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History's Greatest Essayists

Updated February 14, 2020 5.9k votes 1.4k voters 58.6k 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
    George Orwell is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
    427
    100

    George Orwell

    1984, Animal Farm
  • 2
    Michel de Montaigne is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
    250
    56

    Michel de Montaigne

    The Essays of Michel de Montaigne
  • 3
    Ralph Waldo Emerson is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
    157
    47

    Ralph Waldo Emerson

    The fortune of the Republic, English traits
  • 4
    Samuel Johnson is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
    133
    40

    Samuel Johnson

    A Dictionary of the English Language, Samuel Johnson's Dictionary: Selections from the 1755 Work That Defined the English Language
  • 5
    James Baldwin is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
    131
    46

    James Baldwin

    The Cross of Redemption: Uncollected Writings, Tell Me How Long the Train's Been Gone
  • 6
    Christopher Hitchens is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
    196
    111

    Christopher Hitchens

    God Is Not Great
  • 7
    Francis Bacon is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
    96
    34

    Francis Bacon

    Novum organum, New Atlantis
  • 8
    Mark Twain is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
    117
    51

    Mark Twain

    Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
  • 9
    G. K. Chesterton is listed (or ranked) 9 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
    86
    27

    G. K. Chesterton

    The Man Who Was Thursday, The Napoleon of Notting Hill
  • 10
    F. Scott Fitzgerald is listed (or ranked) 10 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
    74
    22

    F. Scott Fitzgerald

    The Great Gatsby, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
  • 11
    Flannery O'Connor is listed (or ranked) 11 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
    71
    20

    Flannery O'Connor

    Collected Works: Wise Blood, A Good Man Is Hard to Find
  • 12
    David Hume is listed (or ranked) 12 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
    68
    24

    David Hume

    An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, Four Dissertations
  • 13
    Joan Didion is listed (or ranked) 13 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
    92
    46

    Joan Didion

    Slouching Towards Bethlehem, Play It As It Lays
  • 14
    C. S. Lewis is listed (or ranked) 14 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
    68
    24

    C. S. Lewis

    The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
  • 15
    Virginia Woolf is listed (or ranked) 15 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
    95
    50

    Virginia Woolf

    To the Lighthouse, Mrs. Dalloway
  • 16
    Bertrand Russell is listed (or ranked) 16 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
    55
    15

    Bertrand Russell

    A History of Western Philosophy, The Analysis of Mind
  • 17
    Jorge Luis Borges is listed (or ranked) 17 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
    60
    20

    Jorge Luis Borges

    Labyrinths, Ficciones
  • 18
    William Hazlitt is listed (or ranked) 18 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
    67
    31

    William Hazlitt

    Characters of Shakespear's Plays, The Doubtful Plays Of William Shakespeare
  • 19
    David Foster Wallace is listed (or ranked) 19 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
    86
    50

    David Foster Wallace

    nfinite Jest, The Pale King
  • 20
    T. S. Eliot is listed (or ranked) 20 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
    63
    29

    T. S. Eliot

    The Waste Land, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock
  • 21
    Charles Lamb is listed (or ranked) 21 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
    48
    17

    Charles Lamb

    The prose works of Charles Lamb, The Essays of Elia
  • 22
    Susan Sontag is listed (or ranked) 22 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
    65
    34

    Susan Sontag

    Duet for Cannibals, Promised Lands
  • 23
    Leo Tolstoy is listed (or ranked) 23 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
    40
    12

    Leo Tolstoy

    Anna Karenina, War and Peace
  • 24
    Arthur Schopenhauer is listed (or ranked) 24 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
    49
    23

    Arthur Schopenhauer

    On the Suffering of the World, The World as Will and Representation
  • 25
    Matthew Arnold is listed (or ranked) 25 on the list History's Greatest Essayists
    60
    37

    Matthew Arnold

    Poems of Wordsworth, guide to English literature and Essay on Gray
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