Authors History's Greatest Essayists  

Ranker Books
3.9k votes 952 voters 44.8k 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!
list ordered by

1
297 78
George Orwell is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
1984, Animal Farm

2
176 44
Michel de Montaigne is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
The Essays of Michel de Montaigne

3
91 29
Samuel Johnson is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
looksharp added 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
114 45
Ralph Waldo Emerson is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
JeremyEbbink added The fortune of the Republic, English traits, Representative Men

5
102 42
James Baldwin is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
The Cross of Redemption: Uncollected Writings, Tell Me How Long the Train's Been Gone

6
98 41
Mark Twain is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
looksharp added Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court

7
61 21
G. K. Chesterton is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Andrew C. Durbin added The Man Who Was Thursday, The Napoleon of Notting Hill, The Everlasting Man

8
70 28
Francis Bacon is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
JohnJ.ScullyJr. added Novum organum, New Atlantis, Of the Proficience and Advancement of Learning

9
39 8
C. S. Lewis is listed (or ranked) 9 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
harry adams added The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, The Screwtape Letters

10
78 36
Joan Didion is listed (or ranked) 10 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Slouching Towards Bethlehem, Play It As It Lays, The Year of Magical Thinking

11
39 9
Charles Lamb is listed (or ranked) 11 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
looksharp added The prose works of Charles Lamb, The Essays of Elia, The last essays of Elia

12
164 100
Christopher Hitchens is listed (or ranked) 12 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
God Is Not Great

13
83 42
Virginia Woolf is listed (or ranked) 13 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
To the Lighthouse, Mrs. Dalloway, Orlando: A Biography

14
52 20
David Hume is listed (or ranked) 14 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
erdos1 added An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, Four Dissertations, Essays

15
45 15
Jorge Luis Borges is listed (or ranked) 15 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
erdos1 added Labyrinths, Ficciones, The Aleph

16
57 26
William Hazlitt is listed (or ranked) 16 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
looksharp added Characters of Shakespear's Plays, The Doubtful Plays Of William Shakespeare, On the Pleasure of Hating

17
54 25
T. S. Eliot is listed (or ranked) 17 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
looksharp added The Waste Land, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats

18
72 43
David Foster Wallace is listed (or ranked) 18 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
nfinite Jest, The Pale King, A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again

19
41 20
Arthur Schopenhauer is listed (or ranked) 19 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
erdos1 added On the Suffering of the World, The World as Will and Representation, The Art of Being Right

20
51 31
Susan Sontag is listed (or ranked) 20 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Duet for Cannibals, Promised Lands, Brother Carl

21
37 21
Benjamin Franklin is listed (or ranked) 21 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
looksharp added The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, Poor Richard's Almanack, Compleated Autobiography by Benjamin Franklin

22
21 7
Leo Tolstoy is listed (or ranked) 22 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
ThanhPham added Anna Karenina, War and Peace, The Death of Ivan Ilyich

23
19 6
Bertrand Russell is listed (or ranked) 23 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
asthasr added A History of Western Philosophy, The Analysis of Mind, Why I Am Not a Christian

24
33 19
Victor Hugo is listed (or ranked) 24 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Les Misérables, The Hunchback of Notre Dame

25
15 3
Jonathan Swift is listed (or ranked) 25 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
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 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 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
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 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 The Turn of the Screw, The Portrait of a Lady, The Golden Bowl

31
25 17
Ralph Ellison is listed (or ranked) 31 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Konnoisseur411 added 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 The Great Gatsby, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, This Side of Paradise

33
25 23
Annie Dillard is listed (or ranked) 33 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Late Harvest, For the Time Being, Annie Dillard Reader

34
25 23
Zadie Smith is listed (or ranked) 34 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Piece of Flesh, The May Anthologies

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

36
16 14
Yukio Mishima is listed (or ranked) 36 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
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 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 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
Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls, Dress Your Children In Corduroy and Denim, Naked

40
2 1
Aldous Huxley is listed (or ranked) 40 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Gary Linton added Alice in Wonderland, Brave New World, Pride and Prejudice

41
16 17
Cynthia Ozick is listed (or ranked) 41 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Fame & Folly: Essays, Quarrel & Quandary, The Din in the Head: Essays

42
19 21
Martin Amis is listed (or ranked) 42 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Experience, Time's Arrow, Yellow Dog

43
11 12
John Updike is listed (or ranked) 43 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
erdos1 added Rabbit, Run, Rabbit Redux

44
6 7
Václav Havel is listed (or ranked) 44 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
ThanhPham added Letters to Olga, Politics and Conscience, The Art of the Impossible

45
13 16
George Saunders is listed (or ranked) 45 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Tenth of December: Stories

46
6 8
Dubravka Ugrešić is listed (or ranked) 46 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Tenya added In the Jaws of Life, Kultura laži, Thank you for not reading

47
10 13
Joseph Epstein is listed (or ranked) 47 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
looksharp added 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 Death Comes for the Archbishop, A Lost Lady, My Ántonia

49
10 15
Phillip Lopate is listed (or ranked) 49 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
achelorhood, Against Joie de Vivre, Portrait of My Body

50
9 14
Geoff Dyer is listed (or ranked) 50 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Geoff Dyer But Beautiful: A Book about Jazz