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!
list ordered by

1
+ - 185 47
George Orwell is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
George Orwell 1984, Animal Farm

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2
+ - 129 28
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
+ - 82 26
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
+ - 64 16
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
+ - 46 15
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
+ - 64 31
Mark Twain is listed (or ranked) 6 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

7
+ - 66 33
James Baldwin is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
James Baldwin The Cross of Redemption: Uncollected Writings, Tell Me How Long the Train's Been Gone

8
+ - 33 8
G. K. Chesterton is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
G. K. Chesterton The Man Who Was Thursday, The Napoleon of Notting Hill, The Everlasting Man

9
+ - 40 15
T. S. Eliot is listed (or ranked) 9 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

10
+ - 45 19
William Hazlitt is listed (or ranked) 10 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

11
+ - 58 30
Virginia Woolf is listed (or ranked) 11 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Virginia Woolf To the Lighthouse, Mrs. Dalloway, Orlando: A Biography

12
+ - 121 80
Christopher Hitchens is listed (or ranked) 12 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Christopher Hitchens God Is Not Great

13
+ - 26 5
Charles Lamb is listed (or ranked) 13 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Charles Lamb The prose works of Charles Lamb, The Essays of Elia, The last essays of Elia

14
+ - 34 12
David Hume is listed (or ranked) 14 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
David Hume An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, Four Dissertations, Essays

15
+ - 54 29
Joan Didion is listed (or ranked) 15 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Joan Didion Slouching Towards Bethlehem, Play It As It Lays, The Year of Magical Thinking

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16
+ - 28 10
Jorge Luis Borges is listed (or ranked) 16 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Jorge Luis Borges Labyrinths, Ficciones, The Aleph

17
+ - 28 12
Arthur Schopenhauer is listed (or ranked) 17 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

18
+ - 52 34
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
+ - 14 2
C. S. Lewis is listed (or ranked) 19 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
C. S. Lewis The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, The Screwtape Letters

20
+ - 25 13
Victor Hugo is listed (or ranked) 20 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Victor Hugo Les Misérables, The Hunchback of Notre Dame

21
+ - 20 9
Matthew Arnold is listed (or ranked) 21 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Matthew Arnold Poems of Wordsworth, guide to English literature and Essay on Gray, Matthew Arnold's books

22
+ - 6 0
Leo Tolstoy is listed (or ranked) 22 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Leo Tolstoy Anna Karenina, War and Peace, The Death of Ivan Ilyich

23
+ - 16 6
Jacques Barzun is listed (or ranked) 23 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

24
+ - 24 14
Benjamin Franklin is listed (or ranked) 24 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Benjamin Franklin The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, Poor Richard's Almanack, Compleated Autobiography by Benjamin Franklin

25
+ - 34 24
Susan Sontag is listed (or ranked) 25 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Susan Sontag Duet for Cannibals, Promised Lands, Brother Carl

26
+ - 19 10
Henry James is listed (or ranked) 26 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Henry James The Turn of the Screw, The Portrait of a Lady, The Golden Bowl

27
+ - 16 9
Joseph Addison is listed (or ranked) 27 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

28
+ - 22 17
Clive James is listed (or ranked) 28 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Clive James Cultural Amnesia, Unreliable Memoirs

29
+ - 11 6
William H. Gass is listed (or ranked) 29 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
William H. Gass Late Harvest, Habitations of the Word, Test of Time

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30
+ - 18 14
Flannery O'Connor is listed (or ranked) 30 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

31
+ - 10 6
John Updike is listed (or ranked) 31 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
John Updike Rabbit, Run, Rabbit Redux

32
+ - 3 0
Jonathan Swift is listed (or ranked) 32 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Jonathan Swift Gulliver's Travels, Gulliver's Travels, A Tale of a Tub

33
+ - 20 19
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
+ - 18 17
Zadie Smith is listed (or ranked) 34 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Zadie Smith Piece of Flesh, The May Anthologies

35
+ - 15 14
Ralph Ellison is listed (or ranked) 35 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Ralph Ellison Invisible Man, The collected essays of Ralph Ellison, Shadow and Act

36
+ - 17 17
F. Scott Fitzgerald is listed (or ranked) 36 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
F. Scott Fitzgerald The Great Gatsby, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, This Side of Paradise

37
+ - 4 4
Dubravka Ugrešić is listed (or ranked) 37 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Dubravka Ugrešić In the Jaws of Life, Kultura laži, Thank you for not reading

38
+ - 10 11
Yukio Mishima is listed (or ranked) 38 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Yukio Mishima Confessions of a Mask, Acts of Worship

39
+ - 16 18
Martin Amis is listed (or ranked) 39 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Martin Amis Experience, Time's Arrow, Yellow Dog

40
+ - 10 12
George Saunders is listed (or ranked) 40 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
George Saunders Tenth of December: Stories

41
+ - 20 24
David Sedaris is listed (or ranked) 41 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
David Sedaris Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls, Dress Your Children In Corduroy and Denim, Naked

42
+ - 11 14
Cynthia Ozick is listed (or ranked) 42 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Cynthia Ozick Fame & Folly: Essays, Quarrel & Quandary, The Din in the Head: Essays

43
+ - 6 9
Willa Cather is listed (or ranked) 43 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Willa Cather Death Comes for the Archbishop, A Lost Lady, My Ántonia

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44
+ - 3 6
Simon Leys is listed (or ranked) 44 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Simon Leys

45
+ - 2 5
Václav Havel is listed (or ranked) 45 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Václav Havel Letters to Olga, Politics and Conscience, The Art of the Impossible

46
+ - 7 11
John Jeremiah Sullivan is listed (or ranked) 46 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
John Jeremiah Sullivan Blood Horses: Notes of a Sportswriter's Son, Farrar, Pulphead: Essays

47
+ - 5 9
Camilo Castelo Branco is listed (or ranked) 47 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Camilo Castelo Branco Mistérios de Lisboa, Amor de Perdição

48
+ - 9 14
Nora Ephron is listed (or ranked) 48 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Nora Ephron I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts On Being A Woman, Wallflower at the Orgy, Crazy Salad: Some Things About Women

49
+ - 8 13
Jo Ann Beard is listed (or ranked) 49 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Jo Ann Beard The Boys of My Youth, In Zanesville

50
+ - 6 11
Gretel Ehrlich is listed (or ranked) 50 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Gretel Ehrlich To Touch the Water, Heart Mountain