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History's Greatest Essayists

Updated February 14, 2020 6.1k votes 1.4k voters 59.4k 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
    441
    105

    George Orwell

    1984, Animal Farm
  • 2
    Michel de Montaigne
    267
    56

    Michel de Montaigne

    The Essays of Michel de Montaigne
  • 3
    Ralph Waldo Emerson
    167
    47

    Ralph Waldo Emerson

    The fortune of the Republic, English traits
  • 4
    Samuel Johnson
    139
    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
    136
    46

    James Baldwin

    The Cross of Redemption: Uncollected Writings, Tell Me How Long the Train's Been Gone
  • 6
    Francis Bacon
    101
    34

    Francis Bacon

    Novum organum, New Atlantis
  • 7
    Christopher Hitchens
    206
    114

    Christopher Hitchens

    God Is Not Great
  • 8
    Mark Twain
    123
    51

    Mark Twain

    Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
  • 9
    G. K. Chesterton
    92
    29

    G. K. Chesterton

    The Man Who Was Thursday, The Napoleon of Notting Hill
  • 10
    Flannery O'Connor
    74
    20

    Flannery O'Connor

    Collected Works: Wise Blood, A Good Man Is Hard to Find
  • 11
    F. Scott Fitzgerald
    77
    24

    F. Scott Fitzgerald

    The Great Gatsby, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
  • 12
    Joan Didion
    98
    46

    Joan Didion

    Slouching Towards Bethlehem, Play It As It Lays
  • 13
    David Hume
    72
    24

    David Hume

    An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, Four Dissertations
  • 14
    C. S. Lewis
    72
    24

    C. S. Lewis

    The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
  • 15
    Bertrand Russell
    61
    15

    Bertrand Russell

    A History of Western Philosophy, The Analysis of Mind
  • 16
    Virginia Woolf
    98
    50

    Virginia Woolf

    To the Lighthouse, Mrs. Dalloway
  • 17
    Jorge Luis Borges
    63
    22

    Jorge Luis Borges

    Labyrinths, Ficciones
  • 18
    William Hazlitt
    70
    31

    William Hazlitt

    Characters of Shakespear's Plays, The Doubtful Plays Of William Shakespeare
  • 19
    David Foster Wallace
    90
    50

    David Foster Wallace

    nfinite Jest, The Pale King
  • 20
    T. S. Eliot
    66
    29

    T. S. Eliot

    The Waste Land, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock
  • 21
    Susan Sontag
    70
    34

    Susan Sontag

    Duet for Cannibals, Promised Lands
  • 22
    Charles Lamb
    51
    17

    Charles Lamb

    The prose works of Charles Lamb, The Essays of Elia
  • 23
    Leo Tolstoy
    43
    12

    Leo Tolstoy

    Anna Karenina, War and Peace
  • 24
    Arthur Schopenhauer
    52
    23

    Arthur Schopenhauer

    On the Suffering of the World, The World as Will and Representation
  • 25
    Benjamin Franklin
    47
    21

    Benjamin Franklin

    The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, Poor Richard's Almanack