Writers History's Greatest Essayists  

Ranker Books
4.2k votes 1k voters 48.4k views 76 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
334 85
George Orwell is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
1984, Animal Farm

2
193 44
Michel de Montaigne is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
The Essays of Michel de Montaigne

3
103 32
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
126 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
113 44
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
107 44
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
67 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
77 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
44 10
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
43 10
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
174 105
Christopher Hitchens is listed (or ranked) 11 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
God Is Not Great

12
57 21
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
88 45
Virginia Woolf is listed (or ranked) 13 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
To the Lighthouse, Mrs. Dalloway, Orlando: A Biography

14
81 40
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
49 17
Jorge Luis Borges is listed (or ranked) 15 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
erdos1 added Labyrinths, Ficciones, The Aleph

16
59 25
T. S. Eliot is listed (or ranked) 16 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

17
61 28
William Hazlitt is listed (or ranked) 17 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

18
28 6
Bertrand Russell is listed (or ranked) 18 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
asthasr added A History of Western Philosophy, The Analysis of Mind, Why I Am Not a Christian

19
80 48
David Foster Wallace is listed (or ranked) 19 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
nfinite Jest, The Pale King, A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again

20
42 21
Arthur Schopenhauer is listed (or ranked) 20 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

21
54 33
Susan Sontag is listed (or ranked) 21 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
Duet for Cannibals, Promised Lands, Brother Carl

22
24 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
39 22
Benjamin Franklin is listed (or ranked) 23 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
looksharp added The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, Poor Richard's Almanack, Compleated Autobiography by Benjamin Franklin

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