The Greatest American "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 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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  1. 1. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas 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.

    The 193rd Greatest Book of All Time
  2. 2. 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.

    The 509th Greatest Book of All Time
  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.

    The 534th Greatest Book of All Time
  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.

    The 540th Greatest Book of All Time
  5. 5. 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.

    The 589th Greatest Book of All Time
  6. 6. 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.

    The 623rd Greatest Book of All Time
  7. 7. 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.

    The 641st Greatest Book of All Time
  8. 8. 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.

    The 644th Greatest Book of All Time
  9. 9. 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.

    The 725th Greatest Book of All Time
  10. 10. 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.

    The 766th Greatest Book of All Time
  11. 11. 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.

    The 875th Greatest Book of All Time
  12. 12. 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.

    The 907th Greatest Book of All Time
  13. 13. 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.

    The 966th Greatest Book of All Time
  14. 14. 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.

    The 996th Greatest Book of All Time
  15. 15. Gödel, Escher, Bach by Douglas Hofstadter

    The book explores concepts of formal systems, recursion, self-reference, and infinity through the interdisciplinary lens of mathematics, art, and music. The narrative intertwines biographical sketches of the titular figures - a mathematician, an artist, and a composer - with dialogues and discussions to illustrate complex ideas. The author uses these figures as metaphors to delve into the nature of human cognition and consciousness, suggesting that our minds are essentially self-referential systems akin to the works of Gödel, Escher, and Bach.

    The 1007th Greatest Book of All Time
  16. 16. A Distant Mirror by Barbara Wertheim 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.

    The 1107th Greatest Book of All Time
  17. 17. The Mismeasure of Man by Stephen Jay Gould

    The book is a critical analysis of the history of scientific racism and biological determinism, the belief that social and economic differences among human races, sexes, and classes are inheritable, inevitable, and natural. It challenges the idea that intelligence can be measured accurately and placed in a single, linear scale. The author refutes the arguments of those who support these theories, arguing that they are based on flawed methodologies, biased data, and unverifiable assumptions. Instead, he proposes that intelligence is multifaceted and cannot be quantified simplistically.

    The 1133rd Greatest Book of All Time
  18. 18. 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
  19. 19. The Great Railway Bazaar by Paul Theroux

    "The Great Railway Bazaar" is a travelogue in which the author embarks on a four-month journey by train from London through Europe, the Middle East, the Indian subcontinent, Southeast Asia, and Siberia, and then back to Europe. The book is a vivid and insightful account of the people, cultures, landscapes, and experiences encountered during the journey, painting a unique picture of the world as seen from the perspective of a train window. The author's sharp observations and engaging storytelling make this journey as much an inner exploration as a geographical one.

    The 1162nd Greatest Book of All Time
  20. 20. Zami: A New Spelling of My Name by Audre Lorde

    This book is a biomythography, blending history, biography, and myth, of a young, black, lesbian woman growing up in 1950s Harlem. The narrative explores her early life, including her relationship with her immigrant parents, her sexual awakening, and her struggle to define her identity in a time of intense racial and homophobic prejudice. The protagonist's journey is marked by a series of women who shape her consciousness and her understanding of herself, leading her towards activism and writing.

    The 1236th Greatest Book of All Time
  21. 21. Essays of E. B. White by E. B. White

    This book is a collection of essays written by a renowned American writer, offering a wide range of topics including nature, politics, literature, and personal experiences. The author's distinct style of writing, characterized by wit, humor, and profound insight, is evident throughout the book. The essays serve as a reflection of the author's thoughts and observations about life, society, and the world, providing readers with an intimate look into his mind and perspective.

    The 1240th Greatest Book of All Time
  22. 22. Blue Highways: A Journey into America by William Least Heat-Moon

    This travel memoir follows the author's journey through the backroads of the United States, which he refers to as "Blue Highways" on maps. After losing his job and separating from his wife, he embarks on a 14,000-mile trip, steering clear of cities and interstates to explore small towns and meet their inhabitants. The narrative offers a poignant and introspective exploration of America's landscapes, history, and diverse cultures, providing a unique perspective on the country's lesser-known regions.

    The 1268th Greatest Book of All Time
  23. 23. 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.

    The 1273rd Greatest Book of All Time
  24. 24. On Writing by Stephen King

    This book is a memoir that serves as a guide for aspiring writers. The author shares his journey as a writer, his struggles, and his successes, while also providing practical advice on the craft of writing. It delves into the mechanics of writing, the importance of reading, the role of an editor, and the perseverance required to be a successful writer. The book also discusses the author's near-fatal accident and how it impacted his writing process, emphasizing the importance of resilience and dedication to the craft.

    The 1279th Greatest Book of All Time
  25. 25. The Warmth Of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson

    "The Warmth of Other Suns" is a powerful and deeply moving narrative that chronicles the Great Migration, a significant event in American history that saw millions of African Americans leave the South in search of better opportunities and freedom from racial oppression. Through the compelling stories of three individuals, the book explores the challenges, triumphs, and sacrifices made by these courageous migrants as they embarked on a journey to find a new life in the North and West, ultimately reshaping the social and cultural landscape of America.

    The 1314th Greatest Book of All Time

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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.

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