The Greatest British "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 200 '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. 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.

  2. 2. 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.

  3. 3. The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money by John Maynard Keynes

    This influential economic treatise presents a groundbreaking theory that challenges classical economics, asserting that aggregate demand, driven by public and private sector spending, is the primary factor influencing economic activity and employment levels. The book also introduces the concept of fiscal and monetary policies as tools to manage economic downturns, thus shaping the foundation of modern macroeconomics. It further critiques the idea that market economies would automatically provide full employment and argues for active government intervention to prevent economic recessions and depressions.

  4. 4. The Second World War by Winston Churchill

    This book provides a comprehensive overview of the Second World War from the perspective of one of its most influential leaders. It covers the entire span of the war, from its origins in the political and economic turmoil of the 1930s, to the major battles and strategic decisions that shaped its course, to its aftermath and impact on the world. The author's unique perspective and firsthand experience, combined with his eloquent and insightful writing, make this a definitive account of one of the most important events in modern history.

  5. 5. Collected Essays of George Orwell by George Orwell

    This book is a compilation of essays by a renowned author, known for his sharp wit and critical eye. It covers a wide range of topics, from politics and language to literature and culture. The author's insightful and often provocative viewpoints provide a unique perspective on the world, challenging readers to question their own beliefs and assumptions. His straightforward writing style and keen observations make these essays as relevant today as when they were first published.

  6. 6. Black Lamb and Grey Falcon by Rebecca West

    "Black Lamb and Grey Falcon" is a comprehensive and detailed travelogue of Yugoslavia, penned by a British author during the brink of World War II. The book beautifully interweaves history, politics, culture, and personal experiences to paint a vivid picture of the Balkan region. It also serves as a profound reflection on the impending war and the author's concerns about the rise of fascism in Europe, making it not just a travel book but also an essential historical document.

  7. 7. A Study of History by Arnold J. Toynbee

    "A Study of History" is an extensive 12-volume universal history, exploring the development and decay of world civilizations throughout the ages. The author proposes that civilizations rise and fall based on their responses to challenges, both physical and social. The book also puts forth the idea that religions play a crucial role in the rise of civilizations and that the failure of a civilization's creative power can lead to its decline. The work is renowned for its scholarly depth and its controversial theories about the cyclical nature of history.

  8. 8. Selected Essays of T. S. Eliot by T. S. Eliot

    This book is a collection of critical and reflective essays by a renowned poet and literary critic. The author explores a variety of topics including literature, culture, society, and religion. The essays offer an insightful and thought-provoking commentary on the works of other writers, as well as the author's own views on literary theory and criticism. The collection serves as an important resource for understanding the author's intellectual development and his influence on 20th century literature and criticism.

  9. 9. The Open Society by Karl Popper

    This book is a critique of totalitarianism and a defense of liberal democracy. The author argues against the concept of a perfect, immutable society, instead advocating for an "open society" that allows for constant change and improvement. He criticizes theories of historical determinism and the notion of "the collective", emphasizing the importance of individual freedom and human rights. The book also examines and challenges the philosophies of Plato, Hegel, and Marx, linking their ideas to the rise of fascism and communism in the 20th century.

  10. 10. Testament Of Youth by Vera Brittain

    Testament of Youth is a poignant memoir detailing the author's experiences during World War I. The narrative follows her journey from her early life, her time as a Voluntary Aid Detachment nurse serving in London, Malta, and France, and her later years as a writer and pacifist. The author's personal loss, including the death of her fiancé and her brother, and the impact of the war on her generation, is a central theme, offering a unique female perspective on the devastating effects of war.

  11. 11. Small Is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered by E. F. Schumacher

    This book is a collection of essays that challenge the established economic paradigm, arguing for a shift towards smaller, more sustainable systems. The author criticizes conventional capitalism for its focus on profit and growth, suggesting instead that economies should prioritize human well-being and environmental health. He presents a vision of "Buddhist economics," where work is viewed as a means to personal development and fulfillment, not just income generation. The book also offers practical solutions for implementing this new economic model, such as decentralization, appropriate technologies, and renewable energy.

  12. 12. A Mathematician's Apology by G. H. Hardy

    "A Mathematician's Apology" is a deeply personal reflection on the beauty and importance of pure mathematics. The author, a renowned mathematician, defends the pursuit of mathematics for its own sake, arguing it's a creative art form akin to poetry or painting. The book provides insight into the mind of a working mathematician and the aesthetic appeal of mathematics, while also discussing its practical utility and the author's own work on number theory and the theory of prime numbers.

  13. 13. The Abolition of Man by C. S. Lewis

    This philosophical book explores the concepts of objective value and natural law, arguing that these are essential for moral reasoning. The author criticizes modern education for producing "men without chests," by which he means individuals who deny the importance of moral absolutes. He suggests that this could lead to the "abolition of man" as we traditionally understand him, replacing moral individuals with conditioned responses. The book also discusses the dangers of scientific advancement without moral considerations.

  14. 14. Modern Times by Paul Johnson

    "Modern Times" is an in-depth historical analysis of the 20th century, covering major events, movements, and figures that have shaped the modern world. The author critically examines the impacts of World War I and II, the Cold War, the rise of totalitarian regimes, and the influence of religion and ideology on politics and society. The book also explores significant scientific and technological advancements, and their effects on human perception and behavior. It provides a comprehensive understanding of the complexities and contradictions of the 20th century, and how they continue to influence the 21st century.

  15. 15. The Seven Pillars of Wisdom by T. E. Lawrence

    "The Seven Pillars of Wisdom" is an autobiographical account of the experiences of a British soldier serving in the Middle East during World War I. The narrative offers an insider's perspective of the Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Empire, detailing the author's role in the guerrilla warfare, his interactions with various tribal leaders, and his deep understanding and appreciation of the Arabic culture. The book is also known for its philosophical reflections on war, politics, and the author's personal struggles.

  16. 16. Rationalism in Politics by Michael Oakeshott

    "Rationalism in Politics" is a collection of essays that critique the role of rationalism in politics, arguing that political decisions should be based on tradition and experience rather than abstract theories. The author asserts that rationalism, with its emphasis on premeditated, systematic approaches, often fails to acknowledge the complexity and unpredictability of human behavior and social dynamics. He emphasizes the importance of practical knowledge, acquired through experience, in political decision-making and criticizes the rationalist's disregard for such wisdom.

  17. 17. The Making of the English Working Class by E. P. Thompson

    This book is a comprehensive historical analysis of the formation of the English working class from the late 18th century to the mid-19th century. The author meticulously examines various aspects of society including the Industrial Revolution, the rise of Methodism, and political movements, arguing that the working class was not a byproduct of economic factors alone, but was actively self-formed through struggles over issues like workers' rights and political representation. The book is widely regarded as a seminal text in social history due to its focus on the experiences and agency of ordinary people.

  18. 18. The Age Of Wonder by Richard Holmes

    "The Age of Wonder" explores the scientific and cultural advancements of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, known as the Romantic Age. Richard Holmes delves into the lives and achievements of prominent figures such as Joseph Banks, Humphry Davy, and William Herschel, who revolutionized fields like astronomy, chemistry, and botany. Through vivid storytelling, Holmes captures the spirit of curiosity, imagination, and wonder that defined this era, highlighting the profound impact it had on shaping our modern understanding of science and the world.

  19. 19. The Idea of History by R. G. Collingwood

    "The Idea of History" is a philosophical examination of the concept of history, exploring its nature, the different methods of historical study, and its importance and role in society. The author asserts that history is not just a chronicling of past events, but a complex interaction between the historian and the facts, where the historian is not merely a passive recorder of facts, but an active participant in shaping the interpretation of those facts. The book also delves into the philosophy of history, discussing the idea of historical truth, the problem of historical causation, and the nature of historical evidence.

  20. 20. The Face of Battle by John Keegan

    "The Face of Battle" is a military history book that examines warfare from the perspective of the common soldier. It explores three significant battles in detail - the Battle of Agincourt in 1415, the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, and the Battle of the Somme in 1916. By focusing on the experiences of the individual soldiers, the book provides readers with a unique insight into the reality of war, the strategies employed, the conditions faced by soldiers, the impact of technological advancements on warfare, and the human cost of these historic battles.

  21. 21. The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat by Oliver Sacks

    The book is a collection of clinical tales about patients suffering from a variety of neurological disorders. The author, a neurologist, shares his experiences with these patients, whose conditions range from common ailments like amnesia and aphasia, to rare disorders like visual agnosia and Tourette's Syndrome. The stories are both compassionate and insightful, revealing the complexities of the human brain and the resilience of the human spirit, even in the face of debilitating illness.

  22. 22. Good-Bye to All That by Robert Graves

    This memoir provides a candid and unflinching look at the horrors of World War I, as experienced by a young British officer. The narrative explores the brutality and futility of war, the author's struggle with shell shock, his disillusionment with the military and British society, and his decision to leave England for a new life abroad. It also offers insights into the author's personal life, including his troubled marriage and his relationships with other prominent figures of the time.

  23. 23. The Art of Memory by Frances A. Yates

    "The Art of Memory" is a historical exploration of the ancient art of memory, and its influence on Western culture. The book delves into the memory training techniques used by ancient Greeks and Romans, and traces their evolution and application through the Middle Ages and Renaissance. The author also explores how these techniques influenced the development of philosophy, science, education, and religion throughout history.

  24. 24. Experience by Martin Amis

    "Experience" is a memoir which delves into the author's life, exploring his relationships with his family, friends, and his own self. The narrative is a candid reflection on his father's influence, his friendships with other writers, his marriages, and his children. The author also discusses his experiences with fame, age, and loss, providing an intimate look into his personal and professional journey. The memoir is a blend of the author's unique humor, sharp observations, and poignant moments, offering a compelling and deeply personal narrative.

  25. 25. Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias In A World Designed For Men by Caroline Criado Perez​​

    This book sheds light on the pervasive gender data gap that exists in our society, revealing how the world we live in is largely designed for men. Through extensive research and compelling examples, the author exposes the ways in which women are systematically excluded and overlooked in various aspects of life, from healthcare and transportation to the workplace and public policy. By highlighting the consequences of this data bias, the book calls for a more inclusive and equitable approach to designing and collecting data, ultimately advocating for a world that recognizes and addresses the needs and experiences of all genders.

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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.

Download