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History's Greatest Essayists

Updated February 14, 2020 5.7k votes 1.5k voters 62.4k views78 items

List RulesThe 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!
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  • 1
    460
    104

    George Orwell

    1984, Animal Farm
  • 2
    281
    56

    Michel de Montaigne

    The Essays of Michel de Montaigne
  • 3
    173
    46

    Ralph Waldo Emerson

    The fortune of the Republic, English traits
  • 4
    153
    43

    James Baldwin

    The Cross of Redemption: Uncollected Writings, Tell Me How Long the Train's Been Gone
  • 5
    139
    45

    Samuel Johnson

    A Dictionary of the English Language, Samuel Johnson's Dictionary: Selections from the 1755 Work That Defined the English Language
  • 6
    98
    28

    G. K. Chesterton

    The Man Who Was Thursday, The Napoleon of Notting Hill
  • 7
    127
    51

    Mark Twain

    Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
  • 8
    102
    34

    Francis Bacon

    Novum organum, New Atlantis
  • 9
    211
    117

    Christopher Hitchens

    God Is Not Great
  • 10
    108
    44

    Joan Didion

    Slouching Towards Bethlehem, Play It As It Lays
  • 11
    75
    20

    Bertrand Russell

    A History of Western Philosophy, The Analysis of Mind
  • 12
    75
    22

    C. S. Lewis

    The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
  • 13
    64
    21

    Jorge Luis Borges

    Labyrinths, Ficciones
  • 14
    77
    34

    Susan Sontag

    Duet for Cannibals, Promised Lands
  • 15
    92
    50

    David Foster Wallace

    nfinite Jest, The Pale King
  • 16
    67
    28

    T. S. Eliot

    The Waste Land, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock
  • 17
    66
    29

    William Hazlitt

    Characters of Shakespear's Plays, The Doubtful Plays Of William Shakespeare
  • 18
    51
    15

    Charles Lamb

    The prose works of Charles Lamb, The Essays of Elia
  • 19
    54
    22

    Arthur Schopenhauer

    On the Suffering of the World, The World as Will and Representation
  • 20
    49
    20

    Benjamin Franklin

    The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, Poor Richard's Almanack
  • 21
    69
    52

    David Hume

    An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, Four Dissertations
  • 22
    25
    5

    Aldous Huxley

    Alice in Wonderland, Brave New World
  • 23
    44
    25

    Leo Tolstoy

    Anna Karenina, War and Peace
  • 24
    30
    12

    Jonathan Swift

    Gulliver's Travels, Gulliver's Travels
  • 25
    35
    18

    Victor Hugo

    Les Misérables, The Hunchback of Notre Dame