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.
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.
Since I fully agree with the 6-7 books here I have already read, I look forward to using this to populate my kindle!
My favorite non-fiction work is “Mother Nature” by Sarah Blaffer Hrdy.
Tao Te Ching tops all other religious works? Stunning! Oh, sorry, I didn’t see Dawkins up there… Still, number 2 is a real surprise!
“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”
Then again, you might just be roundly scolded for its inclus by the people from the Language Log.
Sorry, make that “inclusion”
More than very surprising that this list only has 2 female authors. It’s a shame, really.
Two great ones missing by women are;
WEST WITH THE NIGHT by Beryl Markham
PILGRIM AT TINKER CREEK by Annie Dillard
I’ve been looking for a list like this. Good job.
The list of (supposed) NON-fiction includes; “Up In The Old Hotel” by Joseph Mitchell………one little problem. This book is FICTION!!
Homage To Catalonia is freaking awesome, although I slightly prefer Down & Out In Paris & London.
Can’t believe this list does not include In Cold Blood
No best nonfiction list is complete without a title by Jean Baudrillard; Fatal Strategies is my favourite. Also, A Fair Country by JR Saul & something by Chris Hedges would be on a list I wrote.
How can such a list have Booker T. Washington rather than Frederick Douglass? And what about Marx, Freud, and Plato?
The Origin of Species is not on the list? Nothing by Rousseau, Marx, Engels, Adam Smith, Locke, Hobbes, Voltaire, St. Augustine, Plato, Sacks, Luria, de Beauvoir or Boswell? As a lifelong reader with a collection that is (now) mostly nonfiction, I find this list merely….odd.
I’d like to add anything by Plato; St. Augustine’s “Confessions,” and “The Octopus,” by Frank Norris. Anything by Steven Pinker, but particularly “The Language Instinct.”
Jes, “The language instinct” is a joke, a mere hyperbole of unwarranted speculations. I am a linguist; trust me, the book is fraud. Read Jerry Fodor’s “The Mind Doesn’t Work That Way”.
And “The Octopus” is a novel.
Don’t people ever tire of the canon?
not much here i’ve read nor would add to my list, i guess i have some things to look at but really? these are the top 25?
Laurie Garrett’s “The Coming Plague” should be on this list, as should MFK Fisher’s “The Art of Eating.”
This was very helpful to me, Thanks so much for this list!
Hello, and wow thank you for those excellent recommendations! We wanted to share with y’all some of our favourite non-fiction nature-inspired books, that I could not put down!