authors 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
245 66
George Orwell is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
George Orwell 1984, Animal Farm

2
156 36
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
97 37
Ralph Waldo Emerson is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
JeremyEbbink added Ralph Waldo Emerson The fortune of the Republic, English traits, Representative Men

4
75 24
Samuel Johnson is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
looksharp added 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
85 39
James Baldwin is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
James Baldwin The Cross of Redemption: Uncollected Writings, Tell Me How Long the Train's Been Gone

6
82 37
Mark Twain is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
looksharp added Mark Twain Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court

7
47 16
G. K. Chesterton is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Andrew C. Durbin added G. K. Chesterton The Man Who Was Thursday, The Napoleon of Notting Hill, The Everlasting Man

8
146 90
Christopher Hitchens is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Christopher Hitchens God Is Not Great

9
57 25
Francis Bacon is listed (or ranked) 9 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
JohnJ.ScullyJr. added Francis Bacon Novum organum, New Atlantis, Of the Proficience and Advancement of Learning

10
73 38
Virginia Woolf is listed (or ranked) 10 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Virginia Woolf To the Lighthouse, Mrs. Dalloway, Orlando: A Biography

11
66 34
Joan Didion is listed (or ranked) 11 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Joan Didion Slouching Towards Bethlehem, Play It As It Lays, The Year of Magical Thinking

12
32 8
Charles Lamb is listed (or ranked) 12 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
looksharp added Charles Lamb The prose works of Charles Lamb, The Essays of Elia, The last essays of Elia

13
52 24
William Hazlitt is listed (or ranked) 13 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
looksharp added William Hazlitt Characters of Shakespear's Plays, The Doubtful Plays Of William Shakespeare, On the Pleasure of Hating

14
43 17
David Hume is listed (or ranked) 14 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
erdos1 added David Hume An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, Four Dissertations, Essays

The Most Unbearably Pretentious Authors In Literary History

15
37 13
Jorge Luis Borges is listed (or ranked) 15 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
erdos1 added Jorge Luis Borges Labyrinths, Ficciones, The Aleph

16
48 22
T. S. Eliot is listed (or ranked) 16 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
looksharp added T. S. Eliot The Waste Land, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats

17
25 5
C. S. Lewis is listed (or ranked) 17 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
harry adams added C. S. Lewis The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, The Screwtape Letters

18
36 17
Arthur Schopenhauer is listed (or ranked) 18 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
erdos1 added Arthur Schopenhauer On the Suffering of the World, The World as Will and Representation, The Art of Being Right

19
45 28
Susan Sontag is listed (or ranked) 19 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Susan Sontag Duet for Cannibals, Promised Lands, Brother Carl

20
57 40
David Foster Wallace is listed (or ranked) 20 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
David Foster Wallace nfinite Jest, The Pale King, A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again

21
13 2
Bertrand Russell is listed (or ranked) 21 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
asthasr added Bertrand Russell A History of Western Philosophy, The Analysis of Mind, Why I Am Not a Christian

The Best Biographical Novels Ever Written

22
16 5
Leo Tolstoy is listed (or ranked) 22 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
ThanhPham added Leo Tolstoy Anna Karenina, War and Peace, The Death of Ivan Ilyich

23
31 19
Victor Hugo is listed (or ranked) 23 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Victor Hugo Les Misérables, The Hunchback of Notre Dame

24
31 19
Benjamin Franklin is listed (or ranked) 24 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
looksharp added Benjamin Franklin The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, Poor Richard's Almanack, Compleated Autobiography by Benjamin Franklin

25
23 13
Matthew Arnold is listed (or ranked) 25 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
looksharp added Matthew Arnold Poems of Wordsworth, guide to English literature and Essay on Gray, Matthew Arnold's books

26
23 14
Henry James is listed (or ranked) 26 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
looksharp added Henry James The Turn of the Screw, The Portrait of a Lady, The Golden Bowl

27
10 2
Jonathan Swift is listed (or ranked) 27 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Jonathan Swift Gulliver's Travels, Gulliver's Travels, A Tale of a Tub

28
19 11
Jacques Barzun is listed (or ranked) 28 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
looksharp added Jacques Barzun A Catalogue of Crime: A Reader's Guide to the Literature of Mystery, Detection, and Related Genres

23 History-Filled Bars And Pubs Where Famous Writers Hung Out

29
20 12
Joseph Addison is listed (or ranked) 29 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
erdos1 added Joseph Addison The evidences of the Christian religion, The doctrine of the passions explained and improved, The vision of Mirzah

30
24 18
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
21 16
Ralph Ellison is listed (or ranked) 31 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Konnoisseur411 added Ralph Ellison Invisible Man, The collected essays of Ralph Ellison, Shadow and Act

32
24 21
F. Scott Fitzgerald is listed (or ranked) 32 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
looksharp added F. Scott Fitzgerald The Great Gatsby, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, This Side of Paradise

33
24 21
Zadie Smith is listed (or ranked) 33 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Zadie Smith Piece of Flesh, The May Anthologies

34
23 20
Clive James is listed (or ranked) 34 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Clive James Cultural Amnesia, Unreliable Memoirs

35
12 10
William H. Gass is listed (or ranked) 35 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
erdos1 added William H. Gass Late Harvest, Habitations of the Word, Test of Time

The Best Books Written Under Pen Names

36
28 28
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
16 15
Cynthia Ozick is listed (or ranked) 37 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Cynthia Ozick Fame & Folly: Essays, Quarrel & Quandary, The Din in the Head: Essays

38
14 13
Yukio Mishima is listed (or ranked) 38 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Yukio Mishima Confessions of a Mask, Acts of Worship

39
22 22
Annie Dillard is listed (or ranked) 39 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Annie Dillard Late Harvest, For the Time Being, Annie Dillard Reader

40
11 10
John Updike is listed (or ranked) 40 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
erdos1 added John Updike Rabbit, Run, Rabbit Redux

41
6 7
Dubravka Ugrešić is listed (or ranked) 41 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Tenya added Dubravka Ugrešić In the Jaws of Life, Kultura laži, Thank you for not reading

42
18 21
Martin Amis is listed (or ranked) 42 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Martin Amis Experience, Time's Arrow, Yellow Dog

1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die

43
12 15
George Saunders is listed (or ranked) 43 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
George Saunders Tenth of December: Stories

44
5 7
Václav Havel is listed (or ranked) 44 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
ThanhPham added Václav Havel Letters to Olga, Politics and Conscience, The Art of the Impossible

45
7 10
Willa Cather is listed (or ranked) 45 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
looksharp added Willa Cather Death Comes for the Archbishop, A Lost Lady, My Ántonia

46
9 14
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
8 13
Joseph Epstein is listed (or ranked) 47 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
looksharp added Joseph Epstein Snobbery: The American Version, Pertinent Players, Friendship: An Exposé

48
7 12
Gretel Ehrlich is listed (or ranked) 48 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Gretel Ehrlich To Touch the Water, Heart Mountain

49
11 17
Nora Ephron is listed (or ranked) 49 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

50
6 11
Camilo Castelo Branco is listed (or ranked) 50 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Camilo Castelo Branco Mistérios de Lisboa, Amor de Perdição