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best essay books

The 10 Best Essay Collections of the Decade

Ever tried. ever failed. no matter..

Friends, it’s true: the end of the decade approaches. It’s been a difficult, anxiety-provoking, morally compromised decade, but at least it’s been populated by some damn fine literature. We’ll take our silver linings where we can.

So, as is our hallowed duty as a literary and culture website—though with full awareness of the potentially fruitless and endlessly contestable nature of the task—in the coming weeks, we’ll be taking a look at the best and most important (these being not always the same) books of the decade that was. We will do this, of course, by means of a variety of lists. We began with the best debut novels , the best short story collections , the best poetry collections , and the best memoirs of the decade , and we have now reached the fifth list in our series: the best essay collections published in English between 2010 and 2019.

The following books were chosen after much debate (and several rounds of voting) by the Literary Hub staff. Tears were spilled, feelings were hurt, books were re-read. And as you’ll shortly see, we had a hard time choosing just ten—so we’ve also included a list of dissenting opinions, and an even longer list of also-rans. As ever, free to add any of your own favorites that we’ve missed in the comments below.

The Top Ten

Oliver sacks, the mind’s eye (2010).

Toward the end of his life, maybe suspecting or sensing that it was coming to a close, Dr. Oliver Sacks tended to focus his efforts on sweeping intellectual projects like On the Move (a memoir), The River of Consciousness (a hybrid intellectual history), and Hallucinations (a book-length meditation on, what else, hallucinations). But in 2010, he gave us one more classic in the style that first made him famous, a form he revolutionized and brought into the contemporary literary canon: the medical case study as essay. In The Mind’s Eye , Sacks focuses on vision, expanding the notion to embrace not only how we see the world, but also how we map that world onto our brains when our eyes are closed and we’re communing with the deeper recesses of consciousness. Relaying histories of patients and public figures, as well as his own history of ocular cancer (the condition that would eventually spread and contribute to his death), Sacks uses vision as a lens through which to see all of what makes us human, what binds us together, and what keeps us painfully apart. The essays that make up this collection are quintessential Sacks: sensitive, searching, with an expertise that conveys scientific information and experimentation in terms we can not only comprehend, but which also expand how we see life carrying on around us. The case studies of “Stereo Sue,” of the concert pianist Lillian Kalir, and of Howard, the mystery novelist who can no longer read, are highlights of the collection, but each essay is a kind of gem, mined and polished by one of the great storytellers of our era.  –Dwyer Murphy, CrimeReads Managing Editor

John Jeremiah Sullivan, Pulphead (2011)

The American essay was having a moment at the beginning of the decade, and Pulphead was smack in the middle. Without any hard data, I can tell you that this collection of John Jeremiah Sullivan’s magazine features—published primarily in GQ , but also in The Paris Review , and Harper’s —was the only full book of essays most of my literary friends had read since Slouching Towards Bethlehem , and probably one of the only full books of essays they had even heard of.

Well, we all picked a good one. Every essay in Pulphead is brilliant and entertaining, and illuminates some small corner of the American experience—even if it’s just one house, with Sullivan and an aging writer inside (“Mr. Lytle” is in fact a standout in a collection with no filler; fittingly, it won a National Magazine Award and a Pushcart Prize). But what are they about? Oh, Axl Rose, Christian Rock festivals, living around the filming of One Tree Hill , the Tea Party movement, Michael Jackson, Bunny Wailer, the influence of animals, and by god, the Miz (of Real World/Road Rules Challenge fame).

But as Dan Kois has pointed out , what connects these essays, apart from their general tone and excellence, is “their author’s essential curiosity about the world, his eye for the perfect detail, and his great good humor in revealing both his subjects’ and his own foibles.” They are also extremely well written, drawing much from fictional techniques and sentence craft, their literary pleasures so acute and remarkable that James Wood began his review of the collection in The New Yorker with a quiz: “Are the following sentences the beginnings of essays or of short stories?” (It was not a hard quiz, considering the context.)

It’s hard not to feel, reading this collection, like someone reached into your brain, took out the half-baked stuff you talk about with your friends, researched it, lived it, and represented it to you smarter and better and more thoroughly than you ever could. So read it in awe if you must, but read it.  –Emily Temple, Senior Editor

Aleksandar Hemon, The Book of My Lives (2013)

Such is the sentence-level virtuosity of Aleksandar Hemon—the Bosnian-American writer, essayist, and critic—that throughout his career he has frequently been compared to the granddaddy of borrowed language prose stylists: Vladimir Nabokov. While it is, of course, objectively remarkable that anyone could write so beautifully in a language they learned in their twenties, what I admire most about Hemon’s work is the way in which he infuses every essay and story and novel with both a deep humanity and a controlled (but never subdued) fury. He can also be damn funny. Hemon grew up in Sarajevo and left in 1992 to study in Chicago, where he almost immediately found himself stranded, forced to watch from afar as his beloved home city was subjected to a relentless four-year bombardment, the longest siege of a capital in the history of modern warfare. This extraordinary memoir-in-essays is many things: it’s a love letter to both the family that raised him and the family he built in exile; it’s a rich, joyous, and complex portrait of a place the 90s made synonymous with war and devastation; and it’s an elegy for the wrenching loss of precious things. There’s an essay about coming of age in Sarajevo and another about why he can’t bring himself to leave Chicago. There are stories about relationships forged and maintained on the soccer pitch or over the chessboard, and stories about neighbors and mentors turned monstrous by ethnic prejudice. As a chorus they sing with insight, wry humor, and unimaginable sorrow. I am not exaggerating when I say that the collection’s devastating final piece, “The Aquarium”—which details his infant daughter’s brain tumor and the agonizing months which led up to her death—remains the most painful essay I have ever read.  –Dan Sheehan, Book Marks Editor

Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass (2013)

Of every essay in my relentlessly earmarked copy of Braiding Sweetgrass , Dr. Robin Wall Kimmerer’s gorgeously rendered argument for why and how we should keep going, there’s one that especially hits home: her account of professor-turned-forester Franz Dolp. When Dolp, several decades ago, revisited the farm that he had once shared with his ex-wife, he found a scene of destruction: The farm’s new owners had razed the land where he had tried to build a life. “I sat among the stumps and the swirling red dust and I cried,” he wrote in his journal.

So many in my generation (and younger) feel this kind of helplessness–and considerable rage–at finding ourselves newly adult in a world where those in power seem determined to abandon or destroy everything that human bodies have always needed to survive: air, water, land. Asking any single book to speak to this helplessness feels unfair, somehow; yet, Braiding Sweetgrass does, by weaving descriptions of indigenous tradition with the environmental sciences in order to show what survival has looked like over the course of many millennia. Kimmerer’s essays describe her personal experience as a Potawotami woman, plant ecologist, and teacher alongside stories of the many ways that humans have lived in relationship to other species. Whether describing Dolp’s work–he left the stumps for a life of forest restoration on the Oregon coast–or the work of others in maple sugar harvesting, creating black ash baskets, or planting a Three Sisters garden of corn, beans, and squash, she brings hope. “In ripe ears and swelling fruit, they counsel us that all gifts are multiplied in relationship,” she writes of the Three Sisters, which all sustain one another as they grow. “This is how the world keeps going.”  –Corinne Segal, Senior Editor

Hilton Als, White Girls (2013)

In a world where we are so often reduced to one essential self, Hilton Als’ breathtaking book of critical essays, White Girls , which meditates on the ways he and other subjects read, project and absorb parts of white femininity, is a radically liberating book. It’s one of the only works of critical thinking that doesn’t ask the reader, its author or anyone he writes about to stoop before the doorframe of complete legibility before entering. Something he also permitted the subjects and readers of his first book, the glorious book-length essay, The Women , a series of riffs and psychological portraits of Dorothy Dean, Owen Dodson, and the author’s own mother, among others. One of the shifts of that book, uncommon at the time, was how it acknowledges the way we inhabit bodies made up of variously gendered influences. To read White Girls now is to experience the utter freedom of this gift and to marvel at Als’ tremendous versatility and intelligence.

He is easily the most diversely talented American critic alive. He can write into genres like pop music and film where being part of an audience is a fantasy happening in the dark. He’s also wired enough to know how the art world builds reputations on the nod of rich white patrons, a significant collision in a time when Jean-Michel Basquiat is America’s most expensive modern artist. Als’ swerving and always moving grip on performance means he’s especially good on describing the effect of art which is volatile and unstable and built on the mingling of made-up concepts and the hard fact of their effect on behavior, such as race. Writing on Flannery O’Connor for instance he alone puts a finger on her “uneasy and unavoidable union between black and white, the sacred and the profane, the shit and the stars.” From Eminem to Richard Pryor, André Leon Talley to Michael Jackson, Als enters the life and work of numerous artists here who turn the fascinations of race and with whiteness into fury and song and describes the complexity of their beauty like his life depended upon it. There are also brief memoirs here that will stop your heart. This is an essential work to understanding American culture.  –John Freeman, Executive Editor

Eula Biss, On Immunity (2014)

We move through the world as if we can protect ourselves from its myriad dangers, exercising what little agency we have in an effort to keep at bay those fears that gather at the edges of any given life: of loss, illness, disaster, death. It is these fears—amplified by the birth of her first child—that Eula Biss confronts in her essential 2014 essay collection, On Immunity . As any great essayist does, Biss moves outward in concentric circles from her own very private view of the world to reveal wider truths, discovering as she does a culture consumed by anxiety at the pervasive toxicity of contemporary life. As Biss interrogates this culture—of privilege, of whiteness—she interrogates herself, questioning the flimsy ways in which we arm ourselves with science or superstition against the impurities of daily existence.

Five years on from its publication, it is dismaying that On Immunity feels as urgent (and necessary) a defense of basic science as ever. Vaccination, we learn, is derived from vacca —for cow—after the 17th-century discovery that a small application of cowpox was often enough to inoculate against the scourge of smallpox, an etymological digression that belies modern conspiratorial fears of Big Pharma and its vaccination agenda. But Biss never scolds or belittles the fears of others, and in her generosity and openness pulls off a neat (and important) trick: insofar as we are of the very world we fear, she seems to be suggesting, we ourselves are impure, have always been so, permeable, vulnerable, yet so much stronger than we think.  –Jonny Diamond, Editor-in-Chief 

Rebecca Solnit, The Mother of All Questions (2016)

When Rebecca Solnit’s essay, “Men Explain Things to Me,” was published in 2008, it quickly became a cultural phenomenon unlike almost any other in recent memory, assigning language to a behavior that almost every woman has witnessed—mansplaining—and, in the course of identifying that behavior, spurring a movement, online and offline, to share the ways in which patriarchal arrogance has intersected all our lives. (It would also come to be the titular essay in her collection published in 2014.) The Mother of All Questions follows up on that work and takes it further in order to examine the nature of self-expression—who is afforded it and denied it, what institutions have been put in place to limit it, and what happens when it is employed by women. Solnit has a singular gift for describing and decoding the misogynistic dynamics that govern the world so universally that they can seem invisible and the gendered violence that is so common as to seem unremarkable; this naming is powerful, and it opens space for sharing the stories that shape our lives.

The Mother of All Questions, comprised of essays written between 2014 and 2016, in many ways armed us with some of the tools necessary to survive the gaslighting of the Trump years, in which many of us—and especially women—have continued to hear from those in power that the things we see and hear do not exist and never existed. Solnit also acknowledges that labels like “woman,” and other gendered labels, are identities that are fluid in reality; in reviewing the book for The New Yorker , Moira Donegan suggested that, “One useful working definition of a woman might be ‘someone who experiences misogyny.'” Whichever words we use, Solnit writes in the introduction to the book that “when words break through unspeakability, what was tolerated by a society sometimes becomes intolerable.” This storytelling work has always been vital; it continues to be vital, and in this book, it is brilliantly done.  –Corinne Segal, Senior Editor

Valeria Luiselli, Tell Me How It Ends (2017)

The newly minted MacArthur fellow Valeria Luiselli’s four-part (but really six-part) essay  Tell Me How It Ends: An Essay in Forty Questions  was inspired by her time spent volunteering at the federal immigration court in New York City, working as an interpreter for undocumented, unaccompanied migrant children who crossed the U.S.-Mexico border. Written concurrently with her novel  Lost Children Archive  (a fictional exploration of the same topic), Luiselli’s essay offers a fascinating conceit, the fashioning of an argument from the questions on the government intake form given to these children to process their arrivals. (Aside from the fact that this essay is a heartbreaking masterpiece, this is such a  good  conceit—transforming a cold, reproducible administrative document into highly personal literature.) Luiselli interweaves a grounded discussion of the questionnaire with a narrative of the road trip Luiselli takes with her husband and family, across America, while they (both Mexican citizens) wait for their own Green Card applications to be processed. It is on this trip when Luiselli reflects on the thousands of migrant children mysteriously traveling across the border by themselves. But the real point of the essay is to actually delve into the real stories of some of these children, which are agonizing, as well as to gravely, clearly expose what literally happens, procedural, when they do arrive—from forms to courts, as they’re swallowed by a bureaucratic vortex. Amid all of this, Luiselli also takes on more, exploring the larger contextual relationship between the United States of America and Mexico (as well as other countries in Central America, more broadly) as it has evolved to our current, adverse moment.  Tell Me How It Ends  is so small, but it is so passionate and vigorous: it desperately accomplishes in its less-than-100-pages-of-prose what centuries and miles and endless records of federal bureaucracy have never been able, and have never cared, to do: reverse the dehumanization of Latin American immigrants that occurs once they set foot in this country.  –Olivia Rutigliano, CrimeReads Editorial Fellow

Zadie Smith, Feel Free (2018)

In the essay “Meet Justin Bieber!” in Feel Free , Zadie Smith writes that her interest in Justin Bieber is not an interest in the interiority of the singer himself, but in “the idea of the love object”. This essay—in which Smith imagines a meeting between Bieber and the late philosopher Martin Buber (“Bieber and Buber are alternative spellings of the same German surname,” she explains in one of many winning footnotes. “Who am I to ignore these hints from the universe?”). Smith allows that this premise is a bit premise -y: “I know, I know.” Still, the resulting essay is a very funny, very smart, and un-tricky exploration of individuality and true “meeting,” with a dash of late capitalism thrown in for good measure. The melding of high and low culture is the bread and butter of pretty much every prestige publication on the internet these days (and certainly of the Twitter feeds of all “public intellectuals”), but the essays in Smith’s collection don’t feel familiar—perhaps because hers is, as we’ve long known, an uncommon skill. Though I believe Smith could probably write compellingly about anything, she chooses her subjects wisely. She writes with as much electricity about Brexit as the aforementioned Beliebers—and each essay is utterly engrossing. “She contains multitudes, but her point is we all do,” writes Hermione Hoby in her review of the collection in The New Republic . “At the same time, we are, in our endless difference, nobody but ourselves.”  –Jessie Gaynor, Social Media Editor

Tressie McMillan Cottom, Thick: And Other Essays (2019)

Tressie McMillan Cottom is an academic who has transcended the ivory tower to become the sort of public intellectual who can easily appear on radio or television talk shows to discuss race, gender, and capitalism. Her collection of essays reflects this duality, blending scholarly work with memoir to create a collection on the black female experience in postmodern America that’s “intersectional analysis with a side of pop culture.” The essays range from an analysis of sexual violence, to populist politics, to social media, but in centering her own experiences throughout, the collection becomes something unlike other pieces of criticism of contemporary culture. In explaining the title, she reflects on what an editor had said about her work: “I was too readable to be academic, too deep to be popular, too country black to be literary, and too naïve to show the rigor of my thinking in the complexity of my prose. I had wanted to create something meaningful that sounded not only like me, but like all of me. It was too thick.” One of the most powerful essays in the book is “Dying to be Competent” which begins with her unpacking the idiocy of LinkedIn (and the myth of meritocracy) and ends with a description of her miscarriage, the mishandling of black woman’s pain, and a condemnation of healthcare bureaucracy. A finalist for the 2019 National Book Award for Nonfiction, Thick confirms McMillan Cottom as one of our most fearless public intellectuals and one of the most vital.  –Emily Firetog, Deputy Editor

Dissenting Opinions

The following books were just barely nudged out of the top ten, but we (or at least one of us) couldn’t let them pass without comment.

Elif Batuman, The Possessed (2010)

In The Possessed Elif Batuman indulges her love of Russian literature and the result is hilarious and remarkable. Each essay of the collection chronicles some adventure or other that she had while in graduate school for Comparative Literature and each is more unpredictable than the next. There’s the time a “well-known 20th-centuryist” gave a graduate student the finger; and the time when Batuman ended up living in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, for a summer; and the time that she convinced herself Tolstoy was murdered and spent the length of the Tolstoy Conference in Yasnaya Polyana considering clues and motives. Rich in historic detail about Russian authors and literature and thoughtfully constructed, each essay is an amalgam of critical analysis, cultural criticism, and serious contemplation of big ideas like that of identity, intellectual legacy, and authorship. With wit and a serpentine-like shape to her narratives, Batuman adopts a form reminiscent of a Socratic discourse, setting up questions at the beginning of her essays and then following digressions that more or less entreat the reader to synthesize the answer for herself. The digressions are always amusing and arguably the backbone of the collection, relaying absurd anecdotes with foreign scholars or awkward, surreal encounters with Eastern European strangers. Central also to the collection are Batuman’s intellectual asides where she entertains a theory—like the “problem of the person”: the inability to ever wholly capture one’s character—that ultimately layer the book’s themes. “You are certainly my most entertaining student,” a professor said to Batuman. But she is also curious and enthusiastic and reflective and so knowledgeable that she might even convince you (she has me!) that you too love Russian literature as much as she does. –Eleni Theodoropoulos, Editorial Fellow

Roxane Gay, Bad Feminist (2014)

Roxane Gay’s now-classic essay collection is a book that will make you laugh, think, cry, and then wonder, how can cultural criticism be this fun? My favorite essays in the book include Gay’s musings on competitive Scrabble, her stranded-in-academia dispatches, and her joyous film and television criticism, but given the breadth of topics Roxane Gay can discuss in an entertaining manner, there’s something for everyone in this one. This book is accessible because feminism itself should be accessible – Roxane Gay is as likely to draw inspiration from YA novels, or middle-brow shows about friendship, as she is to introduce concepts from the academic world, and if there’s anyone I trust to bridge the gap between high culture, low culture, and pop culture, it’s the Goddess of Twitter. I used to host a book club dedicated to radical reads, and this was one of the first picks for the club; a week after the book club met, I spied a few of the attendees meeting in the café of the bookstore, and found out that they had bonded so much over discussing  Bad Feminist  that they couldn’t wait for the next meeting of the book club to keep discussing politics and intersectionality, and that, in a nutshell, is the power of Roxane. –Molly Odintz, CrimeReads Associate Editor

Rivka Galchen, Little Labors (2016)

Generally, I find stories about the trials and tribulations of child-having to be of limited appeal—useful, maybe, insofar as they offer validation that other people have also endured the bizarre realities of living with a tiny human, but otherwise liable to drift into the musings of parents thrilled at the simple fact of their own fecundity, as if they were the first ones to figure the process out (or not). But Little Labors is not simply an essay collection about motherhood, perhaps because Galchen initially “didn’t want to write about” her new baby—mostly, she writes, “because I had never been interested in babies, or mothers; in fact, those subjects had seemed perfectly not interesting to me.” Like many new mothers, though, Galchen soon discovered her baby—which she refers to sometimes as “the puma”—to be a preoccupying thought, demanding to be written about. Galchen’s interest isn’t just in her own progeny, but in babies in literature (“Literature has more dogs than babies, and also more abortions”), The Pillow Book , the eleventh-century collection of musings by Sei Shōnagon, and writers who are mothers. There are sections that made me laugh out loud, like when Galchen continually finds herself in an elevator with a neighbor who never fails to remark on the puma’s size. There are also deeper, darker musings, like the realization that the baby means “that it’s not permissible to die. There are days when this does not feel good.” It is a slim collection that I happened to read at the perfect time, and it remains one of my favorites of the decade. –Emily Firetog, Deputy Editor

Charlie Fox, This Young Monster (2017)

On social media as in his writing, British art critic Charlie Fox rejects lucidity for allusion and doesn’t quite answer the Twitter textbox’s persistent question: “What’s happening?” These days, it’s hard to tell.  This Young Monster  (2017), Fox’s first book,was published a few months after Donald Trump’s election, and at one point Fox takes a swipe at a man he judges “direct from a nightmare and just a repulsive fucking goon.” Fox doesn’t linger on politics, though, since most of the monsters he looks at “embody otherness and make it into art, ripping any conventional idea of beauty to shreds and replacing it with something weird and troubling of their own invention.”

If clichés are loathed because they conform to what philosopher Georges Bataille called “the common measure,” then monsters are rebellious non-sequiturs, comedic or horrific derailments from a classical ideal. Perverts in the most literal sense, monsters have gone astray from some “proper” course. The book’s nine chapters, which are about a specific monster or type of monster, are full of callbacks to familiar and lesser-known media. Fox cites visual art, film, songs, and books with the screwy buoyancy of a savant. Take one of his essays, “Spook House,” framed as a stage play with two principal characters, Klaus (“an intoxicated young skinhead vampire”) and Hermione (“a teen sorceress with green skin and jet-black hair” who looks more like The Wicked Witch than her namesake). The chorus is a troupe of trick-or-treaters. Using the filmmaker Cameron Jamie as a starting point, the rest is free association on gothic decadence and Detroit and L.A. as cities of the dead. All the while, Klaus quotes from  Artforum ,  Dazed & Confused , and  Time Out. It’s a technical feat that makes fictionalized dialogue a conveyor belt for cultural criticism.

In Fox’s imagination, David Bowie and the Hydra coexist alongside Peter Pan, Dennis Hopper, and the maenads. Fox’s book reaches for the monster’s mask, not really to peel it off but to feel and smell the rubber schnoz, to know how it’s made before making sure it’s still snugly set. With a stylistic blend of arthouse suavity and B-movie chic,  This Young Monster considers how monsters in culture are made. Aren’t the scariest things made in post-production? Isn’t the creature just duplicity, like a looping choir or a dubbed scream? –Aaron Robertson, Assistant Editor

Elena Passarello, Animals Strike Curious Poses (2017)

Elena Passarello’s collection of essays Animals Strike Curious Poses picks out infamous animals and grants them the voice, narrative, and history they deserve. Not only is a collection like this relevant during the sixth extinction but it is an ambitious historical and anthropological undertaking, which Passarello has tackled with thorough research and a playful tone that rather than compromise her subject, complicates and humanizes it. Passarello’s intention is to investigate the role of animals across the span of human civilization and in doing so, to construct a timeline of humanity as told through people’s interactions with said animals. “Of all the images that make our world, animal images are particularly buried inside us,” Passarello writes in her first essay, to introduce us to the object of the book and also to the oldest of her chosen characters: Yuka, a 39,000-year-old mummified woolly mammoth discovered in the Siberian permafrost in 2010. It was an occasion so remarkable and so unfathomable given the span of human civilization that Passarello says of Yuka: “Since language is epically younger than both thought and experience, ‘woolly mammoth’ means, to a human brain, something more like time.” The essay ends with a character placing a hand on a cave drawing of a woolly mammoth, accompanied by a phrase which encapsulates the author’s vision for the book: “And he becomes the mammoth so he can envision the mammoth.” In Passarello’s hands the imagined boundaries between the animal, natural, and human world disintegrate and what emerges is a cohesive if baffling integrated history of life. With the accuracy and tenacity of a journalist and the spirit of a storyteller, Elena Passarello has assembled a modern bestiary worthy of contemplation and awe. –Eleni Theodoropoulos, Editorial Fellow

Esmé Weijun Wang, The Collected Schizophrenias (2019)

Esmé Weijun Wang’s collection of essays is a kaleidoscopic look at mental health and the lives affected by the schizophrenias. Each essay takes on a different aspect of the topic, but you’ll want to read them together for a holistic perspective. Esmé Weijun Wang generously begins The Collected Schizophrenias by acknowledging the stereotype, “Schizophrenia terrifies. It is the archetypal disorder of lunacy.” From there, she walks us through the technical language, breaks down the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual ( DSM-5 )’s clinical definition. And then she gets very personal, telling us about how she came to her own diagnosis and the way it’s touched her daily life (her relationships, her ideas about motherhood). Esmé Weijun Wang is uniquely situated to write about this topic. As a former lab researcher at Stanford, she turns a precise, analytical eye to her experience while simultaneously unfolding everything with great patience for her reader. Throughout, she brilliantly dissects the language around mental health. (On saying “a person living with bipolar disorder” instead of using “bipolar” as the sole subject: “…we are not our diseases. We are instead individuals with disorders and malfunctions. Our conditions lie over us like smallpox blankets; we are one thing and the illness is another.”) She pinpoints the ways she arms herself against anticipated reactions to the schizophrenias: high fashion, having attended an Ivy League institution. In a particularly piercing essay, she traces mental illness back through her family tree. She also places her story within more mainstream cultural contexts, calling on groundbreaking exposés about the dangerous of institutionalization and depictions of mental illness in television and film (like the infamous Slender Man case, in which two young girls stab their best friend because an invented Internet figure told them to). At once intimate and far-reaching, The Collected Schizophrenias is an informative and important (and let’s not forget artful) work. I’ve never read a collection quite so beautifully-written and laid-bare as this. –Katie Yee, Book Marks Assistant Editor

Ross Gay, The Book of Delights (2019)

When Ross Gay began writing what would become The Book of Delights, he envisioned it as a project of daily essays, each focused on a moment or point of delight in his day. This plan quickly disintegrated; on day four, he skipped his self-imposed assignment and decided to “in honor and love, delight in blowing it off.” (Clearly, “blowing it off” is a relative term here, as he still produced the book.) Ross Gay is a generous teacher of how to live, and this moment of reveling in self-compassion is one lesson among many in The Book of Delights , which wanders from moments of connection with strangers to a shade of “red I don’t think I actually have words for,” a text from a friend reading “I love you breadfruit,” and “the sun like a guiding hand on my back, saying everything is possible. Everything .”

Gay does not linger on any one subject for long, creating the sense that delight is a product not of extenuating circumstances, but of our attention; his attunement to the possibilities of a single day, and awareness of all the small moments that produce delight, are a model for life amid the warring factions of the attention economy. These small moments range from the physical–hugging a stranger, transplanting fig cuttings–to the spiritual and philosophical, giving the impression of sitting beside Gay in his garden as he thinks out loud in real time. It’s a privilege to listen. –Corinne Segal, Senior Editor

Honorable Mentions

A selection of other books that we seriously considered for both lists—just to be extra about it (and because decisions are hard).

Terry Castle, The Professor and Other Writings (2010) · Joyce Carol Oates, In Rough Country (2010) · Geoff Dyer, Otherwise Known as the Human Condition (2011) · Christopher Hitchens, Arguably (2011) ·  Roberto Bolaño, tr. Natasha Wimmer, Between Parentheses (2011) · Dubravka Ugresic, tr. David Williams, Karaoke Culture (2011) · Tom Bissell, Magic Hours (2012)  · Kevin Young, The Grey Album (2012) · William H. Gass, Life Sentences: Literary Judgments and Accounts (2012) · Mary Ruefle, Madness, Rack, and Honey (2012) · Herta Müller, tr. Geoffrey Mulligan, Cristina and Her Double (2013) · Leslie Jamison, The Empathy Exams (2014)  · Meghan Daum, The Unspeakable (2014)  · Daphne Merkin, The Fame Lunches (2014)  · Charles D’Ambrosio, Loitering (2015) · Wendy Walters, Multiply/Divide (2015) · Colm Tóibín, On Elizabeth Bishop (2015) ·  Renee Gladman, Calamities (2016)  · Jesmyn Ward, ed. The Fire This Time (2016)  · Lindy West, Shrill (2016)  · Mary Oliver, Upstream (2016)  · Emily Witt, Future Sex (2016)  · Olivia Laing, The Lonely City (2016)  · Mark Greif, Against Everything (2016)  · Durga Chew-Bose, Too Much and Not the Mood (2017)  · Sarah Gerard, Sunshine State (2017)  · Jim Harrison, A Really Big Lunch (2017)  · J.M. Coetzee, Late Essays: 2006-2017 (2017) · Melissa Febos, Abandon Me (2017)  · Louise Glück, American Originality (2017)  · Joan Didion, South and West (2017)  · Tom McCarthy, Typewriters, Bombs, Jellyfish (2017)  · Hanif Abdurraqib, They Can’t Kill Us Until they Kill Us (2017)  · Ta-Nehisi Coates, We Were Eight Years in Power (2017)  ·  Samantha Irby, We Are Never Meeting in Real Life (2017)  · Alexander Chee, How to Write an Autobiographical Novel (2018)  · Alice Bolin, Dead Girls (2018)  · Marilynne Robinson, What Are We Doing Here? (2018)  · Lorrie Moore, See What Can Be Done (2018)  · Maggie O’Farrell, I Am I Am I Am (2018)  · Ijeoma Oluo, So You Want to Talk About Race (2018)  · Rachel Cusk, Coventry (2019)  · Jia Tolentino, Trick Mirror (2019)  · Emily Bernard, Black is the Body (2019)  · Toni Morrison, The Source of Self-Regard (2019)  · Margaret Renkl, Late Migrations (2019)  ·  Rachel Munroe, Savage Appetites (2019)  · Robert A. Caro,  Working  (2019) · Arundhati Roy, My Seditious Heart (2019).

Emily Temple

Emily Temple

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best essay books

The 25 Greatest Essay Collections of All Time

Today marks the release of Aleksandar Hemon’s excellent book of personal essays, The Book of My Lives , which we loved, and which we’re convinced deserves a place in the literary canon. To that end, we were inspired to put together our list of the greatest essay collections of all time, from the classic to the contemporary, from the personal to the critical. In making our choices, we’ve steered away from posthumous omnibuses (Michel de Montaigne’s Complete Essays , the collected Orwell, etc.) and multi-author compilations, and given what might be undue weight to our favorite writers (as one does). After the jump, our picks for the 25 greatest essay collections of all time. Feel free to disagree with us, praise our intellect, or create an entirely new list in the comments.

best essay books

The Book of My Lives , Aleksandar Hemon

Hemon’s memoir in essays is in turns wryly hilarious, intellectually searching, and deeply troubling. It’s the life story of a fascinating, quietly brilliant man, and it reads as such. For fans of chess and ill-advised theme parties and growing up more than once.

best essay books

Slouching Towards Bethlehem , Joan Didion

Well, obviously. Didion’s extraordinary book of essays, expertly surveying both her native California in the 1960s and her own internal landscape with clear eyes and one eyebrow raised ever so slightly. This collection, her first, helped establish the idea of journalism as art, and continues to put wind in the sails of many writers after her, hoping to move in that Didion direction.

best essay books

Pulphead , John Jeremiah Sullivan

This was one of those books that this writer deemed required reading for all immediate family and friends. Sullivan’s sharply observed essays take us from Christian rock festivals to underground caves to his own home, and introduce us to 19-century geniuses, imagined professors and Axl Rose. Smart, curious, and humane, this is everything an essay collection should be.

best essay books

The Boys of My Youth , Jo Ann Beard

Another memoir-in-essays, or perhaps just a collection of personal narratives, Jo Ann Beard’s award-winning volume is a masterpiece. Not only does it include the luminous, emotionally destructive “The Fourth State of the Matter,” which we’ve already implored you to read , but also the incredible “Bulldozing the Baby,” which takes on a smaller tragedy: a three-year-old Beard’s separation from her doll Hal. “The gorgeous thing about Hal,” she tells us, “was that not only was he my friend, he was also my slave. I made the majority of our decisions, including the bathtub one, which in retrospect was the beginning of the end.”

best essay books

Consider the Lobster , David Foster Wallace

This one’s another “duh” moment, at least if you’re a fan of the literary essay. One of the most brilliant essayists of all time, Wallace pushes the boundaries (of the form, of our patience, of his own brain) and comes back with a classic collection of writing on everything from John Updike to, well, lobsters. You’ll laugh out loud right before you rethink your whole life. And then repeat.

best essay books

Notes of a Native Son , James Baldwin

Baldwin’s most influential work is a witty, passionate portrait of black life and social change in America in the 1940s and early 1950s. His essays, like so many of the greats’, are both incisive social critiques and rigorous investigations into the self, told with a perfect tension between humor and righteous fury.

best essay books

Naked , David Sedaris

His essays often read more like short stories than they do social criticism (though there’s a healthy, if perhaps implied, dose of that slippery subject), but no one makes us laugh harder or longer. A genius of the form.

best essay books

Against Interpretation , Susan Sontag

This collection, Sontag’s first, is a dazzling feat of intellectualism. Her essays dissect not only art but the way we think about art, imploring us to “reveal the sensuous surface of art without mucking about in it.” It also contains the brilliant “Notes on ‘Camp,'” one of our all-time favorites.

best essay books

The Common Reader , Virginia Woolf

Woolf is a literary giant for a reason — she was as incisive and brilliant a critic as she was a novelist. These witty essays, written for the common reader (“He is worse educated, and nature has not gifted him so generously. He reads for his own pleasure rather than to impart knowledge or correct the opinions of others. Above all, he is guided by an instinct to create for himself, out of whatever odds and ends he can come by, some kind of whole- a portrait of a man, a sketch of an age, a theory of the art of writing”), are as illuminating and engrossing as they were when they were written.

best essay books

Teaching a Stone to Talk , Annie Dillard

This is Dillard’s only book of essays, but boy is it a blazingly good one. The slender volume, filled with examinations of nature both human and not, is deft of thought and tongue, and well worth anyone’s time. As the Chicago Sun-Times ‘s Edward Abbey gushed, “This little book is haloed and informed throughout by Dillard’s distinctive passion and intensity, a sort of intellectual radiance that reminds me both Thoreau and Emily Dickinson.”

best essay books

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Man , Henry Louis Gates Jr.

In this eloquent volume of essays, all but one of which were originally published in the New Yorker , Gates argues against the notion of the singularly representable “black man,” preferring to represent him in a myriad of diverse profiles, from James Baldwin to Colin Powell. Humane, incisive, and satisfyingly journalistic, Gates cobbles together the ultimate portrait of the 20th-century African-American male by refusing to cobble it together, and raises important questions about race and identity even as he entertains.

best essay books

Otherwise Known As the Human Condition , Geoff Dyer

This book of essays, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award in the year of its publication, covers 25 years of the uncategorizable, inimitable Geoff Dyer’s work — casually erudite and yet liable to fascinate anyone wandering in the door, witty and breathing and full of truth. As Sam Lipsyte said, “You read Dyer for his caustic wit, of course, his exquisite and perceptive crankiness, and his deep and exciting intellectual connections, but from these enthralling rants and cultural investigations there finally emerges another Dyer, a generous seeker of human feeling and experience, a man perhaps closer than he thinks to what he believes his hero Camus achieved: ‘a heart free of bitterness.'”

best essay books

Art and Ardor , Cynthia Ozick

Look, Cynthia Ozick is a genius. One of David Foster Wallace’s favorite writers, and one of ours, Ozick has no less than seven essay collections to her name, and we could have chosen any one of them, each sharper and more perfectly self-conscious than the last. This one, however, includes her stunner “A Drugstore in Winter,” which was chosen by Joyce Carol Oates for The Best American Essays of the Century , so we’ll go with it.

best essay books

No More Nice Girls , Ellen Willis

The venerable Ellen Willis was the first pop music critic for The New Yorker , and a rollicking anti-authoritarian, feminist, all-around bad-ass woman who had a hell of a way with words. This collection examines the women’s movement, the plight of the aging radical, race relations, cultural politics, drugs, and Picasso. Among other things.

best essay books

The War Against Cliché , Martin Amis

As you know if you’ve ever heard him talk , Martin Amis is not only a notorious grouch but a sharp critical mind, particularly when it comes to literature. That quality is on full display in this collection, which spans nearly 30 years and twice as many subjects, from Vladimir Nabokov (his hero) to chess to writing about sex. Love him or hate him, there’s no denying that he’s a brilliant old grump.

best essay books

Cultural Amnesia: Necessary Memories From History and the Arts , Clive James

James’s collection is a strange beast, not like any other essay collection on this list but its own breed. An encyclopedia of modern culture, the book collects 110 new biographical essays, which provide more than enough room for James to flex his formidable intellect and curiosity, as he wanders off on tangents, anecdotes, and cultural criticism. It’s not the only who’s who you need, but it’s a who’s who you need.

best essay books

I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman , Nora Ephron

Oh Nora, we miss you. Again, we could have picked any of her collections here — candid, hilarious, and willing to give it to you straight, she’s like a best friend and mentor in one, only much more interesting than any of either you’ve ever had.

best essay books

Arguably , Christopher Hitchens

No matter what you think of his politics (or his rhetorical strategies), there’s no denying that Christopher Hitchens was one of the most brilliant minds — and one of the most brilliant debaters — of the century. In this collection, packed with cultural commentary, literary journalism, and political writing, he is at his liveliest, his funniest, his exactingly wittiest. He’s also just as caustic as ever.

best essay books

The Solace of Open Spaces , Gretel Ehrlich

Gretel Ehrlich is a poet, and in this collection, you’ll know it. In 1976, she moved to Wyoming and became a cowherd, and nearly a decade later, she published this lovely, funny set of essays about rural life in the American West.”Keenly observed the world is transformed,” she writes. “The landscape is engorged with detail, every movement on it chillingly sharp. The air between people is charged. Days unfold, bathed in their own music. Nights become hallucinatory; dreams, prescient.”

best essay books

The Braindead Megaphone , George Saunders

Saunders may be the man of the moment, but he’s been at work for a long while, and not only on his celebrated short stories. His single collection of essays applies the same humor and deliciously slant view to the real world — which manages to display nearly as much absurdity as one of his trademark stories.

best essay books

Against Joie de Vivre , Phillip Lopate

“Over the years,” the title essay begins, “I have developed a distaste for the spectacle of joie de vivre , the knack of knowing how to live.” Lopate goes on to dissect, in pleasantly sardonic terms, the modern dinner party. Smart and thought-provoking throughout (and not as crotchety as all that), this collection is conversational but weighty, something to be discussed at length with friends at your next — oh well, you know.

best essay books

Sex and the River Styx , Edward Hoagland

Edward Hoagland, who John Updike deemed “the best essayist of my generation,” has a long and storied career and a fat bibliography, so we hesitate to choose such a recent installment in the writer’s canon. Then again, Garrison Keillor thinks it’s his best yet , so perhaps we’re not far off. Hoagland is a great nature writer (name checked by many as the modern Thoreau) but in truth, he’s just as fascinated by humanity, musing that “human nature is interstitial with nature, and not to be shunned by a naturalist.” Elegant and thoughtful, Hoagland may warn us that he’s heading towards the River Styx, but we’ll hang on to him a while longer.

best essay books

Changing My Mind , Zadie Smith

Smith may be best known for her novels (and she should be), but to our eyes she is also emerging as an excellent essayist in her own right, passionate and thoughtful. Plus, any essay collection that talks about Barack Obama via Pygmalion is a winner in our book.

best essay books

My Misspent Youth , Meghan Daum

Like so many other writers on this list, Daum dives head first into the culture and comes up with meat in her mouth. Her voice is fresh and her narratives daring, honest and endlessly entertaining.

best essay books

The White Album , Joan Didion

Yes, Joan Didion is on this list twice, because Joan Didion is the master of the modern essay, tearing at our assumptions and building our world in brisk, clever strokes. Deal.

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The best essay collections to read now

From advice on friendship and understanding modern life to getting a grasp on coronavirus, these books offer insight on life. 

The best essay collections including Zadie Smith's Intimations, James Baldwin's Notes of a Native Son and Nora Ephron's The Most of Nora Ephron.

What better way to get into the work of a writer than through a collection of their essays? 

These seven collections, from novelists and critics alike, address a myriad of subjects from friendship to how colleges are dealing with sexual assaults on campus to race and racism. 

Trick Mirror by Jia Tolentino (2019)

As a staff writer at The New Yorker , Jia Tolentino has explored everything from a rise in youth vaping to the ongoing cultural reckoning about sexual assault. Her first book Trick Mirror takes some of those pieces for The New Yorker as well as new work to form what is one of the sharpest collections of cultural criticism today.

Using herself and her own coming of age as a lens for many of the essays, Tolentino turns her pen and her eye to everything from her generation’s obsession with extravagant weddings to how college campuses deal with sexual assault.

If you’re looking for an insight into millennial life, then Trick Mirror should be on your to-read list.

In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens by Alice Walker (1983)

Sometimes essays collected from a sprawling period of a successful writer’s life can feel like a hasty addition to a bibliography; a smash-and-grab of notebook flotsam. Not so In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens , from which one can truly understand the sheer range of the Pulitzer Prize winner’s range of study and activism. From Walker’s first published piece of non-fiction (for which she won a prize, and spent her winnings on cut peonies) to more elegiac pieces about her heritage, Walker’s thoughts on feminism (which she terms “womanism”) and the Civil Rights Movement remain grippingly pertinent 50 years on.

Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris (2000)

That David Sedaris’s ascent to literary stardom happened later in his life – his breakthrough collection of humour essays was released when he was 44 – suited the author’s writing style perfectly. Me Talk Pretty One Day is both a painfully funny account of his childhood and an enduring snapshot of mid-forties malaise. First story ‘Go Carolina’, about his attempt to transcend a childhood lisp, is told from a perfect distance and with all the worldliness necessary to milk every drop of tragic, cringeworthy humour from his childhood. It never falters from there: by the book’s second half, in which Sedaris is living in France, he’s firmly established his niche, writing about the ways that even snobs experience utter humiliation ­– and Me Talk Pretty One Day is all the more human for it. 

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The Greatest "Essays" Books of All Time

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This list represents a comprehensive and trusted collection of the greatest books. Developed through a specialized algorithm, it brings together 305 '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 .

List Calculation Details

Essays are a category of books that typically consist of a collection of written works by a single author or multiple authors. These works are typically non-fiction and explore a wide range of topics, from personal experiences and opinions to social and political issues. Essays are often characterized by their informal tone, personal voice, and the author's unique perspective on the subject matter. They can be thought-provoking, informative, and entertaining, and are often used as a means of exploring complex ideas and issues in a more accessible and engaging way.

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1. Essays by Michel de Montaigne

Cover of 'Essays' by Michel de Montaigne

This collection of essays explores a wide range of topics such as solitude, cannibals, the power of the imagination, the education of children, and the nature of friendship. The author employs a unique and personal approach to philosophy, using anecdotes and personal reflections to illustrate his points. The essays provide a profound insight into human nature and condition, and are considered a significant contribution to both literature and philosophy.

2. Pensées by Blaise Pascal

Cover of 'Pensées' by Blaise Pascal

"Pensées" is a collection of philosophical and theological thoughts and ideas by a renowned French mathematician and physicist. The book delves into various aspects of human existence, exploring the nature of faith, reason, and the human condition. It also presents arguments for the existence of God, including the famous wager argument. The book is known for its profound insights into the human experience and its exploration of the complexities of belief and doubt.

3. Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion

Cover of 'Slouching Towards Bethlehem' by Joan Didion

This book is a collection of essays that capture the essence of the 1960s in California. It portrays a society in the midst of social and cultural upheaval, as traditional norms are challenged by the counterculture movement. The author explores various themes including morality, self-respect, and the nature of good and evil, while providing a vivid picture of the era through her insightful and incisive observations.

4. Poems of W. H. Auden by W. H. Auden

Cover of 'Poems of W. H. Auden' by W. H. Auden

This book is a collection of poems by a renowned 20th-century poet. The poems cover a wide range of themes, including love, politics, religion, and the human condition. The poet's unique style combines traditional forms with modernist free verse and his work is known for its technical achievement, emotional depth, and engagement with moral and political issues. The collection provides an overview of the poet's career, showcasing his development and evolution as a writer.

5. The Myth of Sisyphus by Albert Camus

Cover of 'The Myth of Sisyphus' by Albert Camus

This book is a philosophical essay that explores the concept of absurdity, and how individuals should respond to life's inherent meaninglessness. It posits that life is essentially absurd due to the conflict between our desire for understanding and the chaotic, indifferent universe. The author argues that the only proper response to this absurdity is to live life to its fullest, embracing and rebelling against the absurdity, rather than resorting to suicide or turning to religion or philosophy for false comfort. The story of Sisyphus, condemned to eternally roll a boulder up a hill only for it to roll back down, is used as a metaphor for the human condition.

6. Against Interpretation by Susan Sontag

Cover of 'Against Interpretation' by Susan Sontag

This book is a collection of essays that challenge the traditional methods of interpretation and criticism of art and culture. The author argues that in our attempt to interpret and find deeper meaning, we often overlook the sensory experience of the work itself. The book encourages readers to experience art in its raw form, focusing on the form, color, and sounds, rather than trying to decipher a hidden meaning. It is a call for a new, more direct approach to consuming art and culture.

7. The Essential Writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson by Ralph Waldo Emerson

Cover of 'The Essential Writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson' by Ralph Waldo Emerson

This book is a comprehensive collection of works by a renowned American philosopher and poet. It includes his most influential essays, lectures, and poetry, providing readers with a deep insight into his thoughts on nature, self-reliance, love, friendship, freedom, and the importance of intellectual independence. The book serves as a guide to the author's transcendental philosophy and his belief in individualism, nonconformity, and the inherent goodness of man and nature.

8. Collected Essays of George Orwell by George Orwell

Cover of '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.

9. Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke

Cover of 'Letters to a Young Poet' by Rainer Maria Rilke

This book is a collection of 10 letters written by a renowned poet to a young aspiring poet, offering advice and guidance on matters of life, love, and the pursuit of poetry. The author encourages the young poet to look inward for inspiration and to embrace solitude as a means of self-discovery. He also emphasizes the importance of patience, personal growth, and the necessity of experiencing life's hardships to truly understand and depict the human condition in poetry.

10. Mythologies by Roland Barthes

Cover of 'Mythologies' by Roland Barthes

This book is a collection of essays that explore the layers of cultural and societal meanings that are imbued in everyday objects, activities, and phenomena. The author decodes the symbols and signs embedded in things as varied as wrestling, soap detergents, toys, and even the face of Greta Garbo. The book is a pioneering exploration of semiotics, the study of signs and symbols, and it challenges readers to question and understand the cultural connotations and ideologies that are presented as natural or given in our everyday lives.

11. Notes of a Native Son by James Baldwin

Cover of 'Notes of a Native Son' by James Baldwin

This book is a collection of essays that vividly capture the author's life in Harlem, his travels in Europe, and his views on everything from the sweet music of black church revivals to the biting prejudice of the 'then' contemporary world. It's an exploration of racial, sexual, and class distinctions in both Western societies and the American society. The author's reflections on his experiences as a black man in white America are profoundly insightful and continue to resonate today.

12. Tristes Tropiques by Claude Lévi-Strauss

Cover of 'Tristes Tropiques' by Claude Lévi-Strauss

"Tristes Tropiques" is a blend of autobiography, travel literature, and anthropology by a renowned scholar. The book is a recounting of the author's travels and anthropological work, primarily in Brazil, in the 1930s. It provides a critical and philosophical reflection on his experiences and observations, offering insights into indigenous tribes like the Nambikwara and Tupi-Kawahib, and exploring themes of cultural change, the nature of anthropology, and the author's own disillusionment with Western civilization.

13. Symposium by Plato

Cover of 'Symposium' by Plato

In "Symposium", a group of notable men including philosophers, playwrights, and politicians gather at a banquet and decide to each give a speech in praise of the god of love. Each speech presents a different perspective on love, ranging from the purely physical to the spiritual. The dialogue culminates with the speech of Socrates, who presents a philosophical view of love as a means of ascending to contemplation of the divine.

14. The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Matsuo Bashō

Cover of 'The Narrow Road to the Deep North' by Matsuo Bashō

"The Narrow Road to the Deep North" is a travelogue that depicts the author's journey through the remote and desolate northern regions of Japan. The narrative combines prose and haiku poetry to capture the beauty and spirituality of nature, as well as the author's introspective thoughts and philosophical insights. The journey is not just physical but also spiritual, as the author seeks to understand his place in the world and the essence of the human condition.

15. The Liberal Imagination by Lionel Trilling

Cover of 'The Liberal Imagination' by Lionel Trilling

"The Liberal Imagination" is a collection of essays that scrutinize and challenge the ideas, politics, and cultural norms of liberal society. The author argues that liberalism often simplifies complex issues and overlooks the inherent contradictions and conflicts in human life. Using literature as a tool, he delves into the nuances of these issues and encourages readers to engage in critical thinking and self-examination. The book is a profound exploration of the strengths and weaknesses of liberal thought and its impact on society.

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

Cover of '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.

17. Orthodoxy by G. K. Chesterton

Cover of 'Orthodoxy' by G. K. Chesterton

"Orthodoxy" is a classic work of Christian apologetics that explores and defends the beliefs that are central to Christian faith. The author presents his personal journey towards faith, arguing for the reasonableness of Christianity. He challenges popular assumptions of his time about religion, faith, and the world while presenting a compelling case for orthodox Christian belief, using both logic and wit. The book combines personal anecdotes, historical critique, and philosophical discourse to present a deeply intellectual and sincere exploration of Christianity.

18. Civil Disobedience by Henry David Thoreau

Cover of 'Civil Disobedience' by Henry David Thoreau

The book is a seminal work on the philosophy of non-violent resistance, advocating for individual freedom and the refusal to obey unjust laws. The author argues that individuals have a duty to prioritize their conscience over the dictates of laws and that governments are inherently prone to corruption and should not command absolute allegiance from their citizens. The book has greatly influenced many nonviolent resistance movements around the world, including those led by Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.

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

Cover of '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.

20. Christ Stopped at Eboli: The Story of a Year by Carlo Levi

Cover of 'Christ Stopped at Eboli: The Story of a Year' by Carlo Levi

The book is a memoir about the author's year of exile in a remote region of southern Italy during the fascist regime. It depicts the harsh living conditions, poverty, and backwardness of the area, where the peasants' lives are ruled by superstition and tradition. Despite the difficulties, the author finds beauty and dignity in the people and their way of life, and he paints a vivid picture of their culture, beliefs, and struggles. The title refers to the locals' belief that they have been forgotten by modernity and even by God.

21. The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin

Cover of 'The Fire Next Time' by James Baldwin

This book is a powerful exploration of race relations in America in the early 1960s. The author presents his experiences and observations in the form of two essays. The first is a letter to his 14-year-old nephew, discussing the role of race in American history. The second essay takes a broader look at the civil rights movement and the author's own experiences with religion and identity. Throughout, the author presents a passionate plea for the recognition of the humanity and dignity of all people, regardless of race.

22. The Pillow Book by Sei Shōnagon

Cover of 'The Pillow Book' by Sei Shōnagon

"The Pillow Book" is a collection of personal observations, anecdotes, and reflections by a woman in the Heian court of Japan. It presents a detailed and vivid picture of court life, including the lavish ceremonies, the rivalries and intrigues, the idle pastimes of the courtiers, and the romantic escapades of the empress and her consorts. The book also contains lists, poetry, and personal musings, providing a unique perspective on the culture and customs of the Heian period.

23. Essays of E. B. White by E. B. White

Cover of '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.

24. The Anatomy of Melancholy by Robert Burton

Cover of 'The Anatomy of Melancholy' by Robert Burton

"The Anatomy of Melancholy" is a comprehensive and detailed exploration of melancholy, a term used to describe a variety of mental states, including depression, anxiety, and sadness. The author examines the causes, symptoms, and treatments of melancholy from a variety of perspectives, incorporating elements of psychology, philosophy, history, and literature. The book is notable for its extensive use of classical sources, its humorous and satirical style, and its profound insights into human nature and the human condition.

25. Kafka's Other Trial by Elias Canetti

Cover of 'Kafka's Other Trial' by Elias Canetti

This book is a detailed examination and interpretation of the correspondence between a renowned author and his fiancée, Felice Bauer. The author uses these letters to analyze the writer's psyche, his relationships, and his work. The book provides a unique insight into the author's life and the influence of his engagement on his writing, particularly his novel "The Trial". The author's struggle between his commitment to writing and his relationship with Felice forms the central theme of the book.

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The Best Essay Collections to Add to Your TBR List

Discover big ideas in small doses.

some of the best essay collections

Anyone who has read very much of it knows that some of the best prose around is happening in nonfiction. From personal essays to political ones, cultural criticism to travelogues, these 10 books represent some of the best essay writing of the last century, spanning continents and languages, tackling subjects that range from political unrest to pulp fiction—and everything in-between. 

So, if you’re ready to expand your mind and change your outlook, add these essay collections to your TBR list today!

A Day in the Life of Roger Angell

A Day in the Life of Roger Angell

By Roger Angell

While you may not recognize Roger Angell’s name, you probably know who he is. The stepson of legendary author E. B. White, Angell has worked for the New Yorker in various capacities for decades, including as a frequent contributing writer. 

He has written about all sorts of subjects, especially baseball, and this unique collection pulls together a variety of his best-loved pieces, including his famous Christmas poems, a variety of parodies, and a “tense correspondence over a short fiction contest that pays only in baked goods.”

Related: "Your Horoscope," by Roger Angell

My Seditious Heart

My Seditious Heart

By Arundhati Roy

A New York Times  bestseller and Booker Prize winner, Arundhati Roy is many things, and in My Seditious Heart  she proves that among those is an “electrifying political essayist” ( Booklist ). 

Collecting essays from two decades of her life, this “lucid and probing” ( Time Magazine ) book presents a lifetime of battling for social and political justice and human rights, from American capitalism to the Hindu caste system and beyond. “The scale of what Roy surveys is staggering,” writes The New York Times Book Review . “Her pointed indictment is devastating.”

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Men Explain Things to Me

Men Explain Things to Me

By Rebecca Solnit

In these “personal but unsentimental essays” ( The New York Times ), National Book Critics Circle Award-winning author Rebecca Solnit provides the perfect “antidote to mansplaining” ( The Stranger ). 

From the title essay, which explores why men talk over women and what the ultimate cost of that is, to essays about Virginia Woolf and marriage equality, Solnit’s unsparing prose has been called “ essential feminist reading ” by The New Republic – and simply “essential” by Marketplace .

Collection of Sand

Collection of Sand

By Italo Calvino

Newly translated into English for the first time by Martin McLaughlin, this “brilliant collection of essays” and travelogues, the last piece of new writing published by the legendary Italo Calvino before his death, “may change the way you see the world around you” ( The Guardian ). 

From antique maps to Japanese gardens, Calvino takes us on a tour of the world, but also of his own mind, in the process heightening our appreciation of the visual world around us. 

Slouching Towards Bethlehem

Slouching Towards Bethlehem

By Joan Didion

In her first work of nonfiction, one of America’s most “dazzling” prose stylists ( The New York Times ) also establishes herself as a singular voice on American culture, painting a vivid portrait of a nation in the midst of tumultuous change. 

First published in 1968, Slouching Towards Bethlehem has become a modern classic , hailed as “a rare display of some of the best prose written today in this country” by the New York Times Book Review . No wonder Time Magazine chose it as one of the 100 best and most influential nonfiction books to date.

Related: Joan Didion: Her Books, Life and Legacy

Essays After Eighty

Essays After Eighty

By Donald Hall

A former Poet Laureate of the United States, Donald Hall has “wrought his prose to a keen autumnal edge” in his waning years, according to The Wall Street Journal . This collection of essays written, as the title implies, after he turned 80, sees Hall reflecting on his life, on his career, on writing itself, and on the view out his window. 

“Alternately lyrical and laugh-out-loud funny ” ( The New York Times ), these essays show that Hall has never lost his deft touch, nor his passion for life and all of its mysteries, whimsies, and wonders.

Freedom Is a Constant Struggle

Freedom Is a Constant Struggle

By Angela Y. Davis

Author of such classic works as Women, Race, and  Class, Angela Y. Davis made a name for herself as an activist and scholar with a penetrating insight into social issues. 

In this new collection of essays, she tackles some of the most pressing issues that affect our present moment , from the Black Lives Matter movement to Palestine and beyond, calling upon us all to imagine a better world – and do the important work required to make it possible.



By Walter Benjamin

A German cultural critic who has been called one of most original thinkers of the 20th century, Walter Benjamin fled Germany in 1932, as the Nazi party rose to power, and died in exile before the end of the second World War. 

Hannah Arendt, herself one of the most influential political theorists of the modern age, hand-assembled this collection of some of Benjamin’s most famous and most important essays, including his legendary “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” to form this unforgettable book from a unique mind.

Tell Me How It Ends

Tell Me How It Ends

By Valeria Luiselli

An American Book Award Winner and a finalist for both the Kirkus Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award, this “essay in forty questions” is a “moving, intimate” account of serving as a translator for undocumented children facing deportation ( The New York Times Book Review ). 

As a volunteer worker, Luiselli translated these forty questions from a court form to ask undocumented children who were under threat of deportation. By structuring her writing around them, she helps to put a vitally human face on children who are thrust into an often-uncaring system in this book that is, “Worth of inclusion in a great American (and international) canon of writing about migration” ( Texas Observer ).

Maps and Legends

Maps and Legends

By Michael Chabon

The Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay “makes an inviting case for bridging the gap between popular and literary writing” ( O, The Oprah Magazine ) in this appreciation of everything from pulp fiction to comic books, horror to westerns. 

By writing about the stories that move him, speak to him, and inspired him to write, Chabon also talks about his own identity as an author, and what storytelling means to all of us, whether he’s writing about Superman or Sherlock Holmes.

Related: 12 Michael Chabon Books You Won't Be Able to Put Down

Keep Reading: 10 Essential Essay-Length Memoirs You Can Read Online for Free

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Essay Papers Writing Online

The best books to improve your essay writing skills.

Essay writing books

Are you looking to enhance your essay writing abilities? Whether you are a student, professional writer, or simply striving to improve your writing skills, investing in the best books on essay writing can make a significant difference.

Discover expert tips, strategies, and techniques to craft compelling and impactful essays in various genres and styles. From mastering the art of brainstorming to refining your thesis statements, these recommended books will inspire and guide you on your writing journey.

Unlock your full potential as a writer with the help of these invaluable resources.

Explore the Best Books

Ready to take your essay writing skills to the next level? Dive into our curated selection of the best books for essay writing. These invaluable resources cover a wide range of topics and techniques to help you become a masterful essay writer.

  • The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White : A timeless classic that provides practical guidance on grammar, style, and composition.
  • On Writing Well by William Zinsser : Learn how to craft compelling essays with clarity and precision.
  • They Say / I Say: The Moves That Matter in Academic Writing by Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein : Master the art of engaging with academic sources and constructing persuasive arguments.
  • Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott : Gain insights on the creative process and overcome writer’s block.
  • Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg : Unleash your creativity and develop a daily writing practice to refine your skills.

Explore these essential books to enhance your essay writing abilities and stand out as a confident and articulate writer. Happy reading and happy writing!

Discover Top Writers

Looking to be inspired by some of the best writers in the world? Our collection of top writers includes renowned authors like J.K. Rowling, George Orwell, Jane Austen, and more. Dive into their works to explore different writing styles, techniques, and storytelling methods.

Find your favorite authors and study their essays to learn how they captivate readers with their words. Whether you’re a novice writer or seasoned professional, exploring the works of top writers can help enhance your own writing skills and ignite your creativity.

Discover the magic of storytelling through the eyes of these esteemed writers and unlock the secrets to crafting compelling essays. With the guidance of top writers, you’ll be able to elevate your writing to new heights and create essays that leave a lasting impact on your readers.

Enhance Your Skills

Are you looking to take your essay writing skills to the next level? Our selection of the best books for essay writing will help you enhance your writing techniques and improve your overall writing proficiency. Whether you are a student looking to boost your academic performance or a professional seeking to refine your communication skills, these books offer valuable insights and practical tips to help you become a more effective writer.

Develop Your Style: Discover how to develop a unique writing style that reflects your personality and engages your readers. Learn how to effectively use language, tone, and structure to make your writing stand out.

Master Essay Structures: Explore different essay structures and formats to enhance the organization and clarity of your writing. From persuasive essays to analytical pieces, these books provide guidelines to help you structure your arguments effectively.

Refine Your Research Skills: Improve your research skills and learn how to gather, analyze, and incorporate evidence into your essays. Enhance the credibility and depth of your writing by conducting thorough research and citing reputable sources.

Invest in your writing skills today with the best books for essay writing and see a significant improvement in your writing proficiency!

Master Your Techniques

Master Your Techniques

Enhance your essay writing skills with the best books curated just for you. Learn how to craft compelling introductions, develop strong arguments, and conclude with impact. These books will provide you with the tools and techniques you need to take your writing to the next level.

Explore different styles and approaches to essay writing, from analytical to persuasive, and discover how to adapt your voice to different audiences. With practical tips and exercises, these books will help you refine your writing process and express your ideas with clarity and confidence.

Whether you are a student looking to improve your academic writing or a professional seeking to enhance your communication skills, these recommended books will guide you on your journey to mastering the art of essay writing. Purchase your copy today and embark on a transformative learning experience!

Deep Dive into Essay Writing

Essay writing is an essential skill that can greatly enhance your academic and professional success. By mastering the art of essay writing, you can effectively communicate your ideas, opinions, and arguments in a clear and concise manner.

Here are some key tips to help you excel in essay writing:

Start by brainstorming ideas, creating an outline, and organizing your thoughts before you begin writing. This will help you stay focused and ensure that your essay flows logically.
Your thesis statement should clearly express the main point or argument of your essay. It sets the tone for the rest of your writing and guides your reader on what to expect.
Support your ideas with evidence from credible sources. This will strengthen your arguments and make your essay more convincing.
Ensure that your essay is well-organized and easy to follow. Use clear and concise language, logical transitions, and proper paragraph structure.
Review your essay for errors in grammar, punctuation, and spelling. Make sure your ideas are well-developed and coherent. Consider seeking feedback from peers or instructors for further improvement.

By implementing these strategies and practicing regularly, you can enhance your essay writing skills and become a more effective communicator. Explore the best books for essay writing to further refine your techniques and unlock your full potential.

Unlock Your Creativity

Unlock Your Creativity

Unleash your imagination and expand your creative horizons with the best books for essay writing. Dive into a world of inspiration and learn how to express your thoughts and ideas in new and innovative ways.

Discover the power of storytelling and the art of persuasion as you explore the depths of your creativity. With the guidance of expert writers and teachers, you will develop your unique voice and style that will set you apart from the rest.

  • Explore different writing techniques to enhance your essays
  • Learn how to structure your ideas effectively
  • Find inspiration in classic and contemporary works
  • Master the art of critical thinking and analysis

Whether you are a student looking to improve your academic writing or a professional seeking to enhance your communication skills, these books will help you unlock your creativity and become a more confident and persuasive writer.

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100 Best Essays Books of All Time

We've researched and ranked the best essays books in the world, based on recommendations from world experts, sales data, and millions of reader ratings. Learn more

best essay books

Men Explain Things to Me

Rebecca Solnit | 5.00

best essay books

Chelsea Handler Goes deep with statistics, personal stories, and others’ accounts of how brutal this world can be for women, the history of how we've been treated, and what it will take to change the conversation: MEN. We need them to be as outraged as we are and join our fight. (Source)

See more recommendations for this book...

best essay books

Me Talk Pretty One Day

David Sedaris | 4.96

best essay books

Between the World and Me

Ta-Nehisi Coates | 4.94

best essay books

Barack Obama The president also released a list of his summer favorites back in 2015: All That Is, James Salter The Sixth Extinction, Elizabeth Kolbert The Lowland, Jhumpa Lahiri Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates Washington: A Life, Ron Chernow All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr (Source)

Jack Dorsey Q: What are the books that had a major influence on you? Or simply the ones you like the most. : Tao te Ching, score takes care of itself, between the world and me, the four agreements, the old man and the sea...I love reading! (Source)

best essay books

Doug McMillon Here are some of my favorite reads from 2017. Lots of friends and colleagues send me book suggestions and it's impossible to squeeze them all in. I continue to be super curious about how digital and tech are enabling people to transform our lives but I try to read a good mix of books that apply to a variety of areas and stretch my thinking more broadly. (Source)

best essay books

Slouching Towards Bethlehem

Joan Didion | 4.94

best essay books

Peter Hessler I like Didion for her writing style and her control over her material, but also for the way in which she captures a historical moment. (Source)

Liz Lambert I love [this book] so much. (Source)

best essay books

We Should All Be Feminists

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie | 4.92

best essay books

Bad Feminist

Roxane Gay | 4.88

best essay books

Irina Nica It’s hard to pick an all-time favorite because, as time goes by and I grow older, my reading list becomes more “mature” and I find myself interested in new things. I probably have a personal favorite book for each stage of my life. Right now I’m absolutely blown away by everything Roxane Gay wrote, especially Bad Feminist. (Source)

best essay books

Trick Mirror

Reflections on Self-Delusion

Jia Tolentino | 4.86

best essay books

Lydia Polgreen This book is amazing and you should read it. https://t.co/pcbmYUR4QP (Source)

Maryanne Hobbs ⁦@jiatolentino⁩ hello Jia :) finding your perspectives in the new book fascinating and so resonant.. thank you 🌹 m/a..x https://t.co/BoNzB1BuDf (Source)

Yashar Ali . @jiatolentino’s fabulous book is one of President Obama’s favorite books of 2019 https://t.co/QHzZsHl2rF (Source)

best essay books

Consider the Lobster

And Other Essays

David Foster Wallace | 4.85

best essay books

A Room of One's Own

Virginia Woolf | 4.75

best essay books

Dress Your Family in Corduroy & Denim

David Sedaris | 4.73

best essay books

Adam Kay @penceyprepmemes How about David Sedaris, for starters - "Dress your family in corduroy and denim" is an amazing book. (Source)

Don't have time to read the top Essays books of all time? Read Shortform summaries.

Shortform summaries help you learn 10x faster by:

  • Being comprehensive: you learn the most important points in the book
  • Cutting out the fluff: you focus your time on what's important to know
  • Interactive exercises: apply the book's ideas to your own life with our educators' guidance.

best essay books

The Fire Next Time

James Baldwin | 4.69

Barack Obama Fact or fiction, the president knows that reading keeps the mind sharp. He also delved into these non-fiction reads: Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Evan Osnos Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman Moral Man And Immoral Society, Reinhold Niebuhr A Kind And Just Parent, William Ayers The Post-American World, Fareed Zakaria Lessons in Disaster, Gordon Goldstein Sapiens: A Brief History of... (Source)

best essay books

When You Are Engulfed in Flames

David Sedaris | 4.67

best essay books

David Sedaris | 4.63

best essay books

David Blaine It’s hilarious. (Source)

best essay books

The White Album

Joan Didion | 4.62

best essay books

Dan Richards I feel Joan Didion is the patron saint of a maelstrom of culture and environment of a particular time. She is the great American road-trip writer, to my mind. She has that great widescreen filmic quality to her work. (Source)

Steven Amsterdam With her gaze on California of the late 60s and early 70s, Didion gives us the Black Panthers, Janis Joplin, Nancy Reagan, and the Manson follower Linda Kasabian. (Source)

best essay books

A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again

Essays and Arguments

David Foster Wallace | 4.61

best essay books

Tressie McMillan Cottom | 4.60

best essay books

Melissa Moore The best book I read this year was Thick by Tressie McMillan Cottom. I read it twice and both times found it challenging and revelatory. (Source)

best essay books

David Sedaris and Hachette Audi | 4.60

best essay books

Sister Outsider

Essays and Speeches

Audre Lorde, Cheryl Clarke | 4.60

best essay books

Bianca Belair For #BHM  I will be sharing some of my favorite books by Black Authors 26th Book: Sister Outsider By: Audre Lorde My first time reading anything by Audre Lorde. I am now really looking forward to reading more of her poems/writings. What she writes is important & timeless. https://t.co/dUDMcaAAbx (Source)

best essay books

Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls

David Sedaris | 4.58

Austin Kleon I read this one, then I read his collected diaries, Theft By Finding, and then I read the visual compendium, which might have even been the most interesting of the three books, but I’m listing this one because it’s hilarious, although with the interstitial fiction bits, it’s sort of like one of those classic 90s hip-hop albums where you skip the “skit” tracks. (Source)

best essay books

Notes from a Loud Woman

Lindy West | 4.56

best essay books

Matt Mcgorry "Shrill: Notes From a Loud Woman" by Lindy West @TheLindyWest # Lovvvvveeedddd, loved, loved, loved this book!!!  West is a truly remarkable writer and her stories are beautifully poignant while dosed with her… https://t.co/nzJtXtOGTn (Source)

Shannon Coulter @JennLHaglund @tomi_adeyemi I love that feeling! Just finished the audiobook version of Shrill by Lindy West after _years_ of meaning to read it and that's the exact feeling it gave me. Give me your book recommendations! (Source)

best essay books

The Collected Schizophrenias

Esmé Weijun Wang | 4.52

best essay books

Tiny Beautiful Things

Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar

Cheryl Strayed | 4.49

best essay books

Ryan Holiday It was wonderful to read these two provocative books of essays by two incredibly wise and compassionate women. Cheryl Strayed, also the author of Wild, was the anonymous columnist behind the online column, Dear Sugar and boy, are we better off for it. This is not a random smattering of advice. This book contains some of the most cogent insights on life, pain, loss, love, success, youth that I... (Source)

James Altucher Cheryl had an advice column called “Dear Sugar”. I was reading the column long before Oprah recommended “Wild” by Cheryl and then Wild became a movie and “Tiny Beautiful Things” (the collection of her advice column) became a book. She is so wise and compassionate. A modern saint. I used to do Q&A sessions on Twitter. I’d read her book beforehand to get inspiration about what true advice is. (Source)

best essay books

We Were Eight Years in Power

An American Tragedy

Ta-Nehisi Coates | 4.47

best essay books

The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays

Albert Camu | 4.47

best essay books

David Heinemeier Hansson Camus’ philosophical exposition of absurdity, suicide in the face of meaninglessness, and other cherry topics that continue on from his fictional work in novels like The Stranger. It’s surprisingly readable, unlike many other mid 20th century philosophers, yet no less deep or pointy. It’s a great follow-up, as an original text, to that book The Age of Absurdity, I recommended last year. Still... (Source)

Kenan Malik The Myth of Sisyphus is a small work, but Camus’s meditation on faith and fate has personally been hugely important in developing my ideas. Writing in the embers of World War II, Camus confronts in The Myth of Sisyphus both the tragedy of recent history and what he sees as the absurdity of the human condition. There is, he observes, a chasm between the human need for meaning and what he calls... (Source)

best essay books

The Penguin Essays Of George Orwell

George Orwell, Bernard Crick | 4.46

best essay books

Peter Kellner George Orwell was not only an extraordinary writer but he also hated any form of cant. Some of his most widely read works such as 1984 and Animal Farm are an assault on the nastier, narrow-minded, dictatorial tendencies of the left, although Orwell was himself on the left. (Source)

best essay books

The Opposite of Loneliness

Essays and Stories

Marina Keegan, Anne Fadiman | 4.46

best essay books

Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie | 4.45

best essay books

The Tipping Point

How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference

Malcolm Gladwell | 4.45

best essay books

Kevin Rose Bunch of really good information in here on how to make ideas go viral. This could be good to apply to any kind of products or ideas you may have. Definitely, check out The Tipping Point, which is one of my favorites. (Source)

best essay books

Seth Godin Malcolm Gladwell's breakthrough insight was to focus on the micro-relationships between individuals, which helped organizations realize that it's not about the big ads and the huge charity balls... it's about setting the stage for the buzz to start. (Source)

best essay books

Andy Stern I think that when we talk about making change, it is much more about macro change, like in policy. This book reminds you that at times when you're building big movements, or trying to elect significant decision-makers in politics, sometimes it's the little things that make a difference. Ever since the book was written, we've become very used to the idea of things going viral unexpectedly and then... (Source)

best essay books

Selected Essays

Mary Oliver | 4.44

best essay books

We Are Never Meeting in Real Life.

Samantha Irby | 4.44

best essay books

Complete Essays

Michel de Montaigne, Charles Cotton | 4.42

best essay books

Ryan Holiday There is plenty to study and see simply by looking inwards — maybe even an alarming amount. (Source)

Alain de Botton I’ve given quite a lot of copies of [this book] to people down the years. (Source)

best essay books

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns)

Mindy Kaling | 4.42

best essay books

Angela Kinsey .@mindykaling I am rereading your book and cracking up. I appreciate your chapter on The Office so much more now. But all of it is fantastic. Thanks for starting my day with laughter. You know I loves ya. ❤️ https://t.co/EB99xnyt0p (Source)

Yashar Ali Reminds me of one of my favorite lines from @mindykaling's book (even though I'm an early riser): “There is no sunrise so beautiful that it is worth waking me up to see it.” https://t.co/pS56bmyYjS (Source)

best essay books

Not That Bad

Dispatches from Rape Culture

Roxane Gay, Brandon Taylor, et al | 4.40

best essay books

Henry David Thoreau | 4.40

best essay books

Laura Dassow Walls The book that we love as Walden began in the journal entries that he wrote starting with his first day at the pond. (Source)

Roman Krznaric In 1845 the American naturalist went out to live in the woods of Western Massachusetts. Thoreau was one of the great masters of the art of simple living. (Source)

best essay books

John Kaag There’s this idea that philosophy can blend into memoir and that, ideally, philosophy, at its best, is to help us through the business of living with people, within communities. This is a point that Thoreau’s Walden gave to me, as a writer, and why I consider it so valuable for today. (Source)

best essay books

Confessions of a Common Reader

Anne Fadiman | 4.40

best essay books

I Feel Bad About My Neck

And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman

Nora Ephron | 4.39

best essay books

Holidays on Ice

David Sedaris | 4.37

best essay books

An American Lyric

Claudia Rankine | 4.36

best essay books

Cheryl Strayed A really important book for us to be reading right now. (Source)

Jeremy Noel-Tod Obviously, it’s been admired and acclaimed, but I do feel the general reception of it has underplayed its artfulness. Its technical subtlety and overall arrangement has been neglected, because it has been classified as a kind of documentary work. (Source)

best essay books

Christopher Hitchens | 4.36

best essay books

Le Grove @billysubway Hitchens book under your arm. I’m reading Arguably. When he’s at his best, he is a savage. Unbelievable prose. (Source)

best essay books

Notes of a Native Son

James Baldwin | 4.35

best essay books

The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Other Clinical Tales

Oliver Sacks | 4.34

best essay books

Suzanne O'Sullivan I didn’t choose neurology because of it but the way Oliver Sacks writes about neurology is very compelling. (Source)

Tanya Byron This is a seminal book that anyone who wants to work in mental health should read. It is a charming and gentle and also an honest exposé of what can happen to us when our mental health is compromised for whatever reason. (Source)

Bradley Voytek I can’t imagine one day waking up and not knowing who my wife is, or seeing my wife and thinking that she was replaced by some sort of clone or robot. But that could happen to any of us. (Source)

best essay books

The Empathy Exams

Leslie Jamison | 4.33

best essay books

This is the Story of a Happy Marriage

Ann Patchett | 4.31

best essay books

Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs

A Low Culture Manifesto

Chuck Klosterman | 4.30

Karen Pfaff Manganillo Never have I read a book that I said “this is so perfect, amazing, hilarious, he’s thinking what I’m thinking (in a much more thought out and cool way)”. (Source)

best essay books

Bird By Bird

Some Instructions on Writing and Life

Anne Lamott | 4.29

best essay books

Susan Cain I love [this book]. Such a good book. (Source)

Timothy Ferriss Bird by Bird is one of my absolute favorite books, and I gift it to everybody, which I should probably also give to startup founders, quite frankly. A lot of the lessons are the same. But you can get to your destination, even though you can only see 20 feet in front of you. (Source)

Ryan Holiday It was wonderful to read these two provocative books of essays by two incredibly wise and compassionate women. [...] Anne Lamott’s book is ostensibly about the art of writing, but really it too is about life and how to tackle the problems, temptations and opportunities life throws at us. Both will make you think and both made me a better person this year. (Source)

best essay books

Zadie Smith | 4.29

Barack Obama As 2018 draws to a close, I’m continuing a favorite tradition of mine and sharing my year-end lists. It gives me a moment to pause and reflect on the year through the books I found most thought-provoking, inspiring, or just plain loved. It also gives me a chance to highlight talented authors – some who are household names and others who you may not have heard of before. Here’s my best of 2018... (Source)

best essay books

What the Dog Saw and Other Adventures

Malcolm Gladwell | 4.28

best essay books

Sam Freedman @mrianleslie (Also I agree What the Dog Saw is his best book). (Source)

best essay books

The Witches Are Coming

Lindy West | 4.27

best essay books

Against Interpretation and Other Essays

Susan Sontag | 4.25

best essay books

How to Write an Autobiographical Novel

Alexander Chee | 4.25

Eula Biss Alex Chee explores the realm of the real with extraordinarily beautiful essays. Being real here is an ambition, a haunting, an impossibility, and an illusion. What passes for real, his essays suggest, becomes real, just as life becomes art and art, pursued this fully, becomes a life. (Source)

best essay books

Changing My Mind

Occasional Essays

Zadie Smith | 4.25

best essay books

Barrel Fever

David Sedaris | 4.24

Chelsea Handler [The author] is fucking hilarious and there's nothing I prefer to do more than laugh. If this book doesn't make you laugh, I'll refund you the money. (Source)

best essay books

The Fire This Time

A New Generation Speaks About Race

Jesmyn Ward | 4.24

best essay books

Why Not Me?

Mindy Kaling | 4.24

best essay books

The View from the Cheap Seats

Selected Nonfiction

Neil Gaiman | 4.24

best essay books

I Was Told There'd Be Cake

Sloane Crosley | 4.24

best essay books

The Intelligent Investor

The Classic Text on Value Investing

Benjamin Graham | 4.23

best essay books

Warren Buffett To invest successfully over a lifetime does not require a stratospheric IQ, unusual business insights, or inside information. What's needed is a sound intellectual framework for making decisions and the ability to keep emotions from corroding that framework. This book precisely and clearly prescribes the proper framework. You must provide the emotional discipline. (Source)

Kevin Rose The foundation for investing. A lot of people have used this as their guide to getting into investment, basic strategies. Actually Warren Buffett cites this as the book that got him into investing and he says that principles he learned here helped him to become a great investor. Highly recommend this book. It’s a great way understand what’s going on and how to evaluate different companies out... (Source)

best essay books

John Kay The idea is that you look at the underlying value of the company’s activities instead of relying on market gossip. (Source)

best essay books

Tell Me How It Ends

An Essay in Forty Questions

Valeria Luiselli | 4.23

best essay books

Tina Fey | 4.22

Sheryl Sandberg I absolutely loved Tina Fey's "Bossypants" and didn't want it to end. It's hilarious as well as important. Not only was I laughing on every page, but I was nodding along, highlighting and dog-earing like crazy. [...] It is so, so good. As a young girl, I was labeled bossy, too, so as a former - O.K., current - bossypants, I am grateful to Tina for being outspoken, unapologetic and hysterically... (Source)

best essay books

They Can't Kill Us Until They Kill Us

Hanif Abdurraqib, Dr. Eve L. Ewing | 4.22

best essay books

Saadia Muzaffar Man, this is such an amazing book of essays. Meditations on music and musicians and their moments and meaning-making. @NifMuhammad's mindworks are a gift. Go find it. (thank you @asad_ch!) https://t.co/htSueYYBUT (Source)

best essay books

This Is Water

Some Thoughts, Delivered on a Significant Occasion, about Living a Compassionate Life

David Foster Wallace | 4.21

best essay books

John Jeremiah Sullivan | 4.21

best essay books

Greil Marcus This is a new book by a writer in his mid-thirties, about all kinds of things. A lot of it is about the South, some of it is autobiographical, there is a long and quite wonderful piece about going to a Christian music camp. (Source)

best essay books

The Mother of All Questions

Rebecca Solnit | 4.20

best essay books

The Partly Cloudy Patriot

Sarah Vowell, Katherine Streeter | 4.20

best essay books

Essays of E.B. White

E. B. White | 4.19

best essay books

Adam Gopnik White, for me, is the great maker of the New Yorker style. Though it seems self-serving for me to say it, I think that style was the next step in the creation of the essay tone. One of the things White does is use a lot of the habits of the American newspaper in his essays. He is a genuinely simple, spare, understated writer. In the presence of White, even writers as inspired as Woolf and... (Source)

best essay books

A Field Guide to Getting Lost

Rebecca Solnit | 4.19

best essay books

A Man Without a Country

Kurt Vonnegut | 4.18

best essay books

No Time to Spare

Thinking About What Matters

Ursula K. Le Guin, Karen Joy Fowler | 4.17

best essay books

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

Annie Dillard | 4.16

best essay books

Laura Dassow Walls She’s enacting Thoreau, but in a 20th-century context: she takes on quantum physics, the latest research on DNA and the nature of life. (Source)

Sara Maitland This book, which won the Pulitzer literature prize when it was released, is the most beautiful book about the wild. (Source)

best essay books

Maggie Nelson | 4.14

best essay books

Furiously Happy

A Funny Book About Horrible Things

Jenny Lawson | 4.13

best essay books

Women & Power

A Manifesto

Mary Beard | 4.13

best essay books

Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century

Timothy Snyder | 4.12

best essay books

George Saunders Please read this book. So smart, so timely. (Source)

Tom Holland "There isn’t a page of this magnificent book that does not contain some fascinating detail and the narrative is held together with a novelist’s eye for character and theme." #Dominion https://t.co/FESSNxVDLC (Source)

Maya Wiley Prof. Tim Snyder, author of “In Tyranny” reminded us in that important little book that we must protect our institutions. #DOJ is one of our most important in gov’t for the rule of law. This is our collective house & #Barr should be evicted. https://t.co/PPxM9IMQUm (Source)

best essay books

Small Wonder

Barbara Kingsolver | 4.11

best essay books

The Source of Self-Regard

Selected Essays, Speeches, and Meditations

Toni Morrison | 4.11

best essay books

Hyperbole and a Half

Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened

Allie Brosh | 4.11

best essay books

Bill Gates While she self-deprecatingly depicts herself in words and art as an odd outsider, we can all relate to her struggles. Rather than laughing at her, you laugh with her. It is no hyperbole to say I love her approach -- looking, listening, and describing with the observational skills of a scientist, the creativity of an artist, and the wit of a comedian. (Source)

best essay books

Samantha Irby | 4.10

best essay books

Both Flesh and Not

David Foster Wallace | 4.10

best essay books

David Papineau People can learn to do amazing things with their bodies, and people start honing and developing these skills as an end in itself, a very natural thing for humans to do. (Source)

best essay books

So Sad Today

Personal Essays

Melissa Broder | 4.10

best essay books

Hope in the Dark

Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities

Rebecca Solnit | 4.09

best essay books

Prem Panicker @sanjayen This is from an essay Solnit wrote to introduce the updated version of her book Hope In The Dark. Anything Solnit is brilliant; at times like these, she is the North Star. (Source)

best essay books

The Faraway Nearby

best essay books

How to Be Alone

Jonathan Franzen | 4.08

best essay books

Regarding the Pain of Others

Susan Sontag | 4.08

best essay books

The Essays of Warren Buffett

Lessons for Corporate America, Fifth Edition

Lawrence A. Cunningham and Warren E. Buffett | 4.08

best essay books

One Day We'll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter

Scaachi Koul | 4.07

best essay books

Amy Poehler | 4.06

best essay books

The Souls of Black Folk

W.E.B. Du Bois | 4.05

Barack Obama According to the president’s Facebook page and a 2008 interview with the New York Times, these titles are among his most influential forever favorites: Moby Dick, Herman Melville Self-Reliance, Ralph Waldo Emerson Song Of Solomon, Toni Morrison Parting The Waters, Taylor Branch Gilead, Marylinne Robinson Best and the Brightest, David Halberstam The Federalist, Alexander Hamilton Souls of Black... (Source)

best essay books

In Praise of Shadows

Jun'ichiro Tanizaki | 4.05

best essay books

Kyle Chayka Tanizaki is mourning what has been paved over, which is the old Japanese aesthetic of darkness, of softness, of appreciating the imperfect—rather than the cold, glossy surfaces of industrialized modernity that the West had brought to Japan at that moment. For me, that’s really valuable, because it does preserve a different way of looking at the world. (Source)

best essay books

Ways of Seeing

John Berger | 4.04

best essay books

Robert Jones He’s a Marxist and says that the role of publicity or branding is to make people marginally dissatisfied with their current way of life. (Source)

David McCammon Ways of Seeing goes beyond photography and will continue to develop your language around images. (Source)

John Harrison (Eton College) You have to understand the Marxist interpretation of art; it is absolutely fundamental to the way that art history departments now study the material. Then you have to critique it, because we’ve moved on from the 1970s and the collapse of Marxism in most of the world shows—amongst other things—that the model was flawed. But it’s still a very good book to read, for a teenager especially. (Source)

best essay books

Tackling the Texas Essays

Efficient Preparation for the Texas Bar Exam

Catherine Martin Christopher | 4.04

best essay books

The Book of Delights

Ross Gay | 4.04

best essay books

Mere Christianity

C. S. Lewis | 4.04

Anoop Anthony "Mere Christianity" is first and foremost a rational book — it is in many ways the opposite of a traditional religious tome. Lewis, who was once an atheist, has been on both sides of the table, and he approaches the notion of God with accessible, clear thinking. The book reveals that experiencing God doesn't have to be a mystical exercise; God can be a concrete and logical conclusion. Lewis was... (Source)

best essay books

I Remember Nothing

and Other Reflections

Nora Ephron | 4.04

best essay books

On Photography

Susan Sontag | 4.03

best essay books

Susan Bordo Sontag was the first to make the claim, which at the time was very controversial, that photography is misleading and seductive because it looks like reality but is in fact highly selective. (Source)

best essay books

Notes from No Man's Land

American Essays

Eula Biss | 4.03

best essay books

The Doors of Perception

Heaven and Hell (Thinking Classics)

Aldous Huxley, Robbie McCallum | 4.03

best essay books

Michelle Rodriguez Aldous Huxley on Technodictators https://t.co/RDyX70lnZz via @YouTube ‘Doors of Perception’ is a great book entry level to hallucinogenics (Source)

Auston Bunsen I also really loved “The doors of perception” by Aldous Huxley. (Source)

Dr. Andrew Weil Came first [in terms of my interests]. (Source)

best essay books

The Geek Feminist Revolution

Kameron Hurley | 4.02

best essay books

Wow, No Thank You.

Samantha Irby | 4.01

best essay books

A Modest Proposal

Jonathan Swift | 4.01

best essay books

At Large and at Small

Familiar Essays

Anne Fadiman | 4.00

10 Best Books on Essay Writing (You Should Read Today)

“I hate writing, I love having written.” – Dorothy Parker

Here are 10 Books That Will Help You With Essay Writing:

1. a professor’s guide to writing essays: the no-nonsense plan for better writing by dr. jacob neumann.

This is the highest-rated book on the subject available on the market right now. It’s written for students at any level of education. The author uses an unorthodox approach, claiming that breaking essays down into different formats is unnecessary. It doesn’t matter if it’s a persuasive or a narrative essay – the difference is not in how you write, but rather in how you build your case . Length: 118 pages Published: 2016

2. College Essay Essentials: A Step-by-Step Guide to Writing a Successful College Admissions Essay – by Ethan Sawyer

3. the only grammar book you’ll ever need: a one-stop source for every writing assignment by susan thurman.

The institution of a grammar school is defunct, but it doesn’t mean you can ignore the basic rules that govern your language. If you’re writing an essay or a college paper , you better keep your grammar tight. Otherwise, your grades will drop dramatically because professors abhor simple grammar mistakes. By reading this little book , you’ll make sure your writing is pristine. Length: 192 pages Published: 2003

4. Escape Essay Hell!: A Step-by-Step Guide to Writing Narrative College Application Essays by Janine W. Robinson

A well-written essay has immense power. Not only that, it is the prerequisite to getting admitted to colleges and universities, but you also have to tackle a few essay questions in most, if not all exams you will ever take for career or academic advancement. For instance, when taking the LSAT to qualify for law school , the MCAT to get into med school , the DAT to pursue a degree in dentistry, or even the GRE or GMAT as the first step in earning a master’s degree. That is why this book is highly recommended to anyone navigating through the sea of higher learning. In this amusing book, Janine Robinson focuses mostly on writing narrative essays . She’s been helping college-bound students to tell unique stories for over a decade and you’ll benefit from her expert advice. The book contains 10 easy steps that you can follow as a blueprint for writing the best “slice of life” story ever told. Length: 76 pages Published: 2013

5. The Art of the Personal Essay: An Anthology from the Classical Era to the Present by Phillip Lopate

This large volume is a necessary diversion from the subject of formal, highly constrained types of writing. It focuses only on the genre of the personal essay which is much more free-spirited, creative, and tongue-and-cheek-like. Phillip Lopate, himself an acclaimed essayist, gathers seventy of the best essays of this type and lets you draw timeless lessons from them. Length: 777 pages Published: 1995

6. The Best American Essays of the Century by Joyce Carol Oates

7. on writing well: the classic guide to writing nonfiction by william zinsser.

On Writing Well is a classic writing guide that will open your eyes to the art of producing clear-cut copy. Zinsser approached the subject of writing with a warm, cheerful attitude that seeps through the pages of his masterpiece. Whether you want to describe places, communicate with editors, self-edit your copy, or avoid verbosity, this book will have the right answer for you. Length: 336 pages Published: 2016 (reprint edition)

8. How To Write Any High School Essay: The Essential Guide by Jesse Liebman

The previous titles I mentioned were mostly for “grown-up” writers, but the list wouldn’t be complete without a book for ambitious high-school students. Its length is appropriate, making it possible even for the most ADHD among us to get through it. It contains expert advice, easy-to-implement essay outlines , and tips on finding the best topics and supporting them with strong arguments. Length: 124 pages Published: 2017

9. Essential Writing Skills for College and Beyond by C.M. Gill

On average, after finishing high school or college, Americans read only around twelve books per year. This is a pity because books contain a wealth of information. People at the top of the socio-economic ladder read between forty and sixty books per year – and you should too! But reading is just one skill that gets neglected after college. Writing is the other one. By reading the “Essential Writing Skills” you’ll be able to crush all of your college writing assignments and use them throughout your life to sharpen your prose. Length: 250 Published: 2014

10. The Hidden Machinery: Essays on Writing by Margot Livesey

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20 Must-Read Best Essay Collections of 2019

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Rebecca Hussey

Rebecca holds a PhD in English and is a professor at Norwalk Community College in Connecticut. She teaches courses in composition, literature, and the arts. When she’s not reading or grading papers, she’s hanging out with her husband and son and/or riding her bike and/or buying books. She can't get enough of reading and writing about books, so she writes the bookish newsletter "Reading Indie," focusing on small press books and translations. Newsletter: Reading Indie Twitter: @ofbooksandbikes

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Calling all essay fans! For your reading pleasure, I’ve rounded up the best essay collections of 2019. It was a fabulous year for essays (although I say that about most years, to be honest). We’ve had some stellar anthologies of writing about disability, feminism, and the immigrant experience. We’ve had important collections about race, mental health, the environment, and media. And we’ve had collections of personal essays to entertain us and make us feel less alone. There should be something in this list for just about any reading mood or interest.

These books span the entire year, and in cases where the book isn’t published yet, I’ve given you the publication date so you can preorder it or add it to your library list.

I hope this list of the best essay collections of 2019 helps you find new books you love!

About Us: Essays from the Disability Series of the New York Times , edited by Peter Catapano and Rosemarie Garland-Thomson

This book emerged from a  New York Times series of personal essays on living with a disability. Each piece was written by a person in the disabled community, and the volume contains an introduction by Andrew Solomon. The topics cover romance, shame, ambition, childbearing, parenting, aging, and much more. The authors offer a wide range of perspectives on living in a world not built for them.

Black is the Body: Stories from my Grandmother’s Time, My Mother’s Time, and Mine by Emily Bernard

Emily Bernard’s essays are about her experiences of race. She writes about life as a black woman in Vermont, her family’s history in Alabama and Nashville, her job as a professor who teaches African American literature, and her adoption of twin girls from Ethiopia. It begins with the story of a stabbing in New Haven and uses that as a springboard to write about what it means to live in a black body.

Burn It Down: Women Writing about Anger , edited by Lilly Dancyger (Seal Press, October 8)

Women’s anger has been the source of some important and powerful writing lately (see Rebecca Traister’s  Good and Mad and Soraya Chemaly’s  Rage Becomes Her ). This collection brings together a diverse group of writers to further explore the subject. The book’s 22 writers include Leslie Jamison, Melissa Febos, Evette Dionne, and more.

The Collected Schizophrenias by Esmé Weijun Wang

The Collected Schizophrenias is a collection of essays on mental and chronic illness. Wang combines research with her personal knowledge of illness to explore misconceptions about schizophrenia and disagreements in the medical community about definitions and treatments. She tells moving, honest personal stories about living with mental illness.

The Collector of Leftover Souls: Field Notes on Brazil’s Everyday Insurrections by Eliane Brum, Translated by Diane Grosklaus Whitty (Graywolf, October 15)

This volume collects work from two of Brum’s books, and includes investigative pieces and profiles about Brazil and its people. She focuses on underrepresented communities such as indigenous midwives from the Amazon and people in the favelas of São Paulo. Her book captures the lives and voices of people not often written about.

Erosion: Essays of Undoing by Terry Tempest Williams (Sarah Crichton Books, October 8)

This volume collects essays written between 2016 and 2018 covering the topic she has always written so beautifully about: the natural world. The essays focus on the concept of erosion, including the erosion of land and of the self. They are her response to the often-overwhelming challenges we face in the political and the natural world.

The Good Immigrant: 26 Writers Reflect on America ,  edited by Nikesh Shukla and Chimene Suleyman

This volume brings together an amazing group of writers including Chigozie Obioma, Jenny Zhang, Fatimah Asghar, Alexander Chee, and many more. The essayists are first and second generation immigrants who describe their personal experiences and struggles with finding their place in the U.S. The pieces connect first-person stories with broader cultural and political issues to paint an important picture of the U.S. today.

Good Things Happen to People You Hate: Essays by Rebecca Fishbein (William Morrow, October 15)

In the tradition of Samantha Irby and Sloane Crosley, this collection is a humorous look at life’s unfairness. Fishbein writes about trouble with jobs, bedbugs, fires, and cyber bullying. She covers struggles with alcohol, depression, anxiety, and failed relationships. She is honest and hilarious both, wittily capturing experiences shared by many.

I Like to Watch: Arguing My Way Through the TV Revolution by Emily Nussbaum

This book contains new and previously published essays by  New Yorker  critic Emily Nussbaum. The pieces include reviews and profiles. They also argue for a new type of criticism that can accommodate the ambition and complexity of contemporary television. She makes a case for opening art criticism up to new forms and voices.

I’m Telling the Truth, But I’m Lying by Bassey Ikpi

Bassey Ikpi’s essay collection is about her personal experiences dealing with Bipolar II and anxiety. She writes about struggling with mental health even while her career as a spoken word artist was flourishing. She looks at the ways our mental health is intertwined with every aspect of our lives. It’s an honest look at identity, health, and illness.

Little Weirds by Jenny Slate (Little, Brown and Company, November 5)

These pieces are humorous, whimsical essays about things that are on Jenny Slate’s mind. As she—an actress and stand-up comedian as well as writer—describes it, “I looked into my brain and found a book. Here it is.” With a light touch, she tells us honestly what it’s like to be her and how she sees the world, one little, weird piece of it at a time.

Make It Scream, Make It Burn: Essays   by Leslie Jamison

Here is Jamison’s follow-up essay collection to the bestselling   Empathy Exams . This one is divided into three sections, “Longing,” “Looking,” and “Dwelling,” each with pieces that combine memoir and journalism. Her subjects include the Sri Lankan civil war, the online world Second Life, the whale 52 Blue, eloping in Las Vegas, giving birth, and many more.

My Time Among the Whites: Notes from an Unfinished Education   by Jennine Capó Crucet

Crucet grew up in Miami, the daughter of Cuban refugees. Here she explores her family’s attempts to fit into American culture and her feeling of being a stranger in her own country. She considers her relationship to the so-called “American Dream” and what it means to live in a place that doesn’t always recognize your right to be there.

Notes to Self: Essays by Emilie Pine

Emilie Pine is an Irish writer, and this book is a bestseller in Ireland. These six personal essays touch on addiction, sexual assault, infertility, and more. She captures women’s experiences that often remain hidden. She writes about bodies and emotions from rage to grief to joy with honesty, clarity, and nuance.

Our Women on the Ground: Essays by Arab Women Reporting from the Arab World by Zahra Hankir (Editor) and Christiane Amanpour (Foreword)

This collection gathers together 19 writers discussing their experiences as journalists working in their home countries. These women risk their lives reporting on war and face sexual harassment and difficulties traveling alone, but they also are able to talk to women and get stories their male counterpoints can’t. Their first person accounts offer new perspectives on women’s lives and current events in the Middle East.

The Source of Self-Regard: Selected Essays, Speeches, and Meditations by Toni Morrison

Picking this up is a fitting way to pay tribute to the great Toni Morrison, who just passed away last summer. This book is a collection of essays, speeches, and meditations from the past four decades. Topics include the role of the artist, African Americans in American literature, the power of language, and discussions of her own work and that of other writers and artists.

Surfacing by Kathleen Jamie

Kathleen Jamie is a poet and nature writer. These essays combine travel, memoir, and history to look at a world rapidly changing because of our warming climate. She ranges from thawing tundra in Alaska to the preserved homes of neolithic farmers in Scotland and also examines her own experiences with change as her children grow and her father dies.

Thick: And Other Essays by Tressie McMillan Cottom

As of this writing,  Thick  was just longlisted for a National Book Award in nonfiction. McMillan Cottom’s essays look at culture and personal experience from a sociological perspective. It’s an indispensable collection for those who want to think about race and society, who like a mix of personal and academic writing, and who want some complex, challenging ideas to chew on.

White Flights: Race, Fiction, and the American Imagination   by Jess Row

White Flights is an examination of how race gets written about in American fiction, particularly by white writers creating mostly white spaces in their books. Row looks at writers such as Don DeLillo, Annie Dillard, David Foster Wallace, Jonathan Franzen, and more to consider the role that whiteness has played in the American literary imagination.

The Witches Are Coming   by Lindy West (Hachette Books, November 5)

The Witches Are Coming  is Lindy West’s follow-up to her wonderful, best-selling book  Shrill .  She’s back with more of her incisive cultural critiques, writing essays on feminism and the misogyny that is (still) embedded in every part of our culture. She brings humor, wit, and much-needed clarity to the gender dynamics at play in media and culture.

There you have it—the best collections of 2019! This was a great year for essays, but so were the two years before. Check out my round-ups of the best essay collections from 2018 and 2017 .

best essay books

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An Essayist Who Revels in Glorious Chaos

In her third essay collection, the poet and critic Elisa Gabbert celebrates literature and life through a voracious engagement with the world.

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This drawing gathers a jumble of distinct images, collage style: a house, a rabbit, a coffee cup, a French horn and more, with several pictures of open books as a unifying element.

By Lily Meyer

Lily Meyer is a writer, critic and translator. Her debut novel, “Short War,” came out in April.

ANY PERSON IS THE ONLY SELF: Essays , by Elisa Gabbert

“Any Person Is the Only Self,” the poet and critic Elisa Gabbert’s third collection of nonfiction, opens with an essay that should be, but isn’t quite, a mission statement. She starts by describing the Denver Public Library’s shelf for recent returns, a miscellaneous display of disconnected works she habitually browsed in the years she lived in Colorado. In part, Gabbert (who is also the Book Review’s poetry columnist) was drawn to the shelf for its “negative hype,” its opposition to the churn of literary publicity. But mainly, she enjoyed playing the odds. “Randomness is interesting,” she writes; “randomness looks beautiful to me.” At the essay’s end, she declares, “I need randomness to be happy.”

So does her prose. When “Any Person Is the Only Self” embraces the random, it’s terrific. When Gabbert neatens or narrows her essays, though, they can feel more dutiful.

“Any Person Is the Only Self” — a seemingly random title, and one to ignore; it’s fussier and vaguer than any of Gabbert’s actual prose — is primarily a collection about reading, akin to Anne Fadiman’s “Ex Libris” or Alejandro Zambra’s “Not to Read.” But it is also a loose meditation on the coronavirus pandemic and its impact on Gabbert’s life. During lockdown, she found herself yearning for the “subconscious energy” she gets “from strangers and from crowds, a complicating energy that produces ideas,” and relying on literature as a replacement. She developed a habit of listening to many hours of author interviews, seeking the social life she couldn’t have in person.

Unsurprisingly, this led to some soul-searching on the subject of writing, which appears in the gloriously scattershot “Somethingness (or, Why Write?).” In this essay, Gabbert is at her best. She strings together more than 30 writers’ reasons for writing, variously testing, mocking, admiring and relating to them. In doing this, she gives readers a kaleidoscopic view of ambition and inspiration, always looking toward the random or inexplicable elements of both. In her own case, she adds, she’s become obsessed with leaving behind a body of work, which, she’s decided, is “seven books, even short, minor books. … When I finish, if I finish, seven books I can retire from writing, or die.”

“Any Person Is the Only Self” is Gabbert’s seventh book, and although nothing about it is morbid, death shadows the text throughout. Of course, reflecting on Covid invites thoughts of mortality, but she also writes about her father-in-law’s passing, Sylvia Plath’s suicide and the recent trend of denouncing books by dead writers, as if it were “poor form to die.” (Gabbert, rightly, judges this both tacky and strange.)

But in literature, Gabbert finds not only life after death — she talks about the “metalife” of writing — but also a reason to live and engage with the world. “Any Person Is the Only Self” seems decidedly unlike the work of somebody who plans to retire from writing. Rather, it feels like an expression of gratitude for both the act of reading in itself and for reading as a route to conversation, a means of socializing, a way to connect.

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  • Entertainment

The Best Books of 2024 So Far

best essay books

These are independent reviews of the products mentioned, but TIME receives a commission when purchases are made through affiliate links at no additional cost to the purchaser.

W hat does it mean to really belong? What happens when we can no longer recognize where we came from? And what do we owe to the places that raised us? These questions and more drive the best books of the year so far, a crop of novels, memoirs, and essay collections that tackle love, loss, friendship, and more. From Lydia Millet’s exploration of our collapsing planet to Kaveh Akbar’s portrait of an orphaned son looking for answers about his family’s history, these narratives interrogate deep feelings about the world and how to find a place in it.

Here, the best books of the year so far. 

There's Always This Year, Hanif Abdurraqib

best essay books

In Hanif Abdurraqib’s There’s Always Next Year: On Basketball and Ascension , the Ohio-native channels his musings on life through the sport and the state that have shaped him. Structured in quarters with timestamps and timeouts like a basketball game, the essay collection moves through reflections on his father’s jump shot, a dissection of the legend of LeBron James , and more. Abdurraqib, a poet, cultural critic, and National Book Award finalist, offers a complex rumination on home, belonging, and mortality. — Cady Lang

Buy Now : There's Always This Year on Bookshop | Amazon

Martyr! , Kaveh Akbar

best essay books

The protagonist of poet Kaveh Akbar’s devastating debut novel is grappling with a death that shaped him from an early age. When he was just a baby, Cyrus Shams lost his mother to a plane crash over the Persian Gulf. He then moved from Tehran to the U.S. with his father, who worked in the Midwest as a farmer. Now a college graduate and freshly sober, Cyrus finds himself drawn to an exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum, where a painter with terminal cancer is spending her remaining days on display. Martyr! explores the connection between these two characters, culminating in a decades-long examination of addiction, art, and belonging. — Annabel Gutterman

Buy Now : Martyr! on Bookshop | Amazon

Beautyland , Marie-Helene Bertino

best essay books

Much like a certain lord and savior, the heroine of Marie-Helene Bertino’s strange, engrossing third novel is at once fully human and entirely otherworldly. Born in 1970s Philadelphia and raised by a penniless single mother, Adina Giorno also happens to be a space alien who communicates via fax with extraterrestrial overlords who’ve sent her to report on earth’s society. Beautyland tells the bittersweet story of her similarly contradictory life, a regular existence punctuated by flashes of the extraordinary. Underlying these paradoxes is the poetic observation that there’s nothing more human than the experience of gazing out at a planet full of incomprehensible people who look just like you and deciding that you must be from outer space. —Judy Berman

Buy Now : Beautyland on Bookshop | Amazon

James , Percival Everett

best essay books

In James, Percival Everett finds new insight in retelling Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn from a different point of view—that of Jim, who is enslaved by one of Huck’s guardians. Everett follows the original’s episodic adventures on the Mississippi river, but sticks with Jim as he escapes the plantation to find his wife and child. In reimagining the story through Jim, the author adds to it, imparting depth through keen observation and sharp humor as he exploits the familiar tale to skewer American racism and social expectations. The reader gets the inside view of James in his full, varied self, and how he hides his erudition and humanity to play an amenable caricature for the white people around him. With Everett’s deft writing, this playful, pointed novel is a commanding and captivating read. — Merrill Fabry

Buy Now : James on Bookshop | Amazon

Anita de Monte Laughs Last , Xochitl Gonzalez

best essay books

It’s 1985 when Anita de Monte—the new jewel of the art world—falls out of a window and dies after a fight with her husband, the minimalist sculptor Jack Martin. De Monte’s legacy is shrouded and forgotten by time until Raquel Toro, a third-year art history student at Brown University, rediscovers her story in 1998 and goes on her own journey of navigating class, race, and misogyny in creative spaces. Inspired by real-life Cuban-American artist Ana Mendieta’s untimely death and her relationship with artist Carl Andre, author Xochitl Gonzalez’s latest novel delivers a hilarious, vivid, and blistering account of how power manifests not only in art but also in history—and who ultimately gets the last word. —Rachel Sonis

Buy Now : Anita de Monte Laughs Last on Bookshop | Amazon

Coming Home , Brittney Griner

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Even those who closely followed the news of American basketball star Brittney Griner’s unlawful detainment in Russia in 2022 will find new insights in her story. In Coming Home , a searing memoir co-written with Michelle Burford, Griner takes readers behind the scenes to trace her steps from the airport security screening that resulted in her arrest on drug charges, to her first days in jail and on trial, to her transfer to a remote prison, and finally to her release in a prisoner swap. Griner’s voice jumps off the page as she turns an international news story into an intimate, moving tale of perseverance. — Lucy Feldman

Read TIME's excerpt from Brittney Griner’s Coming Home

Buy Now : Coming Home on Bookshop | Amazon

Splinters , Leslie Jamison

best essay books

In her bruising memoir, Leslie Jamison traces the cracks in her marriage, which fell apart shortly after she gave birth to her daughter. Splinters follows the author as she navigates the COVID-19 shutdown while unexpectedly raising a child as a single mother. She also chronicles the ennui of teaching through a computer screen—and dating through one, too—in frank prose, imbuing passages with startling honesty and lush turns of phrase. — Meg Zukin

Buy Now : Splinters on Bookshop | Amazon

Real Americans , Rachel Khong

best essay books

Rachel Khong broke out in 2017 with her debut novel Goodbye, Vitamin , which told the story of a woman caring for a parent after an Alzheimer’s diagnosis. In Real Americans , she builds on her interest in the family story, this time offering a multigenerational tale that traces the lives of a mother, a daughter, and a grandson from Cultural Revolution-era China to near-future San Francisco. Khong never lets her reader settle too comfortably in any one character’s narrative, gently calling for deeper curiosity and compassion for the people in our lives, who, she posits, we may never fully understand. — L . F.

Read TIME’s profile of Rachel Khong

Buy Now : Real Americans on Bookshop | Amazon

The Book of Love , Kelly Link

best essay books

When The Book of Love begins, teenagers Laura, Daniel, and Mo have just been resurrected from the dead. Though it’s news to them, the trio mysteriously disappeared almost a year ago, and they now have the opportunity to return to their lives, which are inextricably changed. But the chance to reverse their bad fortune is tricky—and made even more complicated by their burgeoning supernatural capabilities. Bizarre in the best way, Pulitzer Prize finalist Kelly Link’s debut novel offers a dizzying narrative about grief, love, and possibility as the group attempts to adjust to their new normal. — A.G.

Buy Now : The Book of Love on Bookshop | Amazon

We Loved It All , Lydia Millet

best essay books

Lydia Millet’s award-winning fiction is rooted in her deep admiration of nature—and she dissects that passion in her first memoir, We Loved It All . In her strikingly clear voice, Millet moves between moments in her own life and those of the nonhumans that surround us all. She’s as honest in her reflections on love, motherhood, and ambition as she is in capturing the terrifying realities of climate change. Her novel is a love letter to the earth and all who inhabit it, punctuated by sharp and lyrical prose. — A.G.

Buy Now : We Loved It All on Bookshop | Amazon

More Must-Reads from TIME

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best essay books

What to Read When You Have Only Half an Hour

A short story has velocity and verve, and the best ones create an immediate, instinctual bond between the reader and the characters.

A pair of glasses with tiny books surrounding them

For many years, I assumed that the appeal of a short story was that it was, well, short . Instead of slowly reading a novel over weeks, the reader of these bite-size plots can experience character development, crisis, and conclusion in just a few thousand words. But intentionally reading more short stories made me realize that I’d underestimated the form. These works aren’t just compressed novels: They offer an entirely different experience. The writer Joy Williams, who has published both novels and short stories to great praise, once observed : “A novel wants to befriend you, a short story almost never.” Many short stories can be aloof and enigmatic. They pose difficult questions about life and love, and rarely provide answers.

But short stories have other rewards. Whereas a novel might unfold at a leisurely pace, a short story has velocity and verve. And the best ones create an immediate, instinctual bond between the reader and the characters. The format is an inviting place for writers to experiment. Whereas novels are typically expected to give us closure, short stories favor uncertain and searching conclusions—a quality that makes them feel more similar to the incomplete journeys of our own lives.

The six collections below, which take place in realistic and fantastical settings, show off the dazzling range of the short story. Each proves, too, how even brief encounters with a fictional world can linger well after we turn the page.

Penguin Book of Japanese Short Stories

The Penguin Book of Japanese Short Stories , edited by Jay Rubin

In this idiosyncratic collection of Japanese short stories, “quite old works and very new works” appear side by side, “like an iPod and a gramophone on the same shelf,” Haruki Murakami writes in the introduction. Stories by well-known writers including Murakami, Yukio Mishima, and Yasunari Kawabata (who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1968) appear alongside writers who have been translated into English more recently: Banana Yoshimoto, Yōko Ogawa, Mieko Kawakami, and others. The anthology is organized into seven themes, making it easy to pick a story based on your mood. For a sobering encounter with history, turn to the sections “Dread” and “Disasters, Natural and Man-Made.” You’ll find stories such as Yūichi Seirai’s “Insects,” where a young girl awakes after the atomic bombing of Nagasaki with only a grasshopper for company, and Yūya Satō’s “Same as Always,” a cheerfully disturbing story about an exhausted mother who poisons her baby with irradiated vegetables and tap water. Want something lighter and more playful? Under “Modern Life and Other Nonsense,” you’ll find comical stories, such as Kōji Uno’s “Closet LLB,” which describes an idealistic and lazy college graduate who refuses to pick a path in life. And I found myself lingering over Mieko Kawakami’s “Dreams of Love, Etc.,” where a bored housewife in Tokyo befriends an older woman learning to play Liszt on the piano.

Read: Five books that’ll fit right into your busy schedule

best essay books

Your Duck Is My Duck , by Deborah Eisenberg

Eisenberg is the rare writer who focuses exclusively on the short story. She’s also one of its most acclaimed practitioners: Eisenberg was awarded a Guggenheim fellowship in 1987 and a MacArthur genius grant in 2009. In Your Duck Is My Duck , her most recent collection, she compassionately documents the difficulties of both youth and old age. The children in her stories struggle toward independence, as in “Cross Off and Move On,” where a young girl is caught between two competing lifestyles: the severe discipline of her mother’s world, and the languid glamor represented by her aunts Adela, Bernice, and Charna. Other stories detail the quiet regrets of the elderly: The aging actors in “Taj Mahal” gossip about their shared, debauched past while “waiting with patience and humility to be issued new roles, new shapes.” Throughout, Eisenberg’s intimate, descriptive prose depicts how concerns about money, love, death, and art shape us: “I’m hurtling through time,” a painter remarks in one story, “strapped to an explosive device, my life.”

best essay books

The Musical Brain , by César Aira, translated by Chris Andrews

Aira is renowned for his energetically surrealist fables and for his prolific output—at 75, the Argentinian writer has published more than 100 books . In The Musical Brain , his first short-story collection published in English, Aira makes ideas from physics, math, and art history enchant and delight readers. “God’s Tea Party” imagines the deity’s birthday celebration, where only apes are invited (humanity, the narrator informs us, has “disappointed Him”)—and the chaos that ensues when a subatomic particle gatecrashes the event in a “systematic, unstoppable, and supremely elegant” manner. Another story, “A Thousand Drops,” is about the perfect art heist: The paint droplets that make up the Mona Lisa escape the Louvre to go on their own adventures. One drop hitchhikes to the Vatican and has an affair with the Pope, while another builds a basketball stadium in rural Mongolia, in the hopes of training a Chinese team to defeat the NBA’s all-stars. Other stories revel in the fanciful pleasures of childhood games: In “The Infinite,” two boys try to name successively larger numbers, until they learn about the showstopping power of the word infinity . Each short story is a thrilling intellectual adventure, with Aira gleefully demolishing the division between the sciences and the arts.

The Atlantic presents: Shorter Stories

best essay books

Break It Down , by Lydia Davis

Davis is a master of the very short story, and the collection that made her name, Break It Down , includes such works as the four-sentence “What She Knew,” where an insecure young woman tries to understand why men are flirting with her, and the six-sentence “The Fish,” where a woman confronts “certain irrevocable mistakes” in her life, including the dinner she’s cooked for herself. These nimble, acrobatic shorts—which established her as a formidable figure in American literature—are contrasted by longer stories that showcase Davis’s dry humor and keen emotional insight. In “The Letter,” a woman sits through a long-awaited breakup conversation: “Right away she lost her appetite, but he ate very well and ate her dinner too.” And the title story is a cathartic, sensitive look at the cost of a failed relationship: “You’re left with this large heavy pain in you,” a man mourning a lost love reflects, “that you try to numb by reading.” Davis’s stories plunge directly into the hurt of everyday life, leaving the reader both comforted and entertained.

best essay books

Pond , by Claire-Louise Bennett

“I find mundane objects rather poignant,” Bennett once said , shortly after Pond was published. The 20 stories in this collection offer evocative glimpses of one woman’s life in rural Ireland. Many stories focus on the joys of cooking and entertaining: “Oh, Tomato Puree!” is a whimsical paean to the “kitsch and concentrated splendour” of this pantry staple, while “Finishing Touch” shows a woman carefully planning a party: “Perfectly arranged but low-key,” she reminds herself, having plucked flowers from the garden to “exude an edgeless, living fragrance.” Other stories reveal the narrator’s trembling, urgent desire for human connection. In “A Little Before Seven,” she reflects ruefully on the difficulty of flirting with a love interest. “Awaiting that kiss which somehow settles everything,” she is hesitant and awkward—until a drink emboldens her, and she concludes that “there is no such thing as a false move.” Bennett’s stories are a mesmerizing, strange look at the inner workings of the mind, as well as the beauty of our domestic and natural surroundings.

Read: The surprising power of stories that are shorter than short stories

best essay books

Exhalation , by Ted Chiang

In Ted Chiang’s science fiction, advanced technologies and alternate realities are the backdrop for deeply human stories. He catapulted to fame with his first collection, Stories of Your Life and Others —and that book’s title story was adapted into the film Arrival , directed by Denis Villeneuve. In his second collection, Exhalation , Chiang writes thoughtful, searching narratives that explore AI’s risks and rewards, species extinction, archaic theories of consciousness, and more. In “The Lifecycle of Software Objects,” a zookeeper named Ana joins a software start-up trying to make endearing AI pets. The start-up fails, but Ana and her coworker, Derek, can’t abandon the digital creatures they’ve grown to love: “The practice of treating conscious beings as if they were toys is all too prevalent,” Derek muses, “and it doesn’t just happen to pets.” Another story, “The Great Silence,” shows an endangered parrot trying to communicate with humans: “Human activity has brought my kind to the brink of extinction, but I don’t blame them for it … They just weren’t paying attention.” Chiang’s fiction is informed by complex scientific concepts, but his writing style makes them accessible and compelling. Despite the unfamiliar settings, each story feels like a prescient and emotionally insightful commentary on the technological challenges facing us today.

best essay books

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Make Your Own List

The Best Fiction Books » Science Fiction

The best science fiction: the 2024 arthur c. clarke award shortlist, recommended by andrew m. butler.

Every year, the judges for the Arthur C. Clarke Award highlight the best of the latest batch of science fiction books. In 2024, the six-strong shortlist includes an exploration of octopus intelligence, a queer space opera, and a dystopian novel hailed as the new  Hunger Games .  Andrew M. Butler , academic and chair of the judges, talks us through the finalists for the title of sci fi novel of the year.

Interview by Cal Flyn , Deputy Editor

The Best Science Fiction: The 2024 Arthur C. Clarke Award Shortlist - Chain Gang All Stars: A Novel by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah

Chain Gang All Stars: A Novel by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah

The Best Science Fiction: The 2024 Arthur C. Clarke Award Shortlist - The Ten Percent Thief by Lavanya Lakshminarayan

The Ten Percent Thief by Lavanya Lakshminarayan

The Best Science Fiction: The 2024 Arthur C. Clarke Award Shortlist - In Ascension by Martin MacInnes

In Ascension by Martin MacInnes

The Best Science Fiction: The 2024 Arthur C. Clarke Award Shortlist - The Mountain in the Sea by Ray Nayler

The Mountain in the Sea by Ray Nayler

The Best Science Fiction: The 2024 Arthur C. Clarke Award Shortlist - Some Desperate Glory by Emily Tesh

Some Desperate Glory by Emily Tesh

The Best Science Fiction: The 2024 Arthur C. Clarke Award Shortlist - Corey Fah Does Social Mobility: A Novel by Isabel Waidner

Corey Fah Does Social Mobility: A Novel by Isabel Waidner

The Best Science Fiction: The 2024 Arthur C. Clarke Award Shortlist - Chain Gang All Stars: A Novel by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah

1 Chain Gang All Stars: A Novel by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah

2 the ten percent thief by lavanya lakshminarayan, 3 in ascension by martin macinnes, 4 the mountain in the sea by ray nayler, 5 some desperate glory by emily tesh, 6 corey fah does social mobility: a novel by isabel waidner.

T hanks for joining us again to discuss the shortlist for the 2024 Arthur C. Clarke Award for the science fiction book of the year. Might you remind our readers what your judges are looking for?

Let’s step through the six science fiction books shortlisted for the 2024 prize one by one, starting with Nana Kwame Adjei-Benyah’s Chain-Gang All Stars . This is a dystopian novel that some have likened to The Hunger Games . What did the judges like about it?

Next up we have The Ten Percent Thief by Lavanya Lakshminarayan. Why is it one of the best sci-fi books of 2024?

This is a mosaic novel , which I suspect is a specialism of science fiction and fantasy – think of Ray Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles .

Yes. I can also think of Jennifer Egan’s incredible, semi-speculative A Visit from the Goon Squad ,  and – more recently – Sequoia Nagamatsu’s  How High We Go in the Dark . Or even  World War Z .

Intriguing. The third book on the 2024 shortlist is Martin MacInnes’s In Ascension . It falls on the more literary end of the sci-fi spectrum and was previously longlisted for the Booker Prize . Tell us more.

It was also named the Blackwell’s Book of the Year . One of their judges called it “a science fiction novel fit for the 21st century.”

I think it’s the most Clarkeian book on the shortlist, with adventures deep under the sea and ventures into outer space. It’s also got a bit of a Gravity vibe at times, although one of the judges would like to see Denis Villeneuve adapt it for the big screen after Dune .

Sounds epic.

Let’s turn our attention to Ray Naylor’s The Mountain in the Sea . Jeff VanderMeer called it “a first-rate speculative thriller.” Might you introduce us, and explain why it is one of the science fiction books of 2024?

It’s got octopus, so what more does anyone need to know?

In fact, speaking of Denis Villeneuve, there’s a hint of the film Arrival in the depiction of the attempts to make first contact with a very alien species – octopus anatomy and psychology is so aliens to ours and there’s been some speculation that they come from a very different origin to us . They are incredibly talented at escaping from captivity and seeking revenge on their human keepers.

Absolutely. I read a fascinating nonfiction book about octopus and cuttlefish intelligence, Other Minds . I can see why they might inspire speculative fiction.

Sounds great. That brings us to Some Desperate Glory , a queer space opera by Emily Tesh. What should readers expect?

There’s a slightly daunting trigger warning at the start, which I took as a bit of a hint not to take the main protagonist at face value.

Much of humanity has been wiped out by an alien species, with a surviving rump of humanity divided into the military and ‘breeders.’ Seventeen-year-old Kyr learns that she has been assigned to reproduction, whilst her brother has been given a suicide mission – but may have defected. She sets off to track him down, and in the process discovers that the situation isn’t quite as she’s been led to believe.

The final science fiction book on the 2024 Clarke Award shortlist is Corey Fah Does Social Mobility by Isabel Waidner. The Guardian described it as an “energetic inquiry into class politics and cultural capital.” In a science fiction context, I presume! Can you talk us through it?

This is perhaps this year’s wild card and I think it may have been one the judges called in.

Waidner won the Goldsmiths prize for Sterling Karat Gold , their third novel, but theirs was a new name to me and I want to work my way through their back catalogue. The eponymous protagonist has won a prize in a city that seems to be a surreal version of Prague, but there’s a complication when they try to collect it. They enlist the help of a chat show host to track it down, but they seem as busy dealing with an eight-legged version of Bambi…

There are nods to a real murdered playwright, to Franz Kafka , to Disney and to the American artist Nicole Eisenman , alongside time travel and paradoxes. In the meantime, the novel raises questions about gender, sexuality, class, intersectionality and creativity, in a short but densely constructed narrative. Of course, if they win, we need to send them to Hyde Park so they can fail to pick up the trophy!

Has it been a good year for science fiction? Are you left feeling optimistic about the state of the genre in 2024?

We have a shortlist with six authors new to the award, although only a couple are debuts. Which is not to say that there weren’t great books by previous winners or shortlistees – but none of them cut through. One of the jobs of the award is to promote writers that not everyone has heard of, and each of these novels stand alone, rather than being parts of long series. I like series fiction, but it’s sometimes hard to find the entry point.

There are a lot of publishers that are still committed to print fiction, including some ambitious small presses and some people who have chosen the self-publication route. I’m optimistic because publishers are taking chances.

I haven’t crunched the numbers on demographics on the submissions list, but I don’t think we were in danger of an all-male shortlist. On the other hand, I think writers of colour are still underrepresented by British publishers. I hasten to say, there’s nothing inherently wrong with novels by cis, straight, white men – and the judges definitely don’t pick books to meet any kind of quotas – but it’s great to get perspectives that are different from the majority of the last century of science fiction writers.

June 4, 2024

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Andrew M. Butler

Andrew M. Butler is a British academic who teaches film, media and communications at Canterbury Christ Church University. He is a former editor of Vector , the critical journal of the British Science Fiction Association and was membership secretary of the Science Fiction Foundation. He is the non-voting chair of the judges for the Arthur C. Clarke Award for Science Fiction.

We ask experts to recommend the five best books in their subject and explain their selection in an interview.

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Five Books participates in the Amazon Associate program and earns money from qualifying purchases.

© Five Books 2024


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