The 100 best nonfiction books of all time: the full list

After two years of careful reading, moving backwards through time, Robert McCrum has concluded his selection of the 100 greatest nonfiction books. Take a quick look at five centuries of great writing

Composite for the 100 best nonfiction books of all time list
All-time greats … some of the Top 100.

1. The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert (2014)
An engrossing account of the looming catastrophe caused by ecology’s “neighbours from hell” – mankind.

2. The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion (2005)
This steely and devastating examination of the author’s grief following the sudden death of her husband changed the nature of writing about bereavement.

3. No Logo by Naomi Klein (1999)
Naomi Klein’s timely anti-branding bible combined a fresh approach to corporate hegemony with potent reportage from the dark side of capitalism.

4. Birthday Letters by Ted Hughes (1998)
These passionate, audacious poems addressed to Hughes’s late wife, Sylvia Plath, contribute to the couple’s mythology and are a landmark in English poetry.

5. Dreams from My Father by Barack Obama (1995)
This remarkably candid memoir revealed not only a literary talent, but a force that would change the face of US politics for ever.

6. A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking (1988)
The theoretical physicist’s mega-selling account of the origins of the universe is a masterpiece of scientific inquiry that has influenced the minds of a generation.

7. The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe (1979)
Tom Wolfe raised reportage to dazzling new levels in his quest to discover what makes a man fly to the moon.

8. Orientalism by Edward Said (1978)
This polemical masterpiece challenging western attitudes to the east is as topical today as it was on publication.

9. Dispatches by Michael Herr (1977)
A compelling sense of urgency and a unique voice make Herr’s Vietnam memoir the definitive account of war in our time.

10. The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins (1976)
An intoxicating renewal of evolutionary theory that coined the idea of the meme and paved the way for Professor Dawkins’s later, more polemical works.

Tom Wolfe.
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Tom Wolfe in 2012. Photograph: Mark Seliger/AP

11. North by Seamus Heaney (1975)
This raw, tender, unguarded collection transcends politics, reflecting Heaney’s desire to move “like a double agent among the big concepts”.

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12. Awakenings by Oliver Sacks (1973)
Sacks’s moving account of how, as a doctor in the late 1960s, he revived patients who had been neurologically “frozen” by sleeping sickness reverberates to this day.

13. The Female Eunuch by Germaine Greer (1970)
The Australian feminist’s famous polemic remains a masterpiece of passionate free expression in which she challenges a woman’s role in society.

14. Awopbopaloobop Alopbamboom by Nik Cohn (1969)
This passionate account of how rock’n’roll changed the world was written with the wild energy of its subject matter.

15. The Double Helix by James D Watson (1968)
An astonishingly personal and accessible account of how Cambridge scientists Watson and Francis Crick unlocked the secrets of DNA and transformed our understanding of life.

Source: The 100 best nonfiction books of all time: the full list | Books | The Guardian