Authors History's Greatest Essayists  

Ranker Books
4k votes 989 voters 46.2k views 74 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
315 80
George Orwell is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
1984, Animal Farm

2
184 44
Michel de Montaigne is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
The Essays of Michel de Montaigne

3
96 30
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
118 46
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
103 42
Mark Twain is listed (or ranked) 5 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

6
104 43
James Baldwin is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
The Cross of Redemption: Uncollected Writings, Tell Me How Long the Train's Been Gone

7
62 22
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
72 29
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
42 9
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
41 9
Charles Lamb is listed (or ranked) 10 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
looksharp added The prose works of Charles Lamb, The Essays of Elia, The last essays of Elia

11
167 101
Christopher Hitchens is listed (or ranked) 11 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
God Is Not Great

12
55 20
David Hume is listed (or ranked) 12 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
erdos1 added An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, Four Dissertations, Essays

13
85 44
Virginia Woolf is listed (or ranked) 13 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
To the Lighthouse, Mrs. Dalloway, Orlando: A Biography

14
78 39
Joan Didion is listed (or ranked) 14 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Slouching Towards Bethlehem, Play It As It Lays, The Year of Magical Thinking

15
46 16
Jorge Luis Borges is listed (or ranked) 15 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
erdos1 added Labyrinths, Ficciones, The Aleph

16
60 27
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
55 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
75 45
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 21
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
22 6
Bertrand Russell is listed (or ranked) 20 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
asthasr added A History of Western Philosophy, The Analysis of Mind, Why I Am Not a Christian

21
39 22
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
23 8
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
51 33
Susan Sontag is listed (or ranked) 23 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Duet for Cannibals, Promised Lands, Brother Carl

24
17 4
Jonathan Swift is listed (or ranked) 24 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Gulliver's Travels, Gulliver's Travels, A Tale of a Tub

25
33 20
Victor Hugo is listed (or ranked) 25 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Les Misérables, The Hunchback of Notre Dame

26
25 14
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 16
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
29 21
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
25 18
Ralph Ellison is listed (or ranked) 29 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Konnoisseur411 added Invisible Man, The collected essays of Ralph Ellison, Shadow and Act

30
23 16
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
20 13
Jacques Barzun is listed (or ranked) 31 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

32
27 23
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 22
Clive James is listed (or ranked) 33 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Cultural Amnesia, Unreliable Memoirs

34
3 0
Graham Greene is listed (or ranked) 34 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Bobby Beaton added The Third Man, The Fallen Idol, The Power and the Glory

35
16 15
Yukio Mishima is listed (or ranked) 35 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Confessions of a Mask, Acts of Worship

36
14 13
William H. Gass is listed (or ranked) 36 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
erdos1 added Late Harvest, Habitations of the Word, Test of Time

37
3 1
Aldous Huxley is listed (or ranked) 37 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Gary Linton added Alice in Wonderland, Brave New World, Pride and Prejudice

38
25 26
Zadie Smith is listed (or ranked) 38 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Piece of Flesh, The May Anthologies

39
25 26
Annie Dillard is listed (or ranked) 39 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Late Harvest, For the Time Being, Annie Dillard Reader

40
20 21
Martin Amis is listed (or ranked) 40 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Experience, Time's Arrow, Yellow Dog

41
30 33
David Sedaris is listed (or ranked) 41 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls, Dress Your Children In Corduroy and Denim, Naked

42
12 13
John Updike is listed (or ranked) 42 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
erdos1 added Rabbit, Run, Rabbit Redux

43
16 18
Cynthia Ozick is listed (or ranked) 43 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Fame & Folly: Essays, Quarrel & Quandary, The Din in the Head: Essays

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
14 17
George Saunders is listed (or ranked) 45 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Tenth of December: Stories

46
0 1
Giacomo Leopardi is listed (or ranked) 46 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
F.B. Oleandro added Pensieri, Detti memorabili di Filippo Ottonieri, Scritti e frammenti autobiografici

47
6 9
Dubravka Ugrešić is listed (or ranked) 47 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Tenya added In the Jaws of Life, Kultura laži, Thank you for not reading

48
10 14
Joseph Epstein is listed (or ranked) 48 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
looksharp added Snobbery: The American Version, Pertinent Players, Friendship: An Exposé

49
8 12
Willa Cather is listed (or ranked) 49 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
looksharp added Death Comes for the Archbishop, A Lost Lady, My Ántonia

50
9 14
Gretel Ehrlich is listed (or ranked) 50 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
To Touch the Water, Heart Mountain