writers History's Greatest Essayists

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List Rules The greatest essayists. Vote up the absolute best essayists.

Some of the most famous literary works are essays, written by great authors and writers. Essays span a variety of genres, including comedy, non-fiction, history, and current events. Some essays are published as a stand-alone piece in a magazine, while others are grouped into collections. Who are the best essayists of all time?
 
The essayists on this list come from a variety of backgrounds and time periods in history. Some are still currently writing. It’s no wonder that essays remain a popular literary format as authors can make a point more directly while still following a specific format, allowing the writer to get their point across, or tell their story more quickly.
 
This list features the best essayists in history, ranked as the best by voters, and including, Virginia Woolf, Geoff Dyer, Ellen Willis, Christopher Hitchens, Nora Ephron, and Zadie Smith. Vote up the best essayists below to see how the essayists you think are great rank!

1
+ - 154 36
George Orwell is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
George Orwell 1984, Animal Farm

The Greatest Black Female Authors in the History of Literature The Best Novels Ever Written

2
+ - 106 21
Michel de Montaigne is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Michel de Montaigne The Essays of Michel de Montaigne

3
+ - 75 19
Ralph Waldo Emerson is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Ralph Waldo Emerson The fortune of the Republic, English traits Representative Men

4
+ - 55 13
Samuel Johnson is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Samuel Johnson A Dictionary of the English Language, Samuel Johnson's Dictionary: Selections from the 1755 Work That Defined the English Language Life of Mr Richard Savage

5
+ - 38 11
Francis Bacon is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Francis Bacon Novum organum, New Atlantis Of the Proficience and Advancement of Learning

6
+ - 41 15
William Hazlitt is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
William Hazlitt Characters of Shakespear's Plays, The Doubtful Plays Of William Shakespeare On the Pleasure of Hating

7
+ - 32 9
T. S. Eliot is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
T. S. Eliot The Waste Land, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats

8
+ - 52 25
Mark Twain is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Mark Twain Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court

9
+ - 48 22
Virginia Woolf is listed (or ranked) 9 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Virginia Woolf To the Lighthouse, Mrs. Dalloway Orlando: A Biography

10
+ - 28 7
David Hume is listed (or ranked) 10 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
David Hume An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, Four Dissertations Essays

11
+ - 23 4
G. K. Chesterton is listed (or ranked) 11 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
G. K. Chesterton The Man Who Was Thursday, The Napoleon of Notting Hill The Everlasting Man

12
+ - 25 6
Arthur Schopenhauer is listed (or ranked) 12 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Arthur Schopenhauer On the Suffering of the World, The World as Will and Representation The Art of Being Right

13
+ - 52 28
James Baldwin is listed (or ranked) 13 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
James Baldwin The Cross of Redemption: Uncollected Writings, Tell Me How Long the Train's Been Gone

14
+ - 102 70
Christopher Hitchens is listed (or ranked) 14 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Christopher Hitchens God Is Not Great

15
+ - 21 4
Charles Lamb is listed (or ranked) 15 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Charles Lamb The prose works of Charles Lamb, The Essays of Elia The last essays of Elia

The Best Rolling Stone Covers The Best Autobiographies Ever Written

16
+ - 22 5
Jorge Luis Borges is listed (or ranked) 16 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Jorge Luis Borges Labyrinths, Ficciones The Aleph

17
+ - 19 4
Matthew Arnold is listed (or ranked) 17 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Matthew Arnold Poems of Wordsworth, guide to English literature and Essay on Gray Matthew Arnold's books

18
+ - 45 28
David Foster Wallace is listed (or ranked) 18 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
David Foster Wallace nfinite Jest, The Pale King A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again

19
+ - 42 26
Joan Didion is listed (or ranked) 19 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Joan Didion Slouching Towards Bethlehem, Play It As It Lays The Year of Magical Thinking

20
+ - 22 10
Victor Hugo is listed (or ranked) 20 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Victor Hugo Les Misérables, The Hunchback of Notre Dame

21
+ - 14 4
Jacques Barzun is listed (or ranked) 21 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Jacques Barzun A Catalogue of Crime: A Reader's Guide to the Literature of Mystery, Detection and Related Genres

22
+ - 20 11
Benjamin Franklin is listed (or ranked) 22 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Benjamin Franklin The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, Poor Richard's Almanack Compleated Autobiography by Benjamin Franklin

23
+ - 29 20
Susan Sontag is listed (or ranked) 23 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Susan Sontag Duet for Cannibals, Promised Lands Brother Carl

24
+ - 13 7
Joseph Addison is listed (or ranked) 24 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Joseph Addison The evidences of the Christian religion, The doctrine of the passions explained and improved The vision of Mirzah

25
+ - 14 9
Henry James is listed (or ranked) 25 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Henry James The Turn of the Screw, The Portrait of a Lady The Golden Bowl

26
+ - 15 11
Flannery O'Connor is listed (or ranked) 26 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Flannery O'Connor Collected Works: Wise Blood, A Good Man Is Hard to Find The Violent Bear It Away

27
+ - 8 4
John Updike is listed (or ranked) 27 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
John Updike Rabbit, Run Rabbit Redux

28
+ - 8 4
William H. Gass is listed (or ranked) 28 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
William H. Gass Late Harvest, Habitations of the Word Test of Time

29
+ - 4 1
Dubravka Ugrešić is listed (or ranked) 29 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Dubravka Ugrešić In the Jaws of Life, Kultura laži Thank you for not reading

20 Books to Read in Your 20s Stupid Things Couples Fight About

30
+ - 16 15
Clive James is listed (or ranked) 30 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Clive James Cultural Amnesia, Unreliable Memoirs

31
+ - 14 13
F. Scott Fitzgerald is listed (or ranked) 31 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
F. Scott Fitzgerald The Great Gatsby, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button This Side of Paradise

32
+ - 12 11
Ralph Ellison is listed (or ranked) 32 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Ralph Ellison Invisible Man, The collected essays of Ralph Ellison Shadow and Act

33
+ - 16 16
Annie Dillard is listed (or ranked) 33 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Annie Dillard Late Harvest, For the Time Being Annie Dillard Reader

34
+ - 1 0
C. S. Lewis is listed (or ranked) 34 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
C. S. Lewis The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe The Screwtape Letters

35
+ - 8 8
Jo Ann Beard is listed (or ranked) 35 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Jo Ann Beard The Boys of My Youth, In Zanesville

36
+ - 19 20
David Sedaris is listed (or ranked) 36 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
David Sedaris Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls, Dress Your Children In Corduroy and Denim Naked

37
+ - 6 6
Willa Cather is listed (or ranked) 37 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Willa Cather Death Comes for the Archbishop, A Lost Lady My Ántonia

38
+ - 14 15
Martin Amis is listed (or ranked) 38 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Martin Amis Experience, Time's Arrow Yellow Dog

39
+ - 13 14
Zadie Smith is listed (or ranked) 39 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Zadie Smith Piece of Flesh, The May Anthologies

40
+ - 1 1
Václav Havel is listed (or ranked) 40 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Václav Havel Letters to Olga, Politics and Conscience The Art of the Impossible

41
+ - 1 1
Leo Tolstoy is listed (or ranked) 41 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Leo Tolstoy Anna Karenina, War and Peace The Death of Ivan Ilyich

42
+ - 10 11
Cynthia Ozick is listed (or ranked) 42 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Cynthia Ozick Fame & Folly: Essays, Quarrel & QuandaryThe Din in the Head: Essays

43
+ - 8 9
Yukio Mishima is listed (or ranked) 43 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Yukio Mishima Confessions of a Mask, Acts of Worship

23 Things You Should Never Do While Naked The Best Soju Brands

44
+ - 8 9
George Saunders is listed (or ranked) 44 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
George Saunders Tenth of December: Stories

45
+ - 3 4
Simon Leys is listed (or ranked) 45 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Simon Leys

46
+ - 5 7
Camilo Castelo Branco is listed (or ranked) 46 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Camilo Castelo Branco Mistérios de Lisboa, Amor de Perdição

47
+ - 7 10
Phillip Lopate is listed (or ranked) 47 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Phillip Lopate achelorhood, Against Joie de Vivre Portrait of My Body

48
+ - 5 8
John Jeremiah Sullivan is listed (or ranked) 48 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
John Jeremiah Sullivan Blood Horses: Notes of a Sportswriter's Son, Farrar Pulphead: Essays

49
+ - 5 8
Gretel Ehrlich is listed (or ranked) 49 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Gretel Ehrlich To Touch the Water, Heart Mountain

50
+ - 4 8
Edward Hoagland is listed (or ranked) 50 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Edward Hoagland Cat Man, Sex and the River Styx