100 Best Nonfiction Books -- Three Lists
Prof. Graves’s Idiosyncratic List of Literary Nonfiction
(now with colored comments)
Hunter S. Thompson
-Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
-Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail
-The Great Shark Hunt
**took reportage to places it had never been
-Kandy-Kolored Tangerine Flake Streamlined Baby
-The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test
-Radical Chic and Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers
-The Right Stuff
**the guy who both coined and embodied The New Journalism
-profile of Ty Cobb
**many people consider this the greatest sports profile ever written. It is.
-Shot in the Heart
-Blood and Grits
**I actually think Crews nonfiction is his best stuff. A Childhood may be the best autobiography I have ever read.
-A Guide for the Undehemorrhoided
-Something About A Soldier
**Willeford was a terrific writer of pulp crime thrillers, but these two books show a master craftsman at work.
-The Orchid Thief
-Fame & Obscurity
-Honor Thy Father
**Talese more or less made an ass of himself with his highly publicized book on sex. His early stuff, however, still sings.
-True Adventures with the King of Bluegrass
**I think the piece I wrote on the first Elvis impersonator, Bill Haney, may be my finest piece of nonfiction. It appeared in the same issue as this article in The Oxford American. But it wasn't my piece people talked about. It was Piazza's piece on Jimmy Martin, bluegrass pioneer and madman.
**His piece on Louise Brooks has intimidated me from ever pushing forward with my own piece on her. His is a classic.
-In Cold Blood
-Music for Chameleons
**work of genius.
-Armies of the Night
-The Executioner’s Song
**The best book I have read on the Vietnam experience.
-Dance With the Devil
**some of the stories are, shall we say, apocryphal, but that doesn't stop them from being great.
-new book on opium trade
**Tosches can be very good, and he can be VERY bad. The bio of Dean Martin absolves him of many sins.
**This book is about so much more than baseball. A touchstone of sorts about the American dream.
-It Came from Memphis
-Be True To Your School
-Billion Dollar Baby
-Going To Extremes
-The Selling of the President
-Charley Simpson’s Apocalypse
-The Old Hotel
-Red Dirt Marijuana
-Slouching Towards Bethlehem
-The White Album
-Do You Sleep In the Nude?
**Reed has fallen from the firmament and fallen hard. But some of these profiles show that this simpering former talk show mainstay had talent once upon a time.
-A Primate’s Memoir
**Sapolsky is a neuroscientist who has studied one troop of baboons in Kenya for over 20 years. Boy does he have stories to tell. What a gifted writer! All science writers should aspire to such literary heights.
-The Autobiography of a Face
**A haunting book about Lucy's lifetime ordeal with cancer of the jaw. Sad, wistful, and beautiful. She was a teacher of mine at Bennington. A few years ago when she learned her cancer had returned, she killed herself.
-Hollywood Babylon I and II
Took Hollywood scandals to a bitchy, unforgettable, artistic high.
-Reverse Angle by John Simon
-1001 Nights at the Movies by Pauline Kael
-The Castle of Indolence by Thomas M. Disch
-various by music critic Dave Marsh
Books on Writing
-The Elements of Style by Strunk and White
-The Writer's Art by James J. Kilpatrick
-Paradigms Lost by John Simon
**Rolling Stone magazine probably published more creative journalism in its early heyday than any other publication. Worth getting, but hard to find, are various anthologies the magazine put together over the years. Especially worth seeking out are the Rolling Stone articles on Bobby Fischer and Mark Spitz.
100 Best Nonfiction Books
As Chosen by The Modern Library
**These are some moldy oldies. I suppose it is good that someone has created a pantheon of great nonfiction writing, but these lean far more towards historical than literary importance, in my judgment.
1. THE EDUCATION OF HENRY ADAMS by Henry Adams*
2. THE VARIETIES OF RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCE by William James*
3. UP FROM SLAVERY by Booker T. Washington*
4. A ROOM OF ONE'S OWN by Virginia Woolf
5. SILENT SPRING by Rachel Carson
6. SELECTED ESSAYS, 1917-1932 by T. S. Eliot
7. THE DOUBLE HELIX by James D. Watson
8. SPEAK, MEMORY by Vladimir Nabokov
9. THE AMERICAN LANGUAGE by H. L. Mencken
10. THE GENERAL THEORY OF EMPLOYMENT, INTEREST, AND MONEY by John Maynard Keynes
11. THE LIVES OF A CELL by Lewis Thomas
12. THE FRONTIER IN AMERICAN HISTORY by Frederick Jackson Turner
13. BLACK BOY by Richard Wright
**I agree with this one.
14. ASPECTS OF THE NOVEL by E. M. Forster
15. THE CIVIL WAR by Shelby Foote*
**Local boy makes good. It doesn't hurt that he also happens to be on the Modern Library selection committee.
16. THE GUNS OF AUGUST by Barbara Tuchman
17. THE PROPER STUDY OF MANKIND by Isaiah Berlin
18. THE NATURE AND DESTINY OF MAN by Reinhold Niebuhr
19. NOTES OF A NATIVE SON by James Baldwin
**Baldwin was a terrific essayist. He deserves deeper reading than the obligatory gestures in college lit. classes.
20. THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF ALICE B. TOKLAS by Gertrude Stein*
21. THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE by William Strunk and E. B. White
22. AN AMERICAN DILEMMA by Gunnar Myrdal
23. PRINCIPIA MATHEMATICA by Alfred North Whitehead and Bertrand Russell
24. THE MISMEASURE OF MAN by Stephen Jay Gould
25. THE MIRROR AND THE LAMP by Meyer Howard Abrams
26. THE ART OF THE SOLUBLE by Peter B. Medawar
27. THE ANTS by Bert Hoelldobler and Edward O. Wilson
28. A THEORY OF JUSTICE by John Rawls
29. ART AND ILLUSION by Ernest H. Gombrich
30. THE MAKING OF THE ENGLISH WORKING CLASS by E. P. Thompson
31. THE SOULS OF BLACK FOLK by W.E.B. Du Bois*
32. PRINCIPIA ETHICA by G. E. Moore
33. PHILOSOPHY AND CIVILIZATION by John Dewey
34. ON GROWTH AND FORM by D'Arcy Thompson*
35. IDEAS AND OPINIONS by Albert Einstein*
36. THE AGE OF JACKSON, Arthur Schlesinger by Jr.
37. THE MAKING OF THE ATOMIC BOMB by Richard Rhodes
38. BLACK LAMB and Grey Falcon by Rebecca West
39. AUTOBIOGRAPHIES by W. B. Yeats
40. SCIENCE AND CIVILIZATION IN CHINA by Joseph Needham
41. GOODBYE TO ALL THAT by Robert Graves
42. HOMAGE TO CATALONIA by George Orwell
43. THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF MARK TWAIN by Mark Twain
**Seems to me there ought to be more Twain here.
44. CHILDREN OF CRISIS by Robert Coles
45. A STUDY OF HISTORY by Arnold J. Toynbee
46. THE AFFLUENT SOCIETY by John Kenneth Galbraith
47. PRESENT AT THE CREATION by Dean Acheson
48. THE GREAT BRIDGE by David McCullough
49. PATRIOTIC GORE by Edmund Wilson
50. SAMUEL JOHNSON by Walter Jackson Bate
51. THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF MALCOLM X by Alex Haley and Malcolm X
**A great, important book, but highly credible biographers dispute much of the mythmaking here.
52. THE RIGHT STUFF by Tom Wolfe
53. EMINENT VICTORIANS by Lytton Strachey*
54. WORKING by Studs Terkel
55. DARKNESS VISIBLE by William Styron
56. THE LIBERAL IMAGINATION by Lionel Trilling
57. THE SECOND WORLD WAR by Winston Churchill
58. OUT OF AFRICA by Isak Dinesen*
59. JEFFERSON AND HIS TIME by Dumas Malone
60. IN THE AMERICAN GRAIN by William Carlos Williams
61. CADILLAC DESERT by Marc Reisner
62. THE HOUSE OF MORGAN by Ron Chernow
63. THE SWEET SCIENCE by A. J. Liebling
**The classic on boxing.
64. THE OPEN SOCIETY AND ITS ENEMIES by Karl Popper
65. THE ART OF MEMORY by Frances A. Yates
66. RELIGION AND THE RISE OF CAPITALISM by R. H. Tawney
67. A PREFACE TO MORALS by Walter Lippmann
68. THE GATE OF HEAVENLY PEACE by Jonathan D. Spence
69. THE STRUCTURE OF SCIENTIFIC REVOLUTIONS by Thomas S. Kuhn
70. THE STRANGE CAREER OF JIM CROW by C. Vann Woodward
71. THE RISE OF THE WEST by William H. McNeill
72. THE GNOSTIC GOSPELS by Elaine Pagels
73. JAMES JOYCE by Richard Ellmann
74. FLORENCE NIGHTINGALE by Cecil Woodham-Smith
75. THE GREAT WAR AND MODERN MEMORY by Paul Fussell
76. THE CITY IN HISTORY by Lewis Mumford
77. BATTLE CRY OF FREEDOM by James M. McPherson
78. WHY WE CAN'T WAIT by Martin Luther King by Jr.
79. THE RISE OF THEODORE ROOSEVELT by Edmund Morris
80. STUDIES IN ICONOLOGY by Erwin Panofsky
81. THE FACE OF BATTLE by John Keegan
82. THE STRANGE DEATH OF LIBERAL ENGLAND by George Dangerfield
83. VERMEER by Lawrence Gowing
84. A BRIGHT SHINING LIE by Neil Sheehan
85. WEST WITH THE NIGHT by Beryl Markham
86. THIS BOY'S LIFE by Tobias Wolff
**This book, like The Duke of Deception by his brother Geoffrey Wolff, is wildly overrated. A good, proficient journeyman book, but not one of the top 100 nonfiction books of the English language.
87. A MATHEMATICIAN'S APOLOGY by G. H. Hardy
88. SIX EASY PIECES by Richard P. Feynman
89. PILGRIM AT TINKER CREEK by Annie Dillard
90. THE GOLDEN BOUGH by James George Frazer
91. SHADOW AND ACT by Ralph Ellison
92. THE POWER BROKER by Robert A. Caro
93. THE AMERICAN POLITICAL TRADITION by Richard Hofstadter
94. THE CONTOURS OF AMERICAN HISTORY by William Appleman Williams
95. THE PROMISE OF AMERICAN LIFE by Herbert Croly
96. IN COLD BLOOD by Truman Capote*
97. THE JOURNALIST AND THE MURDERER by Janet Malcolm
98. THE TAMING OF CHANCE by Ian Hacking
99. OPERATING INSTRUCTIONS by Anne Lamott
100. MELBOURNE by Lord David Cecil
100 Best Nonfiction Books
As Chosen by The Modern Library's Reader Poll
1. THE VIRTUE OF SELFISHNESS by AYN RAND
**Ballot stuffing, pure and simple.
2. DIANETICS:THE MODERN SCIENCE OF MENTAL HEALTH by L. RON HUBBARD
**How much money did it cost the Scientologists for this?
3. OBJECTIVISM: THE PHILOSOPHY OF AYN RAND by LEONARD PEIKOFF
4. 101 THINGS TO DO TIL THE REVOLUTION by CLAIRE WOLFE
5. THE GOD OF THE MACHINE by ISABEL PATERSON
6. AYN RAND: A SENSE OF LIFE by MICHAEL PAXTON
7. THE ULTIMATE RESOURCE by JULIAN SIMON
8. ECONOMICS IN ONE LESSON by HENRY HAZLITT
9. SEND IN THE WACO KILLERS by VIN SUPRYNOWICZ
10. MORE GUNS, LESS CRIME by JOHN R. LOTT
11. PSYCHIATRY: THE ULTIMATE BETRAYAL by BRUCE WISEMAN
12. FINGERPRINTS OF THE GODS by G. HANCOCK
13. CLASSICAL INDIVIDUALISM: THE SUPREME IMPORTANCE OF EACH HUMAN BEING by TIBOR MACHAN
14. FREE TO CHOOSE by MILTON AND ROSE FRIEDMAN
15. AIN'T NOBODY'S BUSINESS IF YOU DO by PETER MCWILLIAMS
16. THE ROAD TO SERFDOM by F. A. HAYEK
17. FREEDOM IN CHAINS by JAMES BOVARD
18. AMERICA'S GREAT DEPRESSION by MURRAY N. ROTHBARD
19. THE ROOSEVELT MYTH by JOHN T. FLYNN
20. THE TRUE BELIEVER by ERIC HOFFER
21. VINDICATING THE FOUNDERS by THOMAS WEST
22. THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE by CARL L. BECKER
23. COGNITIVE THERAPY AND THE EMOTIONAL DISORDERS by AARON T. BECK
24. DEATH BY GOVERNMENT by R. J. RUMMEL
25. A ROOM OF ONE'S OWN by VIRGINIA WOOLF
26. LONGITUDE by DAVA SOBEL
27. ORDINARILY SACRED by LYNDA SEXSON
28. SPEAK, MEMORY by VLADIMIR NABOKOV
29. THE ART OF MEMORY by FRANCES YATES
30. DUMBING US DOWN by JOHN TAYLOR GATTO
31. THE GOLDEN BOUGH by JAMES FRAZER
32. UNDAUNTED COURAGE: MERIWETHER LEWIS, THOMAS JEFFERSON, AND THE OPENING OF THE AMERICAN WEST by STEPHEN E. AMBROSE
33. A MODERN PROPHET by HAROLD KLEMP
34. THE FLUTE OF GOD by PAUL TWITCHELL
35. REAL PRESENCES by GEORGE STEINER
36. OUT OF AFRICA by ISAK DINESEN
37. WAYS OF SEEING by JOHN BERGER
38. THE SHADOW UNIVERSITY: THE BETRAYAL OF LIBERTY ON AMERICA'S CAMPUSES by ALAN CHARLES KORS
39. PROPERTY MATTERS: HOW PROPERTY RIGHTS ARE UNDER ASSAULT AND WHY YOU SHOULD CARE by JAMES V. DE LONG
40. STORMING HEAVEN by JAY STEVENS
41. THE TEXAN by C. S. BARRIOS
42. HOMAGE TO CATALONIA by GEORGE ORWELL
43. THE VARIETIES OF RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCE by WILLIAM JAMES
44. HOW TO LIE WITH STATISTICS by DARRELL HUFF
45. BUT IS IT TRUE? by AARON WILDAVSKY
46. A MATHEMATICIAN READS THE NEWSPAPER by JOHN ALLEN PAULOS
47. ANATOMY OF CRITICISM by NORTHROP FRYE
48. THE MAINSPRING OF HUMAN PROGRESS by HENRY GRADY WEAVER
49. MODERN TIMES by PAUL JOHNSON
50. MEN TO MATCH MY MOUNTAINS by IRVING STONE
51. THE EDUCATION OF HENRY ADAMS by HENRY ADAMS
52. THE GREAT BRIDGE by DAVID MCCULLOUGH
53. AMERICAN GAY by STEPHEN O. MURRAY
54. THE DOUBLE HELIX by JAMES D. WATSON
55. THE SENSE OF AN ENDING by FRANK KERMODE
56. THE GNOSTIC GOSPELS by ELAINE PAGELS
57. EROS THE BITTERSWEET by ANNE CARSON
58. THE WESTERN CANON by HAROLD BLOOM
59. THE WHITE GODDESS by ROBERT GRAVES
60. HEALING OUR WORLD by MARY RUWART
61. SILENT SPRING by RACHEL CARSON
62. PILGRIM AT TINKER CREEK by ANNIE DILLARD
63. SEXUAL PERSONAE by CAMILLE PAGLIA
**I enjoy tinkering around with her ideas, but as a writer Paglia frequently simply bores.
64. THINK AND GROW RICH by NAPOLEON HILL
65. A LIFE OF ONE'S OWN by DAVID KELLEY
66. DOORS OF PERCEPTION by ALDOUS HUXLEY
67. THE DISCOVERY OF FREEDOM by ROSE WILDER LANE
68. MORE LIBERTY MEANS LESS GOVERNMENT by WALTER WILLIAMS
69. LIBERTARIANISM: A PRIMER by DAVID BOAZ
70. BEYOND LIBERAL AND CONSERVATIVE by WILLIAM MADDOX AND STUART LILIE
71. A CONFLICT OF VISIONS: IDEOLOGICAL ORIGINS OF POLITICAL STRUGGLES by THOMAS SOWELL
72. PARLIAMENT OF WHORES by P. J. O'ROURKE
73. SEPARATING SCHOOL AND STATE: HOW TO LIBERATE AMERICA'S FAMILIES by SHELDON RICHMAN
74. THE FUTURE AND ITS ENEMIES by VIRGINIA POSTREL
75. THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE by WILLIAM STRUNK AND E. B. WHITE
76. ORIENTALISM by EDWARD SAID
77. ECOTERROR by RON ARNOLD
78. WHY GOVERNMENT DOESN'T WORK by HARRY BROWNE
79. OUT OF THE CRISIS by W. EDWARDS DEMING
80. NOT OUT OF AFRICA by MARY LEFKOWITZ
81. THE END OF RACISM by DINESH D'SOUZA
82. BEHIND THE MASK by IAN BURUMA
83. IN A DARK WOOD by ALSTON CHASE
84. PRIVATE PARTS by HOWARD STERN
**I confess, I read this. And it's not bad. The movie, however, is downright good.
85. THE TELEPHONE BOOK by AVITAL RONELL
86. THE MINUTEMAN: RESTORING AN ARMY OF THE PEOPLE by GARY HART
87. WAKING AND DREAMING by JOSEPH HART
88. THE GREATEST STORY NEVER TOLD by LANA CANTRELL
89. RADICAL SON by DAVID HOROWITZ
90. UNDER THE SIGN OF SATURN by SUSAN SONTAG
**Sominex between two covers.
91. THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF MALCOLM X by ALEX HALEY AND MALCOLM X
92. A FEELING FOR BOOKS by JANICE RADWAY
93. THE HERO OF A THOUSAND FACES by JOSEPH CAMPBELL
94. THE JOB by WILLIAM BURROUGHS
**I am shocked this made it. I have the book, like it, but Burroughs is such an outrageously out there thinker, that this will only appeal to lunatics like me.
95. SILENT INTERVIEWS by SAMUEL R. DELANY
96. SLATS GROBNIK AND SOME OTHER FRIENDS by MIKE ROYKO
**Read this and understand why he had such a devoted following.
97. RISE OF THE UNMELTABLE ETHNICS by MICHAEL NOVACK
98. REVERSE ANGLE by JOHN SIMON
**How did this make it? I thought I was the only person who admitted liking John Simon.
99. PLACING MOVIES by JONATHON ROSENBAUM
100. RIGHT FROM THE BEGINNING by PATRICK J BUCHANAN
**Read it. Liked it. Like him. Disagree violently with much of his social agenda. He hit a new low in trying to discredit the war record of John Kerry. Newsflash for Pat: He served, you didn't. Shut up.