Authors History's Greatest Essayists  

Ranker Books
3.8k votes 919 voters 43.7k views 73 items

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
282 75
George Orwell is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
George Orwell 1984, Animal Farm

2
174 43
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
91 28
Samuel Johnson is listed (or ranked) 3 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

4
110 44
Ralph Waldo Emerson is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
JeremyEbbink added Ralph Waldo Emerson The fortune of the Republic, English traits, Representative Men

5
98 42
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
93 41
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
60 21
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
68 28
Francis Bacon is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
JohnJ.ScullyJr. added Francis Bacon Novum organum, New Atlantis, Of the Proficience and Advancement of Learning

9
38 7
C. S. Lewis is listed (or ranked) 9 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
harry adams added C. S. Lewis The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, The Screwtape Letters

10
39 9
Charles Lamb is listed (or ranked) 10 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

11
162 99
Christopher Hitchens is listed (or ranked) 11 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Christopher Hitchens God Is Not Great

12
52 19
David Hume is listed (or ranked) 12 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
erdos1 added David Hume An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, Four Dissertations, Essays

13
82 42
Virginia Woolf is listed (or ranked) 13 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Virginia Woolf To the Lighthouse, Mrs. Dalloway, Orlando: A Biography

14
73 36
Joan Didion is listed (or ranked) 14 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Joan Didion Slouching Towards Bethlehem, Play It As It Lays, The Year of Magical Thinking

15
54 24
T. S. Eliot is listed (or ranked) 15 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

16
42 15
Jorge Luis Borges is listed (or ranked) 16 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
erdos1 added Jorge Luis Borges Labyrinths, Ficciones, The Aleph

17
54 25
William Hazlitt is listed (or ranked) 17 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

18
40 20
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
66 43
David Foster Wallace is listed (or ranked) 19 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
David Foster Wallace nfinite Jest, The Pale King, A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again

20
20 6
Leo Tolstoy is listed (or ranked) 20 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
ThanhPham added Leo Tolstoy Anna Karenina, War and Peace, The Death of Ivan Ilyich

21
48 31
Susan Sontag is listed (or ranked) 21 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Susan Sontag Duet for Cannibals, Promised Lands, Brother Carl

22
36 21
Benjamin Franklin is listed (or ranked) 22 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

23
33 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
17 5
Bertrand Russell is listed (or ranked) 24 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

25
14 3
Jonathan Swift is listed (or ranked) 25 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Jonathan Swift Gulliver's Travels, Gulliver's Travels, A Tale of a Tub

26
23 13
Joseph Addison is listed (or ranked) 26 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

27
24 15
Matthew Arnold is listed (or ranked) 27 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

28
28 19
Flannery O'Connor is listed (or ranked) 28 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

29
20 12
Jacques Barzun is listed (or ranked) 29 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

30
23 15
Henry James is listed (or ranked) 30 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
looksharp added Henry James The Turn of the Screw, The Portrait of a Lady, The Golden Bowl

31
23 17
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
26 22
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
25 22
Zadie Smith is listed (or ranked) 33 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Zadie Smith Piece of Flesh, The May Anthologies

34
25 23
Annie Dillard is listed (or ranked) 34 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Annie Dillard Late Harvest, For the Time Being, Annie Dillard Reader

35
24 22
Clive James is listed (or ranked) 35 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Clive James Cultural Amnesia, Unreliable Memoirs

36
16 14
Yukio Mishima is listed (or ranked) 36 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Yukio Mishima Confessions of a Mask, Acts of Worship

37
13 12
William H. Gass is listed (or ranked) 37 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
erdos1 added William H. Gass Late Harvest, Habitations of the Word, Test of Time

38
2 0
Graham Greene is listed (or ranked) 38 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Bobby Beaton added Graham Greene The Third Man, The Fallen Idol, The Power and the Glory

39
30 31
David Sedaris is listed (or ranked) 39 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
David Sedaris Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls, Dress Your Children In Corduroy and Denim, Naked

40
16 17
Cynthia Ozick is listed (or ranked) 40 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Cynthia Ozick Fame & Folly: Essays, Quarrel & Quandary, The Din in the Head: Essays

41
19 21
Martin Amis is listed (or ranked) 41 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Martin Amis Experience, Time's Arrow, Yellow Dog

42
11 12
John Updike is listed (or ranked) 42 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
erdos1 added John Updike Rabbit, Run, Rabbit Redux

43
1 1
Aldous Huxley is listed (or ranked) 43 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Gary Linton added Aldous Huxley Alice in Wonderland, Brave New World, Pride and Prejudice

44
13 16
George Saunders is listed (or ranked) 44 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
George Saunders Tenth of December: Stories

45
6 8
Dubravka Ugrešić is listed (or ranked) 45 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Tenya added Dubravka Ugrešić In the Jaws of Life, Kultura laži, Thank you for not reading

46
5 7
Václav Havel is listed (or ranked) 46 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
ThanhPham added Václav Havel Letters to Olga, Politics and Conscience, The Art of the Impossible

47
10 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
8 11
Willa Cather is listed (or ranked) 48 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
looksharp added Willa Cather Death Comes for the Archbishop, A Lost Lady, My Ántonia

49
9 14
Geoff Dyer is listed (or ranked) 49 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Geoff Dyer But Beautiful: A Book about Jazz

50
8 13
Gretel Ehrlich is listed (or ranked) 50 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Gretel Ehrlich To Touch the Water, Heart Mountain