The 25 Best Non-Fiction Books Ever: Readers’ Picks

Last week, we asked Open Culture readers to write in with your favorite non-fiction titles of all time, and you didn’t disappoint. We had a hard time culling from the more than 100 suggestions, but we did have a few criteria to guide us:

1. Priority went to repeat nominees (Bill Bryson, Hunter S. Thompson, and Richard Dawkins, to name a few).

2. We leaned toward books that are available for free online.

3. When all else failed, we relied on our own preferences — or prejudices.

Thanks again for all of your recommendations, and may we congratulate you on your excellent taste in non-fiction, equalled by only your excellent taste in websites.

The List

Hunter S. Thompson – Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

Friedrich Nietzsche – The Gay Science

Richard Dawkins – The Selfish Gene

Wendell Berry – The Way of Ignorance

Joseph Mitchell – Up in the Old Hotel

Brian Greene – The Elegant Universe

Norman Lewis – Voices of the Old Sea

Joan Didion – The White Album

Benjamin Franklin – The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

Tony Judt – Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945

Henry David Thoreau – Walden

Marcus Aurelius – Meditations

Bill Bryson – A Walk in the Woods

George Orwell – Homage to Catalonia

Hannah Arendt – Eichmann in Jerusalem

Booker T. Washington – Up From Slavery

Jorge Luis Borges – Other Inquisitions (1937-1952)

Marcus Rediker – Villains of all Nations: Atlantic Pirates in the Golden Age

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi – Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience

Lao Tzu, Stephen Mitchell, trans. Tao Te Ching

Victor Klemperer – I Will Bear Witness: A Diary of the Nazi Years (1933-1941)

Greil Marcus – Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the Twentieth Century

Philip Gourevitch – We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will be Killed with Our Families

Winston Churchill – A History of the English Speaking Peoples

Lastly, and only in part because we’ve been warned that we would be roundly scolded for the omission: The Elements of Style, by William Strunk and E.B. White

Thanks again, and happy reading!

Sheerly Avni is a San Francisco-based arts and culture writer. Her work has appeared in Salon, LA Weekly, Mother Jones, and many other publications. You can follow her on twitter at @sheerly.


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