a compelling historical narrative that chronicles the systematic decimation of Native American tribes in the United States during the late 19th century. The author uses council records, autobiographies, and firsthand descriptions to provide a detailed account of the battles, massacres, and broken treaties that led to the destruction of the Native American way of life. The book centers on significant events such as the Battle of Little Bighorn and the Wounded Knee Massacre, offering a voice to the often overlooked Native American perspective.

  15. 15. The Snow Leopard by Peter Matthiessen

    "The Snow Leopard" is a travelogue that recounts the author's two-month journey in the Himalayas with naturalist George Schaller. The duo trek through the rugged and remote mountains of Nepal on a quest to study the rare blue sheep and possibly spot the elusive snow leopard. The book is as much a spiritual journey as it is a physical one, with the author seeking solace and understanding following the death of his wife. The narrative explores themes of grief, nature, and Buddhism, offering a poignant and introspective look at life and loss.

  16. 16. Angela's Ashes: A Memoir by Frank McCourt

    This memoir is a profound and heart-wrenching account of the author's impoverished childhood in Limerick, Ireland, during the 1930s and 1940s. The story is filled with tales of survival in the face of extreme poverty, an alcoholic father, a struggling mother, and the deaths of three siblings. Despite the harsh circumstances, the narrative is infused with a sense of humor and hope, demonstrating the resilience of the human spirit.

  17. 17. The Power Broker by Robert Caro

    This book is a biography of Robert Moses, a powerful figure in New York City and state politics, who wielded immense influence over the urban development of the area in the mid-20th century. Despite never holding elected office, Moses was responsible for the creation of numerous parks, highways, bridges, and public works throughout the city and state. The book delves into the methods Moses used to achieve and maintain his power, his impact on the city, and the controversial legacy he left behind.

  18. 18. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers

    A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius is a memoir that follows the life of a young man who, after the cancer-related deaths of his parents, is tasked with raising his 8-year-old brother. The book explores themes of death, family, and the responsibilities that come with sudden adulthood. It is a testament to the strength of the human spirit, showcasing the protagonist's journey through grief, financial struggles, and the challenge of raising a child, all while trying to navigate his own young adulthood.

  19. 19. The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins

    This groundbreaking book presents a revolutionary perspective on the theory of natural selection. The author argues that genes, rather than individuals or species, are the true units of evolution. He suggests that these 'selfish' genes are driven by their own survival, leading to complex behaviors and characteristics in the organisms they inhabit. This work reframes our understanding of evolution, emphasizing the gene's role in shaping biological life and behavior.

  20. 20. The Making of the Atomic Bomb by Richard Rhodes

    This comprehensive book provides an in-depth account of the development of the atomic bomb during World War II. It explores the scientific advancements that made the bomb possible, the political decisions that led to its creation, and the moral dilemmas faced by the scientists involved. The book also details the personalities of key figures in the Manhattan Project, the effects of the bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the impact of nuclear weapons on the world.

  21. 21. Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China by Jung Chang

    This book is a biographical account of three generations of women in China, spanning the years 1909 to 1991. The narrative follows the lives of the author's grandmother, a warlord's concubine; her mother, a high-ranking official in the Communist Party; and the author herself, who grew up during the Cultural Revolution before moving to the West. The book presents a vivid portrayal of the political and social changes in China during the 20th century, as seen through the eyes of these three women.

  22. 22. Orientalism by Edward W. Said

    This book is a critical examination of Western attitudes towards the East, particularly the Middle East, and how these attitudes have shaped and continue to shape Western policies and perceptions. The author argues that the West has a long history of viewing the East as the "other," exotic and inferior, and that this view has been institutionalized through academic disciplines, literature, and media. This "Orientalism," as the author calls it, has served to justify colonialism and imperialism, and continues to influence Western attitudes and policies towards the East today.

  23. 23. A Distant Mirror by Barbara Tuchman

    "A Distant Mirror" is a historical narrative that vividly depicts the calamitous 14th century, a time marked by the Black Death, religious strife, and the Hundred Years War. The book follows the life of a French nobleman, offering a detailed account of his experiences and the broader social, political, and cultural transformations of the era. The author draws parallels between the 14th century and the 20th century, highlighting recurrent patterns in history such as warfare, pandemics, and societal unrest.

  24. 24. The Executioner's Song by Norman Mailer

    "The Executioner's Song" is a true crime novel that tells the story of Gary Gilmore, a man who, after being released from prison, embarks on a murder spree in Utah that leads to his capture and execution. The book delves into Gilmore's troubled life and psyche, his relationships, and the legal and moral debates surrounding his death sentence. It provides an in-depth look at the American criminal justice system and capital punishment.

  25. 25. The Female Eunuch by Germaine Greer

    This book is a seminal feminist text that explores the oppression of women in society. It critiques the traditional roles and expectations of women in the mid-20th century, arguing that societal norms and conventions force women into a secondary, submissive role, effectively castrating them. The book encourages women to reject these norms and to embrace their own sexual liberation, arguing for the need for a revolution in the way women perceive themselves and their place in society.

Reading Statistics

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

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