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
223 63
George Orwell is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
George Orwell 1984, Animal Farm

The Most Unbearably Pretentious Authors In Literary History The Best Novels Written by Famous Actors

2
146 32
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
72 22
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
90 35
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
79 35
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
75 35
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
41 11
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
63 31
Joan Didion is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Joan Didion Slouching Towards Bethlehem, Play It As It Lays, The Year of Magical Thinking

9
51 22
William Hazlitt is listed (or ranked) 9 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

10
133 85
Christopher Hitchens is listed (or ranked) 10 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Christopher Hitchens God Is Not Great

11
52 23
Francis Bacon is listed (or ranked) 11 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
JohnJ.ScullyJr. added Francis Bacon Novum organum, New Atlantis, Of the Proficience and Advancement of Learning

12
66 35
Virginia Woolf is listed (or ranked) 12 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Virginia Woolf To the Lighthouse, Mrs. Dalloway, Orlando: A Biography

13
44 20
T. S. Eliot is listed (or ranked) 13 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

14
28 8
Charles Lamb is listed (or ranked) 14 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

15
37 16
David Hume is listed (or ranked) 15 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
erdos1 added David Hume An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, Four Dissertations, Essays

23 History-Filled Bars And Pubs Where Famous Writers Hung Out The Best Movies Based on Short Stories

16
30 12
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
20 4
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
32 16
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
56 38
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
29 16
Benjamin Franklin is listed (or ranked) 20 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

21
23 11
Matthew Arnold is listed (or ranked) 21 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

22
28 16
Victor Hugo is listed (or ranked) 22 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Victor Hugo Les Misérables, The Hunchback of Notre Dame

23
39 27
Susan Sontag is listed (or ranked) 23 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Susan Sontag Duet for Cannibals, Promised Lands, Brother Carl

24
19 9
Jacques Barzun is listed (or ranked) 24 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

25
21 13
Henry James is listed (or ranked) 25 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
looksharp added Henry James The Turn of the Screw, The Portrait of a Lady, The Golden Bowl

26
8 1
Jonathan Swift is listed (or ranked) 26 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Jonathan Swift Gulliver's Travels, Gulliver's Travels, A Tale of a Tub

27
18 11
Joseph Addison is listed (or ranked) 27 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

28
6 1
Bertrand Russell is listed (or ranked) 28 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

29
23 19
Clive James is listed (or ranked) 29 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Clive James Cultural Amnesia, Unreliable Memoirs

20 Books to Read in Your 20s The Best Things About Fall

30
21 17
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
12 8
William H. Gass is listed (or ranked) 31 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
erdos1 added William H. Gass Late Harvest, Habitations of the Word, Test of Time

32
8 4
Leo Tolstoy is listed (or ranked) 32 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
ThanhPham added Leo Tolstoy Anna Karenina, War and Peace, The Death of Ivan Ilyich

33
22 19
Zadie Smith is listed (or ranked) 33 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Zadie Smith Piece of Flesh, The May Anthologies

34
21 18
F. Scott Fitzgerald is listed (or ranked) 34 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

35
10 8
John Updike is listed (or ranked) 35 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
erdos1 added John Updike Rabbit, Run, Rabbit Redux

36
17 16
Ralph Ellison is listed (or ranked) 36 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Konnoisseur411 added Ralph Ellison Invisible Man, The collected essays of Ralph Ellison, Shadow and Act

37
26 26
David Sedaris is listed (or ranked) 37 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
David Sedaris Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls, Dress Your Children In Corduroy and Denim, Naked

38
21 21
Annie Dillard is listed (or ranked) 38 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Annie Dillard Late Harvest, For the Time Being, Annie Dillard Reader

39
18 19
Martin Amis is listed (or ranked) 39 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Martin Amis Experience, Time's Arrow, Yellow Dog

40
13 14
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
11 12
Yukio Mishima is listed (or ranked) 41 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Yukio Mishima Confessions of a Mask, Acts of Worship

42
5 6
Dubravka Ugrešić is listed (or ranked) 42 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Tenya added Dubravka Ugrešić In the Jaws of Life, Kultura laži, Thank you for not reading

43
11 13
George Saunders is listed (or ranked) 43 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
George Saunders Tenth of December: Stories

The Best Rolling Stone Covers The Best and Worst Disney Animated Movies

44
3 6
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
8 12
Joseph Epstein is listed (or ranked) 45 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
looksharp added Joseph Epstein Snobbery: The American Version, Pertinent Players, Friendship: An Exposé

46
6 10
Camilo Castelo Branco is listed (or ranked) 46 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Camilo Castelo Branco Mistérios de Lisboa, Amor de Perdição

47
6 10
Willa Cather is listed (or ranked) 47 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
looksharp added Willa Cather Death Comes for the Archbishop, A Lost Lady, My Ántonia

48
3 7
Simon Leys is listed (or ranked) 48 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
erdos1 added Simon Leys

49
8 13
Phillip Lopate is listed (or ranked) 49 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Phillip Lopate achelorhood, Against Joie de Vivre, Portrait of My Body

50
7 12
Geoff Dyer is listed (or ranked) 50 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Geoff Dyer But Beautiful: A Book about Jazz